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Keeping up with you

Hello and welcome to all of you in Hamilton, Larkhall and Stonehouse.

Thank you for taking a moment to look at this email. I want to keep everyone in touch with what’s going on in the constituency and what it might mean for you.

My door is open to anyone who seeks advice and support, so you can  phone or email me at any time.

You also have the option of visiting  constituency surgeries on Mondays. You don't need to make an appointment.

If you haven’t yet subscribed to receive your personalised copy of this newsletter, which we are sending out every two weeks, then please do  sign up here.
 

‘No deal’ economic impact for Scotland

Here we are, staring into the abyss, with just 3 weeks to go.

A new report by the Scottish Government’s Chief Economist, ‘No Deal’ Brexit – Economic Implications for Scotland’ https://tinyurl.com/economic-implicationsconfirms that all forms of Brexit will harm Scotland’s economy and result in lower household incomes.
 
Scotland voted overwhelmingly to stay in the EU but our interests are deemed irrelevant. Only independence will release this nation to create the kind of international, EU member country, outward looking with creative, innovative ambitions and a society which operates with dignity, compassion and respect for everyone.
 
All those big promises of the wonderful increase in funds for the NHS, how there would be fantastic new opportunities to do trade deals better than the ones already negotiated with the EU, how giving up membership of the single market and customs union would offer better deals with countries like the US.


In 2017, Liam Fox promised that the UK would be able to replicate 40 EU free trade deals by Brexit day.
 
So far, the trade department has only been able to finalise ‘continuity agreements’ with seven of the 69 countries and regions with which the EU has trade deals.
 
The countries are Switzerland, Chile, the Faroe Islands, Eastern and Southern Africa, Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
 
The trade deals that the EU has already made give the UK excellent benefits. Nothing Liam Fox and his cronies can do could be anything like as good. It’s one country instead of 29; it’s 62 million people rather than 520 million.
 
On top of all that, Scotland is forced to watch Donald Trump’s aggressive demands for a deal there. We in the SNP have been warning that the UK Government most not agree to any ‘bargain basement’ trade deals with the USA. So far, Trump is demanding ‘comprehensive market access’ for US agricultural products and the ‘rapid removal of unwarranted barriers’ blocking the import of American food and drink products into the UK.

 
We may not be offered a choice.

Food and hygiene standards in the EU mean that American agricultural products are deemed not to meet the Food and Drink regulatory standards of the EU. There are good reasons for that refusal and underlining them is our health and wellbeing - and that of the animals we choose to eat.

 
 
International Women’s Day
From my Facebook page: I want to thank and praise all the women in my life who inspire, motivate, love and lift me up every day. Sisters you are my shining stars & I love you all for it.  I am blessed to work with amazing women too. #Balancedforbetter 



Collective action and shared responsibility for driving a gender-balanced world is key. International Women's Day is a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women - while also marking a call to action for accelerating gender balance.

The first International Women's Day was in 1911, supported by over one million people. Today, IWD belongs to all groups collectively everywhere. IWD is not country, group or organisation specific.

Gloria Steinem, world-renowned feminist, journalist and activisonce explained: "The story of women's struggle for equality belongs to no single feminist nor to any one organisation but to the collective efforts of all who care about human rights."

The future is exciting. Let's build a gender-balanced world.

We had a great debate in the Chamber on Thursday last which pulled together all the passions and determination in the Scottish Parliament to work ever more towards the SNP’s objective of equality for women.
 
Equality for women is at the heart of the SNP Government’s vision for a fairer Scotland. We are progressing gender equality because it supports a basic human right and will help people flourish and reach their full potential, which will ultimately create a wealthier and fairer society.
 
New Modern Apprentice target
More than 29,000 people will benefit from Modern Apprenticeship opportunities next year in a continued effort to support youth employment, Fair Work Minister Jamie Hepburn has announced.  

The 29,000 target includes Modern and Graduate Apprenticeships and puts Scotland on course to reach a longstanding commitment to 30,000 new apprenticeship starts each year by 2020.

This increased goal will help give more people the opportunity to work, learn and earn while providing employers with the skills they need for their workforce. The 2018/19 target of 28,000 Modern Apprenticeship starts is on course to be met.

Around 1300 Graduate Apprenticeships will be available this year across 13 different subjects. Up to 5000 Foundation Apprenticeship places for secondary pupils to choose alongside their other school subjects are also available. 27,145 people stared Modern Apprenticeships in 2017/2018, surpassing the 27,000 target. 
 
Visit to the Larkhall District Volunteer Group 
This is one of my favourite community-based groups and I am hugely appreciative of what they do. I went along with SSNP Councillor Peter Craig to hear about how their work is moving on.

The wide variety of services being offered by the Larkhall District Volunteer Group never ceases to astound me. Never content to rest on their laurels they are constantly innovating, for example, they are now hiring out their kitchen for use by local businesses or groups.

I look forward to working with the group to support them in continuing the high-quality services to the huge number of people who benefit from them. Well done, all of you.
  
Views sought on a new Mental Health and Wellbeing strategy to be rolled out across Lanarkshire
NHS Lanarkshire is asking for views and comments about a new mental health and wellbeing strategy.
 
This is a perfect chance for everyone, especially those with direct experience, to contribute to forming the mental health priorities over the coming years.
 
Please do give your comments at: http://tinyurl.com/views-on-mental-health
 
 
GP practices in NHS Lanarkshire to receive funding boost this year
The Scottish Government has announced that an additional £20 million support will be given to GP practices across Scotland to help with the costs of running their practice.

A total of 172 practices have successfully applied for loans – around 50% of the total eligible. 16 of these have come from GPs in NHS Lanarkshire.

The new GP contract in Scotland is backed by £110 million in 2018/19 to ensure that GPs are able to spend more time with patients, and less time on paperwork. The Scottish Government is investing a further £7.5 million to improve GP recruitment and retention in 2018/19.

The extra investment will make becoming a GP an attractive career choice and encourage more people to join the profession - which will in turn make it easier for practices in Scotland to retain and recruit staff.

This news is extremely encouraging, especially for those practices in rural areas who may struggle to recruit new members of staff. I encourage eligible GPs in NHS Lanarkshire to consider whether they would benefit from this scheme.

The NHS is one of our most treasured institutions, and the SNP in government is absolutely committed to ensuring it stays fit for the future.
 
Christina and Angela visit Stonehouse-based Galloway & McLeod
Angela Crawley, SNP MP for Lanark and Hamilton East, and myself went along to specialist animal feed production company Galloway & McLeod in Stonehouse to find out more about the work they do.


Managing director of G&M, Donald Harvey, gave the group a tour around the offices and facilities at the Stonehouse base. He highlighted the positive move towards further automation of their process for mixing animal feed and work on using more environmentally sustainable packaging for shipping.
 
G&M have been successfully making their way into European markets over previous years, with plans in place to continue growing their international and digital footprint with the launch of an e-commerce site.
 
Donald also noted the 33% increase in profitability since the company took the decision to become employee owned in 2010. This is just one example of the company’s local focus. G&M try to hire from the local community where possible and provide progression for those who come to work, with the average length of service for their employees being 15 years.
 
The level of dedication to the local community at G&M is wonderful to see. They are the perfect example of the benefits that come to both the residents and the company when these strong links are forged. I look forward to seeing the ongoing successes of the company in the future.
 
