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.
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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.