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.
During the Covid-19 pandemic, we are all working from home. If you need help, phone the office as normal and leave an outline message. Someone will soon get back to you. You can also email me at any time. Att the contact details are at the end of this email.
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While Covid-19 certainly hasn’t gone away, and families all over the country are grieving for their own losses, the Scottish Government is taking a very careful and cautious approach to the safest way forward.
Westminster’s enthusiasm for watering down ‘lockdown’ procedures while the UK stands at number three (After the USA and Brazil) in the world count of Covid-19 deaths seems bizarre. Experts argue that the UK figures probably underestimate the true numbers and most agree that it's too soon to relax restrictions so extensively.
The First Minister is more cautious. The Scottish Government is not prepared to put lives at risk so as to bolster the economy. But she is optimistic that we can start to move on to Phase Two of the Government’s route map out of lockdown, while carefully monitoring the outcome of changes.
All being well, 18 June will allow meetings indoors with one other household permitted, as well as meetings with people from multiple households outside, always following the 2 metre social distancing guidance.
Smaller non-essential shops can then reopen, as can beer gardens and outdoor areas of restaurants and cafes.
Staff at warehouses and factories would be able to return, and professional sports could restart.
But Nicola Sturgeon has stressed that the virus may be in retreat, but it is far from being gone. Moving too quickly could see Covid-19, as she puts it: “roar back with a vengeance” in a second wave.
For those who are shielding, the Scottish Government wants you to stay put at least until 31 July with one change: From 18 June, you will be able to leave your own home for daily exercise.
Yes, it’s tough when you want to meet your friends for coffee, or wander around the supermarket, go to your classes, see your family and friends and be able to give them a big hug.
There is more detailed updated guidance for those shielding here: https://tinyurl.com/yb257lsm
Under cover of Covid-19, many people barely noticed the promise of ‘No Deal’ over Europe.
Michael Gove confirmed there would be no extension beyond 31 December. On Twitter, he said: “I formally confirmed the UK will not extend the transition period & the moment for extension has now passed. On 1 January 2021 we will take back control and regain our political and economic independence."
This, as the SNP has argued all along, is complete madness and is thrust upon us in spite of Scotland decisively voting to remain in Europe. Our voice was not heard. The vote cast by a ‘family of nations’ produced a tiny margin small in favour of leaving.
After talking to Boris Johnson at Bute House last July, the First Minister said: “It is clear to me that the UK government is on a dangerous path to a catastrophic exit from the EU.
“I was a very lively exchange" she added. Johnson reiterated his total opposition to any movement on Scottish independence and it sounds as if the “robust exchange” reiterated Tory deafness to Scottish input on anything.
Our First Minister has the depth of political insight that Westminster so lacks.
Here, briefly, are a few of the ways in which you and I will quickly see changes after 31 December – just six months’ time. There are many others to come, not least the anticipated fall in the value of the pound against the Euro which will make everything more expensive for us. It will, in particular, hit UK pensioners living in the EU. Their pensions will diminish in value.
Covid-19 and ethnic minorities
The Scottish Government has announced an expert group to examine the impact of Covid-19 on ethnic minority communities in Scotland.
Academics and Scottish Government officials will consider evidence gathered by Public Health Scotland, National Records of Scotland and the NHS and will make recommendations on policy actions to address inequalities.
Nicola Sturgeon said that she hoped the group would “take full account of the needs and experiences of our ethnic minority communities.”
Public Health Scotland published preliminary evidence in May from an investigation into the adverse impact of Covid-19 on minority communities, finding “no signal of increased risk of Covid-19 to people from an ethnic minority in Scotland”.
However, the study acknowledged that “low volume and incomplete data limits the conclusion we can draw at this time.”
The First Minister noted that other studies from around the UK and other parts of the world did find evidence of ethnic minorities having worse health outcomes, as well as being hit harder by the economic impact of the lockdown.
She also said that the Scottish Government may add additional funding on top of the £500,000 already awarded to organisations that work with ethnic minority communities.
In my role as Equalities Minister I said: “The Scottish Government is deeply concerned by reports that suggest people from ethnic minorities have been disproportionately affected by COVID-19 both in terms of health and wider social and economic impacts.
“Although the current analysis in Scotland appears to show that there is not a higher level of Covid-19 cases than would be expected, I understand that many people will be anxious about protecting themselves and their families. I want to reassure them that we are taking this issue extremely seriously.
