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The Working Life of Linda Fabiani MSP
W/E 6th February 2005

Week commencing Monday 31st January 2005

Well, it’s Tuesday night and I’ve just got back from my two day trip to Dumfries and Galloway. I’m seldom in that part of the country, but when I am I marvel at how lovely it is. I was really lucky with the weather - winter sun – and driving around was a pleasure.

I learned a lot during my trip. My first stop was Dumfries & Galloway Housing Partnership – an organisation which took over all the Council stock – looking at their regeneration plans and learning about the particular difficulties of servicing the large and diverse area covered by them. I then drove to St. John’s Town of Dalry for a really well attended public meeting about housing. I have known for some time that there are huge issues in Galloway about the lack of housing for local folks, particularly the younger generation, and the ongoing impact on rural communities. It’s only when you meet the people directly affected though that you realise just how disheartening it must be to want to live where you feel you belong, but find it impossible. Local communities have taken up the cause though and Dumfries and Galloway Small Communities Housing Trust, the Scottish Rural Property Business Association, Glenkens Affordable Housing Group and Glenkens Community Council all had representatives at the meeting.

I loved the poster that one of the groups brought along – it just summed up what has to happen – RETURN PEOPLE TO WORKING AND LIVING IN OUR RURAL AREAS.

On Tuesday I visited Crichton Campus in Dumfries which in educational terms is allied with both Glasgow and Paisley Universities, and ties in with Hamilton’s Bell College Nursing programme. There is also a ‘business park’ on site. The commitment of all – staff and students, management board members – was obvious and again, the philosophy of enabling local people to study close to home, so practical and sensible. This valuable resource must be retained and expanded for the benefit of Galloway. I wish them much good fortune in their funding quest.

Wednesday morning – Communities Committee – more on the proposed Charities legislation, this time grilling the Minister. So, next step is for our Committee to prepare its Report, and then that will go to Parliament along with the Executive’s proposals for the Stage 1 debate.

The Cross Party Group on International Development met at lunchtime to discuss the ‘Make Poverty History’ campaign. It is crucial that we all pull together on this; in our Parliament, in Wales and North of Ireland, and of course in the UK. It’s especially relevant to us this year though because of the G8 meeting in Gleneagles in July and the UK Presidency of the European Union later in the year. Gleneagles is in my colleague, Roseanna Cunningham’s Perth constituency, and she’s been speaking with lots of local groups and individuals about the disruption that’s likely to be caused. Most folk though are saying that they are willing to put up with the disruption as long as some good comes out of the G8 meeting. Rosie has put down a motion in Parliament to reflect that feeling and I hope that it’s ‘signed up to’ across the political parties:

S2M-2372 # Roseanna Cunningham: G8 Summit—That the Parliament recognises that the G8 Summit being held in Gleneagles, Perthshire, from 6 to 8 July 2005, offers an opportunity for Scotland to debate issues related to international aid, trade justice and debt relief; acknowledges that there will be inconvenience and disruption to many communities as a result of hosting this summit, and is of the view that such disruption can only be justified if the representatives of those countries with the greatest economic power arrive at decisions which will allow countries in the developing world to grow and prosper, at their own pace and in their own way, by the provision of appropriately-targeted aid, debt relief and a just framework of trade rules.

Another Cross Party Group Meeting at teatime, after Chamber, to discuss the current situation in Palestine. We were addressed by Afif Safieh, Representative of the Palestinian Delegation to the UK, and as ever the discussion was enlightening. Mr. Safieh is ever optimistic that justice will eventually come for the Palestinian people – I guess that it’s only hope which keeps you going when all else seems to be against you.

Thursday morning and the debate on Scotland’s economy led by the SNP’s Jim Mather – the International Institute for Management Development competitiveness ranking places Scotland 36th against the UK's 22nd place out of 60 nations and regions and we have a projected loss of 550,000 economically active people by 2043. It seems very obvious to me that steps have to be taken to secure Scotland’s future, and I really can’t understand why others feel we can just carry on as a junior partner in the UK when we see other small nations, without our natural resources, steaming ahead to the benefit of their citizens. Still, persevere, persevere, persevere – some day they’ll have to admit we’re right, and the sooner the better for us all.

Two interviews at lunchtime – one by a student doing her dissertation on the negative press/media portrayal of asylum. I’m always glad to hear students doing work like this – the more people who talk about such issues the better. The reality is on this particular topic though, that sadly the negative picture first emerges from Government and its main opposition at Westminster – the language they use for example, using the terms asylum seekers, illegal immigrants, economic migrants, bogus applicants, interchangeably. Not all the press are guilty of falling for this guile though – both the Herald and the Sunday Herald paint a fairer picture, the Sunday Herald recently highlighting the disgusting practice of taking ill asylum seekers from Dungavel Centre to hospital in handcuffs. I’m trying to find out from the Executive on what grounds this can be justified – no answers yet.