Positive destinations for increasing number of school leavers
94.4% of pupils had a ’positive destination’ including work, training or further study within three months of leaving school last year, official statistics show.


The figures also reveal that the gap between those from the most and least deprived communities achieving a positive destination has halved since 2009/10, with an increase in positive destinations for school leavers from both backgrounds.

Over the same period there have been increases at all levels of attainment – the qualifications young people are achieving.

For the first time more than 30% of pupils left school with a minimum of five passes at Higher Level or better, up from 22.2% in 2009/10. The gap between those from the most and least deprived areas achieving a pass at Higher Level or better is now at a record low, reducing for the eighth successive year.

In addition, more young people are choosing to remain at school, with almost two thirds leaving in S6.
 
‘Historic moment’ as responsibility for devolved benefits to be transferred in April 2020
Our Government has hailed a “historic moment” for social security in Scotland, as we laid out the timetable for the delivery of all devolved benefits.


From 1st April next year, we in the Scottish Government will take full responsibility for the remaining devolved benefits.

By the end of 2021, the Scottish Government will be delivering new claims for all Disability and Carer’s Assistance, and supporting families with their winter fuel bills.  

Social Security Scotland made its first payments in September 2018, delivering the Carer’s Allowance Supplement, which has paid out over £33 million to more than 77,000 carers, and the Best Start Grant, which has put £2.7 million into the pockets of more than 7,000 families in just its first two months.

In spite of welfare cuts from Westminster, we have relished the chance to develop a social security system that is right for people in Scotland.
 
While most social security powers remain reserved to Westminster, we will at least have some powers that will allow us to make the system fairer and get the decisions right first time.
 
We wholeheartedly reject the Tory Government's approach to social security. It has already been described by the UN as ‘punitive, mean-spirited and often callous.’

Increasingly, I hear people saying, including those who haven't supported the SNP in the past, 'independence has to be better than the chaos that reigns now.'

 

 

Hello and welcome to all of you in Hamilton, Larkhall and Stonehouse.

Thank you for taking a moment to look at this email. I want to keep everyone in touch with what’s going on in the constituency and what it might mean for you.

My door is open to anyone who seeks advice and support, so you can phone or email me at any time.

You also have the option of visiting constituency surgeries on Mondays. You don't need to make an appointment.

If you haven’t yet subscribed to receive your personalised copy of this newsletter, which we are sending out every two weeks, then please do sign up here.

 

Scottish Budget Passed

1

On Thursday 21st February the Scottish Parliament voted to approve the 2019/20 budget put forward by the Scottish Government. This Scottish Budget provides £42.5 billion of investment to Scotland’s public services and economy.

Westminster has delivered cuts to Scotland of almost £2 billion over the last decade but in spite of this the SNP has committed £729 million extra for health and care services, which includes a £430 million increase for NHS boards.

This comes with an £8 billion investment in Scotland’s education system, including £120 million delivered directly to head teachers – helping schools address the poverty related attainment gap. Scotland’s colleges will benefit from a £606 million investment over 2019-20, while universities will receive more than £1 billion.

As part of the Scottish Government’s plan to almost double the paid-for provision of childcare to 1,140 hours from August 2020 for all 3 and 4 year olds and eligible 2 year olds, the budget also commits £500 million to support the expansion of early learning services and facilities across Scotland.

Not only that, the budget also ensures that council tax increases will be kept below the 5% cap in England and ensures that 55% of income taxpayers will pay less in Scotland than they would in the rest of the UK.

 

No Deal Brexit Danger Looms

Westminster is failing Scotland. We are being dragged to the brink of Brexit disaster while Labour and the Tories are in meltdown.

With a week of resignations re-igniting fights within both parties at a time of crisis. They are guilt of gross negligence and Scotland is looking on in horror. Their childish game playing is putting the livelihoods of real people at risk.

Only this week CBI Scotland and the Scottish Government released figures which highlight the damage a no deal Brexit would do to Scotland. The report published by the Scottish Governments top economic adviser warned that a no deal Brexit could result in a recession even worse than the one suffered in 2008, with a fall in our GDP of up to 7% and a rise in unemployment of around 100,000.

The games being played by the Tories and Labour are simply unacceptable when we are only weeks away from crashing out of the EU. Westminster will not be forgiven for the way it has handled our futures in this moment of national crisis and if they have any sense they will get behind the SNP calls to extend article 50 and to hold a second referendum to stay in the EU.

 

Meeting with Larkhall Town Plan

2

On Monday 4th February I met with some of the Larkhall Town Plan members in the Lighthouse and invited along the CEO of Scotland’s Town Partnership, Phil Prentice, to discuss ongoing plans to build on the regeneration of the area.

We discussed a wide range of success local projects and developments, including the Larkhall Growers.

The Larkhall Town Plan agreed that the best way forward was to carry out a survey to find out what local residents want to see. I am really excited to see what comes out of the survey and look forward to helping however I can!

 

New Wetherspoons

South Lanarkshire Council’s Executive Committee unanimously approved the sale of the former Baird’s site to Wetherspoons for £750,000 to be used as a brand-new pub on the corner of Quarry Street and Duke Street.

This was one of the major concerns addressed in the report carried out by Angela Crawley MP and myself into condition of Hamilton Town Centre and as such I am delighted to see the vacant lot being brought back into use.

The Wetherspoons is projected to increase the number of visitors to Hamilton and thus benefit many of the surrounding businesses in the High Street.

The Council have worked hard to organise this deal and should be commended for seeing it through. Bringing the site back into use shows that Hamilton Town Centre is once again open for business.

 

Hamilton Town Centre Project Leads the Way

3

I visited Glasgow University with Angela Crawley MP to speak to give a presentation about the work being carried out as part of the regeneration of Hamilton Town Centre through “A Strategy for Hamilton Town Centre”.

The plan was announced by the Council on March last year and passed by committee in November 2018. This followed on from a consultation carried out by myself and Angela in 2016 which received more than 1800 responses from residents and business owners in Hamilton and found a real desire for regenerating Hamilton’s historic town centre.

Speaking at the presentation Christina said: “At a time when High Streets everywhere are struggling to deal with the challenges presented by changing patterns of shoppers, who are increasingly ordering online, we need to do all we can to make it easier for people to get in to our high streets. The work of the partners shows that there are options available to achieve this.”

Christina also welcomed the £50 million Town Centre Fund made available for towns like Hamilton as part of the Scottish Government budget and hoped that South Lanarkshire Council would make an application for a share of the funding.

 

Newfield Primary School Win Gold Award

4

I had a great visit to the fantastic Newfield Primary School who have been awarded the Sports Scotland Gold Award for the second time!

There were fabulous displays of talent in karate, basketball, football, gymnastics and dancing! I was very impressed with the work of everyone including the pupil committee, teachers, staff and all the students!

Keeping up with you

Hello and welcome to all of you in Hamilton, Larkhall and Stonehouse.

Thank you for taking a moment to look at this email. I want to keep everyone in touch with what’s going on in the constituency and what it might mean for you.

My door is open to anyone who seeks advice and support, so you can  phone or email me at any time.

You also have the option of visiting  constituency surgeries on Mondays. You don't need to make an appointment.

If you haven’t yet subscribed to receive your personalised copy of this newsletter, which we are sending out every two weeks, then please do  sign up here.

Brexit update

It’s just 53 days until 29 March when the UK’s membership of the EU is extinguished. The genie is released from the lamp and the outcomes really start to kick in. Westminster has to let go of the notion that Theresa May’s failing government can re-negotiate the deal no one wants.

