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Talk Porty ~ Portobello • View topic - Sheila Gilmore MP enewsletter - Edition nine - April 2011

Sheila Gilmore MP enewsletter - Edition nine - April 2011

Discussion and debate on the issues affecting Portobello

Sheila Gilmore MP enewsletter - Edition nine - April 2011

Postby administrator » 06 Apr 2011, 17:41

Lost in Committee
In the second last week of March I started work in the Committee for the Welfare Reform Bill. What I hadn’t realised before being elected was that ‘Bill committees’ are very intensive, meeting for two sessions each Tuesday and two on a Thursday for as many weeks as needed. There have been quite a few ‘big bills’ recently (Education, Health, Localism) and I’ve noticed that while sitting on these colleagues ‘disappear’ from sight for long periods of time, attending and preparing for such committees. So if I’m not seen much on those ‘green benches’ for a few weeks this will be why!

I’ve done four other Bill Committees since last May, all much shorter than the Welfare Reform Bill one is going to be. There’s a lot in the Bill – and perhaps even more importantly a lot of the important detail isn’t in it, and I think all of us on the committee from all parties will be pressing the Government to fill in these details.

The best aspect of the Bill is the attempt to ensure that there is a smooth path from unemployment to employment. Under the current system this is a time when many people get into difficulties because they have to apply for a different set of benefits. Too often people get into debt just at a point when they should have a chance to get better off, and this can discourage some people from persisting with work.

The Bill also seeks to simplify benefits – something it would be difficult to argue against, but there needs to be some caution. If ‘simple’ means ‘one size fits all’ then it could lead to some people losing out. One of the reasons for the current system being complex is that people’s needs are very different.

There is a great deal in this Bill which my colleagues and I will be opposing and seeking to amend. So far we’ve only had one week where we’ve had people giving evidence, frustratingly short in fact with many witnesses but too little time. But what did strike me is that there are considerable ideological differences between the parties in their approach, and this also came over in some of the evidence sessions. Despite this I am hopeful that it may be possible to achieve some cross party support for amending some of the worst proposals in this Bill.

If you have a particular interest in this field and would like more regular updates or want to ask about any detail in the Bill please let me know.

Libya
Last month, Parliament overwhelmingly passed a motion to support the Government’s decision to commit British forces to ensure that UN Resolution 1973 is enforced. UN 1973 was issued after the UN decided that Resolution 1970 was being flouted by the Gadaffi regime. I voted to support the military action to protect civilians and enforce the no-fly zone. I was not prepared to support any land invasion, and the UN resolution does not allow for such invasion. The conflict in Libya is moving quickly, if you would like to contact me as things develop, please do not hesitate to do so..

Register to vote
The next month will see the Holyrood election campaign. Edinburgh East has the lowest voter registration in Scotland so I am urging everyone to register before the 15 April. You can register here http://www.lothian-vjb.gov.uk/, or pick up a form from my constituency office.

If you have already registered to vote and will be on holiday, register for a postal vote or nominate a proxy by the 15 April. Again, you can do it here http://www.lothian-vjb.gov.uk/, or get a form from my constituency office.

International Women’s Day
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My colleagues and I celebrated the 100th International Women’s Day on 8 March, recognising the social, political, economic and cultural achievements women have made over the past century. One hundred years ago this year the day introduced to focus on the politics of women when the suffragette movement was building momentum in Britain. The day is still a national holiday in many ex-Soviet states. More information can be found at http://www.internationalwomensday.com/first.asp.

White House reopening
I was at the opening and exhibition of the White House, on Niddrie Mains Road, and was pleased to see so many local faces supporting the long-awaited return of the building. If you haven’t already been, make sure you go along to see the exhibition with plenty of photos of Craigmillar folk and goings on stretching back decades with documents from the Craigmillar Archives. The restored B-listed art-deco building was originally a roadhouse and then a pub in more recent years. The restoration was done by Parc as part of the regeneration effort, which has been hugely welcomed. The exhibition is open until 10 June, so there is plenty of time to visit this wonderful building and the excellent exhibition.

