Wheelhouse Comments on Ex-Storm Jonas Flooding in Scottish Borders

27th January 2016

Following the severe flooding and weather warnings across the Scottish Borders caused by continuous heavy rain over yesterday and today, Paul Wheelhouse MSP (SNP South Scotland) said:

“My heart goes out to those flooded in December and now facing further disruption as a result of ex-storm Jonas.  I know, after speaking to the Minister for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform’s office today, that the Scottish Government Resilience team convened last night in order to prepare for today’s eventualities and I know that the Scottish Borders Council resilience team continue to work hard to ensure up-to-date information is provided to residents and business owners across the region.

“I have also spoken with the Deputy First Minister, John Swinney MSP, to ensure he is aware of the full extent of the flooding in the Scottish Borders and to request that flexibility be allowed for Scottish Borders Council in the event of further funding being requested and Mr Swinney was sympathetic to the plight of people in the region and has assured me that he is aware of the situation.
“With the continuous rain falling on already saturated ground and the river levels remaining high since December there has just been no let up for folk and it is devastating to see – I know the feeling as my office has also partially flooded again after having also flooded during Storm Desmond on 5th December.  Once again I thank the Hawick Flood Group for being on hand immediately to assist my staff and other residents and business owners throughout the town.

“Given the rapid escalation to a flood warning this morning as the rivers responded quickly to the rain it is clear that areas around rivers and flood water throughout the region will remain dangerous for some time – I would urge residents to please take notice of the advice from the emergency services not to travel unless absolutely essential, to check the Council’s webpages on road closures locally before travelling and, if out and about on foot, to please avoid riverbanks or areas near flooding.”

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Wheelhouse Condemns Tory Plans to End Free Education in Scotland

12th January 2016

Commenting on confirmation from the Scottish Tories that they would end free higher education in Scotland if elected in May, Paul Wheelhouse MSP (SNP, South Scotland) said:
“This recent announcement from Ruth Davidson confirms that any vote for the Tories in May is a vote to support ending free higher education in Scotland.
“The Tories claim that their further education colleges policy will be funded ‘in its entirety’ by a graduate contribution - meaning payment from those studying at higher education level  – but without any detail about how much university students would be expected to pay, or exactly when they would have to start paying it. This means their colleges policy has absolutely no credibility whatsoever and their implied policy on imposing tuition costs to study at university to pay for it would be hugely damaging in an area like the Scottish Borders where on average people earn comparatively low wages.
“I strongly support our college sector, and want to see it thrive, but charging university students to fund their policy on colleges is the wrong approach and regressive. It is also completely unacceptable to leave those young people in the Scottish Borders who are considering going to university languishing in the dark about what it will cost them due to their plans and the Tories should come clean now and make clear their proposals and their costing of them in full.
“The Tories have, of course, already taken a wrecking ball to higher education in England, but, thankfully, for as long as there is an SNP Scottish Government here, able to take a distinctly different path to that of England, then education will never become the market-driven, wealth-determined lottery it has become south of the border, which the Tories clearly want to see happen here too. 
“With Labour all over the place on university tuition fees, and the Lib Dems almost wiped out because of their own infamous broken promises to students - when they voted for £9,000 per annum fees they had pledged to oppose - it is clear that only a vote for a re-elected SNP Government in May’s election can safeguard Scotland’s proud tradition of free tuition for undergraduate students.”

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Wheelhouse & Kerr Praise Flood Defences as Minister Launches Scotland’s Flood Risk Management Plan in Selkirk

12th January 2016

Paul Wheelhouse MSP (SNP, South Scotland) and Calum Kerr MP joined the Scottish Government Environment Minister at the launch of the Scottish Government’s Flood Risk Management plan in Selkirk.

The investment pipeline of projects associated with the Flood Risk Management Plan is worth £235 million and projects associated with it will protect 10,000 properties across Scotland. The Plan contains 14 local strategies and proposals for 42 flood protection schemes or engineering works planned for 2016-21, including the proposed Hawick Flood Protection Scheme, which is currently out to consultation, and a range of other flood alleviation measures – these include natural flood management to supplement and enhance to effectiveness of the main flood protection schemes.

At the launch, both the Environment Minister and the Council Leader Cllr David Parker also confirmed that the Council was progressing details of its proposed approach to distributing the £2.4 million allocated to Scottish Borders Council, to support households and businesses affected by flooding across the Council area.