 

The EU has made its position clear. The deal is wrapped, completed, sealed. The Withdrawal Agreement is not up for discussion. But the UK is ignoring these statements and sending Theresa May back to Brussels ‘to reopen negotiations.’
 
Scotland, is sidelined and shafted by Westminster and we are paying a heavy price for a chaotic Tory government that we didn’t vote for.
 
We have been denied our democratic right to remain in the EU, as we voted to do. 
 
Scottish budget

Health services, the economy and public services will benefit from more than £2 billion of additional spend, Finance Secretary Derek Mackay has announced.



As he confirmed an agreement had been reached that saw the Scottish Budget voted through the different stages in Parliament. Mr Mackay outlined a package of reforms at stage one of the Budget Bill, hailing the proposals as a ‘substantial devolution of power to local government’.

The Finance Secretary also confirmed the Scottish Budget will provide an additional £90 million to support local government and as well as further flexibility and increased income from council tax.

Taken together this enhanced package offers up to £187 million of increased funding and flexibility to councils.

Under the deal reached, South Lanarkshire Council will receive an additional £10,932m from the Scottish Government on top of a total overall settlement of £11.1bn.

With the UK government in complete chaos, the SNP in government is offering certainty and stability with a budget which protects public services, supports the economy, and helps build a fairer country.

This budget uses our powers in a progressive way in order to protect and invest in our public services – with a major boost for the NHS.


Giving our schools, hospitals and other vital services in South Lanarkshire the money they need to deliver better services for our communities is vital to this government. This is why I welcome Holyrood’s support for the budget.

Despite Westminster cuts of almost £2 billion in a decade to Scotland’s block resource grant, the SNP is proposing additional funding of almost £730 million for Scotland’s health and care services – including £1,199m for South Lanarkshire.

South Lanarkshire Council will receive an additional £10,932m from the Scottish Government on top of a total overall settlement of £11.1bn.

The budget also includes more than £180 million to raise attainment in schools, and almost £500 million for the expansion of early learning and childcare.

I believe this budget uses our powers in a progressive way in order to protect and invest in our public services – with a major boost for the NHS.

Giving our schools, hospitals and other vital services in South Lanarkshire the money they need to deliver better services for our communities is vital to this government.
 
Tackling social isolation and loneliness


Last week, Parliament unanimously backed my motion to recognise that social isolation and loneliness are issues that can affect people at any age, stage or walk of life, welcoming the publication of the Scottish Government’s national strategy, A Connected Scotland. You can watch the debate here https://tinyurl.com/connected-scotland
 
Everyone has a part to play to tackle social isolation and loneliness and to build a more connected Scotland. Listening to visitors sharing their sense of isolation with me, I see many, many different reasons for people finding themselves in such a lonely place.

I firmly believe we have the caring, compassionate communities in Hamilton, Larkhall and Stonehouse to ensure that people don’t get rejected or ignored. We can – and we will – implement this strategy to build a more connected, caring Scotland.
 
I was pleased to announce the membership of the national implementation group for a connected Scotland. The group will develop and implement a shared delivery plan for the strategy, along with a shared performance framework to help us understand the difference that we can make.
 
In support of the strategy, the Scottish Government has committed £1 million of investment over the next year to help build our collective capacity to implement the strategy and to pilot innovate approaches to tackle social isolation and loneliness.
 
Fall in youth convictions
Justice Secretary, Humza Yousaf, has welcomed the news that the number of young people convicted of a crime or offence has gone down by two thirds in the last decade.


The use of custodial sentences under 3 months has fallen over the last decade, while the proportion of community sentences has risen from 14% in 2008-09 to 20% for the last two years. The average length of custodial sentence is at its highest in the last ten years, increasing by 21% since 2008-09.

The number of convictions for rape and attempted rape increased by 8% compared with the previous year and there was a 14% rise in the number of convictions for sexual assault.

Commenting on the fall in convictions for under 21 year olds, Mr Yousaf said: “A child’s early years are their most important and can have a considerable impact on their future.

"Our emphasis across portfolios on early intervention and support for families, coupled with a youth justice strategy focused on prevention and diversion is helping to reduce the number of children and young people falling into a cycle of crime that could shape the rest of their lives.

"Clearly there is no room for complacency and we continue to work with national and local partners to help sustain and build on this progress.

“Short custodial sentences are not effective and Scotland must go further to increase the use of robust, community-based sentencing.

"We know that murderers and others given life sentences are serving longer in custody and these latest figures show an increase in average prison sentences for a range of the most serious crimes including rape, attempted rape and homicide.”

Domestic abuse and forced marriage helpline
It was a huge personal success for me to see Scottish Women’s Aid securing £1.7 million contract to deliver the domestic abuse and forced marriage helpline.


Domestic abuse and forced marriage are fundamental violations of an individual’s human rights and we are committed to supporting survivors.

This helpline offers support and potential routes out of abuse. We want anyone experiencing domestic abuse or feeling trapped in an unwanted marriage to have somewhere to turn to for help and advice.



Lydia Okroj, Helpline Manager at Scotland’s Domestic Abuse and Forced Marriage Helpline said: “We are delighted to have secured this tender, and we are looking forward to working with partners to continue to provide a high quality, specialist service to survivors of domestic abuse and forced marriage in Scotland.

“Domestic abuse and forced marriage are both isolating and frightening experiences and no-one should go through them alone; our helpline is there to ensure that no-one has to.  We want to make sure that our number is known by everyone like another emergency service, giving a lifeline to those who need it.

“As the implementation of Scotland’s new Domestic Abuse Act gets closer our helpline has already seen an increase in calls where callers recognise the harm caused by emotional and other non-physical abuse.

"This funding brings with it the potential for reaching and supporting more people than ever before, and that is exactly what we plan to do.”

The helpline is available 24/7 on 0800 027 1234.

Tories face debate on back-door pension credit cut
 
The SNP has tabled a motion forcing the UK government to give MPs a vote on the cut to Pension Credit, which would see the lowest income pensioners up to £7000 a year worse off.
 

The provision was made in the Welfare Reform Act back in 2012, but now the UK Government has said it intends to implement this clause without a debate – seven years and two governments later.
 
This change would mean that for couples where one person is of state pension age and the other is below, the individual in receipt of state pension would no longer be eligible to claim Pension Credit to top up their household income.
 
Commenting, Airdrie and Shotts SNP MP and spokesman on Work and Pensions, Neil Gray, said: “It is outrageous that the UK Government are content with slipping through a huge change to Pension Credit without allowing MPs to vote on these substantial changes passed two governments ago.
 
“The UK Government must urgently make time to debate these changes on the floor of the House so that MPs have the opportunity to make their views heard. To ignore these calls would be a democratic outrage.”

 

 

Keeping up with you

Hello and welcome to all of you in Hamilton, Larkhall and Stonehouse.

Thank you for taking a moment to look at this email. I want to keep everyone in touch with what’s going on in the constituency and what it might mean for you.

My door is open to anyone who seeks advice and support, so you can  phone or email me at any time.

You also have the option of visiting  constituency surgeries on Mondays. You don't need to make an appointment.

If you haven’t yet subscribed to receive your personalised copy of this newsletter, which we are sending out every two weeks, then please do  sign up here.