Nursery Closures
With great sadness, both High School Yards and Princess Elizabeth Nurseries will close at the end of this school year. I was particularly saddened that High School Yards, regarded as ‘Excellent’ in recent reports, and the nursery of two of my children, will no longer be able to provide an environment for children whose parents live or work in the city centre. One the one side the council said that the nurseries were way-under capacity, but parents at public meetings believed that the spaces had been driven down due to under-staffing. Even academics argued that the environment at High School Yards provided excellent early years development, and studies had been conducted at this particular nursery. I was against the closure. See more: http://bit.ly/gJ28AQ

Cafe Culture
The stint of warmer weather we had in March now seems weeks away, however, in that time I know that many bars, restaurants and cafes in Portobello and the city centre thought about digging out the outdoor tables and chairs. Blustery weather may have returned for now, but in a couple of months many businesses will hope to cash in on the brighter nights and warmer weather. A handful of business owner have spoke to me about the cost of obtaining a ‘tables and chairs’ license and the increases in cost brought in by the Council this year, on top of a hefty increase the year before too! In Portobello in particular the increase is already making some owners decide not to take a license. Current costs stand at £65.00 per square metre, and is even more in the city centre. I have written to the Council asking why, if we are trying to boost and regenerate our local town centres, are hefty charges being levied on Portobello traders.

Trident replacement costs
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The Government has already confirmed that it will defer the final decision to replace Trident to 2016. I view this as positive as it provides more time to make the case against trident renewal. In the meantime however Defence Minister Peter Luff has admitted in a Commons debate that the Government are set to spend £500 million on the planning stages of the project, otherwise known as ‘Initial Gate’. I am concerned that this figure will rise further, which could allow the Government to make the case in later years that it would be uneconomical not to proceed with replacement given the amounts already spent. Last week I joined my colleagues in Parliamentary CND to launch its new poster campaign against this first stage of trident replacement (http://bit.ly/fAoakv).

Portobello Kilns
Work on the Historic Kilns, while delayed is still to go ahead. I understand that the reconstruction plans have been altered due to design issues, supply issues with the particular bricks and contractual issues as the Council seek out a new contractor to finish the project. I am assured that the wait means that the work will restore the kilns more accurately and should also be helped by the warmer weather in coming months. I will keep you updated.

Worker Registration Scheme
Last month the Immigration Minister, Damian Greene MP, announced that the Worker Registration Scheme will end. The scheme was introduced under the terms of the Treaty of Rome which allowed EU states to restrict the amount of workers that came from the 2004 accession states. The scheme required applicants to work in the UK for one year before being able to exercise unemployment and family benefits. Accession immigration has been highly contentious for the past seven years, however, within this time the economies of Central and Eastern Europe have grown as part of the EU, and so have jobs in these member states.

All Aboard the Talking Buses
Across the UK you may have already come across ‘talking buses’ in major cities like London, Reading and Nottingham. I have backed the Guides Dogs Talking Buses campaign that calls for bus services to introduce audio and visual information systems, encouraging elderly blind, deaf and less-abled people to use buses more often. Of course, talking buses would improve everyone’s experience, but many less-abled users have bad experiences and stop using buses; with sound and location signs users know where they are and can get off safely. I have already written to Lothian Buses and urged them to extend the assistance they provide to the elderly and less-abled like they have on the Airlink service.

Help Scheme Still Open To Eligible Viewers
There is still time for eligible older and disabled people to apply for help from the Switchover Help Scheme (http://www.helpscheme.co.uk). For £40 (or free for those on income related benefits), people aged 75 and over, eligible for certain disability benefits, registered blind or partially sighted or living in care homes are entitled to receive practical help to switch one TV set to digital, including a choice of equipment, installation and aftercare. Eligible people can receive help for a second set even if they have already converted a TV by themselves.
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