Festive Message from Paul Wheelhouse MSP

18th December 2015

Paul Wheelhouse MSP (SNP, South Scotland), has thanked public and emergency service workers over the festive season in his Christmas message.

Paul said:

“As most of us prepare to wind down for a couple of weeks over Christmas and New Year I am mindful of the people still working over the festive season, particularly in public and emergency services. 

“From the NHS staff, police and fire and rescue service to council gritters and snow plough drivers and emergency planning officers who will all be on duty to keep us safe over the coming weeks, at the expense of time with their own families while we enjoy ours - I thank them for their work throughout the year but especially at this time.  I am also very conscious it is a busy time for staff in retail and hospitality roles and we should recognise and be grateful for their efforts on our behalf too - helping us to enjoy ourselves.

“I would also like to take this opportunity to wish all my constituents a safe, happy and peaceful Christmas and New Year.”

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Wheelhouse and First Minister Welcome Borders College Students and Staff to Scottish Parliament

17th December 2015

Paul Wheelhouse MSP (SNP South Scotland) today (Wednesday) welcomed students from Borders College social care course to the Scottish Parliament and joined them for a question and answer session with the First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon MSP.

Following the visit, Paul said:

“The Scottish Parliament education service offers an excellent opportunity for schools and colleges from across the south of Scotland to come in to Parliament and learn a bit more about how it all works here and what we parliamentarians get up to in our day-to-day lives as politicians.

“I was delighted to meet the students and staff from Borders College who had a wide range of questions from Parliamentary processes through to student funding issues, the damaging UK Government proposal for a Trade Union Bill – and its potential impact Scotland - the impact of welfare reform and the Scotland Bill and it was great to hear what matters most to them.  I was also able to talk a little about my role as a Minister too.

“I’m sure the students and staff were more than pleased to have secured a chat with the First Minister while they were in the Scottish Parliament and I was pleased the First Minister was able to spend so much time with them answering their questions on, among other things, the spending priorities of the Scottish Government, given that the budget statement was taking place later that afternoon.

“I hope everyone enjoyed their visit to the Scottish Parliament - which is the place where day to day decisions that affect Scotland’s people are made - and we are always happy to welcome visitors to Holyrood.  I would encourage others who have an interest in visiting to please just get in touch with my office if we can host you or if the education service can be of assistance.”

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Wheelhouse Welcomes £4m in Scottish Budget for Flooded Towns

16th December 2015

SNP MSP for South Scotland, Paul Wheelhouse, has welcomed the budget announcement by Deputy First Minister, John Swinney MSP, that the Scottish Government is making £4 million available for towns affected by recent flooding.

Paul said:

“I know how much this gesture will be appreciated by local authorities, businesses and individuals across the South Scotland region where the recent flooding caused untold damage, the cost of which is still being counted.

“The Deputy First Minister specifically mentioned Hawick, Newcastleton, and Dumfries specifically but I know residents in Selkirk, Coldstream, Langholm and other communities will be relieved to know that some of this funding could be coming their way.

“There are many other positive pieces of news to digest over coming weeks in the budget but this is one thing I know people in the central and western areas of the region in particular will be pleased to hear.”

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Wheelhouse & Hawick Councillors Meet Minister to Discuss Hawick’s Ward Boundaries

15th December 2015

Paul Wheelhouse MSP (SNP Regional MSP for South Scotland) this week (Tuesday) hosted a meeting in the Scottish Parliament between Hawick Councillors Stuart Marshall, Watson McAteer and Alastair Cranston and the Minister for Local Government and Community Empowerment, Marco Biagi MSP, to discuss the Local Government Boundary Commission for Scotland’s proposals for substantial changes to the two current Hawick wards.

Following the meeting, Paul said:

“I am very grateful to my colleague, Marco Biagi MSP, for giving us his time so early in this process, and for paying particular attention to our concerns about the potential changes to the ward boundaries in Hawick. The Minister was clearly well informed and demonstrated great interest in our submissions to the review and what we had to say on the issue of historical and cultural importance of Hawick’s boundaries, the impact on Councillors’ ability to serve their constituents in the proposed new wards and the impact on local governance arrangements in the Teviotdale and Liddesdale area. We made the case that Hawick has established a strong foundation for community resilience, and that the six councillors play an important role in supporting this and in determining and securing investment for the town to tackle economic challenges. 

“I’ll be working with Hawick’s Councillors to further strengthen our case for Hawick to, ideally, retain its current boundaries, and to fulfil the desire of local communities, including Denholm, Newcastleton and Bonchester, to maintain their electoral links with the town. We intend to ask Scottish Borders Council to consider making an amendment to their earlier submission to the Local Government Boundary Commission, to request that the number of councillors in Borders remain at 34 – a point I have made to the Commission in my own submission.”

