In the regular UK political calendar, autumn means one thing – party conference season. But this year’s calendar has been anything but regular. Between Brexit negotiations and the election of the latest Conservative Prime Minister, the focus has not been on normal procedure. Weeks into months has been given over to the latest developments (or not) on Europe and Conservative party infighting over a leadership election the vast majority of us had no say in.
The return of the UK and Scottish Parliaments following the summer recess should have brought with it renewed focus and energy to deliver on the issues that matter for those we represent. At Holyrood we have seen positive steps with Scottish Labour securing a revised target of 75% for 2030 emissions reduction as part of the Climate Change Bill, and a long-overdue vote on the future of the rail franchise, following ongoing dissatisfaction with Abellio. At Westminster however, the business of the country has ground to a halt.
The UK Parliament returned from recess on 3rd September, only to be unlawfully prorogued less than a week later in a move which the Supreme Court judged “prevented parliament from carrying out its constitutional role for five out of a possible eight weeks”. The decision of the Supreme Court that the prorogation was unlawful saw MPs return to Parliament last week, but the nature and language of debate which ensued was far from welcome and still we are no further to securing any kind of alternative deal with the EU for Brexit. Further away still is the refocusing of parliamentary time on key issues of inequality and poverty which are affecting people across the UK every day.
At its conference in Brighton, the Labour Party sought to redress the focus, to shift the narrative away from the single-minded pursuit of Brexit-at-all-costs and back to domestic policy. Conference approved motions which under a Labour Government would have a positive impact on individuals and families across Scotland and the UK, not least the pledge to end the roll-out of Universal Credit. Alongside announcements on ending in-work poverty and introducing a real living wage of £10 an hour, this is the kind of action which would really make a difference to families currently struggling to make ends meet.
A Labour Government would also introduce a Right to Food as part of a Fair Food Act, including a National Food Commission to monitor food insecurity and an Action to Food Fund for the most deprived areas. The Trussell Trust has welcomed the pledge to half the use of food banks in the first year of a Labour government, and end the need for them within three years. As we approach Challenge Poverty Week, this refocusing on policy which better supports the vulnerable, the pledging of action which seeks to reduce poverty and address inequality in our society, should only be welcomed.
I am calling on ScotRail to make improvements to Fife services ahead of the onset of winter, following recent increase in complaints and new figures showing poor performance in the region.
While the latest performance update from ScotRail showed across Scotland 89.1% trains met the rail industry standard public performance measure (PPM), figures provided by ScotRail on peak time services for the Fife circle show a number of services running well below that figure.
The 0736 service from Kirkcaldy to Edinburgh had only 58.6% passing PPM over the three months to end September 2019, while the 1742 service from Edinburgh to Kirkcaldy saw just 22.1% passing PPM for the same period. This means just 19 of the 86 trains booked to run that service arrived at the final destination within five minutes of schedule, calling at all scheduled stops.
Across the 21 peak time services for which information was requested, only 5 services met the 89.1% PPM, with the remaining 16 services below this level.
The number of complaints I am receiving about ScotRail services in Fife is again on the rise. Delays, overcrowding and cancellations continue to occur all too often, negatively impacting Fife commuters, and the situation does not appear to be getting any better.
For far too long, Fife commuters have been subject to a sub-standard service and these figures are just further evidence of that. Late and cancelled trains mean people are left standing unsheltered on platforms waiting for trains that are often crowded and arriving late for work. With winter fast approaching, ScotRail needs to address these issues now and stop leaving Fife commuters
This week is Challenge Poverty Week and Scottish Labour is continuing to work to address the drivers of poverty in our communities – calling for the scrapping of Universal Credit and the maximisation of benefits.
As part of Challenge Poverty Week I will be writing to organisations across Mid Scotland and Fife asking them to sign up to support the Right to Food as a core part of the forthcoming Good Food Nation Bill.
Food insecurity continues to be a critical issue and key to addressing inequality is ensuring everyone has the right to available, accessible and adequate food. This is why the Right to Food must be enshrined in law.
This Bill offers an opportunity to address inequality and rising demand for food banks by making a commitment to ensure everyone in our country can access the food they need and reduce the reliance on emergency food aid.
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This week I was delighted to attend celebrations in Kirkcaldy to mark 25 years of Fife Community Interpretation Services. It’s a fantastic organisation providing a vital service which supports equality and inclusivity in Fife.
Fife Community Interpretation Services has around 60 interpreters on its register and has helped people communicate with health and welfare services, around legal matters and when dealing with other local services. They also provide translation services for official documents, letters, reports and media.
For 25 years they have provided interpretation services across Fife in a large number of different languages and I extend my very best wishes for continued success in the future.
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I thank the Finance and Constitution Committee for taking evidence and for preparing its thorough report. Our committees’ scrutiny work is vital in preparing Parliament for its work in the event of our leaving the EU, and in ensuring that Parliament is equipped to carry out its business…