18 Jun 2010

Paisley Daily Express articles 12th. May - 8th. June 2010


Rogue Landlords

Like many MSPs, I have received complaints from decent householders whose lives are being ruined by a minority of bad tenants. Increasingly this is happening in privately rented homes. Now I accept that many private landlords do their best to make sure their tenants behave responsibly. Unfortunately a small number turn a blind eye to appalling behaviour. As long as the rent money keeps rolling in, often paid through Housing Benefit, they don’t care what happens.

I have been campaigning for the law to be tightened. Some rogue landlords fail to register, yet nothing happens. The Scottish Parliament is considering a proposed Housing Bill and I had hoped this would be addressed. Unfortunately it looks like Alex Salmond and his Ministers are not taking this seriously. Duncan McNeil the MSP who chairs the Committee looking at the Bill has said the Committee is “concerned that there’s been no additional incentive for local authorities to prosecute rogue landlord who don’t register and it doesn’t appear the Bill will address this”.

I am disappointed and I will be pressing for action to protect decent people from bad landlords.

Action on Alcohol

Last week I met with the Chief Constable of Strathclyde. Among the issues discussed was the mayhem caused by those who had consumed excessive amounts of alcohol. He pointed out that in Strathclyde area there had been 14 murders in 10 weeks where alcohol was a significant factor.

We also know that alcohol is damaging health, destroying families and destabilising some communities. I agree with the views of Scottish Ministers that action has to be taken. I’m just sorry that Ministers have not been prepared to sit down and work out a solution which has general agreement.

I disagree with the new Conservative / Liberal Democrat Government on many things. But it looks as if this new Government is edging towards a policy of using taxation to tackle the ridiculously cheap price of some alcohol. Linked to measures stopping supermarkets selling alcohol below cost price, this could be a useful innovation.

We need a legally enforceable, UK wide policy to tackle the price of alcohol. I want to see money raised going to extra doctors, nurses and police officers, not propping up the profits of supermarkets.

The Alcohol Bill considered last week by the Scottish Parliament stimulated a useful debate. We need co-operation with the UK Government and all the political parties to come up with an answer.

Payout to senior civil servants

I chair the Public Audit Committee of the Scottish Parliament. The Committee recently produced yet another report about Transport Scotland. Yet again we uncovered questionable transactions involving senior staff who were leaving their post early. This time it was the Chief Executive of Transport Scotland who had earlier presided over a contentious contract issue. Although he was entitled to retire with a full pension (a very generous one with a large lump sum payment), he was given over £30, 000 extra for no good reason as far as the Committee could see.

It’s a scandal that taxpayers’ money can be used in such a cavalier fashion. Senior civil servants and Ministers need to realise that our money should be used for vital services, not to reward those who are already doing well.

Artists for Mary’s Meals

Mary’s meals is a Scottish based Charity which is helping to build a school kitchen to feed hungry children in Malawi. This is one of a number of projects which the Charity has supported. Local woman, Liz MacKinlay of Kilbarchan, is on the organising committee of Artists for Mary’s Meals. This particular initiative will see Scottish artists sell their paintings and donate a percentage of the sale price to build the kitchen. For those who can’t afford to buy a painting, there’s the chance to enter a £5 prize draw for a print by the popular Scottish artist, Lin Patullo.

The art exhibition runs a week from Saturday June 19th until June 26th. It will be held at the McGregor Fine Art Gallery at 34 West George Street, Glasgow.



The SNP’s decision to underfund the NHS is now having a devastating affect across Scotland and will have a huge impact here in Renfrewshire. NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde has already announced that hundreds of jobs will go this year. Almost half will be nurses, including some at the RAH.

Every health board in Scotland was asked by the Scottish Government to prepare a workforce planning projection. The scale of resulting job losses that is being proposed in Greater Glasgow and Clyde is unacceptable. Doctors, nurses, midwives and hospital cleaners are in the absolute front line and the cornerstone when it comes to delivering care and services for those in need.

Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon are trying to avoid responsibility, but the buck stops with them. We need honesty from the SNP about the future of the NHS here in Renfrewshire and across the whole of Scotland.

The SNP had great hopes of the Homecoming Scotland celebrations to attract visitors from abroad and spent £2 million on its promotion. However figures reveal showed that fewer than one in ten people who attended Homecoming branded events in 2009 came from abroad. It has been branded a 'damp squib' with overseas visitors who were supposed to be the main target audience. The Homecoming event failed to set the heather alight with Scotland's traditional overseas markets. Visitors numbers from Europe and the USA were actually down in 2009. Homecoming failed to meet its full potential in overseas markets because the SNP was intent on promoting it at home. No doubt hoping for local political advantage. The truth is it was also ignored by the Scottish public. The celebrations were mismanaged by the SNP who used Homecoming as a platform for their own agenda. The Gathering in Edinburgh left behind a trail of debt which is to be investigated by Audit Scotland. Now Alex Salmond tells us that he wants another Homecoming event in 2014. Let’s hope it is better organised.

