Category Archives: Holyrood Message

Leadership needed to shift the balance of care

Monday 14th March 2016


Every day we hear about the huge strain on our National Health Service.  Just last week for instance the Greenock Telegraph reported that over 2,000 people presented at Inverclyde Royal’s Accident and Emergency Department had to wait more than four hours before being seen by a doctor.

Of course, this is not an issue solely effecting Inverclyde. It’s happening across Scotland. The pressures on A&E departments are symptomatic of a wider problem – the lack of care facilities in the community.

Patients ready to leave hospital are unable to do so either because they are awaiting a place in a care home or for appropriate arrangements to be made in their own home. This in turn, means that there are fewer beds for people turning up at the hospital doors.

This is not a new problem. It has been about for some considerable time. And with a rising elderly population and people with complex needs living longer the pressure on our hospitals will only increase.

In September 2011 the Scottish Government set out an ambitious vision for health and social care to respond to these challenges. However, having a vision is one thing, ensuring that vision is followed through is another.

Last week Audit Scotland – the country’s leading watchdog – strongly criticised the Scottish Government for failing to show leadership to shift the balance of care into the community.

The Auditor General Caroline Gardner said: “an ambitious vision can be a catalyst for change but, without a clear and detailed plan of action, there’s a risk that ambition is overtaken by circumstances.”

If we fail to shift care from our hospitals into the community the Scottish Government’s ambition to have more people cared for at home or in a homely setting simply won’t happen.

Now is the time for the Scottish Government to show leadership. As Audit Scotland said in its report it must provide a clear framework by the end of 2016 of how it expects NHS boards, councils and integration authorities to achieve the 2020 Vision, outlining priorities and plans to reach its longer-term strategy.

Returning to normal politics

Monday 7th March 2016


It has taken us some time to get here but finally it would seem we are witnessing a return to normal politics.

Now that the vow has been delivered and a fair funding settlement put in place we are now at long last moving onto the issues that matter to people’s lives.

In particular, education has been high on the agenda and rightly so. It is widely recognised that our schools and colleges are underfunded and as a consequence are under performing.

All parties agree that investing in education is not only vital to the prospects of our young people it is also directly tied in with the success of Scotland’s economy.

Interestingly the focus on education has also led to a serious discussion on taxation.

For some considerable time the dominant view has been that tax increases of any kind should be resisted. Political parties on all sides have feared a backlash from voters – after all no one likes to pay taxes.

However, the immense financial pressure facing our public services has forced us to consider alternative ways of raising money.

All the political parties are now saying that that they will raise taxes for those who can afford to pay.

In February Scottish Labour and the Scottish Liberal Democrats announced their intention to use the powers of the Scottish Parliament to raise income tax by 1p in the pound.

And low and behold last week even the SNP said that those on higher council tax bands will pay more.

Finally the political debate has got interesting. Part of me wishes I wasn’t retiring from front-line politics just yet.

I sincerely hope that this return to normal politics continues well beyond the election. If it does, we will all be the better for it.

Powers for a purpose

Monday 29th February 2016


Last week was a good week for devolution.

After months of negotiations the Scottish and UK Governments finally hammered out a financial deal which will deliver a package of new powers to Holyrood.

As a result Scotland will have one of the most powerfully devolved Parliament’s in the world with substantial control over welfare, borrowing and taxation.

However, we shouldn’t get over excited just yet. Devolving powers is one thing, how we use those powers is the real challenge.

However, last Wednesday, the Scottish Government failed to meet this challenge. It was presented with a choice.

On the one hand it could choose to go ahead with its £500m cuts to local government funding and the education budget.

On the other, it could use the new powers coming to Holyrood to raise income tax by 1p in the pound, in order to raise enough money to stop these cuts from going ahead.

This plan would have come at no extra cost to those on low incomes and would have protected vital public services including our schools.

Unfortunately for Scotland and the prospects of our young people the Scottish Government chose the former.

The cuts will translate into fewer teachers, bigger class sizes and fewer opportunities for our young people.

As Union members campaigning outside Holyrood on Wednesday said, it will also result in thousands of job losses.

While this may have been a good week for Devolution, it was not necessarily a good week for the Scottish Parliament.

It’s not enough just to have powers for powers sake. Only when the Scottish Parliament uses its powers for a purpose will it reach its true potential.


Age and Isolation

Monday 22nd February 2016


We all like some time to ourselves but most of us don’t like to be on our own for too long, even if we don’t like to admit it. It’s the company of others that helps give us that sense of belonging and comfort.

Derek Young of Age Scotland conveyed this point recently when he said “the need for contact is an innate human need in the same way that feeling hungry or thirsty or tired is.”

Sadly, there are too many people who live their lives in loneliness and isolation. This is particularly true of the elderly. Age UK recently reported that 10% of all people over the age of 65 feel lonely all or most of the time.

