Parliamentary Update: 15th October 2015
I have been encouraged by new figures showing youth unemployment in Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock has fallen more than 28 per cent in the last year. According to House of Commons Library calculations, the number of 18-24 year olds claiming Job Seekers Allowance in the constituency fell from 635 to 455 between August 2014 and August 2015.
And the good news is complemented by corresponding figures on JSA claimants of all ages across the constituency, where a drop of almost 23 per cent was recorded for the same twelve month period. The number of economically active 16-64 year old residents claiming JSA in August 2015 was 1,815, compared with 2,348 in August 2014.
It is clear that the Scottish Government is using the limited powers at its disposal to strengthen Scotland’s economy. But there is no room for complacency. This constituency is still in the top 100 constituencies across the UK for unemployment levels, and UK Government’s welfare and work plans will see the poorest 20 per cent of households in Scotland losing £520 per year, while the top 20 per cent will gain £110. Ministers plan to restrict unemployment benefit and housing benefit for young people, along with cutting tax credits and excluding the under-25s from the new enhanced Minimum Wage rate.
My colleagues and I on the Welfare Reform and Work Committee will be bringing forward amendments to this Bill and continue to fight attacks on low income families, but it is more important than ever that we strengthen the Scotland Bill to give the Scottish Parliament further powers over the economy, employment and social security enabling action to create more and better paid jobs.
New Constituency Office
I was delighted to use the recess last month to open my new Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock Parliamentary Office by hosting a ‘World’s Biggest Coffee Morning’ event. Invited guests to the event all donated to Macmillan, a charity very close to my heart, and included local MSPs and councillors from across the political spectrum and leaders from many of the local organisations and charities who make up civic Ayrshire.
The new office will be a great base for my work on behalf of my constituents. Representing local people is my top priority and, as austerity continues to bite, I am already taking on a considerable amount of casework. This new office offers a space for people to come and see me, whatever their issues may be. The area I represent is geographically huge, and I have organised a number of surgeries across the constituency, but this office will add to that by providing a central hub in Ayr. People seeking advice or support can drop-in for an appointment or call 01292 288623. The new office is located at 45a Fort Street, Ayr, KA7 1DG.
I was pleased to hear the announcement by COSLA that Scotland’s councils stand ‘ready, willing and able’ to take at least 2,000 refugees. I am confident that we can extend a warm welcome to people being relocated to Ayrshire, and it for this reason that I am asking both East and South Ayrshire councils for detailed plans on how they will meet the needs of these very vulnerable people.
People across the constituency have been so generous in their support for the refugees. Using my temporary office as a collection point saw people from all different kinds of backgrounds giving what they could to help. Some turned up with a blanket or a bag of toothbrushes, others with car loads of clothes, sleeping bags and disposable nappies. Two loads of goods have already been sent up to Glasgow and are being distributed to the agencies working with refugees. Three more van-loads are leaving this weekend. I would like to thank everyone who donated, and those who have helped with storage space and with sorting through the donations and packing them up. The response has been phenomenal.
Now we are in the new office, sadly, we can no longer take donations but people wishing to offer further donations or practical help can now do so through the new website www.scotlandwelcomesrefugees.scot.
South Ayrshire Place Partnership
The strength of our cultural heritage was highlighted last week with the launch of a new Arts partnership which aims to boost jobs in the creative sector and open up access to the arts. The initiative is supported by Creative Scotland, South Ayrshire Council and the South Ayrshire Arts Partnership. Around £400,000 in funding and support is helping to facilitate a range of activities and events to boost the sector, and will help to ensure that no-one’s background is a barrier to taking part in cultural life.
I joined Cabinet Secretary for Culture, Fiona Hyslop, and representatives from the partnership, including the University of the West of Scotland and Ayr Gaiety, for the launch last week. This included a play put on at the Burns Cottage revisiting a suffragette plot to blow the cottage up in 1914, and a trip to Dunure to see the giant seahorses created by artist David Powell with the help of children from Fisherton Primary School, which are well worth a visit.
Solar Energy Sector
The UK Government is currently undertaking a consultation on the early closure of the Renewable Obligation for larger solar installations and has also launched a review of the feed-in tariff which could threaten support for roof-top solar panels. But the consultation will not include any impact on employment.
Our renewables industry is going from strength to strength, bringing jobs and investment to Ayrshire and Scotland, but these changes could undermine all the good progress we have made in reducing carbon emissions and creating a strong sustainable energy sector. The latest proposals to cut the domestic feed-in tariff by 87 per cent will result in fewer solar schemes being installed, an increase in carbon emissions and the risk of job losses both locally and nationally. The rooftop solar industry will be decimated and families, schools, and community groups will be locked out of the solar revolution. It is only with full powers over energy policy transferred to the Scottish Parliament that we can ensure that our successful energy industry continues to be supported.
The Government’s consultation can be found at https://econsultation.decc.gov.uk/office-for-renewable-energy-deployment-ored/fit-review-2015
I have lodged a motion in parliament to highlight the role played by Ayrshire LGBTQ in tackling the social isolation experienced by many lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people living in rural communities. The Early Day Motion congratulates the local community group on becoming the first Scottish LGBTI Community Group of the Year, following their win at last month’s inaugural Scottish LGBTI Awards, which celebrated people and groups who have made important contributions to LGBTI equality and human rights in Scotland during the past year.
Having met the team recently, I know how valuable the work that they do is to members of Ayrshire’s LGBTI community. For a small Ayrshire group to get this level of recognition speaks volumes for the effort and commitment they put in. The group is run entirely by volunteers and they raise all their own funds to help support their work. The group provides advice, support and, through a selection of activities and events, helps tackle the social isolation experienced by many LGBTI people. Growing up gay in the small towns and villages of the west coast of Scotland can be a challenge, and I fully support groups who seek to make this less daunting for people.
You can view other Early Day Motions that I have submitted or signed at http://www.parliament.uk/edm/2015-16/6184/corri-wilson
Keir Hardie Centenary
I was honoured to attend a commemorative event to mark the centenary of the death of the Independent Labour Party’s founding leader, James Keir Hardie last month. The event paid tribute to the impact Keir Hardie had on Cumnock, where he lived while Secretary of the Ayrshire Miners’ Association. Hardie also worked as a journalist for the Cumnock News and was heavily involved in the local temperance movement. It is thought that Hardie had a close relationship with the Pankhurst family, which may have had something to do with suffragist Emmeline Pankhurst speaking at Cumnock Town Hall. The event itself was well attended and a commemorative plaque was unveiled.