The Scottish Budget

Working out just how to spend Scotland’s ever-reducing budget is a very challenging task. Finance Secretary, Derek Mackay MSP, has managed to put together a set of very clever, encouraging and positive proposals for 2019-20.

In spite of the ever-increasing reductions in the budget allocation Scotland receives from London, Mr Mackay has done exceptionally well. Don’t forget this isn’t money that the UK government of the day somehow awards us; it’s the return on the tax revenues we have already paid into the Treasury.

Something you may have heard of – the Barnett Consequentials – is a calculation that seeks to assess what proportion of the money in the Treasury should be allocated to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. It’s been a subject of a lot of debate and is fairly complicated. If you’d like to read more, try here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barnett_formula

 

So what are the key points in the Budget Draft – it will be voted upon next month – in terms of our public services?

There is additional support for carers. Derek Mackay MSP announced £37 million to fund the Scottish Government’s Carers Allowance Supplement – in recognition of the important contribution carers have in our society.

The Young Carer Grant will also offer vital assistance to those aged 16 to 18 who do at least 16 hours of caring a week, but don’t qualify for the Carer’s Allowance – giving young carers the chance to explore employment, social or leisure opportunities away from their responsibilities.  

 

The Finance Secretary also revealed plans to commit £12.4 million for the new Best Start Grants – providing financial support of up to £600 for low income families on the birth of a child, with two subsequent £250 payments given when a child begins nursery then primary school from later this year.

Launched last year, the SNP’s Best Start Grant proved extremely popular with families the length and breadth of Scotland. This expanded and improved scheme is welcome news for many of the constituents I meet and talk to every day.

There is good news in plans to increase spending on NHS frontline boards by £430 million – a 4.2% on 2018/19 spending. That amount includes an extra £90 million to improve waiting times and a further £8 million to support trauma networks.

Analysis from HM Treasury, shows health spending per head in Scotland is almost 9% higher than in England, amounting to over £1 billion more spending on health services for Scotland compared to England.

The University of the West of Scotland is set to benefit from increased budget funding. This is a measure I am, predictably,  very glad to see!

The proposal will maintain investment in Scotland’s universities at over £1 billion.

There is good news for Hamilton’s Town Plan with an extra £50 million for a Town Centre Fund. South Lanarkshire Council will be able to draw on the ring-fenced fund to help initiatives like re-purposing buildings, business enterprise and improving access and infrastructure.

 All high streets across Scotland face challenges as online retail changes the way we shop. But this fund has the potential to stimulate real development in our town centres, to help communities thrive.

The draft budget plans include £180 million for raising attainment standards in schools, including £120 million delivered directly to head teachers – helping schools address the poverty related attainment gap and helping children overcome barriers.

These are just the first steps in the delivery of even more benefits to support people in our society, as the Scottish Government looks to tackle inequality and reduce poverty.

If you would like to read the proposals in full, you can see them here: https://www2.gov.scot/Publications/2018/12/9450 and here is a detailed analysis https://digitalpublications.parliament.scot/ResearchBriefings/Report/2018/12/14/Scottish-Budget-2019-20

 

Lidl to bring new jobs in Larkhall

Lidl has announced that it is building a new store in Larkhall and that planning permission has been granted.

The new store is to be opened on the closed Sefton Park Care Home on Carlisle Road.

The multi-million investment will see Lidl constructing an 1286 square metre sales floor and up to 25 new jobs.

Lidl UK’s regional head of property, Gordon Rafferty, told the Hamilton Advertiser: “We could not be more delighted to have received planning permission, and look forward to getting started on construction.

“I’d like to take this opportunity to thank the local community for their continued support, and very much look forward to opening our doors and offering our fresh, quality, great value products in the not too distant future.”

Hamilton Mausoleum opens for the new season

Our iconic and famous mausoleum is up for viewing now. There are guided visits twice daily on the first and third Sunday of the month from February to November. You will need to book in advance through Low Parks Museum, phone 01698 452382. The first tour is on Sunday, 3 February at noon, repeated at 2pm. Dress up warm! It’s cold in there. Because of the nature of the building, there is no disabled access and anyone with mobility issues is advised not to try.

The history and architecture of this unique and familiar landmark is amazing. The remarkable temple structure above the ground and the crypt beneath were constructed around 1842 as a tomb and monument to Alexander the 10th Duke of Hamilton. It cost around £33,000 then – roughly £1.2 million today.

It stands 128 feet high with the main room originally intended for a chapel, but the 15 second echo prevented these plans from going ahead. Indeed, the remarkable acoustic is famous among musicians.

Coal mining led to the foundations subsiding 18 feet. Anxieties about that led to the bodies of Alexander and his ancestors being reburied in the Bent Cemetery in Hamilton.

Supporting young people into jobs

There’s a consultation underway looking at the detail of a new benefit that aims to help young people with the costs involved in moving into a workplace.

The proposed Job Grant consists of a one-off cash payment of £250, or £400 for a young person with children. It would be available to those between 16 and 24 who were out of paid work for six months before finding a job.

The grant will assist towards travel costs or could be used for clothing, lunches and other expenses that need to be met by someone entering work after a lengthy period of unemployment and ahead of their first salary.  It will complement wider Scottish Government initiatives that support people into employment, such as Fair Start Scotland.

 

 

Launching the consultation at StartScotland, an employment provider in Edinburgh, Social Security Secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville said:

“The transition in to work for young people who have been unemployed can be a difficult one.  Getting to and from their place of work and having appropriate clothing can be costly, especially if you’ve been managing on the low income provided by out-of-work benefits and don’t have savings to fall back on.

“The Job Grant aims to help with those costs and make their first few weeks in employment easier. Keeping young people in work is key to keeping them healthy, both physically and mentally.

“We want to introduce the Job Grant as swiftly as we can so are consulting now to  get views on the proposed eligibility criteria and the format of the proposed payment.  Our aim is to deliver a benefit that meets the needs of young people entering work and I urge anyone who shares that desire to take part in the consultation.”

Nick Young, General Manager at StartScotland, said: “This new grant, alongside the other measures being implemented by the Scottish Government, is a welcome addition for Scotland.

“We know that re-entering the workplace, or even finding employment for the first time, can be a tricky time for people. So anything that supports people as they make the transition can only be a good thing.

“Fair Start Scotland is delivering a fantastic service to help people with disabilities and health issues gain the right skills they need to find and maintain that all important job.”

The Public Consultation runs until 9 April. You can find out more here: https://consult.gov.scot/social-security/job-grant-eligibility-criteria-consultation/

Tories ‘sneak out’ changes to pension credit

Pensioners in Hamilton, Larkhall and Stonehouse could lose out on £7,000 a year. In a disgusting attack on older people, released quietly on the eve of Theresa May’s humiliating Brexit defeat.

Currently, couples can claim Pension Credit - an income related benefit meant to top up the state pension as long as one partner is of pension age. Universal Credit will reverse this – meaning a mixed-age couple will be defined by the working-age person, not the pensioner.

Experts have claimed that the changes could leave some pensioners almost £7,000 worse off per year, and Age UK warned that it could leave “some of the poorest pensioners paying a hefty price for having a younger partner.”

  

It’s concerning that the Westminster government tried to quietly bury the news that pensioners with younger partners are set to lose out on hundreds of pounds each month. People on low incomes and receiving pension credit should not be forced to pay the price for the Tories’ welfare cuts and chaotic Universal Credit.

