Scottish Borders Asked For Views on Equal Society

24th June 2015

Paul Wheelhouse MSP (SNP, South Scotland) is encouraging residents across the Scottish Borders to take part in a national discussion about how the country can be a fairer and more equal place to live.

The Scottish Government wants to mobilise the people of Scotland to help tackle the scourge of intergenerational poverty and to create fairer opportunities for all. 

To reach more people and build on the community-led discussions of the Referendum and General Election, widespread, direct involvement of communities will take place the length and breadth of Scotland. 

The Scottish Government has invited individuals and organisations to set out their vision of a fairer Scotland and suggest practical solutions, based on local and personal experience.  Capturing the voices of those with direct experience of having been affected by poverty and exclusion will be vital. Voluntary organisations and public sectors, charities, councils, large and small businesses, trade unions will also play a pivotal role in shaping the Scottish Government’s approach.

Paul said:

“One of the key reasons I entered politics was, in large part, to tackle inequality and I am pleased that tackling inequality, along with building a prosperous and competitive economy, is at the heart of the Scottish Government’s commitment to creating a better country for all. The two go hand in hand.

“The SNP Government’s vision is for a Scotland where people are healthier, happier and treated with respect, and where opportunities, wealth and power are spread more equally and where individuals have access to justice where they feel that they have been treated unfairly. We want to discuss issues like childcare, fair work and health and hear what people in the Scottish Borders believe could be done to create a better Scotland.

“The aim is to tap into conversations many people and communities are already having throughout Scotland.  This is in preference to consulting on whether or not people agree with a range of ready-made proposals.  The aim is to build up a more realistic picture of what people are looking for a fairer, more socially just, Scotland to look like.

“We recognise that it will take time to achieve our shared vision of a fair, equal and socially just Scotland. We are not looking for quick fixes, or temporary measures, but long lasting and sustainable change that can benefit the whole nation – as a socially just Scotland can deliver benefits such as a lower crime rate and greater prosperity, boosting our high streets and the wellbeing of all who live here.

“I believe that people in the Scottish Borders have a strong voice and a good sense of what cohesive, fair communities should look like and that voice needs to be heard in this consultation. We can open up a better future for this region and the wider South of Scotland, and indeed the nation as a whole, through positively engaging in this crucial discussion, debate and community spirit. I look forward to taking part in this discussion with constituents with the aim of working together towards a better, more equal future.”

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Land Reform Bill Introduced

24th June 2015

SNP MSP for the South of Scotland Paul Wheelhouse has hailed the publication of the Land Reform Bill as an opportunity to create fairer land ownership in Scotland.

The Bill is designed to ensure the issues of fairness, equality and social justice connected to the ownership of, access to and use of land in Scotland are given a permanent footing with the creation of a Scottish Land Commission.

This will be backed by a requirement on the Scottish Government to have a statement on rights and responsibilities over land, and issuing guidance to landowners on engaging responsibly with communities. 

Alongside this structural reform, the Bill brings forward a number of practical measures that will make a real difference to communities. This includes giving communities a right to buy land to further sustainable development, which will apply in both urban and rural Scotland. 

The Bill also proposes powers that will enable communities or individuals to find out information about owners and tenants of land where this would help them resolve the issues they face.

Key measures in the Bill include:

•           Ending rates exemptions for shooting and deerstalking estates;
•           Creating a Tenant Farming Commissioner as part of the Scottish Land Commission, along with other modernising elements of Scotland’s tenant farming legislation;
•           Encouraging better information and greater transparency on the ownership of land, through the land register; 
•           Strengthening the regulators hand in instances where land owners are failing to take their deer management responsibilities seriously; 
•           Improvements to both systems of common good land and right to roam.

The Bill will support the Government’s existing work to pass power to people and local communities, encourage and support responsible and diverse landownership and ensure communities have a say in how land in their area is used.

Paul commented:

“We have to recognise that land as an asset is something that impacts on all of us, regardless of whether we are landowners or not – the roads we travel, the food we eat, the houses we live in all depend on land so it is a factor in the success of any economy in society, so we all have an interest in it one way or another.  There is a huge public interest in the ownership of land and also the management of land. 

“There are a lot of positives in the Bill for areas like the Scottish Borders and clearly there is some concern among landowners in terms of the impact for them and those who work for them but I would ask people to look at the details and see that the Bill poses no threat to responsible landowners, of which there are many in the Scottish Borders, who are doing right by the local community and treating their tenants well and supporting local economic development.  But there are problems that arise and we need to have the tools to tackle these problems when they do arise – at the moment the Scottish Government doesn’t have the power to do that.  All we are asking is that land is managed in a way that is sustainable for all.