Commenting on the meeting Councillor Watson McAteer (Independent) stated:

“We had a first class meeting with Marco Biagi who was interested in all that we had to say.  I believe he was sympathetic to our cause to retain the Hawick wards and offered some practical advice and guidance that we will now follow through.”

Hawick Provost and Hawick & Denholm Independent Councillor, Stuart Marshall added:

“We met Marco Biagi to seek his support to influence the Boundary Commission at the express wish of those communities we represent and who feel aggrieved at the prospect of being separated from the Hawick community.  We were able to make the point about our unique history and the natural boundaries that form the two distinct wards.

“I was reassured that Mr Biagi was very open and transparent and that he acknowledged that we had made a very good case.”

Hawick and Denholm’s SNP Councillor, Alastair Cranston said:

“It was clear that the Minister, Mr Biagi, understood where we were coming from in terms of being a distinct rural community and, while I appreciate he cannot make any commitments or guarantees at this stage, I am pleased we had such a positive meeting with him.”

Following the meeting with the Minister, Paul Wheelhouse MSP and the Councillor's will write to Scottish Borders Council requesting that they consider amending their earlier submission to the Commission to reflect the distinct wishes of the Hawick communities impacted by the current proposals.

Councillor's Stuart Marshall and Watson McAteer are currently awaiting a response for their request to meet members of the Boundary Commission.

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Wheelhouse Encourages Berwickshire Coastal and East Lothian Applications to Fisheries Fund

10th December 2015

SNP MSP for South Scotland, Paul Wheelhouse, is encouraging coastal and fishing communities in Berwickshire and East Lothian to apply for funding to support sustainable and economic growth in the marine sector and fisheries areas.

The European and Maritime Fisheries Fund (EMFF) assists the further development of sustainable aquaculture, provides support to the onshore seafood sector and works towards training and provides safety advice throughout the supply chain.  The fund also supports sustainable diversification or complimentary activity to deliver economic benefits during the transition phase of the Common Fisheries Policy.

The programme will open to applications on Monday 18th January and will run until 2020.

Paul said:

“Currently Scotland only gets 1.9% of the total EMFF pot, despite landing 8% of the EU catch, it is crucial, therefore, that the benefits of this funding package is maximised to support our fishermen and local coastal communities in Berwickshire and East Lothian.

“Berwickshire and East Lothian businesses and communities can apply for a share of €107 million - which will also help the fishing fleet adapt to the challenges of the discard ban, manage our natural resources, conserve fish stocks, and play a meaningful role in improving global food security and it is also of assistance to support economic projects to benefit communities affected by the reduction in size of the industry.

“With the recent news regarding the potential closure of Burgon’s in Eyemouth it is a concerning time for the fisheries sector in Berwickshire so any support that is available to our fishing industry and communities should be utilised to its full potential.  Both Calum Kerr MP and I will continue to seek a solution to the loss of Burgon’s but we would encourage all who can do so to explore what the EMFF offers.”

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Wheelhouse Responds to Hawick Flood Scheme Calls

7h December 2015

Following the weekend of flooding in Hawick, in which his own office was affected, SNP MSP for South Scotland Paul Wheelhouse has responded to calls for the Hawick Flood Scheme to be accelerated.

Paul said:

“Having witnessed for myself the quite staggering impact of the power of the Slitrig Water and, in particular, the Teviot which meet behind my office, and having seen the events unfold through my own eyes from before dawn on Saturday morning through to the flood hitting its peak later in the evening, I can quite understand why there is an understandable call for urgency to build flood defences for Hawick and for acceleration of the Hawick Flood Protection Scheme. As an occupier of a property that was flooded, and as someone who, more importantly, cares about the impact on my constituents, both in terms of householders and businesses, I would be very keen to see such a scheme come to pass, and will lend my full support to Scottish Borders Council to that end.  I know that, fortunately, in the form of Connor Price and his team, Scottish Borders Council have amongst the best specialists at their disposal of any local authority in Scotland. The work they have taken forward in Selkirk which is regarded as a pioneering scheme, in terms of its design, demonstrates their capabilities.

“It is also clear that the measures put in place on the Teviot and Slitrig, since 2005, relieved some of the impacts – for example the flood gate and wall to the rear of High School was hugely successful in protecting the School and many properties on Buccleuch Street. On paper this should have been worse than 2005 and the fact that impacts on Sandbed were not as substantial this time is in part due to that investment.   This is of some consolation to householders and businesses in the affected areas.

“Having discussed the Hawick situation with the Council’s emergency response team today I know they are taking on board the events of the weekend and are well on their way to delivering a scheme that is fit for the town.  The very fact they were going door to door speaking to businesses and residents affected by the flooding shows the commitment by the team at Scottish Borders Council to understand the full detail of the impacts, which will inform the detail of the design of the prevention scheme, which it is estimated may cost in the region of £29 million, to ensure the flood alleviation scheme that emerges for submission for planning consents etc is going to deliver the protection that Hawick needs.  I think it very unfortunate that some ill-informed commentary has been made on this by those in position to know better, given the incorrect assertion that a scheme is in progress and has not and never has been ‘kicked into the long grass’ as has been suggested in some quarters. Playing politics with the issue is unacceptable – this is not a time for selfies and self-publicity, the favourite pursuit for some - it is a time for serious team work. That is my focus.

