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The Working Life of Christina McKelvie MSP
19th April 2013

After a few days pleasant break with my two sons in St Andrews, it was full on back both in the Constituency and in the Parliament.

John Swinney, the Cabinet Secretary for Finance, Employment and Sustainable Growth, moved a motion on Tuesday on Universal Benefits.

There’s been an interesting independent report to the Welfare Reform Committee, aptly called ‘Hitting the Poorest Places Hardest’ which was presented on Tuesday morning by its co-author, Steve Fothergill of the Centre for Regional Economic and Social Research at the Sheffield Hallam University.

As I said in that debate, the Report warns that Westminster’s welfare reforms alone will take more than £1.6 billion a year out of the Scottish economy. That equates to about £480 a year for every adult of working age in Scotland. In Glasgow, the amount rises to £650.

Down south, in the Cameron counties such as Hampshire, Berkshire and Cambridgeshire, people will not feel the same pinch. The impact there will be less than £200 a year – hardly a testament to fairness. What happened to the idea of closing the gap between the rich and the poor?

And Labour isn’t pledging to do anything about it should they get elected in 2015. Ed Milliband’s “zero-based spending review” is a peculiar concept. What does that mean? Zero for pensioners, zero for students, zero for the vulnerable, zero for the sick and zero for the unemployed. That is what Labour has to offer Scotland – zero.

As John Swinney made very clear, universal benefits in Scotland are a keystone of Government policy. Free prescriptions, free eye tests, free personal care for the elderly, free tuition for our university students, free health care at the point of delivery and not threatened by the creeping privatisation that David Cameron is so wedded to down south.

And speaking of welfare reform, I’ve been trying to work out just what the Labour-led council in my own Constituency of South Lanarkshire is really saying about the bedroom tax. If you’re not familiar with this so-called reform, it’s Westminster’s great invention to try and make the most vulnerable people, living in social housing, pay a bigger proportion of their rent.

So people who get housing benefit and are deemed to have an extra room that they don’t need will have around £11 or £12 a week deducted from their payment. If they have two spare rooms, then that deduction doubles. Westminster says this is to encourage people to move into smaller properties. That might be all right if we had any smaller properties but since the right-to-buy was introduced, and since councils don’t tend to build single bedroomed properties, that option just isn’t there.
Dundee City Council took the lead by committing not to evict social housing tenants who got into arrears purely because of the bedroom tax and other SNP-led councils have done the same.

Signing a joint letter from Kevin Stewart MSP and the STUC asking George Osborne to reconsider the inclusion of the 'Bedroom Tax' in this year's budget.

At first, I though South Lanarkshire had followed suit. I got a set of Minutes from the Larkhall Housing Forum that said the Council did not intend taking eviction action against tenants. Then I got another set of Minutes that had the same Councillor Jackie Burns saying that tenants in arrears would be pursued.

A bit confused by all this, I asked the Chief Executive of the Council for clarification. Six weeks later, I got a reply admitting that the Minutes had been altered by Councillor Burns. Funny how Labour can indeed re-write history.

Mid-week was punctuated by the funeral of Baroness Margaret Thatcher which was a hugely grand affair costing the tax payers an estimated £10 million. I certainly thought it all more than a bit over the top.

That said, she was indeed a wife, a mother and a grandmother and purely at a humanitarian level, it ought to be recognised that her family will grieve.

There was a debate in the Chamber on Thursday about her legacy in Scotland. There was a good deal of discussion around just how divisive and damaging her policies were, and one of the threads was around her introduction of the right-to-buy council housing. My colleague, Clare Adamson (Central Scotland), grew up in Lanarkshire, “a child of Thatcher’s era” as she puts it.

I think what she said puts it in context: “Much has been made of the supposed success of the right-to-buy policy, which, again, sold what was already ours. Shamefully—and unforgivably—it broke the social housing contract in doing so. By preventing the revenue from council house sales from being reinvested, it led to the housing crisis today, to which the new Thatcherite solution is the pernicious bedroom tax. Despite the opportunity that Labour had, it took an SNP cabinet secretary, Nicola Sturgeon, to reforge that social contract when she exempted new-build housing from the right to buy.”

We had some good news in the Constituency too. Scottish power is opening a brand new office complex in Hamilton that will create hundreds of jobs which I think is a massive shot in the arm.

The new company development at Ochil House in Hamilton will accommodate up to 900 people in teams from a number of Scottish Power’s expanding business divisions.

As I said at the official opening, the fact that this investment has come to Hamilton is clearly a testament to the skills, drive and determination of local people. It’s a great decision. Once Scottish Power fully experiences the quality of our local workforce, I’m hoping they’ll bring even more jobs here in the future.

Scotland’s cancer care services got a boost this week. It’s good to hear that the Monklands Hospital in Airdrie has been confirmed as the new radiotherapy facility location. I had pressed to have it sited at Stonehouse Hospital so I’m a bit disappointed, but it’s nevertheless good to have it.

The unit will provide state-of-the-art radiotherapy services for the West of Scotland and will help to meet rising demand for cancer treatment over the next 10 years. It will also mean that more people can be treated closer to home.

The facility will operate as a satellite for the Beatson West of Scotland Cancer Centre in Glasgow. It will be equipped with the most advanced technology to deliver the same world-class treatment and techniques currently provided at the Glasgow cancer centre. Around 120 patients a day will be able to get radiotherapy treatment for lung, breast, prostate and rectal cancers.

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