Moratorium on Fracking in Scotland

29th January 2015

Paul Wheelhouse MSP (SNP, South Scotland) has welcomed the moratorium on fracking announced by the Scottish Government yesterday (Wednesday).

Scotland’s Energy Minister, Fergus Ewing MSP, in his statement to the Scottish Parliament, also announced that a full public consultation on unconventional oil & gas extraction will be held to ensure that the voices of communities across Scotland are heard on the issue - alongside a moratorium on planning consents for unconventional onshore oil & gas wells, including ‘fracking’, i.e. hydraulic fracturing of shale gas deposits.

Earlier this week Borders Lib Dem MP Michael Moore voted against a moratorium on fracking in the House of Commons, while every SNP MP voted in favour of a UK-wide moratorium, which was ultimately defeated because of a no show by all bar 4 Labour MPs from Scotland and the damaging effect of Lib Dem MPs such as Mr Moore following Tories into the lobby to vote down the amendment that would have initiated a UK-wide moratorium. This was particularly disappointing, because it remains the case that licensing of exploration drilling is a reserved power and the Scottish Parliament cannot prevent PEDL licences for mineral rights being awarded by the UK Government.

Paul said:

“While we remain in the unjust situation where Scottish Ministers are powerless to stop UK Ministers awarding licenses for exploration, today’s announcement of a planning moratorium on subsequent applications for commercial scale unconventional gas activity in Scotland will be very much welcomed by communities across the country who have been alarmed by the gung-ho stance taken by the Tory-led Westminster Government to which Mr Moore and his party are so heavily wedded.

“My inbox has been inundated with correspondence from constituents in areas of the Scottish Borders, Dumfriesshire and East Lothian who are opposed to ‘fracking’ of shale gas or extraction of other unconventional gas, such as coal bed methane, and this announcement by the Scottish Government gives them a clear indication of the SNP, and my own, stance on the issue.

“Today’s statement brings welcome clarity and stands in stark contrast to Labour’s chaotic approach to fracking. Bizarrely, last week we saw Jim Murphy announce his party’s supposed opposition to fracking, but this week his MPs then failed to support a moratorium in the House of Commons and, of course, the Lib Dem MP in the Borders, Michael Moore, even actively voted against a moratorium.  Meanwhile, instead of attending the UK Parliament to vote on this issue of great importance, Labour’s Mr Murphy was then pictured doing keepy-uppy football in Aberdeen – showing how hollow his earlier remarks had been.  

“The SNP Government has acted where Westminster parties have singularly failed to do so and is taking an evidence based approach and will listen to communities’ concerns. The sooner that the Tories and Lib Dems listen to the people of Scotland themselves - and devolve full control over licensing of such rights to Scotland too - the better.”

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SNP Working to Reduce Inequality

21st January 2015

The SNP has given its backing to Oxfam’s seven point plan for governments to adopt in a bid to tackle growing global inequality - as the wealth of the richest 1% of the world is on course to overtake the wealth of the other 99% of people.

The Scottish Government is already taking action on all of Oxfam’s points which the Scottish Parliament has powers over, and the SNP agrees with the principles and aims of the other points aimed at combating global inequality.

The plan has been announced in the same week that the Scottish Government leads a debate on inequality in the Scottish Parliament, which revealed that more than half (59%) of children living in poverty in Scotland are growing up in households where at least one person is in employment.
Commenting after the debate, Paul Wheelhouse MSP (SNP, South Scotland) said:

“Rising inequality is a serious problem that needs to be addressed by all governments and I am encouraged that the Scottish Government is fully committed to doing everything in its power to tackle inequality.

“I don’t think anyone who is fair minded would think it right that the majority of working age adults in poverty in Scotland experience ‘in-work’ poverty and that 59% of children in the country are living in this situation.  Local people who work hard and generate wealth for our economy and profit local businesses deserve to be fairly rewarded and to have sustained employment.  Alongside initiatives like Oxfam’s seven point plan, we can and should work together to rid our communities of such injustices.