“The Scottish Government is well aware of the need for a flood scheme in Hawick - my former officials kept in close contact with Scottish Borders Council during my time as Environment Minister, and I made further representations to my successor as the Minister for Environment and Climate Change, Dr Aileen McLeod MSP as recently as September to express upon her the importance of the Hawick flood scheme during a very constructive meeting with her and the resilience officers from Scottish Borders Council.  I and Council officers highlighted the importance of property level protection, such as flood gates, and the work of the outstanding Hawick Flood Group would be in protecting the town in the interim until such time as the major scheme can be completed.

“The Scottish Government is delivering £42 million per annum of flood prevention schemes throughout Scotland through Scotland’s local authorities and decisions on how this is allocated on the ground is taken jointly by COSLA and Scottish Ministers, with up to 80% of project costs being met from this source.
“We saw the benefits of Scottish Government investment in Selkirk and Galashiels at the weekend.  As long as we do not have any farcical objections to the scheme at planning stages Hawick will also reap the benefits of this and I don’t know anyone who saw the torrents of water at the weekend who would seek to deny that of residents here.

“The process of delivering projects is governed by the Flood Risk Management (Scotland) Act (2009) and it ensures that there are mechanisms to resolve disputes over details of the design. The Council are taking forward their proposals in accordance with that and have done a great deal to explore their proposals with public consultation.  Where we can all help is to support the council by providing constructive support to the process, such as any consultation, or responding early and positively to any planning work required and in providing detailed evidence of impacts, to ensure that the technical design has the full support of the community.  I will do everything I can with Scottish Government ministerial colleagues to ensure the local community’s voice is heard at Holyrood and this project is delivered.”

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Wheelhouse Pays Tribute to Hawick Flood Volunteers and Emergency Services

7th December 2015

SNP MSP for South Scotland, Paul Wheelhouse, has paid a personal tribute and offered his sincere thanks to the volunteers, emergency services and Scottish Borders Council staff who worked tirelessly to protect Borders communities such as Hawick over the weekend from the flood that had the potential to devastate the town and other locations.

As the clean-up operation got underway Paul said:

"I spent the weekend in Hawick, having arrived around 4.30am on Saturday after hearing about the worsening conditions, having been phoned around 3:00am by Hawick Flood Group member and coordinator for Sandbed, Ryan McGee.  When I arrived I and local MP Calum Kerr were very much heartened by the response to events that was evident by the overwhelming hard work of the community of volunteers, especially from the Hawick Flood Group. The volunteers sheer determination to overcome a potential calamity facing the whole town was exemplary and their work was well coordinated and very professional.  

"I knew that Scottish Borders Council had an excellent resilience team in place, led by Jim Fraser, and I have seen first-hand their response across the region as being very much a first class plan which others would do well to learn from.

"However, I must praise all agencies involved in the operation of keeping people in Hawick and the surrounding areas, including Denholm and Newcastleton, informed and safe and I understand that similar operations worked well in Selkirk, Coldstream and the Kelso area.  Everyone from Police Scotland, the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service, the Tweed Valley Mountain Rescue Service, Borders Search and Rescue Unit, the Salvation Army and the social work staff, Borders Sport and Leisure Trust and volunteers at the rest centre established at the Teviot Leisure Centre and the Hawick Flood Group really came into their own this weekend - they have all been an absolute credit, not only to Hawick, but also to the Borders and to Scotland.  The volunteers absolutely deserve to be recognised for putting themselves in extremely dangerous situations in order to ensure the safety of their fellow townsfolk and I am extremely proud of them all. I may have helped fill sandbags, and check some properties, but the effort these guys put in was herculean.

"The fact that a facebook page for people to offer help with the relief effort was set up before the river had even reached its peak is testimony to the community spirit of Hawick that makes me appreciate the town so much as a home from home and I am sure that community spirit will not only be of great comfort to those who may need assistance with clearing up their homes and businesses once it is safe to do so, but will ensure that we see Hawick and other Borders communities rebound from most recent event.  

"While my own office has been flooded, the impact was much lessened because for the speedy response of the Hawick Flood Group and we were open for my Parliamentary Surgery today. My team are still working and we remain fully contactable, so if anyone requires my assistance with anything during this difficult time please don't hesitate to contact me, as you are most definitely not alone in a community that comes together so magnificently at a time of crisis and I hope and believe that the amazing community spirit displayed can now be applied to support the wider needs of our communities."

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