Supporting Public Libraries

The Carnegie Trust UK last week launched a campaign to raise awareness about the impact public libraries can have on individual and community wellbeing. As part of the campaign they have also published a ‘Speaking Volumes’ leaflet and database, which show the range of ways in which public libraries can affect the wellbeing of individuals and communities.

I am happy to support this campaign as I strongly believe that libraries can play a positive role in communities across Central Scotland. Libraries can play a significant part in tackling many of the problems that we face in society today including social isolation, inequality and disadvantage. I loved to read when I was growing up and know how libraries can inspire people through books and literature. Libraries can also act as learning places, helping people with literacy skills and to become more comfortable with digital technology. They can also help jobseekers find employment opportunities and prepare themselves for interviews.

I would therefore encourage people to download and read the ‘Speaking Volumes: The Impact of Public Libraries on Wellbeing’ leaflet and database and become more regular visitors to their local library.

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Encouraging young people to sign up for International Citizens Service

I would encourage young people from across Central Scotland to volunteer for the International Citizens Service (ICS). The project, led by Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO) in partnership with respected development organisations, is open to 18-25 year olds and is designed to tackle poverty in countries such as Burkina Faso, Sierra Leone, and Nepal.

ICS offers young people the chance to develop personally and learn about team working and leadership on projects that are of genuine value to communities around the world. On return to the UK, ICS volunteers undertake an ‘Action at Home Project’, ensuring that their new skills also benefit their local communities. To date 124 volunteers from across Scotland have been on placements with International Citizen Service.

ICS is a fantastic opportunity for young people in Central Scotland to undertake an amazing, once in a lifetime opportunity. Volunteers can find themselves building and installing latrines and clean water systems, supporting famers’ groups to improve their yields and businesses or teaching children and young people about HIV by engaging them through sports to name but a few projects.

I was lucky enough to spend a short time in Malawi in the summer of 2012 in the company of pupils and teachers from schools in North Lanarkshire. This was an amazing experience and although some of what I saw was harrowing, it was an opportunity that I will be eternally grateful for.

Volunteering with ICS is a unique opportunity to work alongside people from a different culture who have requested help from young volunteers to fight poverty and make a difference where it’s needed most. I would therefore encourage as many young people as possible from across Central Scotland to sign up for ICS.

Find out more about ICS here.

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Visiting Forth Valley Sensory Centre

With Duncan Campbell and his wife, who were loaned an amplified cordless phone to try out, with Malaika Rose from Action on Hearing Loss Scotland

Duncan Campbell and his wife, who were loaned an amplified cordless phone to try out, with Malaika Rose from Action on Hearing Loss Scotland

I was pleased to be able to visit Forth Valley Sensory Centre in Falkirk earlier this month to find out about the work done by the volunteers and staff who run twice monthly drop-in sessions at the centre.

The Forth Valley Sensory Centre is a purpose-built centre designed for people with multiple sensory losses where information, advice and diagnosis can be sought, followed by any required treatment. The drop-in sessions at the Centre on Redbrae Road, Camelon, also give local people with hearing loss the chance to get free loan of equipment to try out to see how it can make everyday life much easier.

I am aware of the challenges people with a range of disabilities face in their day to day lives so it is great to see that Forth Valley Sensory Centre offers practical support like this. One in six people have some form of hearing loss and it is important that they can make an informed choice about how they manage their hearing loss and can easily access local support.

Action on Hearing Loss Scotland’s Malaika Rose said: “As someone with hearing loss myself, I know the difference that assistive equipment can make in everyday life. Our drop-in sessions are run by a local volunteer who has a wide range of knowledge of products for people with hearing loss, and we’re keen that everyone visiting gets the time to discuss their concerns or needs and find out about support that is most suitable for them.”

For more information visit the Action on Hearing Loss Scotland website.

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Supporting Lloyds Banking Groups Credit Union Development Fund

I was pleased to learn this week that Lloyds Banking Group have launched a £4 million Credit Union Development Fund.

Over four years, the fund will assist Credit Unions who can demonstrate strong and viable proposals for growth. Delivered in partnership with the Credit Union Foundation, it will focus on strengthening the financial position of Credit Unions, enabling them to grow sustainably, build resilience and help more people in the long term.

Two kinds of grants will be made: Large awards (of between £50,000 and £100,000) which will ‘top-up’ a Credit Union’s reserves and provide the opportunity for them to build their business to ensure sustained growth without capital constraints, and Seed funding awards which will be revenue grants expected to be between £10,000 and £20,000. Up to 10% of the total fund is set aside for seed funding.

This important initiative aims to enable as many people as possible to access and benefit from financial services. I have no doubt that it will be incredibly helpful to Credit Unions all over Scotland. Scottish Labour is committed to promoting Credit Unions as a viable alternative to exploitative payday lenders and this fund will be of real help in ensuring that vision becomes a reality.

Credit Unions play a huge role in our communities here in Central Scotland: promoting ethical financial practices, providing low cost loans and encouraging saving. They are a great example of how member owned co-operatives can operate successfully and I applaud Lloyds on this initiative.

Grant applications for the £4m fund will open from 1 July to until 31 July and more information on eligibility and criteria can be found at http://www.creditunionfoundation.org.uk/home

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Praising the work of the Showmen’s Guild

I was pleased to be able to speak in a debate at the Scottish Parliament on Thursday 19th June in recognition of the Scottish Showmen’s Guild in their 125th Anniversary year.