“Where there may be questions over landowner actions there will be an opportunity for them to address that and there will only be Ministerial involvement when it is deemed to be in the public interest to do so – not on a whim. I would hope that any issues can be ironed out with the landowner without the need to invoke the powers in the Bill but at least people know those powers will be there if they are necessary.

“There can be a situation that, irrespective of whether a landowner is good or not, the only supplier of land in one particular area may have a monopoly on the land and there are obstructions to developing projects that are key to the future aspirations of a community and I would encourage landowners where they are working positively with communities to continue to do that. 

“Where communities are happy with the engagement of landowners there will not be a desire for change and that is fine, but if there are landowners who are stating their concerns about the powers in the Bill that suggests not everything is right at ground level and only they and the local community will know if everything is working.  For those communities and landowners the Land Reform Bill will give them the opportunity to put right anything that isn’t working well at present if they are unable to do so themselves.”

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Wheelhouse Hails Historic Decision on Votes for 16 and 17 year olds

23rd June 2015

Paul Wheelhouse MSP (SNP, South Scotland) commented following proudly voting in the Scottish Parliament to give votes to 16 and 17 years olds in all future Scottish Parliament and local government elections.

The Scottish Elections (Reduction of Voting Age) Bill passed at stage three at Holyrood last Thursday, which now allows 16 and 17 year olds to vote starting at next year’s Scottish Parliament elections.

Following the vote Paul said:

“Recent research showing a high intention to vote amongst Scottish 16 and 17 year olds has made a strong case for them having the right to vote in all elections and their level of engagement during the referendum only serves to back that up.

“I am delighted that the Scottish Parliament has voted to give our 16 and 17 year olds the chance to have a say on the future governance of their country – if you are able to marry, have children, join the armed forces and pay taxes at 16 it is only right and proper that you should have your voice heard in an election and I am proud to have voted to give my younger constituents that opportunity in respect of voting in all future Scottish Parliament elections.

“It is disappointing that on the same day that we saw Scotland’s progressive credentials on this the UK Government and Westminster parties in the House of Commons voted against allowing 16 and 17 year olds a vote in the EU referendum and of course the UK parties still refuse to allow 16 and 17 year olds to vote at UK General Elections or European Elections. 

“It is very telling that the Tories in the Scottish Parliament attending the debate voted for the Bill, after a substantial change of heart, but would appear to still have absolutely no any influence over their parties’ stance in Westminster on this issue. I appreciate Tory MSP John Lamont was not in attendance for the passage of the Bill, but I hope he does take the time to urge the Tory Prime Minister, David Cameron, to back votes for 16 and 17 year olds in all elections – a position long held by the SNP.”

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Wheelhouse Delighted with Community Empowerment Bill Passing into Law

22nd June 2015

SNP MSP Paul Wheelhouse (South Scotland) has warmly welcomed the Community Empowerment (Scotland) Bill passing at Stage three in the Scottish Parliament – despite Tories abstaining from the vote.

The Bill, which will become law once it receives Royal Assent, will put far greater power in the hands of communities – reflecting the SNP belief in empowering communities across Scotland to make decisions in the best interests all who live in them.

Measures in the Bill include:

  • Helping communities become empowered through increased opportunities for ownership of land and buildings, such as underused or disused public buildings or land;
  • Extending the Community Right to Buy already available across Scotland in smaller towns and rural areas to including towns and settlements with more than 10,000 residents, such as Hawick and Galashiels. This will help deliver the Scottish Government’s ambitious target of 1 million acres of land in community ownership by 2020;
  • Improving the process of community planning and strengthening partnership working between agencies and engagement with communities;
  • Making provision for registers of common good property and about disposal and use of such property;
  • Improve the availability and regulation of allotments to better meet demand across Scotland; and
  • Enabling local authorities to produce their own rates relief schemes to reduce or eliminate non-domestic rates to stimulate key sectors or area regeneration.

Following the vote Paul said:

“Community empowerment plays a huge part in strengthening the voice our communities have in determining their own future.  I am delighted that this Bill has now passed and our communities across the Scottish Borders will have a better chance to grow and shine by implementing initiatives that they know will benefit their areas directly.

“This Bill puts opportunities and power in the hands of people locally to redevelop neglected buildings and land, control community assets and enable local authorities to vary non-domestic rates. It will also give our communities the chance to develop their towns and villages in a way each community wants and needs. 