Amid the chaos and distraction of Brexit, those who may be affected by this change in Hamilton, Larkhall and Stonehouse deserve to know about it, and have been let down by UK government attempts to ‘sneak out’ the news at 7.20pm on the night of the Brexit vote – when attentions were directed elsewhere.

Serious concerns over the Tory government’s welfare policies have already been raised by my SNP colleagues at Westminster and, at Holyrood, the SNP will continue to tackle poverty and create a social security system based on equality, fairness and dignity. I will be writing to the DWP to ask for a reverse to this appalling cut which will hit those on the lowest incomes.

 

 

 

 

 

Keeping up with you

Hello and welcome to all of you in Hamilton, Larkhall and Stonehouse.

Thank you for taking a moment to look at this email. I want to keep everyone in touch with what’s going on in the constituency and what it might mean for you.

My door is open to anyone who seeks advice and support, so you can  phone or email me at any time.

You also have the option of visiting  constituency surgeries on Mondays. You don't need to make an appointment.

If you haven’t yet subscribed to receive your personalised copy of this newsletter, which we are sending out every two weeks, then please do  sign up here.
  
20th anniversary of the Scottish Parliament
 A Happy New Year to all of you. 2019 is a special anniversary for our Scottish Parliament which turns 20 on 1 July. The Corporate Body has approved a year-long programme of events and activities to showcase the positive impact the Scottish Parliament has had.


 

I understand that plans include events planned during the year include the launch of a new public exhibition telling the story of the Parliament; a series of family days; and a national photography competition to find the best images illustrating Holyrood’s 20-year history. 

We’re told by the Parliament’s Chief Executive, Paul Grice, that this is just a flavour of what is planned. 
 
68,000 newborns benefited from the Baby Box
 Latest figures reveal that 68,513 newborns across Scotland have enjoyed a Baby Box since the policy was introduced in 2017. Across NHS Lanarkshire, that means 7956 Baby Boxes have been 'delivered' - along with the babies!
 


I have seen many mums across Hamilton, Larkhall and Stonehouse and have enjoyed the delight expressed by mums. The practical, genuinely useful and well thought out contents have helped many mums to get to grips with a new baby. 
 
As well as the Baby Box, the SNP Government has also launched the Best Start Grant to support low income families with financial help during the early years of a child’s life.

The new benefit offers eligible parents or carers £600 for their first child, £100 more than the DWP Sure Start Maternity Grant it replaces. It also provides £300 for all subsequent children – there is no cap at two children as there is in the UK Government’s equivalent policy.
 
Brexit: The ongoing crisis
It’s just 81 days until 29 March, the date upon which the UK is set, not so much to leave the EU, as to fall out of it with an enormous crash. We, in Scotland. continue to fight for our interests.


 
To compound matters, we have Jeremy Corbyn completely opposed to the very idea of a second referendum. Last week he was backing it, declaring if that was what Labour party members wanted, then he was open to it. In a poll by YouGov, 72% of Labour Party members said they wanted the opportunity to vote again, armed with the increased information they now have to hand, but Jeremy said no.
 
The survey also suggests that as many as 88,000 Labour members have considered quitting the party over Jeremy Corbyn’s stance on Brexit.

Then you’ve got the ongoing panic and rifts of Theresa May’s side. As I write, I can’t tell precisely what her deal (or no deal) will do in the House of Commons on 14 January, but it seems likely it will fail to get the support she needs.
 
What happens then, no one, least of all the UK Government, can know for sure. While the Leavers may get their blue passports back and can continue to declare their British identity just as they have always done, the economy will take a tremendous hit. 


Picture courtesy of The Herald

This is not Utopia. It is something more like Dante’s Inferno where jobs will disappear at a terrifying rate as European investors accustomed to free trade arrangements pull out.

Their customers are not going to pay sudden tariffs that increase costs by anything up to 40% or even more under World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules.
 
For example, why would the EU customers for Scottish lamb, for our famous whiskies, for our fish and shellfish - of which we sell 75% to customers in the EU - for cars made in the UK, suddenly agree to pay a tariff for those goods?

Nor will the customers in the supermarkets of Spain or France be willing to pay a much higher price for imported, non-EU produce that won’t be regulated by the EU Food Standards agency.
 
I have previously talked about the issues around the drugs upon which many lives depend and which the UK mainly imports from continental Europe.



These include anti-cancer drugs, insulin, immunosuppressants, anti-asthmatic treatments and hundreds more. What happens to those supplies after Brexit?

The Government is stock-piling drugs - another huge and unnecessary cost of Brexit - but that won't last long if we aren't receiving replacements. Even if we are, then you can be certain the UK NHS will have to pay tariffs on those imports, putting ever more strain on the health service. 

The ‘poverty trap’ of the two-child cap and the rape clause



More families in Hamilton, Larkhall and Stonehouse are going to see the impact of the ill-considered two child policy from February onwards.
 
From next month, the cap will apply to all new claimants regardless of when the child was born. This will mean that families who have a third child (or more) will be negatively affected.
 
The cap also means that women must disclose if their child was born as a result of rape or coercion if they are to receive the financial support their child is then eligible for. -the rape clause. Roll up the witnesses.
 
Tory MP, Nadhim Zahawi, said benefits to families with more than two children should lose child benefits and tax credits for the third and subsequent children – unless they can prove that the child is a result of a rape.


 
Polly Toynbee, in the Guardian, said: “As the Child Poverty Action Group eloquently argues, benefits for children not only spread the cost of living between richer and poorer, but also smooth the bumps in everyone's life cycle. When children are born costs are highest and earnings meagre, but later many will earn more, pay more tax and take less out."
 
40% of parents failing to receive child maintenance under DWP scheme
 To add to the hardships of those on lower incomes and struggling to find employment, the UK government’s “collect and pay” scheme for child maintenance are failing to get the money owed. The SNP continues to renew its calls for the service to be devolved so that we can deal with it properly through our own Scottish Parliament.
 


Latest figures for the quarter to March 2018 show that compliance with the scheme is at 60%, with 8,800 parents due to pay and 5,300 paying some of the maintenance due. 
 
The UK government-run Child Maintenance Service (CMS) currently place a 4% fee on to any receiving parent and charges an administration fee of £20 to open a case. 
 
People in Hamilton, Larkhall and Stonehouse are already telling me the problems they face. The scheme is just not fit for purpose. The irony is that many of those eligible cannot afford to take up the Child Maintenance Service scheme.
 
12 months that strengthened the case for independence
 
The “abject failure” of the Westminster establishment to respect Scotland’s interests over the past year has been a “powerful demonstration of why Scotland needs independence”, says SNP Depute Leader Keith Brown.



It might not be an entirely new message, but it’s one that constantly needs to be reinforced and particularly in the context of Brexit chaos.. The UK is doing the people of Hamilton, Larkhall and Stonehouse no favours.
 
Over the past year, the UK government’s incompetent approach to Brexit negotiations has left the UK’s political establishment in chaos as March 2019 approaches.
 
Keith Brown says that In 2018, the UK government has:
* Ignored repeated attempts by the Scottish Government to pursue a compromise option of single market and customs union membership – the best option for jobs and household incomes short of EU membership

* Proposed a deal that could see Northern Ireland given a competitive advantage over Scotland

* Attacked devolution by changing UK law after the fact to undermine Holyrood’s cross-party attempt to prepare Scotland’s laws for Brexit

* Opposed the efforts by Scottish politicians to establish whether the UK can revoke Article 50 – giving us crucial clarity over future options

* Delayed a vote on the proposed Withdrawal Agreement to protect the Prime Minister – and recklessly pushing the UK closer to a No Deal Brexit

Mr Brown adds:
“The past year has been eye-opening – with the dysfunctional, self-serving and childish approach of the Westminster establishment on full view as never before. 
 
