Third Sector Forum Events

This month will see the initial locality based Third Sector Forum (TSF) events being held across South Lanarkshire.  These locality events are an opportunity for Third Sector organisations to network and share their thoughts, views and experiences and help to develop a strong Third Sector which contributes, informs and adds value to Community Planning Partners.

The TSF is a new engagement platform, supported by VASLan, bringing third sector and community organisations together at locality level, encouraging creative thinking and ways of working that address local need and inform public policy.

This is an exciting step in sector engagement, and I would encourage as many organisations as possible to get involved.

The meetings will take place at the following locations:


Hamilton, Blantyre & Larkhall: 2pm on Wednesday 27th January 2016 at Hillhouse and Earnock Community Centre (Hillhouse Road, Hamilton, ML3 9TX).

East Kilbride & Strathaven:  10am on Thursday 28th January 2016 at Calderwood Baptist Church, (Maxwellton Road, East Kilbride, G74 3LW).

Siobhan McMahon MSP Presses Scottish Government on Legal Aid Review

Central Scotland Labour MSP Siobhan McMahon has urged the Scottish Government to reveal when a review of current legal aid arrangements will take place.

Ms McMahon made her calls while questioning the Scottish Government Minister for Community Safety and Legal Affairs, Paul Wheelhouse, at the Scottish Parliament on Thursday 14th January.

In September 2015, Ms McMahon wrote to the Cabinet Secretary for Justice, Falkirk West MSP Michael Matheson, highlighting concerns raised by members of the Falkirk and District Faculty of Solicitors about new inadequate legal aid rates of pay which would see lawyers out with Edinburgh suffer losses by agreeing to appear in the new Sheriff Appeal Court.

Ms McMahon again raised these concerns while questioning Mr Wheelhouse. She also reiterated her belief that it’s unacceptable that under the new sheriff appeal court arrangement, those judges who preside at hearings, the other court officials, police officers and lawyers for the prosecution will receive 2015 rates of pay, while those in court who are standing up for the appellant will receive only 1992 rates of pay.

Ms McMahon said “I was pleased to have the opportunity to question the Paul Wheelhouse on this issue which I know is of real importance to those who work in the legal sector here in Falkirk. This is something I’ve raised with Michael Matheson in the past as legal aid plays an important role in our justice system and it cannot be right that people in Falkirk are put a disadvantage under the new rules.

“I welcome the fact that the Scottish Government are working with the Law Society and the Scottish Legal Aid Board to address the concerns raised by those in the sector, but it was disappointing that Mr Wheelhouse was not able to give me a clear timeframe as to when this review will be carried out.

“I will continue to monitor this situation and work with all relevant parties to ensure that the legal aid system works for people in Falkirk.”

You can read Ms McMahon’s questions to Paul Wheelhouse MSP here.

You can read Ms McMahon’s letter to the Cabinet Secretary for Justice here.

Protesting Against SNP Government Cuts to Our Local Authorities

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I was pleased to join Councillors from North and South Lanarkshire outside the Scottish Parliament last week to protest against SNP cuts to our local councils.

The point of the rally was to make it clear that Labour Councillors and Labour MSPs do not believe we should simply be passive recipients of UK budget decisions.

If you agree, sign the Scottish Labour Party petition here:

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Achieving Women’s Equality

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The Scottish Labour Party have launched our consultation paper “Achieving Women’s Equality.

You can read the consultation document here:

Our Equalities Spokesperson Rhoda Grant MSP has written a piece on LabourHame about the consultation:…/achieving-womens-equality

Rhoda says: “If we are to tackle our society’s many inbuilt inequalities that prevent women from achieving their potential we need to focus on specific areas where inequalities are at their worst, and also ensuring women have access to power to make real change.

“That is why Scottish Labour has launched “Achieving Women’s Equality” – a consultation paper covering a range of issues from health, to the economy to justice.

“This paper asks how we should achieve this, not only looking at the age old problems of caring responsibilities and childcare, but how we value women for being women.”

