My friend works for the national health…

So, here we are at the end of another year and like a number of people I’ve done a bit of looking back over 2015.

I guess one of the things that comes to mind, is that as you get older, you might have to access medical services a bit more often.

Aside from the occasional visit to the doctor over the years, until this year, my main contact with the NHS had been when my daughter was born.

My experience of the care we received at the time was excellent and the dedication and professionalism of the staff was truly impressive.

It was the same again this summer, when for the first time I had to stay overnight in hospital.

Again, I left the NHS having had a positive experience and being impressed by all of the staff that I come into contact with.

It is the same any time I’ve had to attend my local medical centre, but the service that the NHS provides is increasingly coming under pressure.

In September of this year, Quarryfoot Medical Practice in Bonnyrigg, announced that it would no longer be taking new patients due to recruitment difficulties as it struggled to fill GP vacancies.

Eskbridge Medical Practice in Musselburgh has also experienced problems in recruiting new GPs to replace two doctors who left over the summer.

It would appear that this experience is not unique to people staying in Midlothian and Musselburgh.

A few months ago the Labour Party published a consultation paper called ‘Fit for the Future’ which highlighted some of the issues that primary care is facing in Scotland.

The consultation which is being led by Dr Richard Simpson MSP is based on a survey of GP practices and states from the outset that:-

No party or organisation has a monopoly of wisdom. This paper seeks to start a discussion which will secure the future of general practice in this country, and ensure better care for Scots for decades to come.

The 330 practices out of 990 which responded to the survey highlighted a number of different issues, but there are 3 which underline the issues experienced by people living in Midlothian and Musselburgh these are:-

  • a growing level of practises being taken over by Health Boards as GP partner vacancies remained unfilled;
  • a growing number of vacancies for GP partners [92/330];
  • a growing number of practices who were restricting new patient registrations either to a specific number weekly or to members of existing registered households. This on top of more restrictive geographical practice boundaries. E.g. 23 Edinburgh City practices operating restrictions had introduced these since 2014.

There are no easy solutions to these problems and the paper is seeking views on a number of immediate and medium term actions.

The immediate actions include:-

  • training more GPs;
  • cutting down red tape for substitute GPs;
  • ensure practices notify Health Boards on unfilled posts.

Health will be a key part of the debate we have about Scotland during the forthcoming election campaign.

My hope is that ‘Fit for the Future’ will help to shape that debate and it will help all parties to reach a consensus as to the way forward.

 

 

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Ch-Ch-Changes

 

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The start of November found me in Perth along with other Labour Party members and supporters.

I’ve been to the Scottish Labour Conference before where conference had taken the form of a rally. Sometimes, this was effective in motivating members for the campaigns that lay ahead, but undoubtedly a number of members felt that there was something missing from this format.

This time round as part of a change agenda put forward by Kezia Dugdale, Scottish Labour Party Leader and Alex Rowley, Deputy Leader, we were promised something different and a departure from recent years.

Motions would be debated and conference would decide on the issues that would inform our manifesto for the Scottish Parliament elections next year.

True to their word and under a banner of Change and Take a Fresh Look, members debated a variety of issues including; Housing, Tax Credits, the Trade Union Bill and Trident.

Moving conference away from a rally based format, and returning to a focus on motions, is I believe a positive step.

By way of illustration take the example of what happened in our CLP.

Members at our CLP debated motions on the Council Tax, Trident, Care Alarms and Further Education.


Changes to each motion were suggested and discussed before we finally voted on which motion our CLP would put forward.

Cuts to Further Education was selected and duly submitted to the party.

So, on Friday afternoon at conference I was able to put our motion forward, where it was debated and carried.

Being able to influence party policy in this way means that our members will feel more engaged in how we decide things and feel part of the debate – a positive step!

Combine this with the optimistic tone set in speeches made by Jeremy, Kezia and Alex, delegates left conference feeling energised and in an u
pbeat mood.

I know some in the party may not be too sure about some of the recent changes that we’ve seen. But as long as we can keep the same spirit of tolerant debate that I’ve seen in the last few months, which recognises that there may be differences in views and opinions, then I remain hopeful that we can move forward together and focus on working towards a Labour victory next year.

We know that the Scottish Parliament elections next year aren’t going to be easy for Labour and that we face a massive challenge in the months to come.

But I believe that conference has provided us with a positive platform to move forward together on and that come May we can win in Midlothian North and Musselburgh!