“We are working to better understand the data on how the pandemic is impacting on our minority ethnic communities in Scotland so we can take the appropriate action and this new group will use their expertise to challenge, inform and shape future work.
“Equality and human rights issues such as this are at the heart of our policy response to the impact of COVID-19, and in particular in our recovery and renewal work. This is part of our wider work to advance race equality, backed by over £2.6m in the last year.”
Closer to home
Away from national and international news, we at home in Hamilton, Larkhall and Stonehouse are managing our homes, families and work lives as best we can.
With Covid overshadowing everything, the community just cannot have the kinds of activities we would normally see at this time of year. Even the big school exams are off the desk and while for some that might be reason to rejoice, for those about to undertake Standards or Highers, the route ahead is suddenly much less predictable.
I was delighted to see that the Scottish Government is bringing more funding to help pupils in deprived areas, including Hamilton, Larkhall and Stonehouse to improve attainment.
South Lanarkshire Council will receive £1,963,488 investment specifically directed towards pupils from deprived backgrounds.
This extra money comes from a £50m package that is in addition to the £250m Pupil Equity Funding announced in May for the next two years and an investment of £9m to provide 25,000 laptops to assist pupils learning at home.
It’s great news and reinforces the SNP’s determination to close the poverty-related attainment gap and to put achieving that goal front and centre of our plans to improve education.
Students facing hardship
Students facing hardship this summer due to COVID-19 can now receive financial support within a package of new measures.
The Scottish Government has brought forward early access to £11.4m of discretionary funds - support for higher education students in financial difficulty – to be administered by colleges and universities.
Unlike continuing higher education students, most former further education students can receive benefits if they are unemployed. Colleges will now have flexibility to offer discretionary funds to bridge the timing gap between bursary payments ending in June and Universal Credit payments starting.
Scottish students studying in Europe as part of EU Portability or historically arranged schemes will be able to access a £100,000 emergency fund administered by the Student Awards Agency Scotland (SAAS).
SAAS has also suspended all new debt recovery actions in respect to grants and bursaries until September for students whose circumstances have changed and may have to return overpayments. Students are encouraged to contact SAAS to discuss what help is available.
I am delighted to be able to say that Hamilton CAB is bringing nine of its experienced Volunteer Advisers back to work – from home of course.
A spokesperson said: “Over the next couple of weeks we are getting them set up with mobile phones and laptops (huge thanks to Scottish Government Wellbeing Fund) so they can join the weekly rota of home based advisers.
“They have already held a Zoom meeting, with more planned, to ensure they are fully inducted into our new working arrangements. Supported by Jen and Michelle they will bring much needed capacity to our fabulous team.”
Ferniegair Wastewater Treatment Works Update
I have received some news from Scottish Water regarding the Wastewater Treatment Works at Ferniegair.
They have now submitted a planning application to South Lanarkshire Council to expand and future proof the capacity of the facility for new housing in the area. This should not see an increase in the actual boundaries of the site area.
Alongside this they have changed how they handle some of the site works in an effort to deal with some of the noise issues as part of ongoing work.
WOULD YOU LIKE TO HELP?
The community spirit shown by people across Lanarkshire has been heart-warming. If you would like to offer your help, there are a whole host of new groups working across Hamilton, Larkhall and Stonehouse.
They are working together to help spread cheer and make sure the most vulnerable in our area are getting the necessities they need.
The range of services provided include delivering shopping to elderly or vulnerable neighbours, using online group chats to combat social isolation and loneliness, and handing out care packages to the elderly and vulnerable.
If you are in Hamilton, you can find more information about the Hamilton COVID-19 Warriors here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/213851619986142
If you are in Larkhall, you can find out more information about the COVID-19 Rainbows – Larkhall here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/1092656721095368/permalink/1092743704420003
If you are in Stonehouse, you can find out more information about Stonehouse Coronavirus Community Support here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/3402877913061116
At this time, it has never been more important for us all to look after our neighbours and family.
HELP SERVICES AVAILABLE
For Scottish Government information - https://www.gov.scot/coronavirus-covid-19/
For NHS Scotland information - https://www.nhsinform.scot/coronavirus
For Resilience planning information - https://www.readyscotland.org/
For young people - https://young.scot/
For parents https://www.parentclub.scot/ and https://www.children1st.org.uk/help-for-families/parentline-scotland/
For older people - https://www.ageuk.org.uk/scotland/
For information on charities and third sector - https://scvo.org.uk/support/coronavirus
For non-domestic rates business support - https://www.mygov.scot/non-domestic-rates-coronavirus/