“Scotland voted overwhelmingly to remain in the EU, and our voice and interests have been side-lined from day one.
 
“The contrast with independent Ireland – who have received overwhelming support and solidarity from other EU nations – has been startling.
 
“While we would welcome an early General Election, the sad fact is Labour have been just as divided and opportunistic over Brexit as the Tories have.
 
“Only independence will put Scotland’s future in Scotland’s hands – rather than being stuck with a failing Westminster.”
 
He is so right and I do believe we will move forward towards that ultimate goal in the coming chaotic year.
 
Tackling social isolation and loneliness
I was proud and delighted to kick start our world-leading strategy tackling social isolation and loneliness in the Chamber on 18 December. This country has become one of the first in the world to develop a national strategy to deal with the serious problem of social isolation.
 


The strategy will be backed by £1 million over the next two years to support and expand innovative projects and approaches to bring people together. We’ll be bringing improvements to health and social care, bringing more accessible transport and investing in digital connectivity so that we can help to build more closely connected communities.
 
Actions in the Strategy include working with health and social care integration authorities to address social isolation; piloting a new housing solution for older people to test out intergenerational and co-living arrangements; working with partners to raise awareness of the value of befriending; engaging with older age groups to understand how digital technology could add value to their lives.
 


In Hamilton, Larkhall and Stonehouse, as well as throughout Scotland, one in 10 people report often feel lonely for myriad reasons. In this fast-paced world, older people can feel ignored and overwhelmed.
 
People often feel afraid to admit they are lonely or isolated yet these feelings can affect anyone at any age, or stage, or walk of life. It is known that social isolation and loneliness can have a significant impact on a person's physical and mental wellbeing which is why we are tackling this issue with a preventative approach allowing loneliness and social isolation to be treated as a public health issue.

This is just the beginning of work we are doing to tackle loneliness but we can't do it alone. It is the responsibility of all of us as individuals and communities, and within the public sector, local authorities and businesses to reach out with kindness and build a country where all of us feel welcome within our communities and valued as an important part of society.

I believe that it is not just a kindly or compassionate thing to do; it is an absolute responsibility and all of us who are able need to play our part and think ahead to when it might be you or me who feel alone and isolated.
  

 

Keeping up with you

Hello and welcome to all of you in Hamilton, Larkhall and Stonehouse.

Thank you for taking a moment to look at this email. I want to keep everyone in touch with what’s going on in the constituency and what it might mean for you.

My door is open to anyone who seeks advice and support, so you can  phone or email me at any time.

You also have the option of visiting  constituency surgeries on Mondays. You don't need to make an appointment.

If you haven’t yet subscribed to receive your personalised copy of this newsletter, which we are sending out every two weeks, then please do  sign up here.

 

 

Christmas Window Competition

 


Christmas is coming and we have a special treat for the local BID businesses and their staff.

We want BID businesses to produce their best Christmas window display.  The best displays will win £200 towards a staff Christmas night out.  There will be 2 prizes this year – the business with the most likes on Facebook and directors’ choice.

So get your tinsel out and get creative and join in the fun in Hamilton this Christmas.


The competition closes at 12pm on Monday 17 December.  The winners will be announced on Tuesday 18 December.
To enter your business in the competition, please email a picture to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.or send it to us through our Facebook page.

Good luck everyone.

 

World Aids Day

MSPs marked the 30th World AIDS Day in the Scottish Parliament last week. We all want to raise awareness of HIV and challenge the stigma which still surrounds the condition.

Hamilton, Larkhall and Stonehouse is no more immune to HIV, the virus that causes Aids, than any other part of the country.

 

The debate in the Scottish Parliament was led by SNP MSP Emma Harper, who reflected on the work of the Scottish Government, alongside organisations such as Waverley Care, to make HIV a manageable condition and help those diagnosed with HIV lead long, healthy lives.
 
It was recently announced that the Scottish Government had met the UNAIDS 90:90:90 targets – a series of targets set out in 2014 to challenge aids globally.
 
In 2017, there were 369 diagnoses of HIV reported in Scotland, and there are an estimated 5,786 people living with HIV across the country.
 
Speaking in the debate, Emma Harper MSP said:
 
“I would like to thank colleagues from across the Chamber who have added their support to my motion, which has allowed me to have this important 30th World Aids Day debate in Parliament.
 
“I commend the joint work of Waverley Care and Scotland's NHS boards for their promotion of undetectable equals un-transmittable, ‘U = U’  – which is a key message of this 30th World Aids Day.
 
"This means that if a person who is living with HIV achieves and maintains an undetectable viral load by adhering to their prescribed medication, the HIV virus cannot be passed to another person through sex. Being HIV-positive today is completely different from how it was 30 years ago.
 
“Having had experience of working with prominent researchers, practitioners and medical professionals both at home and in the USA, I am acutely aware of how important it is to tackle the stigma around HIV and Aids, and I encourage everyone to know their HIV status.”

 

Cashless at Christmas

You have all heard me relentlessly pushing for an improved social security system that does not contain the kinds of horrors that continue to emerge out of the Universal Credit failed concept. I noted Theresa May declaring to Parliament that there was no such thing a five week wait for payment. She should talk to a few of my constituents in Hamilton, Larkhall and Stonehouse who will tell a very different story.

 

I find the idea of withholding money for five weeks not just abhorrent but completely horrific. Christmas highlights that, though it is as true for any time of the year.

Yes, you can get a loan, but a loan has to be paid back and when you’re struggling already, another demand on your very limited income can only push families back further into even more poverty.

Anyone making a new claim for Universal Credit faces spending the festive season without money, Social Security Secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville said today.

The in-built wait of a minimum of five weeks before payment means that anyone making a claim this week will need to survive until January without money to which they are entitled.

Ms Somerville criticised the delay as she met with people receiving benefits on a visit to a Citizen’s Advice Scotland office in Leith –  the full service roll out of Universal Credit by the UK Government  began to be rolled out in Edinburgh last week.    

Ms Somerville said:

“Christmas is a time of additional expense for most people but it’s particularly hard for families with little money to begin with.

“It is therefore unacceptable that anyone making a claim for Universal Credit from last week will not see their money until after Christmas. This is an appalling situation for many across Scotland and why we have repeatedly called for a halt to the roll out of Universal Credit.

“The minimum five week wait for a first payment is just one of the many problems with Universal Credit, the roll out of which has led to sharp rises in the use of food banks and rent arrears. 

“While the DWP do offer advance payments, this needs to be paid back from future payments, locking families in to further debt at the start of a new year.

 “The Scottish Government cannot change Universal Credit.  It’s a benefit delivered by the UK Government. However, we do have limited powers to make the delivery of Universal Credit better suited to the needs of people. Since last year, our Universal Credit Scottish choices have given people the choice to receive their Universal Credit award twice monthly and have the housing costs paid directly to their landlord.

 “We are spending significant amounts to mitigate the worst effects of UK Government cuts and support those on low incomes - £125 million this year alone - £20 million more than last year. 

