Parliamentary Update: 27th July 2016
NEW PRIME MINISTER
I would like to congratulate Theresa May on becoming Prime Minister. While there are very many issues on which we disagree, she has my best wishes in carrying out her new role in the interests of all the people and nations in the UK.
I hope that she will now work with Nicola Sturgeon to protect our place in Europe – respecting the overwhelming vote to remain in the EU, and there is now an agreement that the Scottish Government will be fully involved in ‘Brexit’ talks. But with Scotland facing exit from the EU against our will, warm words about a 'special Union' are not enough.
Many projects and organisations across Ayrshire are reliant on European Union funding, and many of our local businesses depend on their access to the European market. I have written to both East and South Ayrshire councils to try and get a picture of the impact to local projects, and would welcome contact from anyone concerned about the repercussions of this decision.
I met with officials from the Royal Bank of Scotland earlier this month regarding the imminent closure of the last bank in Dalmellington. This branch serves the whole of the Doon Valley, being the only bank between Newton Stewart and Ayr. Customers are being advised to use the branch in Cumnock, but anyone familiar with the area will realise the difficulties this will raise for local people and businesses.
The meeting was very constructive, and involved some members of the community who were able to put forward their concerns. RBS have already taken action on some of the issues raised, with the ATM now being reconfigured to distribute lower denomination notes, and the mobile branch will be visiting the town next week to give customers the opportunity to have a look round. I am still seeking a commitment to increasing the opening hours of the mobile branch and to consult with the community about times and locations for this service.
I requested that the bank’s Business Team increase their engagement with the many businesses in the area who are going to be adversely impacted by the closure. There are some clear issues around the loss of the overnight safe that need to be addressed. The bank have assured me that they have stepped up their work with the business community, but if businesses have concerns they do not feel are being addressed, please do let me know.
I was pleased to be elected Vice Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Human Trafficking earlier this month. This group seeks to work with the voluntary and statutory sectors to tackle this despicable crime, and to see where legislation can be strengthened.
The trafficking and exploitation of vulnerable adults and children is an appalling crime that brings misery and potential long term consequences for its victims. Scotland’s efforts to tackle human trafficking and improve support for victims have recently been strengthened with the Human Trafficking and Exploitation (Scotland) Act 2015, which includes the possibility of a life sentence for those convicted of human trafficking or slavery, servitude and forced or compulsory labour. Police and the courts in Scotland also have new powers to confiscate and seize property used for human trafficking, and can impose longer sentences for other crimes which involve trafficking, where trafficking is committed by a public official, or when the victim is a child.
It is hoped that the APPG can reflect on the changes made in Scotland, and use that example to clarify and strengthen the UK criminal law around trafficking and exploitation, and give police and prosecutors further tools to track down and prosecute criminals.
RISE IN FOODBANK USE
A new report from Citizens Advice Scotland report has highlighted the increasing number of people turning to Citizens Advice Scotland for help who are experiencing periods of no income, are unable to afford essentials including food, gas and electricity to heat their homes, or rent and, in some cases, have not eaten in several days due to the UK Government’s regressive austerity agenda.
During 2014/15, advice relating to food banks was given on more than 7,400 occasions at CABs in Scotland – an increase of 47% on the previous year – and of the people seeking advice from CABs about foodbanks, one in three have children and 33% said they had a disability.
It is clear from this research that austerity doesn’t work. The need for foodbanks is a shameful indictment on our society and our new Prime Minister must halt the current policy of drastic cuts for those who are least able to bear them. The fact that there is such a demand for foodbanks is a damning exposure of the UK Government’s welfare reforms. Instead of driving people further into poverty, Theresa May must tackle the root causes of poverty.
South Ayrshire is one of only two local authorities in Scotland which does not have a Citizens Advice Bureau, and the local council’s position on this is disappointing, given the importance of the work that Citizens Advice Scotland do in both providing support to local people, and conducting research like this across the country.
Recent Which? research has shown that over five million online scams were carried out last year, amounting to £9 billion being lost to fraudsters. The increasing sophistication of techniques employed by scammers online mean that even the savviest of people can fall victim.
People have growing concerns about being exposed to scams and the harm they can cause, and there is evidence that the fear of cybercrime is starting to affect consumer behaviour. More than half of us have been targeted by online fraudsters in the last 12 months, whether through phishing emails, messages or offers of bogus computer support.
It is estimated that only five per cent of scams are actually reported and, while older people are being targeted, younger consumers who are more used to using online apps and social networking are increasingly being caught out. As Vice-Chair of the APPG on Digital Security, I will be working with colleagues across the chamber to ensure that the Government-led Joint Fraud Taskforce makes sure companies are doing all they can to safeguard us and our data, and improves victim support and consumer protection.
FREEVIEW SERVICE INTERFERENCE
As new mobile services are being rolled out across the constituency it seems that 4G mobile services can interfere with people’s Freeview reception. The mobile network operators have funded a free service for people affected by Freeview interference.
If you think you might have been affected, with the picture freezing or the loss of sound or channels, you can contact this service free on 0808 1313 800, or via their website www.at800.tv. They can then check to see if the issue could be due to 4G, and if so, provide the appropriate support.
For residents in buildings with a communal aerial system - where the antenna or aerial is not their responsibility – the service provides landlords or property managers with support to resolve the problem. Television received via cable or satellite is not affected, but in homes with these services that also watch Freeview, free filters and advice can be provided.