In its recent inquiry the Scottish Parliament’s Equal Opportunities Committee found that age and isolation are significant issues in Scotland that are linked to health problems such as dementia and malnutrition.

During its evidence gathering the committee heard of some of the most extreme cases of isolation including one woman who was so socially isolated she lived without power for months.

The committee rightly concluded that individual citizens, public services and the Scottish Government should take collective responsibility for improving the situation.

It called on the Scottish Government to prioritise loneliness and isolation alongside issues such as poverty and poor housing. The committee also urged the government to adopt a national strategy to tackle the problem.

As part of formulating its strategy, the Scottish Government would do well to learn from a project organised by the Inverclyde Community Trust called ‘Chit Chat’ which aims to reduce social isolation, particularly for elderly people from the Greenock Central and East areas.

I recently had the opportunity to meet the group and heard about the great work they are doing to tackle the issue.  I heard positive experiences from elderly people who have participated in the project.

As well as providing an opportunity to socialise and make new friends, it has allowed them to make connections with a wide range of community services supporting their day-to-day wellbeing.

The project has proved to be a huge success. All of the 160 people who have been involved so far have reported an increase in their social circle and improved health and wellbeing.

It is time we brought an end to age and isolation in Scotland and I hope the Scottish Government will act on the committee’s recommendations and support projects like ‘Chit Chat’ so they can go from strength to strength.

Organ donation bill voted down

Monday 15th February 2016


To the bitter disappointment of patients and their families, last week the Scottish Government voted down the Organ Donation Bill brought forward by Labour MSP Anne McTaggart.

For those of you unfamiliar with the Bill, it proposed to introduced a ‘soft-opt out’ system for organ donation. Its overarching aim was to increase the number of organs and tissue made available for transplantation in Scotland.

As it stands, demand for organs far outstrips the number available. As a result, lives are being lost and families are suffering needlessly with 500 people currently on the waiting list.

Those in favour of the Bill have pointed to the example of Spain which introduced ‘soft opt-out’ system in 1979 and now has the highest rate of donations from deceased donors in Europe.

As one would expect, when it comes to an emotive issue such as this, there are sincere and strongly held views on both sides of the debate. And I have complete respect for those who voted against the Bill as a matter of conscience.  However, itbeggar’s belief, that according to John Mason MSP, a number of his colleagues voted against the Bill for political reasons.

To make matters worse, there were over twenty MSPs in the debating chamber who publicly backed a soft opt-out system for organ donation previously, but subsequently voted against the Bill without explanation.

 Understandably, many of those fighting to change the law have been left furious. Expectations were raised only to be dashed at the last minute.

The Scottish Government has said that in the new Parliament it will consult on the development of a new ‘soft opt-out’ system. However, this could mean we have to wait years before any progress is made.  Any technical problems with the Bill could have been addressed as it progressed through Parliament in the coming weeks.

 One campaigner speaking on behalf of patients and families expressed their frustration with the Scottish Government’s decision when he said: “The Government seem to be playing politics with people’s lives. By the time we get a new law people will have died”.


Invest in Scotland’s Future

Monday 8th February 2016


Last week was a very important week for Scottish Politics. We witnessed a significant shift in the political discourse.

The focus changed from the usual debate about what powers the Scottish Parliament should have, to how it can use these powers. It has taken us some time to get there, but I’m glad we’ve arrived at this point nonetheless.

As ever in politics context is everything. The shift could be seen in the backdrop of the huge cuts the Scottish Government is making across the country as well as the £130m cut to the Education and Lifelong Learning budget.

These cuts are being protested across Scotland in recognition that they would translate into fewer teachers, bigger class sizes and fewer opportunities for our young people.

The Scottish Government used its usual line this week during the budget debate that it has no choice in the matter but the reality of the situation is somewhat different.

The Scottish Government can and should make other choices. It could use the tax powers of the Scottish Parliament as Labour is proposing which the think tank Resolution Foundation say could reduce the cuts by a third.

This would allow us to reinstate the education budget and invest inour children’s future.  If education is a top priority for the Scottish Government they now have a chance to translate those warms words into action.

It’s time to invest in our young people so we can grow a better, stronger Scotland.


Texas Instruments

Monday 1st February 2016


Inverclyde has suffered its fair share of job losses over recent years but the announcement from Texas Instruments on Wednesday that it intends to shut down its plant came as one of the biggest shocks we have had in a long time.

It literally came out of the blue with no prior warning. The news will be a huge blow to the plant’s highly skilled and committed workforce, their families and the wider community. It’s also a significant blow for Scotland’s manufacturing base.

However, we can’t be paralysed by the shock. The immediate focus must now be on securing a new owner for the plant. We must not leave any stone unturned in this process.