“The SNP has a cast iron commitment to universal benefits and services, as opposed to means tested benefits, and, from within Scottish Government resources, has delivered improved access to childcare, free prescriptions, free personal care for the elderly and free access to higher education among other initiatives.  The Scottish Government’s support for strong public services was highlighted recently when nurses received their recommended pay rise, despite the UK Government rejecting a similar increase for nurses in England.

“With a strong group of SNP MPs holding the balance of power at Westminster, we can ensure that Scotland’s voice is heard and use our influence positively to end austerity economics, free Scotland of Trident nuclear weapons, and secure the powers we need to build a fairer, more prosperous country.”

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Chancellor Denies Scots Vote on Budget

21st January 2015

SNP MSP Paul Wheelhouse (South Scotland) has responded to Chancellor George Osborne’s confirmation that he wants to see English Votes for English Laws (EVEL) applied to parts of the Budget.

While answering questions on the future devolution of financial powers to Scotland, at the Treasury Select Committee at Westminster, the chancellor signalled an end to Scottish MPs having full voting rights in future UK budgets, despite Scotland still receiving a block grant from Westminster.

Paul said:

“The Tory Chancellor wanting to ban Scottish MPs from voting on parts of the UK Budget while the devolution of Income Tax rates and bands is as yet incomplete, shouldn’t come as a surprise to those of us who have experience come to expect this Tory-led Government riding roughshod over Scotland, but it, once again, shows a complete lack of respect for Scotland.

“Until Income Tax is devolved in full, and with it responsibility for savings and investment income, it is illogical and wrong for the Chancellor to leave Scottish MPs out in the cold.  It shows the utter contempt in which the Tories hold Scotland.

“The admission from George Osborne is the strongest argument yet for full fiscal devolution with Home Rule, allowing Scotland full responsibility for growing the economy, and not this half way house which offers minimal economic powers while resulting in a loss of voting rights – even on decisions that will impact on Scotland, such as he proposes. 

“I am sure hard working people in the Scottish Borders will not be happy with being treated like second class citizens compared to their counterparts south of the Border when it comes to having their elected representatives have their say on important Budget votes. That is why we must elect a strong SNP Member of Parliament to send to Westminster in May this year, to stand up for our rights and, rather than being a hand maiden for Tory austerity, as the Lib Dem MP has become, and SNP MP can make sure the Tory era of austerity and disrespect for Scotland and her people is brought to an end.”

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Over £2million for NHS Borders to Tackle Delayed Discharges

21st January 2015

SNP MSP for South Scotland, Paul Wheelhouse, has welcomed Scottish Government funding to tackle delayed discharges from hospital in the Scottish Borders.
The Cabinet Secretary for Health and Wellbeing, Shona Robison, has announced an additional £2.13 million for NHS Borders as part of a nationwide package to help reduce the number of patients waiting to be discharged from hospital as well as preventing admissions.

Paul commented on the latest boost for health services:

“This announcement from the Scottish Government will be welcomed by patients and NHS staff in the Scottish Borders and is another demonstration of the SNP’s commitment to our health service.

“Tackling delayed discharges is a key priority for the NHS – helping not only the individual patients affected who will be able to receive care at home or in a setting which better meets their needs, but also easing pressure on the system as a whole by releasing beds for other patients to be treated.  This funding announcement is, therefore, a welcome step in ensuring we can better tackle this issue and provide the best possible care.

“The SNP’s record on the NHS is second to none – despite a real terms 10% reduction in Scotland’s resources budget allocated by Westminster and a 26% reduction in capital funding we are delivering real results on waiting times and staff numbers, introducing free prescriptions for all and now taking serious action to tackle the problem of delayed discharge.”

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Living Wage Employers Encouraged in Borders

20th January 2015

With 100 Living Wage accredited companies now operating in Scotland, Paul Wheelhouse MSP (SNP, South Scotland) is encouraging employers in the Scottish Borders/East Lothian to sign up.
The Poverty Alliance, which runs the Living Wage Accreditation scheme in Scotland has indicated that more than 100,000 employees of accredited companies are now benefitting from the Living Wage, some of which operate in the Scottish Borders/East Lothian.

