24 Sep 2012

Paisley Daily Express - 24 September 2012

EU Students

The Scottish Government currently provides free university education to all EU students, except that is to those from England, Wales and Northern Ireland. They have to pay. It’s currently costing you and me over 75 million per year to provide this free tuition to EU students from outwith the UK. SNP Ministers promised nearly two years ago, to fix this problem, but still no solution has been found. I recently asked Mike Russell, the Cabinet Secretary for Education, when this problem would be fixed. He told me “The description of the issue as a problem is misguided”. So using over £75 million of your money to provide free university tuition to EU students is not a problem? The SNP Government is no nearer to finding a solution and continues to cut other budgets to pay the bill. It’s about time Mike Russell delivered on his promise to fix this.

College Budgets

Alex Salmond told the Scottish Parliament that there had been no cuts to the budgets of Scotland’s Colleges. Staff across Scotland are telling me a different story referring to cuts of 10% and 8 % in successive years. The reality is that courses are being cancelled and staff numbers reduced, just at a time when we need our Colleges more than ever. The SNP Government has slashed College budgets in order to transfer money to the University budget. Surely it can’t be right to blight the life chances of young people across Renfrewshire? We need to make sure that Colleges like Reid Keir have the resources to provide the education and skills our young people need to compete in a very difficult jobs market.

Justice for Victims

The Scottish Government’s legislative programme includes a welcome Victims and Witness Bill. The Bill proposes to introduce a victim surcharge on offenders, so that offenders would have to contribute towards the cost of supporting victims. I also back the suggestion that victims could be given the right to make a  pre-recorded oral statement before sentencing to let the court know how a crime affected them. At the moment they can only make a written statement, which often doesn’t convey the full impact the crime has caused . For too long victims have felt they were ignored and overlooked. Many feel that the justice system is skewed towards the offender. I support proposals which will tilt the balance back towards the victim. It’s right that victims are given support – they are the ones who have been wronged, and who have suffered. 

 Disability Benefits

No one likes benefits cheats, but most of us still believe the welfare state should support those with disabilities or chronic illness. It was revealing to hear Tory politicians being roundly booed at the Paralympics. Disabled people, their families and indeed the general public, know it is hypocritical to praise the achievements of the Paralympians while cutting the benefits of disabled people. Around 74,000 Scots with disabilities will be stripped of their benefits by the Tory/Lib Dem coalition. In Scotland, Alex Salmond was given extra powers to protect certain benefits, but he chose to pass on the Con-Dem cuts. Among the changes being introduced is the replacement of Disability Living Allowance (DLA) by Personal Independence Payment (PIP). Every disabled person who qualified for DLA will now face a tough new assessment. In Scotland the assessment will be carried out by the French firm, Atos, which has already been criticised for its handling of Incapacity Benefit assessments. Disabled people will be put through the mill to try to hold onto their meagre benefits. The Cabinet of millionaires sees nothing wrong with this, which just shows how out of touch they are.

Clippens School

Last week I had the privilege of visiting Clippens School in Linwood. The atmosphere was warm and caring but also professional and determined. The dedicated staff, supported by the parents, deliver an exceptional service. It’s right that all of our young people, irrespective of their circumstances or disabilities, have the right to learn to their full potential. It’s also right that youngsters with disabilities are encouraged to enjoy activities that other children have access to. Clippens School is highly regarded by parents and quite rightly these parents want nothing but he best for their children. Thank you to Isabell Gibb and her staff for giving up their time for me.