Speaking in the ‘Scotland and Malawi Co-operation Agreement’ Debate

I was pleased to be able to speak in a debate at Parliament on Wednesday 11th November the Scotland and Malawi Co-operation Agreement. Please see below a copy of my speech:

David Livingstone played a major role in improving public health and freeing the indigenous population from the scourge of slavery in Africa and particularly in Malawi. He is a Scottish hero in the true sense. He left the world a better place than it was when he entered it. It is therefore only fitting that our former First Minister Jack McConnell recognised the work that David Livingstone did and which others have done in Malawi by establishing our partnership with that country 10 years ago. Jack McConnell can and should be proud of many achievements, but I am sure that that partnership remains among his greatest.

Many of us who have spoken or will speak in the debate have our own partnership with Malawi. I have spoken many times in the chamber and in other forums about my experience of Malawi and about my memories of it and friendships from my visit some three years ago.

Malawi remains among the poorest countries in the world. In the 2014 UN human development index report, it is ranked 174th out of 187. That ranking might improve when the latest report is issued in December, but it is a deeply depressing statistic. Malawi has a population of 16.36 million people, and their life expectancy is just 55. On average, people spend just four years in a school environment. In less developed rural areas, the incidence of HIV and AIDS is six times higher among women than among men because of the sex trade that is so evident in the country.

In education, much of the discrimination that women experience is deeply ingrained in Malawian culture. Until the early 1960s, Malawian girls were not allowed to attend school. Female education is still viewed by many as irrelevant. Far fewer girls progress through primary education, and female literacy levels are substantially inferior to male literacy levels.

It is important that our partnership with the country strives to make the situation better. The Scottish Government has a large part to play in gaining greater equality for women, particularly in education, but it is heartening to know that local schools, churches and organisations are also taking up that cause. I often talk about the role that St Margaret’s high school in Airdrie has played in that regard, but Falkirk high school, which is another school in my region, has also worked to support female education. Falkirk high school is linked with Bandawe secondary school. The partnership dates back to 2007, and the motto of the partnership is:

“The Two Will Make a Difference”.

That is a simple but powerful statement.

Projects such as the mother group project and the girls go for health initiative, which are part of the North Lanarkshire healthy lifestyle project that is run by Charles Fawcett in conjunction with the Forum for African Women Educationalists in Malawi, have been working hard to narrow the gender divide. The mother group project works to encourage more women to attend school, and the girls go for health initiative strives to keep them there. Women are provided with hygiene and sanitary products and with financial aid for school fees and educational materials, and workshops are organised to encourage male pupils to respect and value their female peers.

A further project that I am aware of because of a local connection is classrooms for Malawi. Its chairperson is James Kelly, who is a parishioner of St Bernadette’s parish in Motherwell. As I have said in previous debates, that parish has its own partnership with Malawi.

Classrooms for Malawi believes

“that the only sustainable route out of poverty is education.”

It says:

“We work throughout Malawi to improve places of education in some of the world’s poorest communities. Recent estimates show that around 2 million children in Malawi are either taught in unsafe and unfit classrooms, outdoors, or simply cannot go to school as the facilities are not there. We want to put an end to this.”

St Bernadette’s parish, of which I am a parishioner, has a partnership with St Anne’s parish in Namulenga. Through that partnership and through classrooms for Malawi, it has helped to renovate Namulenga girls school. It would have been understandable if the parish had stopped there, but it has now switched its focus to helping to foster a better educational environment by providing backpacks, school supplies, transport and furniture as well as toys for the children in the nursery. The parish sent a container in September, which should arrive any day now.

We often speak in the chamber about education, and rightly so, but we can too often forget how privileged we are to have access to education in our country. My experience of Malawi still drives me to this day. It is not an exaggeration to say that my visit made me a better person and changed my outlook on life.

We have achieved a great deal in 10 short years. I am sure that we can achieve a whole lot more in the next 10 years.

Scottish Labour votes to abolish charges for Social Care

As you may know, I’m currently undertaking a consultation on the abolition of charges for non residential social care. It is an issue close to my heart.