“Previous calls for the roll out to be halted have been ignored and Universal Credit will be available in all areas before Christmas. The UK Government must now make the fundamental changes needed to make Universal Credit fit for purpose before the managed migration of people on legacy benefits begins next summer.”

Background

The roll out of Universal Credit full service across Scotland has now been completed. This means that anyone who would have made a claim to one of the six legacy benefits will now have to claim Universal Credit. Anyone who currently receives a legacy benefit will also be moved onto Universal Credit should there be a change in their circumstances.

Due to the in-built minimum five week wait for a first payment of Universal Credit, anyone making a new claim will have to wait until after Christmas to receive that payment.

 

#GoodCauseSantaClaus Christina visits the Christmas charity project in Larkhall

 

I would like to encourage everyone in Hamilton, Larkhall and Stonehouse to participate in ‘Good Cause Santa Claus’ a Secret Santa challenge launched by the Charity Retail Association.

Secret Santa is a popular game amongst families, friends and work colleagues in which participants randomly assign another member of the group to buy an anonymous gift for. Good Cause Santa Claus involves the same challenge but gifts are to be purchased only in charity shops.

I'm backing the challenge and highlighting the benefits of Christmas shopping in local charity shops.

Participating in the Secret Santa charity shop challenge is a fun way to give back in this festive season.

The challenge is great for the environment and beneficial for local charities who rely on shop funds to provide vital services at this time of year.

Charity shops bring huge social value to the Hamilton, Larkhall and Stonehouse communities, support countless volunteers and boost our local high streets.

Rachel Blair, Public Affairs and Communications Officer for the Charity Retail Association in Scotland said:

“Good Cause Santa Claus allows shoppers to think about how they can help their community this Christmas.

“Gifts bought from charity shops are better for the environment, contribute to a good cause and can surprise your recipient with something a bit different.”

 Be a #GoodCauseSantaClaus this Christmas and buy your Secret Santa gift in your local Charity Shop. 

 

Bank of Scotland closures slammed in Parliament

 

I met with representatives of the Bank of Scotland, following up from my request.  I was given an opportunity to explain how negatively I believe the closure of the Stonehouse branch is in terms of the community as a whole.

I can’t declare that I have managed to persuade the Bank of Scotland to change its decision, though I tried very hard. On at least a slightly more positive note, the Bank representative with whom I met told me that BoS has put in place a services contract that will allow its local customers to be able to carry on their normal banking via the Post Office.

Meanwhile in the Scottish Parliament, the SNP MSP Sandra White led a members' debate condemning the Bank of Scotland’s latest proposed closures.
 
Following the announcement, a group of seven SNP MSPs wrote to the Managing Director of Bank of Scotland, Robin Bulloch, seeking an urgent meeting to discuss the plans.
 
Commenting ahead of the debate, SNP MSP Sandra White said:
 
“Bank branches across Scotland have been closing at an alarming rate.
 
“Since 2015 more than 230 bank branches in Scotland have been shut or marked for closure. Research suggests that local branches are closing faster in Scotland than any other part of the UK.
 
“A continued face-to-face banking service is indispensable for many of our most vulnerable constituents.
 
“Parties from across the chamber have made clear today that it’s time for Bank of Scotland to go back to the drawing board and think again about these proposals.
 
“I will continue to fight tooth and nail alongside my SNP colleagues to keep every one of the branches threatened with closure open.”

What are your thoughts? Does this decision impact upon you directly? What would you like to see Bank of Scotland do?

Drop an email to: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
 

Following up: The devastating reality of violence against women and girls

 

I introduced the recent debate on violence against women and girls at the Scottish Parliament, marking the 16 days of action. Here are some extracts:

“Violence against women and girls is one of the most devastating and fundamental violations of human rights. It has to stop, and meaningful action must be taken to stop it. The 16 days of action provide an opportunity for us to come together, give new momentum to our ambitions and review just how far we have come. The occasion is being marked all across Scotland, and I look forward to joining the many events over the next 16 days.

“At the weekend, I was fortunate enough to attend an event that focused on the catalyst for the campaign. On 25 November 1960, sisters Patria, Minerva and Maria Teresa Mirabal, three political activists who actively opposed the cruelty and systematic violence of the Trujillo dictatorship in the Dominican Republic, were clubbed to death and dumped at the bottom of a cliff by Trujillo’s secret police. 

“The Mirabal sisters became symbols of the feminist resistance and, in 1980, in commemoration of their deaths, 25 November was declared international day for the elimination of violence against women in Latin America. The international day was formally recognised by the United Nations in 1999. Today, the campaign takes place annually to remember those who have been lost to gender-based violence and to commend the bravery and sacrifice of those activists who have striven to end violence against women and girls all over the world.

 

 

“This debate takes place at a time when violence against women and girls is very much in the spotlight. We have all been moved by the stories told through the #MeToo movement, which has prompted thousands of women to disclose that they, too, have been victims of sexual harassment or assault. If #MeToo has achieved anything, it has given women the voice to stand up to everyday sexism, gender-based stereotypes, sexual harassment, glass ceilings—the list goes on. Behaviour that was once written off or tacitly ignored is finally being challenged and perpetrators are being held to account.

“Earlier this year, I was thrilled to visit St John Ogilvie high school, in my constituency—I have visited it on many occasions—to find students giving an assembly on equally safe. Next week, I look forward to visiting Denny high school to see its work to embed equally safe principles throughout its institution. When I was in St John Ogilvie high school, one of the amazing young women activists who were delivering the project reminded me of a quote from Elizabeth Edwards: ‘She stood in the storm, and when the wind did not blow her away, she adjusted her sails.’

“It is important that we raise awareness of and embed understanding of gender-based violence, but the bigger challenge is in delivering a societal shift whereby women no longer occupy a subordinate position to men. We need to make progress in advancing women’s equality in a range of spaces: economic, civic, social and cultural. The work of the First Minister’s national advisory council on women and girls is important in that regard, and I look forward to seeing its first report early next year.

“We also need to act here and now to ensure that those who experience violence and abuse get the help and support that they need. Specialist third sector services play a vital role in providing that support, which is why we are providing three years’ funding for those organisations to enable them to plan for the future. I put on record my personal tribute to all the organisations that have persisted in ensuring that we get the right information in order to make the decisions that we make here in Parliament.

“More than £12 million from the equality budget is being invested this year to support services and tackle the underlying issues that create the conditions for violence. Last month, in recognition of the significant demand that rape crisis centres face for their valuable support services, I was pleased to announce additional funding of £1.5 million over the next three years to help those centres to better meet that demand. There has been a significant amount of activity this year by the Government and its partners, but I recognise that more remains to be done, and we will continue to keep up the pace.

“As I stated at the outset, the theme of this year’s 16 days concerns ending gender-based violence in the world of work. I know that this Parliament has taken steps to tackle sexual harassment in this workplace, which is welcome. I am also pleased to inform the chamber that the Scottish Government is running its own internal campaign during the 16 days, which will involve a number of events to raise awareness and send a clear message that harassment and abuse are never acceptable. It will be a clear reminder that it falls to us all to take action in this area.

“A lot has been achieved, but there is more to be done. We cannot rest until violence against women and girls is consigned to history. I will end with a quote from Emma Watson, the UN women goodwill ambassador. She says: ‘How can we effect change in the world when only half of it is invited or feel welcome to participate in the conversation?’ I urge us all to actively participate in the conversation, today in this chamber, tomorrow and until we have ensured that every woman in Scotland lives free from violence.”