“Giving local authorities the power to create their own business rates relief schemes will allow them greater scope to support local economic growth and ensure non-domestic rates are set appropriately to reflect local needs. This allows for some potential for targeted changes to support local high streets, where out of town retail has hit footfall, and to reduce the costs for mobile phone operators to install new masts to address areas where there is currently no signal.  I will therefore be encouraging Scottish Borders Council to utilise this new power to the advantage of Borders businesses, residents and tourists alike.

“I was surprised and disappointed, however, that the Tories, including John Lamont, decided to abstain on this Bill.  I am stumped as to their reasons for not supporting this flagship piece of legislation that will give our communities and local development trusts a significant boost, as well as stimulating opportunities to develop thriving economic hubs across the country. On this issue, as with so many others, they clearly found themselves out of step with Scotland’s communities and all other parties in Scotland’s Parliament.”

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Wheelhouse Condemns Tory “Sleekit” Manoeuvre on Royal Mail

9th June 2015

South Scotland MSP Paul Wheelhouse (SNP) has condemned the Tory UK Government’s plans to privatise the remaining 30% stake in the Royal Mail.

Paul, who has commented previously on Royal Mail issues, says the move further threatens the terms of the Universal Service Obligation – which safeguards postal services and deliveries in rural areas like the Scottish Borders – and which is particularly important in protecting services across Scotland.

Questioning the legitimacy of the move by the Tories, as the Tories made no reference to it in the run up to the election, Paul said:

“I know that my constituents in the Scottish Borders are very concerned about the privatisation of the remainder of Royal Mail, because they value the service and, in particular, they value the Universal Service Obligation that is vital to ensuring the geographic coverage of the Royal Mail that is so key to the health of our rural communities and businesses.

“My SNP colleagues in Westminster resolutely opposed the privatisation of Royal Mail in the first place and we all strongly oppose the disposal of the remaining 30% stake in the company. The total sale of Royal Mail to the private sector is tantamount to giving away the family jewels, and it has been sold off at well below its value too.

“Last year the National Audit Office concluded the sale of Royal Mail was rushed at the expense of value for money and now the Tories are just carrying on regardless and in open disregard for their lack of any mandate to govern in Scotland, with just one of 56 MPs.

“The implications of a privatised Royal Mail seeking to dilute or end the Universal Service would increase the cost of doing business in rural areas, and it greatly concerns me that it could lead to centralised collection of mail and make life very difficult for those who rely on mail services in rural and remote areas, such as the Scottish Borders.

“This is the latest in a long line of sleekit manoeuvres by George Osborne – which he and David Cameron kept very quiet about during the general election campaign and the SNP will continue to argue against this every step of the way.”

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Views Sought on Proposed Agricultural Minimum Wage

9th June 2015

SNP MSP for South Scotland Paul Wheelhouse is asking those with an interest in the agriculture sector to take part in a consultation on the proposed rise in the minimum wage rate for agricultural workers. 

If approved, the minimum wage for agricultural workers with more than 26 weeks continuous employment will increase by 10p per hour to £7.24 from 1st October 2015. This will bring the minimum wage for a 39 hour week to £282.36.

Local views are being sought on this proposed increase, which is in line with increases to the National Minimum Wage, by 30th June 2015.

The proposed headline minimum hourly rates are:

•           £6.70 for all workers in the first 26 weeks of employment. This increase of 20p per hour is in line with increases to the National Minimum Wage. For overtime, the minimum hourly rate should rise to £10.05 (an increase of 30p per hour)
•           £7.24 (an increase of 10p per hour) for all workers employed for more than 26 weeks by the same employer. For overtime, the minimum hourly rate should rise to £10.86 (an increase of 15p per hour)
•           £4.02 (an increase of 6p per hour) for workers who undertake a Level 2 Modern Apprenticeship in Agriculture
•           An additional £1.10 per hour (an increase of 2p per hour) for those workers with appropriate qualifications

Those working with dogs should receive an allowance of £5.49 per week for each dog (an increase of 8p per dog) up to a maximum of four dogs. The daily rate of the accommodation, off-set for accommodation other than a house, should rise to £5.35 per day (an increase of 34p per day) which is in line with the National Minimum Wage rate.

Paul said:

“Given the importance of agriculture to the economy of the Scottish Borders, this proposed minimum wage increase has the potential to positively affect many agricultural workers across the region. 

“It is particularly important in the face of further austerity from Westminster, where many families are feeling the pinch, that anyone in the region is paid a decent wage and agricultural workers should be no exception to that.

“I would hope that, where they can afford to do so, employers pay more than the minimum wage and indeed aim to pay at least the living wage of £7.85 per hour, but these measures are important in setting a floor below which wages will not fall.

“I would ask anyone with an interest in this issue to take part in the public consultation before it closes at the end of June.”

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