The other interview was a profile piece for Holyrood Magazine – dreading this coming out because you never know just how you will be portrayed, and I am aware that I tend to babble on a bit (as any reader out there will have realised a long time ago!).

Following a rally with the ‘Save our Regiments’ campaign, I managed to get Question No. 1 in the health section in the afternoon! It was about the effect of private finance initiatives and public-private partnership costs on the budgets of national health service boards. I don’t think I got an answer though! Judge for yourself:

Linda Fabiani (Central Scotland) (SNP): To ask the Scottish Executive what effect increasing private finance initiatives/public-private partnership costs have on the budgets of national health service boards. (S2O-5214)

The Minister for Health and Community Care (Mr Andy Kerr): PFI contracts are signed on the basis of an approved business case and affordability is assessed over the period of the contract. The unitary payments that are made to contractors reflect not only the construction of buildings, but ongoing maintenance over the life of the contract. The Executive is continuing to increase dramatically the level of infrastructure investment in NHS Scotland. This is not simply about PPP. Our public capital budget has risen from £136 million in 1997 to £350 million this year. The annual capital budget by 2007-08 will be £530 million. In 2004-05, the unitary payments for signed NHS Scotland PFI/PPP contracts is just over £100 million. That represents 1.26 per cent of forecast revenue expenditure for NHS boards. Those costs have been published within the draft budget 2005-06.

Linda Fabiani: Will the health minister acknowledge the ratchet effect of fixed-payment PFI/PPP projects on a tightening budget? Will he also acknowledge the Minister for Finance and Public Service Reform's confirmation that internal rates of return to shareholders in those project companies are between 13 per cent and 16 per cent? In particular, however, will he undertake to investigate why delivering such revenue streams for the private sector has become a function of the health service?

Mr Kerr: What escapes the member's attention is that we need buildings in the health service to provide services to our communities; therefore, whatever way we build our hospitals, they will be a key driver in any NHS budget. What PFI/PPP does for us is provide additional capacity that otherwise would not be available. I say to the 550,000 patients in Scotland who have benefited from Hairmyres hospital, Wishaw general hospital and Edinburgh royal infirmary that they would not have had those hospitals under the policies of Linda Fabiani's party.

Thursday evening spent catching up on constituency cases – generally the health service again, along with many people worried about the imminent changes to public service pensions.

In Hamilton Friday morning at Bell College. I was accompanied by Alyn Smith MEP, and we were making a presentation to students - “Free Trade or Fair Trade”. We had a really lively discussion, the first of many I hope. I find that everywhere I go people are becoming much more aware of the Trade Justice and Reduce the Debt campaigns. The churches have been plugging away at these agenda for years and the movement is becoming much more broadly based. All for the good.

Friday afternoon spent running around doing last minute preparations for East Kilbride SNP’s Burns Supper in the evening – ice, something for the vegetarians, raffle tickets, type up bar price list, biographies of the speakers. All went well, although I did cause a bit of hilarity in my role as Chairperson in announcing the ‘Falkirk Grace’ instead of the ‘Selkirk Grace’ – can’t get away from work! My friend Angela was in charge of the photographs and I had hoped to print some here of that very august gathering. Don’t know what she did though, but the only one that came out was a picture of Angela herself, so in revenge I have decided to print it! I don’t know why she has a pineapple on her head!

Had a great time when we got home – I always enjoy the Burns Supper in East Kilbride, but I enjoy just as much the fact that so many friends come from a distance and stay over at Strathaven – it’s like a bunkhouse with folk sleeping everywhere and chaos at breakfast time, but it’s marvellous craic.

Slept late on Saturday as you can imagine, and in the evening waved off our friends and headed off to another Burns Supper in the Mill in Strathaven, run by the Arts Guild. Again, a smashing time. The Provost of South Lanarkshire was in attendance, giving the vote of thanks. He really is a grand ambassador for the county and it meant a lot to the Guild that he came along.

Sleepy Sunday – didn’t do much except clear the detritus that we brought home from Friday night’s festivities. Crockery to be returned in the morning, boxes of glasses to be washed and stored away again until next time, broth to eat, alcohol consumption to estimate. Thankfully, unlike previous years, we didn’t have much haggis left over – we seem after six years to have calculated the amount of haggis, neeps and tatties just right. Got to work on calculating the oatcakes and cheese now – we’ve got thousands of oatcakes and pounds of cheese to be distributed so as they’re not wasted!

Back to work on Monday.

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