Art in Action in Strathkinness

This week I visited the 201 Telephone Box Gallery in Strathkinness as part of the nationwide Art in Action campaign led by Scottish Contemporary Art Network (SCAN).

The Gallery is located in a disused telephone box which was adopted by Strathkinness Community Trust and converted into a contemporary art gallery in a project led by local artist and curator Lada Wilson.

The Art in Action campaign is promoting the valuable role visual art plays within communities across Scotland – and calling for stronger recognition of this value when it comes to decision-making.

The gallery provides a fantastic opportunity for the community to connect with visual art and has generated a lot of local discussion. I hope that through the Art in Action campaign, the role of art and artists in communities can be better understood so we can work to ensure better recognition of its value in decision-making at all levels.

The gallery itself demonstrates how the smallest of spaces can be used innovatively to explore ideas and bring visual arts into communities so it can be enjoyed and engaged with on people’s doorstep.

Welcome News on Levenmouth Rail Link

The decision to take forward the reopening of the Levenmouth rail link is very positive news. The reintroduction of a rail service will bring huge economic, educational, social and cultural opportunities to Levenmouth.

The announcement is testament to the determination and commitment of the Levenmouth Rail Campaign group. I have supported their campaign since I was elected in 2007 and am proud that Labour gave a commitment to reopening the line in our 2016 manifesto.

We recognised the strong case for the economic and social benefits it will bring to Levenmouth, and I am delighted that the Scottish Government is now convinced of the argument.

Strathearn Herald – July 2019

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.

New Jobs at BiFab Methil Yard

The confirmation that DF Barnes is to reopen the BiFab yard at Methil, creating 40 new jobs, is welcome news and provides a much-needed boost for the local industry in the short-term. However, work must continue to secure the long-term future of BiFab and for its skilled and committed workforce.

The new jobs are being created in Fife as part of BiFab’s contract for pin piles for the Moray East Offshore Windfarm, and are expected to be in place by 4th August.

We await news on the awarding of contracts for EDF Renewables’ Neart Na Gaoithe wind farm and I continue to urge EDF to award work to the Fife yards.

Publicly Owned Energy Company

I hope that a publicly owned energy company will show a commitment to the Scottish supply chain that will support companies such as Burntisland Fabrications. Is the minister seeking a meeting with EDF, and does the Government intend to involve the trade unions in that meeting?

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Citizens Assembly of Scotland

I thank the cabinet secretary for advance sight of his statement. I welcome the appointment of David Martin as one of the co-conveners of the assembly and wish him well in his role. I welcome the principles for the assembly of autonomy from Government and open-mindedness. However, to have announced a citizens assembly at the same time as a referendum bill has certainly created the impression…

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Stirling Observer – June 2019

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.

Out of Hours Service Needs to Provide for All Fife Residents

Following the decision not to retain Out of Hours services in Glenrothes, I have called on NHS Fife to ensure all residents continue to be supported in accessing available services in the region. It is extremely disappointing that Glenrothes will not have an Out of Hours service within the town and I understand people’s anger at this decision. Assurances must be provided to Glenrothes residents on the provision of free taxis as soon as possible to ensure those without transport can access services elsewhere in Fife.

I do welcome the news that overnight services will be provided in Dunfermline and Kirkcaldy, and that new arrangements will be in place in St Andrews. Fife residents have undergone months of uncertainty and it has taken far too long to reach this decision. The NHS board must act quickly to put the new arrangements in place and raise awareness of the changes. What we cannot see is any further delay or confusion.

At the core of these changes is a shortage of GPs and the knock-on effects are being felt across NHS services. Urgent action needs to be taken by the Scottish Government to increase GP numbers so services across Fife and Scotland can improve.

Glasgow School of Art Fire

I welcome the motion and I praise my colleague Ms McNeill for her powerful and detailed speech, which highlighted the serious issues that her constituents face as a result of the devastating fire at Glasgow School of Art. I recognise that she also gave credit to the cross-party efforts in raising those concerns. The trauma for local residents who were unable to return to their homes for…

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