I’ve made my thoughts clear on this a number of times. Access to a high standard of non-residential social care is an equality and human rights issue; it cannot be fair that wealth is ever allowed to come into it. The unfairness of charges is exacerbated by the fact that charges for care services vary wildly between local authorities. An easier and fairer way would be for the Scottish Government to assist councils with the cost of the delivery of care and ensure that it is free at the point of delivery.

As a Member of the Scottish Parliament for Central Scotland I hold surgeries across Lanarkshire and Falkirk. Everywhere I go, I hear of the struggles from disabled people from all walks of life brought on by social care charges. Living as a disabled person incurs all sorts of extra costs in the form of paying for things like more heating and specialised diets. Further social care charges means many are left unable to enjoy the things in life that non-disabled people take for granted. The result is that many disabled people fall below the poverty line while others who need additional help go without it for fear of cost.

I brought forward the consultation because I sensed there was a real mood among people with disabilities to tackle this issue. I know from my years on the Scottish Parliament’s Equal Opportunities Committee that charities representing people with disabilities have long wanted to see an end to charges for social care. Even at the height of the Referendum last year, a petition from “Scotland Against the Care Tax” garnered signatures from thousands of individuals.

I was delighted that members voted to commit our party to axe the care tax at the Scottish Labour Party’s annual conference at the end of October. So much credit must go to those behind the motion, Pam Duncan-Glancy, who has grown up having care charges a constant in her life, and her friend Sean Morton. Both Pam and Sean made impassioned pleas for the removal of charges that resonated with the hall. You can find Sean’s impressive speech below.

The success of the motion is something our whole party can be very proud of and means that we go into the coming election committed to scrapping this unjust charge on disability. This creates a real dividing line between Labour and other parties.

My consultation on the care tax is still open and will be until the January 31st. I would welcome as much feedback as possible, so if you have something to add please do not hesitate to offer your submission.

You can read the consultation document here and respond to the consultation via the online smart survey here.

Siobhan McMahon MSP: Families in Central Scotland will be protected by Scottish Labour

Families not flights

Working families across Central Scotland will be protected by Tory cuts to Tax Credits by Scottish Labour.

The party announced that they would protect working families in Scotland from tax credit cuts using the new powers coming to the Scottish Parliament.

Party leader Kezia Dugdale announced the move in her keynote speech to Scottish Labour conference in Perth last week, outlining that the party would pay for the move by cancelling planned SNP tax cuts on air passenger duty and Tory cuts for higher rate tax payers. 

Local Scottish Labour MSP Siobhan McMahon said the move could protect as many as 58,300 families in Central Scotland.

Ms McMahon said:

“Tax credits work. They make work pay for families in Central Scotland and across country. They lifted hundreds of thousands of children out of poverty, and they allow families to aspire to more than just making it to the end of the month.

“That’s why the Labour Government introduced them in the first place and why Scottish Labour would use the powers coming to the Scottish Parliament to reverse the Tories plans to cut them.

“This is about different choices between Labour and the SNP when it comes to priorities. It’s about standing up for working families.

“The SNP want to make a plane ticket cheaper. I don’t think that’s the right priority when there are families in Central Scotland who can’t afford the weekly shop.

“This is about what we stand for and who we stand with. Labour will put the incomes of working class families before the price of a business class flights. “

Questioning the Minister for Children and Young People on Reforms to the Protecting Vulnerable Groups Scheme


Siobhan McMahon (Central Scotland) (Lab):

To ask the Scottish Government whether it considers that the recent reforms to the protecting vulnerable groups scheme are sufficient.

The Minister for Children and Young People (Aileen Campbell):

Yes. We believe that the reforms of the disclosure and rehabilitation regimes in Scotland that took place on 10 September strike the right balance between public protection and the right of an individual who has spent convictions for less serious offences, and who has put their past offending behaviour behind them, to move on with their life. The reforms will continue to ensure that vulnerable groups are protected and that the background of an individual seeking to work with children and protected adults is assessed for relevant convictions. To that end, convictions for serious offences will continue to be disclosed even if spent.