Paul said:

“The Living Wage makes a real difference to people working in the south of Scotland and with average salaries here in the Scottish Borders consistently below the Scottish average – indeed average wages are typically the lowest on mainland Scotland.  It is vitally important for pay rates to move to a living wage to ensure fairness for the hard working men and women of the area.

“It is fantastic to see these 100 companies leading by example, including some national employers that operate in the Scottish Borders/East Lothian such as SSE, Citizens Advice Scotland and RBS.  However, we need more employers and business owners, from small and medium sized businesses as well as larger companies, to take up the mantle and ensure their staff are paid a wage, in return for their services, that allows them to live their lives without worrying about whether they can put food on the table or heat their home. 

“While some employers might have concerns about the impact on their business, the Poverty Alliance’s evidence suggests that in fact such an approach can boost business performance.  The businesses that have signed up for the Living Wage have seen a marked increase in productivity and morale within their organisation as well as a better quality of life for their employees – these, in my opinion, are clearly connected.

 “The Scottish Government is not able to regulate or legislate over pay levels in the private sector, as this is reserved to Westminster, or the wider public sector in Scotland, where employees are not covered by its own pay policy. However, the Scottish Government is funding the Poverty Alliance to take forward the Living Wage accreditation scheme and encouraging all employers to do what they can.  

“So, I am encouraging all public, private and third sector organisations to ensure all staff on lower incomes receives a fair level of pay, which not only increases their standard of living, but will improve the livelihoods of many living across the Scottish Borders/East Lothian.  This will create a more prosperous environment in which local retail businesses can thrive – further benefiting the local business community.”

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Wheelhouse Welcomes Decline in Homeless Applications in Scottish Borders

20th January 2015

Paul Wheelhouse MSP (SNP, South Scotland) has welcomed the news that fewer people in the Scottish Borders are becoming homeless, according to official statistics published last week.
Between July and September 2014 there was a 3% decrease in homelessness applications in the Scottish Borders compared to the same period in 2013.  This is replicated across the country where, in addition to the fall in applications, the number of people assessed as homeless, or likely to become homeless within two months, also fell by 3%.

Paul said:

“It is encouraging to see a 36% fall in homelessness applications across Scotland since 2008/09 and that the Scottish Borders is in-line with the rest of the country in seeing a decrease homelessness applications.

“In recent years the Scottish Government has supported local authorities and third sector partners in their approach to homelessness prevention though initiatives such as the Housing Voluntary Grant Scheme and I am pleased to see progress being made in this area.  Despite unprecedented cuts meted out to the Scottish Government’s budget by the Tory-led UK Government there is support for this area forthcoming from the Scottish Government as the SNP realises the challenges for local authorities and housing associations.

“Obviously any level of homelessness is unacceptable and more can always be done to support people who find themselves in that situation, however the result of the grossly unfair Tory/Lib Dem welfare reforms has seen a rise of in-work poverty, which in turn could be forcing people into difficult living conditions, including over-crowding and homelessness.

“The announcement in the last week by the First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, for a £30 million scheme to open doors for people to buy new homes from small and medium sized housebuilders is most welcome as another way to ease the burden on our already stretched housing stock.
“The Help to Buy (Scotland) Small Developers scheme will spread support more widely across the housebuilding industry by helping buyers who want a new property built by one of around 170 smaller developers – with this being particularly important in an area, like the Borders, which is home to several such companies. 

“With a finite pot of money and drastic changes to welfare the Scottish Government is constrained in what it can do to alleviate all pressures on housing, however the steps that are being taken, such as the development of Housing Options Hubs, which focus on developing the Housing Options through a combination of sharing practice, commissioning joint training and research, goes some way to ensuring homelessness is tackled to the best of our current capabilities.”

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