I am concerned that the Scottish Children’s Reporter Administration (SCRA) will be axing more than 1 in 20 of its workforce including some of its most experienced reporters. SCRA is responsible for the administration of children’s hearings that support youngsters who are in danger or may have committed an offence.
The number of referrals to the children’s hearings system reached an all-time record of just under 43,000 last year.There will be serious anxieties over their ability to protect Scotland’s most vulnerable children – those who offend or are offended against – with fewer reporters.This loss of experienced staff will harm our most vulnerable children. The Scottish Government are embarking on a wholesale reform of the system but at the same time the most experienced reporters are being made redundant. This is madness.The children’s hearings system has a world wide reputation for excellence. It has long been referred to as the jewel in the crown of care for young people. The SNP’s decision to slash SRCA's budget will hit Renfrewshire’s most vulnerable youngsters.

Awards for All

Awards for All Scotland is supported by the Scottish Arts Council, sportscotland and the Big Lottery Fund. They aim to award grants for organisations who take part in art, sport, heritage and community activities, and projects that promote education, the environment and health in the local community.I was delighted that 4 projects in Paisley have recently secured £26,000 in shared funding.

Loud ‘n’ Proud is a youth charity based in Paisley which has for over 7 years established itself at the forefront of the development of young musicians in Scotland. The Foxbar Adults and Children Together Group is a new organisation which will establish a reading club that will be used for parents and their children aged between 7-12 years old. Paisley Juniors Netball Club will use the funding to purchase equipment, organise training, coaching and transport to competition in the Under 15's netball league. And finally the Renfrewshire Walking Network will use its funding to organise an access festival, linking with other community groups to encourage physical activity. I wish them all the best in the future.
For more information on Awards for All Scotland visit:


General Election

Labour’s results in Renfrewshire were excellent. Both Douglas Alexander and Jim Sheridan increased their share of the vote and their majorities. In Paisley and Renfrewshire South, the Liberal Democrats slumped from second to fourth, behind the Tories. It was clear they paid a heavy price for voting to cut school transport. In East Renfrewshire, Jim Murphy took over fifty percent of the vote in what used to be one of the safest Tory seats in Scotland.

But despite the solid results in Scotland, the voting from elsewhere in the country has put Labour behind the Tories. The Liberal Democrats have decided to do a deal with the Tories. The consequences for the country will be profound and the Liberal Democrats will have a price to pay in Scotland.

The political landscape in the UK has changed. While no doubt the Tories will give some concessions on taxation, the real impact will be felt from the cuts proposed by the Tories. We also have the danger of early cuts triggering another recession. The Liberal Democrats were opposed to the Tory plans and it will be interesting to see what they do in Government.

The next few years will be a hard slog, fighting to protect public services and those who need out support.

Gordon Brown

So Gordon Brown is no longer Prime Minister. He was one of the architects of the Scottish Parliament, with his longstanding commitment to devolution. He has a passion for fairness and justice both here and abroad. He has been the driving force to write of significant amounts of debt for the world’s poorest countries. He was a successful Chancellor of the Exchequer, and he played a major part, as Prime Minister, in helping to avoid an international depression following the banking crisis.

Since the inconclusive General Election result, he has acted with dignity to ensure that the best interests of the country are protected. Whatever he does in the future, he has certainly made his mark on politics here and abroad. I wish him and his family all the best for the future.

School Bus Farce

Renfrewshire Council has issued its so called safe walking routes for pupils. The process is a farce. The Council did not provide a map of the route to parents. If parents wanted a copy they needed a computer and a printer. And in Johnstone they are using old maps which don’t show the reality of the present layout of the town. The truth is that for a relatively small sum of money, nearly 1, 000 pupils will have to walk almost three miles each way to school. The dreadful weather at the start of last week was a reminder of what our climate is like. These youngsters face arriving at school, soaking wet, having carried a heavy load for fifty minutes or more. Royal Mail doesn’t ask our Posties to do what the Council wants our kids to do. The SNP and the Liberal Democrats have said there is no alternative. This is not true. I am willing to bet the Council will have more than this in its reserves each year and will probably underspend by more. The truth is that the SNP and the Liberal Democrats have swallowed everything the top officials have said. It’s time they showed some political leadership.

Law on school closures

The SNP are changing the rules on school closures. There is a new consultation process and it is being made clear that when any changes to schools are being considered, education must be the key priority. The new guidelines require Education Inspectors to produce a report and parents to have their voices heard. The Minister for Schools said it’s about “putting education at the heart of the decision and giving parents more of voice in the process.” This explains why the SNP and the Liberal Democrats were in such a rush to close South Primary School and every one of the Council’s Nursery Schools.