Siobhan McMahon:

I fully accept the need for additional scrutiny of a person’s background if that individual wants to work with vulnerable groups or in other sensitive roles. However, I am aware of a case in which my constituent has “Other Relevant Information” on his protection of vulnerable groups scheme record, which was placed there at the request of the then chief constable of Strathclyde Police. Despite approaching Disclosure Scotland, Police Scotland and the Information Commissioner’s Office, my constituent has been unable to obtain details of the “Other Relevant Information” that is held on his file, which has now had a detrimental effect on his coach and taxi business. What recourse, if any, does my constituent have in this situation? In addition, are there any plans to give Parliament a further opportunity to scrutinise the reforms and to change that anomaly?

Aileen Campbell:

I thank the member for raising the issue. It is important to realise that the reforms are about making sure that the regime that is in place is proportionate, so that it ensures that people can move on with their lives. However, that has to be balanced with making sure that the right information is there, so that people can make good decisions about who is going to be working with, for example, people who have vulnerabilities.

We have been in a period of consultation on the disclosure regime since the cabinet secretary made the statement on the reforms to Parliament. I am happy to meet the member to hear from her the specifics of the case that she is involved with to see whether that will help to move the issue forward. I am also happy to make available to her the opportunity to make any other representations that she wants to make to the justice minister.


Hemiplegia Awareness Week

As a patron of the HemiHelp Charity, I’m always delighted to promote the charity and help raise awareness of Hemiplegia in any way that I can.

For readers who don’t know, hemiplegia is a disability caused by damage to the brain, most often before or around the time of birth. It results in a weakness and lack of control in one side of the body, not dissimilar to the effects of a stroke. The physical severity of the condition varies from one person to the next, from someone with little or no use of one hand and a sever limp to another person who’s hemiplegia may only show when attempting specific physical activities. Half the children affected by hemiplegia have additional difficulties, both physical and mental.  Every day in the UK between one and two babies are born with it, which means that up to one child in 1,000 is affected by this lifelong condition.

It is a condition that I was born with, yet for me prior to becoming an MSP I never really thought of myself as a disabled person. My parents never discouraged me from trying anything and so I tried everything, from Irish Dancing to the Sea Cadets. I was the only female on the school football team, the goalkeeper in the netball team and one of four squad members of the badminton team. Yet hemiplegia has always been a part of my life. My proudest moment so far came the day I learned to ride my bike without stabilisers, not a great achievement for most 11 year olds but for me it was the culmination of a lot of effort.

More recently I’ve had cause to bemoan the difficulties facing people with Hemiplegia. As friends will know, I’m getting married in November and getting comfortable wedding shoes has been difficult. So far I’ve bought three pairs, all of which have been unsuitable.

That is why the services that HemiHelp offer are so important.  From the helpline that is run by volunteers who have personal experience of hemiplegia, the “try it” fun days that occur

throughout the country, the conferences run for parents and professionals, the pen pal system or the transition service which supports people aged 16-25 who need assistance  moving from education to employment, HemiHelp is there every step of the way.  The diversity of services they provide is nothing short of astounding.

As someone who has hemiplegia, it is an honour to be a patron of HemiHelp and I am all too aware of how important it is to raise awareness of the condition. Better awareness enables families and individuals to get the support they need and leads to increased understanding, allowing those affected to reach their full potential.

That is why I have decided to write this blog. The HemiHelp awareness week runs between 12-16th of October and involves a range of fun activities to raise awareness. As always, the week’s events kicked off on Mitten Monday, which encourages people to wear a mitten as a symbol of support for those with hemiplegia.

The key focus of this year’s campaign is to help people with hemiplegia raise understanding with people they interact with regularly. In particular, in key daily contexts such as schools and workplaces. To do this, HemiHelp have developed ‘My HemiCheck’ a pioneering online tool to make this easier.See My HemiCheck at

I would like to thank all of those at HemiHelp for their commitment for in making Hemiplegia Awareness Week a success and I hope you will have learnt a little more about the condition at the end of this week.

HemiHelp is the UK’s national charity for hemiplegia and its primary aim is to help each child with the condition reach their full potential. It provides information, support and events for children and young people with hemiplegia, their families and the professionals who support them.