Parliamentary Update: 1st April 2016
BANK OF SCOTLAND
As reported in my last update, I was extremely disappointed to learn of the decision to close the Bank of Scotland branch in Maybole. I have been seeking answers in the decision since it was announced at the start of February.
I have now met with bank officials and handed over a 1,200 signature petition against the closure. At the meeting it emerged that the decision had been taken with no consultation and no analysis of the impact it would have on the local community. They also failed to give me any assurances on the future of other branches in the constituency.
This closure leaves the town without a bank and it seems the only concern to Lloyds has been how quickly they can shut up shop and leave. The bank state that 85% of branch customers also use online or telephone banking, but it seems you only have to check your account online once to qualify as someone who doesn’t really need a local branch.
It is clear that the people who have taken this decision have never even set foot in the town, let alone given recognition to the impact of their decision. The way Lloyds have conducted themselves on this issue has been a disgrace, and I have no intention of letting them off the hook. I will continue pressing for them to reconsider this decision right up until the day the doors close.
FACTORY CLOSURE IN GIRVAN AND PATNA
Guardian Surgical, formerly known as BDF Healthcare, have announced plans to rationalise their operations in Scotland and it looks likely that they will close one of their two factories in the constituency. The company, which produces single use surgical textiles for the healthcare sector, informed staff in Girvan and Patna that up to 100 jobs could go.
I will be meeting with representatives from the company next week in a bid to get this decision reversed, and I know that the local councils and Scottish Enterprise are also working on the situation. Both Patna and Girvan need these jobs and it would be devastating for either community to lose them. The staff at both plants are highly skilled, and I want them to know that I will do everything I can to safeguard their jobs.
George Osborne’s latest budget turned into a controversial affair, and proposed cuts to Personal Independence Payments for disabled people resulted in the resignation of Iain Duncan Smith from the Cabinet, and a U-turn from the Chancellor a few days later. He was also forced to reveal that debt, deficit and borrowing levels are lower than they were forecast in the Autumn Statement, which had already missed the targets he had set.
Hidden in the Budget was a £3.5bn cut in public spending across the UK – with measures that will lead to a real-terms reduction in Scotland’s budget of £1bn. It confirmed that there will be a real terms reduction in the discretionary Scottish Budget in every year to 2019-20, and that our capital budget in 2019-20 will be lower than it was in 2010-11, the equivalent of a £550 million cash cut.
GALA DAY CHARGES
I am absolutely appalled by South Ayrshire Council’s decision to inflict charges on community groups for the use of stalls and equipment for gala days and other events. Many of these events already run at a loss, with community groups fundraising throughout the year in order to put them on. Others provide groups with a much needed opportunity to raise money and awareness, often supporting council interests such as local schools and community centres.
Apart from the opportunity these events give communities to come together, to raise money, to entertain families, there are a large number of small businesses and voluntary organisations that rely on gala days to raise funds, promote local produce and raise awareness of issues important to our communities. They also attract much needed visitors to South Ayrshire at a time when the Council is unable to organise a coherent tourism strategy.
The Council Leader may wish to play politics on this issue and talk of tough choices, but there is no getting away from the fact that this is a punitive measure that will do untold harm, particularly to our rural communities, while saving a very small amount of money for Council coffers.
THE CLYDEBANK BLITZ
I was delighted to attend a service and reception to mark the 75th anniversary of the Clydebank Blitz. My colleague, West Dunbartonshire SNP MP Martin Docherty-Hughes, was given special permission by the Speaker of the House of Commons and the Speaker’s Chaplain to host the event. It was the first time that the House of Commons has commemorated the air raids on Clydebank.
Martin Docherty-Hughes MP has also secured an adjournment debate in the House of Commons to allow MPs to publicly commemorate the Clydebank Blitz and more generally, the loss of life experienced in towns and cities across the United Kingdom in the Second World War.
The Clydebank Blitz saw destruction on a massive scale, with the largest loss of civilian life in Scotland’s modern history. The most poignant fact for me was that, after two days of bombing, there were only seven houses left standing. 75 years on it’s important to remember the difficulties our communities endured to protect our freedom in the face of fascist tyranny.
2018 REVIEW OF UK PARLIAMENTARY CONSTITUENCIES
The Boundary Commission for Scotland has announced the start of its 2018 Review of UK Parliament Constituencies. Rules introduced by the UK Government in 2011 result in a decrease in the number of constituencies in Scotland from 59 at present to 53. Across the UK, the number of constituencies is being reduced from 650 to 600.
Nearly all constituencies are to be within five per cent of the electoral quota of 74,769.2. Two Scottish island constituencies, Na h-Eileanan an Iar (the Western Isles) and Orkney & Shetland will be protected from any changes.
Proposals will be published by the Boundary Commission for Scotland for public consultation later this year. I will keep you updated of any impact this may have on Ayr, Carrick & Cumnock.
I was delighted to be invited along to visit the Scottish centre of operations for Combat Stress, the UK’s leading mental health charity for veterans this week. It gave me the opportunity to learn more about the charity and the ex-servicemen and women it supports.
The charity provides free specialist clinical treatment and welfare support to ex-servicemen and women helping them recover from conditions including Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), depression and anxiety. Across Scotland the charity’s services include free short-stay clinical treatment, a specialist PTSD Intensive Treatment Programme, occupational therapy, community support and a free 24-hour Helpline.
There is no doubt that those who serve, wherever in the world, have always been at risk of both physical and psychological injury. A significant number of armed forces veterans continue to battle hidden psychological wounds for many years after their service has ended. They have faced unique challenges on our behalf, and they deserve specialist support to help them deal with the aftermath. Our servicemen and women have put themselves in harm’s way for us, and I was delighted to support this amazing charity, which plays such a vital role in their recovery.
RECENT NEWS STORY
I was surprised that the national media decided to resurrect an old story about me and present it as news this week. The issue of Mr Brodie’s use of my office support and event management company was covered extensively by the Scottish press back in 2013/14. That an old and failed attempt to smear Mr Brodie has been rejigged in an attempt to smear me is extremely disappointing.
As reported by the Ayrshire Post in September 2013, and in the Daily Record and the Herald in October 2014, my company provided business support for Mr Brodie under a contract agreed by the Scottish Parliament. There is no investigation and there has been no wrongdoing. All my accounts were published in line with the Companies Act 2006. The contract with Mr Brodie was terminated when I became a candidate in the Westminster election so I could concentrate on my campaign. Following my election in May, my company was made dormant so I could devote my time solely to my role as the MP for Ayr, Carrick & Cumnock – a task I will continue to carry out to the best of my ability.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank those of you who have been in touch for your support and kind words.