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.
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Back to school
Deputy First Minister, John Swinney, says that, providing we continue to make progress on suppressing the Covid-19 virus, schools will return full-time and for all students in August.
This is good news not only for parents but for the kids themselves who, by August, will have missed out on five months of teaching.
The way forward has to be conditional on infection rates being sufficiently low to continue to control the virus, public health and testing systems being in place and protective measures and risk assessments being carried out in schools.
Thanks to the united effort of people here in Hamilton, Larkhall and Stonehouse Constituency, and across Scotland, who have stuck to government advice we have now made significant progress in the fight against Covid-19.
I’m absolutely delighted by the announcement that if we stay on the right path, and continue to suppress this virus, our young people can return to school full time from August.
This is an important step not only in ensuring our young people get the education they deserve, but it’s also positive news for working families.
I want to send my gratitude to our amazing teachers and school staff in South Lanarkshire who have helped us get to this stage.
There’s a lot of work ahead of us, but this SNP Scottish Government is working hard to support families and communities across the country.
Support for students in South Lanarkshire
I have welcomed the Scottish Government's announcement of extra financial help for students facing financial hardship over the summer months.
The Scottish Government has brought forward early access to £11.4m of discretionary funds - which will be administered by colleges and universities - to support higher education students.
Students are, due to UK government rules, unable to claim Universal Credit or other benefits.
Scottish students studying in Europe as part of EU Portability or historically arranged schemes will also be able to access a £100,000 emergency fund administered by the Student Awards Agency Scotland (SAAS).
Many students in South Lanarkshire will have expected to find paid work over the summer to cover their rent or save for the following term – but are now, through no fault of their own, unable to do so.
This Scottish Government support will be welcome news for those students who rely on part-time jobs over the summer months, who could find it difficult to cover their living costs due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
No student should face financial hardship as a result of this crisis - and these new measures will support students until the start of the next academic year when bursary, grant and loan payments will begin again.
The news in the First Minister’s daily briefings is gradually becoming a little more hopeful, always with the caveat that a new wave could hit us at any time.
There have been no deaths in Scotland over the last four days up to 29 June.
Nicola Sturgeon has said that she thinks Scotland is “not far away” from eliminating the virus in the community. She warns, though, that “elimination is not eradication.”
The First Minister said: “The sacrifices that have been made – and I know how hard and at times painful they have been – have suppressed the virus. They have also protected the NHS, and have undoubtedly saved a significant number of lives.
“They have also brought us to the position where we can now look ahead with a bit more clarity to our path out of lockdown, and I hope details announced today will provide people and businesses with more certainty in their forward planning.
“But let me be clear that each step on this path depends on us continuing to beat the virus back. That is why we must do everything in our power to avoid steps being reversed.
“The central point in all of this is the virus has not - and it will not - go away of its own accord. It will pose a real and significant threat to us for some time to come.
“Maintaining our progress also means all of us abiding by public health guidance. Wearing face coverings in enclosed spaces, avoiding crowded places, washing our hands and cleaning surfaces regularly, maintaining physical distancing, agreeing to immediately self-isolate and get a test if we have symptoms - all of these basic protections matter now more than ever as we all get out and about a bit more.”
From today [Monday] onwards, all retail shops with entrances and exits directly onto the street (that is, not shopping malls) are now able to open.
There is protective guidance:
If progress continues, then we should be able to move onto Phase Three with further restrictions removed by mid-July.
To continue to stop the spread of the virus and saves lives, there are 5 things we all still need to do. Remember FACTS. You can check your knowledge in this short video from the Scottish Government https://tinyurl.com/ya25v7sd
Holyrood backs £15,572m for South Lanarkshire to tackle Covid-19
I have warmly welcomed a Holyrood vote approving £15.572 million extra funding for South Lanarkshire in light of the coronavirus pandemic.
Almost £258 million extra funding has been approved for vital local services across Scotland, such as food provision for those in need, education and social care.
The Scottish Government is in discussions with local authorities over providing a further £72m – which will bring the total additional funding to almost £330m.
This extra funding is on top of the local government finance settlement of £11.4b, which already provided an increase of £589.4m (5.8%) compared to the previous year.
The pandemic has put real pressure on families and local services, and it’s right that the Scottish Government has ensured South Lanarkshire has more cash to deal with this.
This funding boost is supporting access to food, welfare payments and frontline services.
I also welcome the additional flexibility given to councils in how money is spent, allowing resources to be diverted to the Covid-19 response if required.
Protecting Scotland’s environmental standards after Brexit
Allegedly, Wednesday 1 July is the final date by which an extension to the transition could be requested. I’ve given my full backing to a Bill that would protect our environmental commitments so that they keep up with the EU standards after 31 December.
The UK Withdrawal from the European Union (Continuity) (Scotland) Bill will allow or provide for continuity of provision that would otherwise be lost on withdrawal from the EU.
The Bill’s proposals on environmental principles and governance will help Scotland maintain high standards, in line with the EU, to support our world-leading efforts tackle the climate emergency.
The SNP has also renewed calls on Boris Johnson to agree a two-year extension to the transition period - warning that the Tory government's failure in the Brexit talks is threatening the economy.
South Lanarkshire voted to remain in the European Union, along with every other local authority in Scotland. Not one voted for Brexit.
Brexit must not mean a race to the bottom on environmental standards – which is why the Scottish Government is rightly seeking to keep pace with European regulations.
The UK is already facing the worst economic crisis in decades – yet the Tories are determined to crash out of the transition period this year, imposing yet more uncertainty on Scottish businesses during a global health emergency.
The SNP believe the best future for Scotland is as an independent member of the EU - but this Bill will enable us to keep pace with Europe in devolved areas and will complement Scotland’s world-leading ambitions to tackle climate change.
Child Maintenance Service
Campaigners have called for a review of the Child Maintenance Service and for effective enforcement action to be taken in the collection of maintenance arrears – calls that have repeatedly been made by my colleague, campaigning SNP MP Marion Fellows. The Motherwell and Wishaw MP has also called for the introduction of a minimum maintenance payment.
This is a shocking situation but it is somehow not really penetrating our collective consciousness. I have often raised it as an issue everywhere from the Scottish Parliamentary Chamber to Women’s Aid, or from Gingerbread to women’s rights more widely.
DWP figures show that 43% of children covered by Collect and Pay – where CMS collects maintenance on parents’ behalf – are not receiving a penny of the maintenance they are legally entitled to. There are £354m of CMS arrears, yet just £31m has been collected through CMS enforcement actions – less than 10% of the figure that is owed.
The single-parent charity Gingerbread says that for families living in poverty, the proper payment of child maintenance could lift 60% out of poverty.
Commenting, Marion Fellows MP said: "For years, the UK Government has ignored warnings from myself and others that the Child Maintenance Service is totally unfit for purpose in the collection of arrears and that it requires a root and branch review. I’m glad that campaigners are taking the fight to the UK Government and seeking justice through the courts to get what they and their children are entitled to.
"This will be a moment of reckoning for the UK Government. They must heed our calls and introduce a Minimum Maintenance Payment now. Families must be guaranteed a dignified standard of living to prevent them being forced further into poverty, which is currently being exacerbated by the Covid-19 crisis.
"Arrears have been allowed to grow out of control and into hundreds of millions. Families have been forced to turn to foodbanks and into debt, with many having to choose between heating and eating. The abandonment of single-parents – the vast majority of whom are women – and their children has been unacceptable. The UK Government cannot ignore families any longer."
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/
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/