Following the launch Paul said:

I think it highly appropriate that Selkirk was chosen as the place to launch this key strategic document which represents Scotland’s action plan to tackle flooding as, although it is perhaps only just over half completed at this early stage, the Selkirk scheme is already proving itself as a tremendous example of the kind of flood protection scheme that other towns, such as Hawick, will benefit from in order to protect them from the devastation we have seen in recent weeks from Storm ‘Desmond’ at the beginning of December and Storm ‘Frank’ more recently.

“I saw for myself, around the peak flow on the Ettrick, when some 88,000 gallons of water were flowing under the new footbridge every second, that Storm ‘Frank’ would almost certainly have flooded key residential and business areas in Selkirk had the scheme not been substantially constructed. I was able to view logs bouncing off the temporary bridge underneath the new footbridge – indicating the wisdom of raising the new footbridge in height to avoid a log jam building – and the immense power of the river was obvious.

“Having seen first-hand the impact flooding has had across the Scottish Borders, not least in Hawick where my own office flooded during Storm ‘Desmond’, I am acutely aware, as is local MP Calum Kerr who also attended the launch, of why Scotland’s first national flood risk management plan and the separate local strategies is an essential step forward and will help move investment in Hawick a step closer. We are both keen to do what we can to ensure the design of the scheme will prove to be similarly robust and that a successful project is delivered.

“This plan is designed to further improve the way flooding is tackled across the country – protecting more homes, businesses, communities and livelihoods and will be vital in helping the country, and local authorities in particular, make decisions on how to best protect our most vulnerable communities at risk of flooding. What we must all do now is lend our support to the Council as they progress their detailed plans and to ensure that these plans come to fruition with the avoidance of any unnecessary objections.”

Calum Kerr MP, stated:

“Aside from seeing the huge progress being made with the impressive Selkirk Scheme and the launch of the action plan, it was very helpful for Paul and I, and others attending, to get an update from the Minister and Cllr Parker regarding the distribution of the £2.4 Million of Scottish Government funding. We heard that details of how to apply for the funding that has been allocated will be issued imminently by Scottish Borders Council to elected members for onward communication to those of our constituents who have been affected.

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Wheelhouse Welcomes Further Flood Recover Funding For Scottish Borders

9th January 2016

SNP MSP for the South of Scotland Paul Wheelhouse today (Saturday) welcomed the announcement by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon of a further £12 million across Scotland to support businesses, individuals and community groups affected by flooding.

The funding is in addition to the £4 million announced by the Deputy First Minister in his budget statement, bringing the total package of support to over £16 million.

Scottish Borders Council has been allocated £2.39 million in total since December – the most of any local authority in Scotland.
An extra £5.8 million will be made available to support households and business properties affected by flooding. The funding will be used by Local Authorities to provide every household, business premises or charity directly affected by flood water with a grant of £1,500.
In addition to flood relief support, businesses whose ability to trade has been severely affected by flooding will be able to apply for an additional grant of £3,000 funded by the Scottish Government and administered by their Local Authority.

Commenting ahead of accompanying the Environment Minister on a visit to the Selkirk Flood Scheme on Monday, Paul said:

“Since the devastating Storm Desmond floods at the start of December I have met as many people as I could who have been affected by the flooding in the Scottish Borders. The strength of their resilience and determination to get back on their feet has been humbling and I’ve been clear that we need to everything we can to help our communities to recover from this extremely distressing event.  

“I am extremely grateful to the Scottish Government for recognising the impact the adverse weather has had in our area and ensuring we are given as much support as possible – to be receiving the most financial support of all local authority areas show just how much the SNP Scottish Government has indeed recognised the need for it in our communities.

“In December Scottish Borders Council was allocated £1.94million by the Scottish Government to make direct grant support to individuals and businesses affected by flooding. This new funding for the region of almost half a million pounds further, announced today, will allow the Council to expand that scheme and also make specific, larger additional grants to businesses which have been affected. 
“I look forward to welcoming the Minister to Selkirk on Monday in order to assist her in emphasising how important it is that this support starts to reach the people who need it as quickly as possible. That is of paramount importance and I know people will want that process to be as simple and straightforward as possible.”

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