The glimmer of hope is that Texas Instruments have said that they don’t anticipate any immediate redundancies. We therefore have an important window of opportunity to work together to do everything we can to help find a buyer that will maintain the 365 jobs in Greenock.

Inverclyde’s Council Leader Stephen McCabe has set up a taskforce to do just that and I will ensure that as the MSP for Greenock and Inverclyde as you would expect that I will be fully involved.

I’m glad that in response to my emergency question in Parliament the First Minister agreed to ensure that the Scottish Government will put all its support behind the taskforce.

The First Minister also assured me that Scottish Enterprise will engage and work with the company to explore all possible options for supporting the business and retaining jobs.

As well as addressing the immediate issue the taskforce needs to examine the major underlying problem which is the fragility of Inverclyde’s economy. It makes us far more vulnerable to shocks like this.

We need to find ways to strengthen Inverclyde’s manufacturing base by attracting long-term investment and new jobs to the area. Restoring the cuts to our regeneration budget would be a good first step.

Open and honest debate needed on health services

Monday 25th January 2016


The huge strain being placed on our National Health Service is reported almost daily.

Stories about packed hospital wards, staff being worked to the point of exhaustion and health boards getting into financial difficulty have all become part and parcel of the news cycle.

The reasons for this have been well documented with the main contributing factors being the increasing elderly population and the costs brought about by new medical procedures and medicines.

It is disappointing, although not surprising that NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde are now discussing the need to make over £60m worth of savings putting a big question mark over local services at Inverclyde Royal.

When the First Minister Nicola Sturgeon visited Inverclyde as recently as November she publicly dismissed concerns about the centralisation of services, suggesting if that were to be the case there would be a full public consultation.

However, despite this promise there has been no discussion with local communities. Instead, it appears that all the decisions are being put off until after the election.

It is wholly unacceptable that decisions which may have a detrimental impact on the delivery of local health services are being made behind closed doors.

It is time for an open and honest debate about the future of local health services. The people of Inverclyde must have their voices heard in this debate.

College cuts

Monday 18th January 2016


Our college have played a vital role in communities across Scotland for decades.

They have helped provide thousands of young people with the skills to get their first job.

Mums and dads looking for a second chance at an education have benefited hugely from their part-time courses.

And those with disabilities have become active members of our society thanks to their support.

Sadly, the crucial role they play has come under sustained attack in recent years due to Scottish Government reforms of the sector.

It has experienced deep cuts to funding, significant job losses and huge reductions in student numbers. Indeed, last week new statistics were released showing that numbers have plummeted by 150,000 since 2007.

To add to the woes facing the sector, a recent survey indicated that the mergers which brought together James Watt, Reid Kerr and Clydebank to form the West of Scotland regional model have failed to achieve their aims.

When the Scottish Government’s Education Minister Mike Russell forced through his reforms, he ignored the concerns of students and staff and asserted that they would turn our colleges from “good to great”.

But the survey which was commissioned by the Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS) teachers’ and lecturers’ union, found that almost 90% of college lecturers taking part did not believe the mergers had improved learning and teaching quality.

It also highlighted the detrimental impact the mergers have had on staff morale with many now on the brink of industrial action.

The Scottish Government must listen to the concerns raised by students and staff.

It must act to restore student numbers, put back the funding they have taken away and give far greater help to staff to help make the mergers work.
If they don’t, communities like Inverclyde will suffer the consequences.


Back to work

Monday 11th January 2016


The first shots may have been fired in the election campaign, but it was very much back to business for MSPs in Parliament this week.

The Health and Sports committee picked up where it left off before the holidays with a jam packed agenda.

At the top of the list, were the Scottish Government’s budget plans for the National Health Service in the year ahead.

It’s no secret that the NHS is under huge pressure to match resources with the increasing demand placed upon it by a rising elderly population.

As I have said before in my column, one of the keys to addressing this problem is to shift the balance of care into the communities.

This is why I welcomed the Scottish Government’s announcement late last year that they intend to allocate £250m in to health and social care.

However, I was disappointed that the government failed to spell out exactly how this money would be allocated to local areas due to ongoing discussions with the councils.

It’s essential we use this funding to ensure more elderly people are given high quality care that they deserve in their own homes.

The funding should also be targeted toward improving support for staff to allow them the quality time they need to care for the elderly and vulnerable, rather than the 15min care visits we have at present.

It’s this lack of contact that contributes to too many elderly people leading their lives in isolation. As was highlighted during a debate in Parliament last week, according to research just over 50% of over 80s are often or always lonely.

This simply isn’t right and we need to do something about this to give back to those who have given so much to us.

While the election campaign will inevitably dominate the headlines in the weeks ahead, I hope that Parliament will keep its focus on important issues such as these and do its’ best to properly hold government to account.