As a final point, a couple of weeks ago we were out campaigning in Dalkieth to Stop the Tax Credit Cuts and telling people about the policy Kezia had announced at conference , that Labour would use the powers of the Scottish Parliament to restore the cuts.

We got a good reaction from the public and a lot signatures for our petition.

So, its great to hear today that because of pressure from the Labour Party and others, George Osborne has announced a u-turn and that it looks these cuts have been scrapped.

It just goes to show what can be achieved by acting boldly and campaigning effectively!

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Less than 0.5%

In a recent debate in the Scottish Parliament on employment (30 Sept) Alex Rowley MSP, Scottish Labour Deputy Leader, set out Scottish Labour’s ambition that everyone who can work must be given the skills and support to work, to earn a wage and to have decent terms and conditions.

Modern Apprenticeships are a key part of tackling unemployment in Scotland, however one of the main issues that any incoming Labour administration at Holyrood will need to tackle is the lack of disabled people who are part of this scheme.

Apprenticeships had been in decline for years when in the late 1990’s Modern Apprenticeships were first introduced, from a starting point of around 8,000 in 1998 by March 2013, there were more than 35,000 people going through the scheme. The aim of the Scottish Government is that 25,000 Modern Apprenticeships will start each year between 2011 and March 2016.

The union movement has been important in how Modern Apprenticeship schemes have been developed in workplaces across a number of different sectors. Unions have played a positive role in ensuring decent terms and conditions and in some cases have offered a mentoring role through Union Learning Reps.

Though the scheme was intended to target 16-24 year olds around 23% of Modern Apprentices are over 25, so the scheme can provide a valuable route for those looking to return to the workplace.

So, overall the Modern Apprenticeship scheme has been viewed as a positive initiative welcomed both by employers and unions.

However, more needs to be done to ensure that disabled people are involved.

The figures for people declaring a disability and participating in the scheme are less than 0.5% of all placements this compares to a figure of around 8% in the age group (16-24) that Modern Apprenticeships are targeted at.

In stark numerical terms, figures published in 2013 by the Equality and Human Rights Commission Scotland, showed that only 74 disabled had taken up the 26,000 placements available.

By any measure a pretty shocking statistic.

If this issue is to be tackled meaningfully then Labour will need to form a coalition with groups representing the disabled, the STUC and employers.

Such a coalition can build upon a lot of the good work that is already being done in this area and implement practical steps to address this issue.

Three initiatives that such a coalition may wish to consider are:-

  • Ensure that disabled people are a part of any working groups that make policy on disability issues;
  • Increase investment in the Access to Work Scheme – figures produced by Inclusion Scotland show that this could be self-financing;
  • Target equality and diversity training towards recruitment and selection, using Union Learning Reps to support this.

Around this time last year welfare minister Lord Freud said that someone who has mental health problems or is disabled might not be worth paying the minimum wage, comments he rightly later apologised for.

A year from now I hope that in Scotland we will be making real progress towards disabled people making up at least 8% of Modern Apprenticeships and more workplaces can benefit from the positive contribution that disabled people can make.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Back to The 80’s

There has been a lot of talk recently that politics is moving back to the 1980’s, most of this has been in relation to the Labour Leadership elections.

However, for me, the party that really looks like driving things back to an era of 1980’s style industrial strife are the Tories.

In their Trade Union Bill we see an attack on Trade Unions that seeks to marginalise and limit their ability to represent and protect their members.

The Bill seeks to introduce turnout thresholds on ballots and to allow employers to draft in temporary workers to cover for striking workers.

Whilst these proposals grab most of the headlines the bill also includes measures that will have an impact on how unions collect their subscriptions, the information unions will need to give to employers about plans to strike and restrictions on peaceful picketing.

All of these proposals risk creating an atmosphere and climate in industrial relations last seen during the miners strike and when union membership was banned at GCHQ.

Things have moved on from the mid-80’s.

Since then we’ve seen unions take forward workplace learning through the introduction of union learning reps. I’ve seen at first hand how they’ve assisted workers in gaining new skills, helped to break down the barriers between different grades through arranging courses for learning languages and built up the confidence of individuals so that they go on to take on new roles.

Unions also play a key role when it comes to Health & Safety and in many workplaces take the lead in promoting a positive safety culture which leads to the reduction of trips, slips and near misses and workers having to take time off a win, win situation for both employees and the employer.

The majority of my time spent as a union rep hasn’t been about going out on strike, its been about helping people with different issues and negotiating policies with management.