The Scottish Showmen’s Guild is a non-profit trade association and is the governing body for all funfairs and fairground rides operated by its members. In Scotland, the Guild represents nearly 400 members, each being a small business in their own right, totalling over 2000 people across the country. It is by far the oldest and largest organisation that represents the industry and the wider community. Throughout its 125 years, the Guild has aimed to promote and protect the interests of its members.

I grew up in Lanarkshire and enjoyed many of the fairs that have been established over the years by members of the guild. I have particular memories of the fair that was held near my grandparents’ home in Newarthill. When the shows arrived, I knew that the start of summer had arrived, too. My family are only one of many who have had great experiences and who have such memories. That is all down to the hard work and determination of the showmen to continue to entertain our communities for such a sustained period.

Sadly, there are still many challenges that members of the Guild face such as the financial barriers put in place by both local authorities and the police. There is also a need for Showmen culture to be recorded and recognised in the school system, where there is currently no place for families to indicate that their children are from a Showmen’s background. This is simply not good enough and it’s time that that was met with a challenge from the Government.

You can read my speech in full here.

You can watch my speech from 25.27 onwards below:

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Supporting New Powers to Tackle Dangerous Buildings

I was pleased last week to be able to support my Scottish Labour colleague David Stewart MSPs Buildings (Recovery of Expenses) (Scotland) Bill. The Bill, which passed Stage 3 last Thursday, is the first Opposition Member’s Bill passed this session and received unanimous support by all parties in the Parliament. It will provide Local Authorities with much needed extra powers to re-coup their costs when dealing with defective and dangerous buildings.

The Bill reintroduces charging orders which will enable Local Authorities to recover their costs in a more efficient and cost effective manner.

This is a positive Bill which will help struggling Local Authorities re-coup their costs of dealing with various building standard Issues. It is estimated that only that only 50% of debts are recovered and that currently there could be over £3.9 million outstanding.

Dangerous and defective buildings are a real problem across Scotland, with up to 81% of dwellings in need of some kind of repair. In my area of Central Scotland 99 Dangerous Building notices were issued in 2011-2012. These are not just unsafe to the public, they are an eyesore; they can have a detrimental effect on the surrounding area by driving down house prices on a street or making town centres seem unwelcoming.

Speaking in the Scottish Parliament, David Stewart said “I am delighted that my Bill passed stage three with support across the chamber, and this is the culmination of 4 years hard work.”

“During its passing through Parliament and during the evidence session in the Local Government and Regeneration Committee it was clear that this measure had widespread support from Local Authorities and the wider building sector. It is a testament to what can be achieved when ordinary Members and the government work co-operatively.”

“Too many buildings have been allowed to drift into disrepair and need urgent remedy. It is, of course, the owners’ responsibility to repair buildings. My Bill aims to enable councils to carry out desperately needed repairs whilst shifting the financial burden back to the owners themselves.”

“I am optimistic that that Local Authorities will proactively use this new power to ensure they will not be out of pocket when stepping in to deal with building standards issues. This will mean they will feel more confident in carrying out repairs, hopefully leading to less repairs being delayed, scaled back or even cancelled due to concerns over cost recovery. Indirectly, it will hopefully also stimulate the repair and maintenance sector of the construction industry as more repairs will be carried out.”

Scottish Building Federation Managing Director, Vaughan Hart said “SBF supports this legislation as a welcome move to support the repair of unsafe buildings in Scotland.”

“Buildings that are not properly maintained can pose a major risk to the public, particularly in built-up areas. Local authorities have an important responsibility to protect the public by repairing buildings that are dangerous. This legislation would enable them to do that with greater confidence as they can recover the associated costs from the building owner.”

Local Government and Regeneration Committee report: http://www.scottish.parliament.uk/parliamentarybusiness/CurrentCommittees/69658.aspx

Future information on Bill: http://www.scottish.parliament.uk/parliamentarybusiness/Bills/46078.aspx

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Welcome Recommendations on Baby Ashes

Last week I welcomed the publication by the independent Infant Cremation Commission of the report into the handling of baby ashes in Scotland. The report, chaired by former High Court Judge Lord Bonomy, was set up over a year ago and aimed to investigate the practise of infant cremation in Scotland and how the ashes are disposed of. The report produced 64 recommendations aimed at improving policy and practice across Scotland.

Following a Scottish Government statement on the issue at the Scottish Parliament on Tuesday 17th June, I urged the Minister for Public Health Michael Matheson to encourage all Local Authorities to waive any time-limits that exist for bereaved parents to make representations.

It was both surprising and disappointing to learn that one Local Authority had chosen not to waive the one year time-limit which is now affecting my constituents. It is important that all parents have the right to find out what happened to their baby’s ashes regardless of how long it takes. I am glad that the National Investigations Unit can look at cases that go back many decades if necessary and I hope that this means that every family will get the answers they deserve.

I welcome this report and the recommendations within it and sincerely hope that when they come into effect they will prevent a repeat of the pain and heartache that families across Scotland have had to endure.

I hope that the Scottish Government will move promptly to implement these measures and that no more parents have to go through what many families across Scotland have endured and that the failure of the system is fully addressed.

You can read my question in the Scottish Parliament Official Report here.

You can watch my question from 29:48 onwards below.

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