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Parliamentary Update : 13th September 2016

RBS DALMELLINGTON

I met with the Royal Bank of Scotland early in the summer over the closure of their Dalmellington branch. I am pleased that they have followed through on some of what was agreed, but some concerns remain, particularly in relation to customers being unable to access the mobile bank. It is unacceptable to have people standing in the rain, whether because of access or long queues, particularly the elderly and those with mobility issues.

It is also disappointing that RBS appear to be unwilling to address its national arrangement with the Post Office which would have given their customers the same access to post office banking facilities as customers of other major high street banks.

A total of 112 high street banks have closed in Scotland since July 2015, and the Dalmellington branch is the third to close in my constituency in that time. The banks are keen to tell us what they are doing to make banking easier for the towns they are leaving behind, but the harsh reality is that we have empty cash machines and people queuing up in the rain for the privilege of banking out the back of a van.

I have already been in contact with the Financial Conduct Authority over this issue, and am looking to the review of the Access to Banking protocol to tackle some of the challenges faced by rural communities left without a bank.

MALCOLM SARGENT HOUSE

I was delighted to turn my Parliamentary Office red for the day in support of the campaign to buy Malcolm Sargent House, raising £78.36 in the process. Businesses and organisations across Ayrshire took part in the bid to Turn Ayrshire Red to raise money to buy the house from CLIC Sargent and reopen the vital holiday service for children, young people and families with cancer and other life changing diseases across the UK.

Malcolm Sargent House has been part of the community here in Ayrshire for as long as I can remember, providing an invaluable service for families that are going through difficult times. I was really pleased to see the community getting behind this bid to buy the house. Sadly, everyone has a friend or relative who has been affected by cancer, so we all understand how important Malcolm Sargent House has been to the children and their families who have had the opportunity to make some valuable memories.

I’d like to thank all the volunteers and the new Board of Buy MSH for all their hard work in getting this off the ground. I hope that this marks the beginning of a new era at Malcolm Sargent House and that the service will have many more years supporting families from across the country.

BREXIT

As Parliament resumed last week following summer recess, the statement by David Davis, Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, showed clearly that the UK Government is still without any clear strategy for Brexit. This was compounded by the Prime Minister’s refusal to answer the most basic questions about access to the single market at PMQs.

After a summer of silence we still have no idea what ‘Brexit means Brexit’ actually means. The lack of any clear strategy and the deep divisions in government are causing huge levels of uncertainty for all those impacted by the decision to leave the EU – the businesses that rely on access to the single market, the farmers, food and drink producers who stand to lose vital support, the universities who rely on cooperation and funding, and the EU nationals who have made their home here and contribute so much economically and socially.

Leaving the EU is projected to cost the Scottish economy up to £11.2 billion per year and Scottish public finances up to £3.7 billion. It is my belief that pursuing an option short of full EU membership risks damaging Scottish exports, makes the country a less attractive location for overseas investors and reduces future economic growth and prosperity. Whatever the model of relationship with the EU which is chosen by the UK Government in their negotiations before and after Article 50 is triggered, it will not be as economically beneficial as full EU membership.

The Scottish Government has set out its clear intentions, convened an expert group to explore all options for retaining Scotland’s EU status, reached out to EU nationals, and is delivering a £100million economic stimulus to help deal with the economic shock caused by Brexit. My colleagues and I will continue to do everything we can to protect Scotland’s relationship with Europe, in line with the overwhelming vote by the Scottish people to remain in the EU.

HEAR TO HELP

I had the opportunity during recess to visit Afton Court in New Cumnock to find out about the work of Action on Hearing Loss in supporting people who use NHS hearing aids.

The charity’s volunteers explained how hearing loss can impact on conversations with family and friends and the initial difficulties often faced by people when they have just been fitted with a hearing aid. The support offered by the Hear to Help volunteers can make the difference between people persevering with their NHS hearing aid and being able to follow everyday conversations more clearly or putting it in a drawer and continuing to struggle.

The volunteers also give information about assistive equipment such as amplified phones, TV listeners and vibrating / flashing alarms, which can make life much easier. The volunteers provide an amazing service and I encourage NHS hearing aid users to pop-in to the charity’s sessions if they’re struggling to hear their television or telephone – as good help is at hand.

For more information about Hear to Help, contact Co-ordinator, Donna McSwiggan, by telephone on 01563 539900 or email: donna.mcswiggan@hearingloss.org.uk

LISTENING EXERCISE

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has launched the “biggest listening exercise in Scotland’s history” - seeking to gain a nationwide understanding of people’s views on Europe, Brexit and independence to grow consensus across Scotland in the wake of recent political events.

The UK that Scotland voted to stay part of in 2014 has changed, as have the arguments. We cannot assume that people's views - yes or no - are the same today as they were in 2014. Members of the public can take part in the National Survey through a new dedicated website - www.survey2016.scot, which will help us to understand in detail how people feel now about Europe, Brexit and independence. We want to know the concerns that people have and the questions they want answered. I would encourage as many people as possible to take part and let us know their views - whether they are for independence, against independence or undecided.

POWER CUTS HELPLINE

A new national phone number – 105 – has been launched by electricity network operators for customers to call should they need to report or get information about a power cut in their area. When the power goes out, it can leave people feeling unsure about what to do. Research by Energy Networks Association found that 72% of people don’t know who to contact during a power cut, with many wrongly thinking they should call the electricity supplier they pay their bill to.

105 aims to solve this problem, providing you with an easy-to-remember number that will put you through to your local electricity network operator - the company that manages the cables, wires and substations that bring electricity into local homes and businesses. 105 is a free service for people in England, Scotland and Wales, and you can call the number from most landlines and mobile phones. It doesn’t matter who you choose to buy your electricity from - anyone can call 105.

You can also call 105 if you spot damage to electricity power lines and substations that could put you, or someone else, in danger. If there’s a serious immediate risk, call the emergency services too.