Domestic abuse statistics: the realities

New statistics from Scotland’s Chief Statistician have been released.

The main findings include:

Levels of domestic abuse recorded by the police in Scotland have remained relatively stable since 2011-12, with around 58.000 to 60,000 incidents a year. The police recorded 59,541 incidents of domestic abuse in 2017-18, an increase on 1% compared to the previous year.

In 2017-18, 44% of incidents of domestic abuse recorded by the police in Scotland resulted in at least one crime or offence being committed.

The crime or offence that was most frequently recorded as part of a domestic abuse incident in 2017-18 was Common assault (accounting for 37% of all crimes and offences recorded). This was followed by Breach of the peace etc. which accounted for 31% of crimes and offences.

Where gender information was recorded, around four in every five incidents of domestic abuse in 2017-18 had a female victim and a male accused. This proportion has remained very stable since 2011-12.

In 2017-18, the 26-30 years old age group has the highest rate for both victims (272 incidents recorded per 10,000 population) and accused (246 incidents recorded per 10,000 population).

Incidents of domestic abuse recorded by the police are more common at weekends with 35% of all incidents in 2017-18 occurring on a Saturday or Sunday.

In 2017-18, 88% of all incidents of domestic abuse occurred in a home or dwelling.

While glad that the figures aren’t getting worse, this is still a shocking, shameful set of findings. We must all pull together properly to shed this notion that domestic violence is somehow just part of what we have to live with. It isn’t.

As regular readers will know, this is a cause I’ve been talking about for many years. The Blue Ribbon campaign which I talked about in the last Newsletter tackles violence where it starts – among the men who mostly perpetuate it – and there are many other initiatives all working towards shaking off this daft notion that somehow domestic violence is so normal we need to just accept it.

I will never, ever sit back and accept that kind of mindset. Things have changed positively in the last several years but there remains a long way to go before we in Scotland completely outlaw domestic abuse.

 

Improving Alcohol and Drug Treatment

 Scotland will help people with drug and alcohol addictions by treating wider problems such as housing and employment, and supporting their families. 

 
The Scottish Government’s strategy for preventing and reducing drug and alcohol-related harm, Rights, Respect and Recovery, says Scotland will take a health approach to substance misuse and ensure services treat people as individuals. 
 
This includes diverting drug users out of the criminal justice system where appropriate, and tackling people’s wider issues such as housing, employment and mental health. Families will also get support and be closely involved in their loved one’s treatment.

The strategy also emphasises education and early intervention for young people and those most at risk of becoming addicted to alcohol or drugs.

Launching the strategy at Gowrie Care’s Cairn Centre in Dundee, Public Health Minister Joe FitzPatrick said:

“Improving how we support people harmed by drugs and alcohol is one of the hardest and most complex problems we face. But I am clear that the ill-health and deaths caused by substance misuse are avoidable and we must do everything we can to prevent them. This means treating people and all their complex needs, not just the addiction, tackling the inequalities and traumas behind substance misuse, and intervening early to prevent people at risk.

“We are supporting this strategy with an additional £20 million a year on top of our considerable existing investment in drug and alcohol treatment and prevention. We want to see innovative, evidence-based approaches, regardless of whether these make people uncomfortable. This money mustn’t just produce more of the same.”

Gowrie Care managing director Joy Dunlop said:

“I’m delighted to welcome Joe FitzPatrick MSP to our service to launch such an important strategy. Gowrie’s ethos encourages innovation so that services remain relevant and we continue to deliver meaningful outcomes for the people we support – key to this is ensuring the people we support are at the heart of everything we do.

“The Scottish Government’s investment is very much welcomed and will support the fantastic work that our staff and others in the sector do to support people in recovery.”

 

An end to homelessness?

 

It is truly outrageous that homelessness not only exists but thrives throughout Scotland. My colleague, Kevin Stewart MSP, put a motion put up to the Scottish Parliament on this subject. It says:

That the Parliament agrees that everyone should have a safe, warm, settled home; notes the Scottish Government’s commitment to end homelessness and rough sleeping and transform temporary accommodation; welcomes the comprehensive work of the Homelessness and Rough Sleeping Action Group and the Local Government and Communities Committee to set out recommendations and actions to achieve this shared ambition; supports the publication of the Ending Homelessness Together Action Plan, which addresses these recommendations and sets out the steps that the Scottish Government will take in partnership with COSLA, local authorities, the third and public sectors and others across housing, and welcomes the role of the cross-sector Homelessness Prevention and Strategy Group in overseeing implementation of this action plan to deliver an end to homelessness and rough sleeping.”.

The Ending Homelessness Together Action Plan sets out measures for national and local government and the third sector who provide frontline services.

It follows a list of 70 recommendations set out by the Homelessness and Rough Sleeping Action Group, which were all accepted by the Scottish Government earlier this year.

The plan will focus on:

  • Providing a person centred approach to support individual needs
  • Putting prevention first, to minimise the risk of people becoming homeless
  • Prioritising the provision of settled and mainstreamed housing
  • Ensuring a quick and effective response by frontline workers
  • Joining up planning and resources

People who are living in temporary accommodation or at risk of homelessness are already being supported quickly into permanent homes through investment of £23.5 million, which is part of the £50m Ending Homelessness Together Fund.

Communities secretary Aileen Campbell launched the plan while visiting Cyrenians’ distribution centre in Edinburgh.

She said: “Everyone needs a safe, warm place to call home. It’s more than a place to live it’s where we feel secure, have roots and a sense of belonging.

“The causes of homelessness can be complex and that’s why all services need to be joined up. Working together we can end homelessness for good.

“The First Minister made a commitment in this year’s Programme for Government to end rough sleeping and homelessness and this is what will get us there. The plan builds on the many changes in homelessness and affordable housing we have delivered in recent years, including more than £3 billion to deliver 35,000 homes for social rent and the multi-million pound Ending Homelessness Together Fund.

“I’d like to thank the Homelessness and Rough Sleeping Action Group for all their hard work that has led to this action plan.”

Cllr Elena Whitham, COSLA’s community wellbeing spokesperson, added: “Access to good quality affordable housing is fundamental to us all – the key actions contained in this plan, to prevent homelessness occurring in the first place, personalise decisions for those affected and prioritise settled housing will contribute to better outcomes for communities across Scotland. The continued focus on services being joined up remains critical – I know Councils and our partners across the various sectors are committed to delivering on the actions contained within this plan.”

 Rough sleeping prevention and a shift towards rapid rehousing are among the key aims of a new Scottish Government action plan to bring an end to homelessness in Scotland.

Jon Sparkes, chief executive of Crisis, who chaired the Homelessness and Rough Sleeping Action Group, said: “This is an ambitious plan that firmly positions Scotland as a world-leader in ending homelessness. The turnaround has been swift and the approach is bold but achievable if the commitment is shared across local government, housing associations and homelessness charities. The plan has people at its heart and makes clear that the best approach is to prevent homelessness in the first place, however we need to see a prevention duty in law for all public bodies as well as an ambitious set of targets which demonstrates that homelessness has been ended for more people.

“However, overall this plan presents us with a chance to get behind bold and transformative reforms, and see Scotland lead the way once again. It is a unique opportunity to get policies and services right for homeless people, but also to look beyond homelessness into the wider systemic issues of inequality and poverty to bring an end to the injustice of homelessness in Scotland once and for all.”