The Scottish Parliament is now in summer recess. Mid-Scotland and Fife is the second biggest geographical region after Highlands and Islands, so I welcome the opportunity recess brings to spend time in the region. A recent visit to Crieff highlighted to me the important role community groups and volunteers play in preserving our towns and villages but also in developing new ventures to boost tourism and local interest. The Old St Michaels Church yard, having previously been uncared for, overgrown and even proposed as a potential car park site, now offers a place of reflection off the high street with maintained gardens and currently one of the Crieff Cowches. Committed volunteers have created an asset for Crieff and demonstrates what can be achieved.
The Archaeology Trail at Strathearn Community Campus is another local initiative which aims to both celebrate local heritage and promote economic regeneration. The trail is a welcome addition to the area which involved local schools in its development as well as providing an education resource to connect the community with its history.
The Crieff Cowches are a welcome addition this summer. Situated around the area, they bring the work of local artists to the community, provide interest and fun on the art trail and will be auctioned off for charity at the end of the project which is run by the local bid. The project cleverly complements the Crieff in Leaf Coos celebrating the history of the tryst in Crieff.
Projects like these, which draw in support from local businesses and benefit from local expertise and connections, are key to stimulating ongoing interest for visitors and residents alike. With central funding for tourism always limited, finding ways of pooling local resources and securing financial backing are increasingly important.
I also appreciated a tour of the Glenturret distillery to hear about their plans following change in ownership. Whisky tourism remains a key aspect of Scotland’s appeal to visitors and the distillery is an important attraction for the area. Crieff has seen a shift away from traditional coach tours and increasing numbers of specialist visitors, coming specifically for the food and drink, or the history, or the wildlife. It’s important to respond to these changes and can offer experiences which appeal.
Securing Crieff and Strathearn on tourist trails is important and opportunities need to be grasped. The North Coast 500 show what can be achieved and the potential of cycle and walking based tourism could be promoted. What better way to explore our area of Scotland than to really slow your pace on two wheels or on foot. Marrying up sustainable environmentally-friendly travel with the natural beauty of Scotland could open up huge opportunities for many communities and businesses.
Crieff is facing challenges as tourists need change, but we are well placed to take advantage of opportunities. There is much to be positive about and that is reflected in the energy and commitment I have seen towards this special town.
Child poverty figures for Scotland make for unpleasant reading, with almost a quarter of children in Scotland in poverty and the latest projections estimating an additional 50,000 children being drawn into poverty over the next few years. That’s a classroom of children every day. While I agree with Nicola Sturgeon that the impact of UK welfare policy is significant, the Scottish Government has to act and use the powers of the Scottish Parliament to introduce positive measures to support families in need.
This week, the Scottish Government reported on the progress of a targeted family income supplement, previously planned for introduction by 2022. The new Scottish Child Payment of £10 a week will be rolled out for eligible under-6s by the end of the current parliamentary in 2021 and extended to under-16s by the end of 2022. While this additional support for families in poverty is to be welcomed, the reality that it took repeated calls from charities and campaigners to get to this point is less so.
An open letter was signed by 70 organisations calling for the supplement to be brought forward. Scottish Labour’s repeated calls for the income supplement to be fast tracked had the backing of organisations like the Joseph Rowntree Foundation. The Government’s own Poverty Commission urged its introduction in the current Parliament. It should not have taken so long for the Scottish Government to act and it is a disappointment the full roll out of the payment will still not take place until 2022.
The Scottish Government estimates by 2024, these payments could lift 30,000 children out of relative poverty by 2024. But with 240,000 children living in poverty now, much more needs to be done. The Resolution Foundation predicts that child poverty will continue to rise over the next five years to a 20-year high of around 29% by 2023-24. If we want to reverse this trend we have to act.
The Trussell Trust, which operates 135 food banks across Scotland, has highlighted that last summer saw a 21% increase in the number of emergency food parcels given to households with children. With the start of the school holidays, food banks across the country have warned they are facing their “busiest summer ever” with families who qualify for free school meals increasingly struggling to feed their children over the holidays. Foodbanks do all they can to support families in need, but they are not a long-term solution and all households should be protected from needing their help by long term solutions to poverty.
If we are serious about addressing the challenges in our society of inequality and poverty, we need to take determined and sustained action at all levels of Government. We need to see a real living wage for all workers, to protect families from in-work poverty, an end to zero hours contracts to improve income security, and an economic strategy that offers more opportunity to find employment. A Scottish Government which fails to heed to the advice of its own Poverty Commission and which only acts when repeatedly pressured by charities and campaign groups is one which looks like it is lacking ambition. The Scottish Child Payment is a belated but welcome step in the right direction, but it is a modest one when what we need is a giant leap.