When strike action is taken, it is usually because there is very little alternative.

Take for instance members of my own union the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS).

PCS members at the National Museums of Scotland (NMS) are currently involved in a dispute that is essentially about fairness and trying to get a level playing field for everyone working there.

The background to the dispute is that NMS management arbitrarily imposed a change to a weekend shift rate,  which means that if you were employed after January 2011, you won’t receive a weekend shift rate that can amount to between £2000 and £3000 a year.

In effect there is a two-tier workforce, these are low paid workers and therefore this shift rate makes a massive difference to those working there.

Disputes like this where the union involved are fighting for fair terms and conditions for all will be more difficult to organise should this bill be passed.

The Tory party have never been friends of the trade union movement but when even David Davis MP, a former Tory leadership candidate describes elements of this bill as being like something out of Franco’s dictatorship in Spain, then it should be really time for them to think again.

If you would like to sign a petition against this bill you can do it here.

 

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That’s Entertainment 

“The arts are not takers of money, they are givers of dreams.” – Jenny Lee, Labour Minsister of the Arts, 1964

August in Edinburgh, that time of year when the streets echo to the sound of comedy, drama and music. That time of year when hotel rooms are hard to come by and that time of year when you could be walking down the street and bump into a Star Wars Stormtrooper or a character from the world of literature.

I’ve only had time to see one show this year and it was excellent.

The show is called Black is the Colour of My Voice, a one-woman show performed by the talented Apphia Campbell.

Based on the songs of Nina Simone, the show explores the relationship between a daughter and her father and other issues such as sin, death and racism.

The section on the American Civil Rights movement is especially powerful and illustrates to me how drama and music can bring to life a time and place from years gone by and make it alive and real.

At a time when many people are struggling through cuts to benefits or are in work but are having to survive on pay-day loans, discussing art, culture and music may not seem that important or perhaps even frivolous.

However, I believe that to ignore this issue is to overlook something that can have a positive impact on our quality of life and something which can help to achieve positive outcomes on social inclusion and health and should not be forgotten.

Over the years the Labour Party has sought to develop and implement policies that support the arts.

In the 1960’s Labour through Jenny Lee’s White Paper, A Policy for the Arts set out an exciting agenda for stimulating arts and culture. This was to be achieved through a sustained growth in investment and investing in capital funding.  This would help ensure that there would be buildings and venues throughout the UK that would make art and culture more accessible.

Harold Wilson’s government of the 1960’s would also see the creation of the Open University which Jenny Lee was instrumental in driving forward and which has continued to play an important role in enriching the lives of many people throughout the UK.

If we look at more recent times in the 2011 Scottish Labour manifesto we see a commitment to:-

  • A joined-up music policy, to put music at the centre of the school curriculum;
  • Protecting free admission to galleries and museums – I can well remember when the Tories introduced admission charges;
  • Modernising library services.

The policy think-tank Class (Centre for Labour and Social Studies) published a policy paper in November 2014 called Raising our quality of life: The importance of investment in arts and culture, setting out four aims as to how future arts and cultural policy can raise the quality of life:-

  • Respond to local contexts – Funding must be equitably distributed and not disadvantage by geography or demography;
  • Ensure access to arts and culture is democratised and publicly planned – there should be policies that remove barriers to participation and proactively target excluded groups;
  • Provide resources for everyday participation within communities as well as institutional settings – policy should not just focus on creating access to arts establishments and institutions, but also provide resources for communities;
  • Develop methods of connecting and streamlining funding interests – and ensure a strong and secure role for the public sector in arts investment.

This paper does not under-estimate that in these austere times these aims are ones that are hard to achieve however, it does emphasise that this vision is one that should be kept in mind if we want to ensure access for all to participate in arts and culture.

The forthcoming Scottish Parliament elections in May 2016 are going to be about many different issues, but as we formulate our policies, I think that Scottish Labour should seek to reflect the four aims that Class have set out.

I believe that is an issue worth discussing even when times are hard and arguably in times such as these there’s no more important time to do that.

So, I might think one of the greatest pieces of music was made by three guys from Woking singing about ‘wishing you weren’t so far away’ or’ a hot summers day’ for you it might be a great piece of literature, drama or a painting.

Whatever it is you’ll know the difference that it makes to you and I hope you’ll agree that this is an issue that we need to continue to debate and discuss.

Black is the Colour of My Voice runs until 31st August and is on at the Gilded Balloon Theatre at 13.15.   (more…)