Monthly Archives: June 2008

Stop the Scots Culture Cuts

Following cuts in funding for many Scots language and Scottish Traditional Arts groups, Falkirk East MSP Cathy Peattie has tabled a “motion of no confidence” in the Scottish Arts Council and its proposed successor, Creative Scotland. She also highlighted the cuts in the Creative Scotland debate, and at Scottish Executive Questions.

“Unless there are safeguards included in the Creative Scotland Bill when it returns to Holyrood, I don’t think Scottish Culture will be safe in its hands. The Bill, which fell because of government incompetence, envisaged little change to the current regime, and unless we can change that when the Bill returns, I think we’d be better off with a separate body to look after Scots and traditional arts,” said Cathy.

“The organisations that have had their budgets slashed cannot wait for amendments to the Bill. They will have to hand out redundancies and mothball or abandon projects later this year. They urgently need interim measures put in place by the Scottish Government now to ensure their continued activity..

“We are inviting those of Scots descent to return from around the world, and what will they find at the Homecoming? Scottish culture under attack from the Scottish Government!

“Other countries, such as Ireland, give a much higher percentages of their arts and culture budgets to language and traditional arts. Scotland was improving, but now we have taken a nose-dive.

“The Ministerial mantra is ‘the audit will sort it”, but by the time it reports, the damage will already have been done, and the Scots Language audit won’t do anything for the traditional arts groups anyway.”

The motion: S3M-02073 Supporting Scottish Culture

– That the Parliament recognises the valuable work of Scottish cultural organisations, including the Traditional Music and Song Association, the Scottish Traditions of Dance Trust, the Scots Music Group, Voluntary Arts Scotland, the Scots Language Centre, and Scots Language Dictionaries, which promote and support extensive voluntary participation in Scottish traditional arts and culture; notes the extreme difficulties these organisations now face as a result of their loss of funding from the Scottish Arts Council; further notes that while existing funding runs to March 2009, the reality of redundancies and the termination of accommodation and office facilities means that their activity will be severely curtailed later this year; recognises that the audit of Scots language provision, even if completed in time, is unlikely to provide more than a partial solution to the problem; believes that the Scottish Arts Council cannot be trusted to support and promote the Scots language and Scottish traditional arts and sees no reason to suspect that Creative Scotland will be any different, and therefore believes that a separately constituted and funded body should be set up for this purpose and interim measures put in place to safeguard existing provision until this is done.

Creative Scotland Bill speech

A801 Avon Gorge: meeting with Minister

On Thursday 12th June in the Scottish Parliament, Falkirk Council and West Lothian Councils met with the Minister for Transport, Stewart Stevenson, and other MSPs.

The meeting was arranged by Falkirk East MSP Cathy Peattie, to give the councils an opportunity to make their case for funding for the A801 Avon Gorge upgrade.

Cathy said: “I think the Minister and his officials have taken on board the arguments that this is not just a local road safety issue – important though that is – it is also a strategic improvement that will bring economic and environmental benefits to the whole of Scotland, and as such, it should be given funding from central government.

“The Scottish Government has identified the Grangemouth intermodal transport hub as a crucial element of Scotland’s economy – and the transition to more environmentally friendly freight transport. In this context, the A801 is not just a local road. It is the shortest arterial route south to the M8. If it wasn’t already so congested and dangerous, more traffic would use it, reducing travel distances and times.

“While there is clearly still much to do to ensure that the plans go ahead, I believe that in conjunction with other improvements around Grangemouth that are supported within the National Planning Framework, the A801 is a strong candidate for government support.”

Scottish Government U-turn

The SNP have dropped plans to abolish a key disability passenger group, after strong campaigning from Labour MSPs and disability groups.

The Scottish Government had proposed to get rid of the Mobility and Access Committee for Scotland (MACS), which advises Scottish Ministers on the transport needs of disabled people in Scotland, and replace it with a subcommittee of the Public Transport Users’ Committee for Scotland (PTUC).

Falkirk East MSP Cathy Peattie led the battle in the Scottish Parliament to save MACS. She welcomed the Scottish Government U-turn, which came after she won the support of the Scottish Parliament’s Transport Infrastructure and Climate Change committee.

Cathy said: “I’m pleased that the Scottish Government has started listening to disabled people and their organisations. Disability groups were quite clear that they wanted to retain and strengthen the existing committee as a direct line to Ministers, rather than forcing them to fight for room on the PTUC agenda in order to make their views known.

“The Scottish Government plans would have been a backwards step for the sake of political dogma. The motivation for this was an ill-thought out manifesto commitment to reduce quango numbers. This was presumably viewed as an easy target, but such pandering to the numbers game would not have improved matters for public transport users or disabled people. Neither would it have provided more efficient working, since the two organisations already have a common secretariat.

“The plans would have shunted discussion to a PTUC sub-committee, squeezing disabled people’s representation on public transport, and strangling their voices on other transport. Three places on the PTUC would not have been sufficient to reflect the diversity of needs amongst disabled people, and MACS also deals with more than just public transport – there are also issues around private and hired vehicles. The PTUC could not deal with matters that are not covered by their public transport remit.

“MACS has been allowed to run down and the threat of dissolution has led to staff and members leaving. Now that it has been saved, the Scottish Government must return MACS to health; both it and the PTUC should be given the resources that they need to do their job – and Ministers should do theirs by listening to them.”

Labour’s transport spokesperson Des McNulty added

“I am delighted that the Scottish Government has now accepted the decision of the transport Committee that MACs should be retained. This is a victory for common sense and will ensure that the views of disabled people will be heard when policies are being developed and monitored.”

On the buses

Speaking in the Scottish Parliament, Cathy Peattie has highlighted the shortcomings of public transport in the Falkirk area, and called for action to tackle the problems, including bus regulation.

“Public transport is one of the most persistent and widespread sources of dissatisfaction among my constituents,” she said.

“I wish that First ScotRail would give my constituents a better deal. Fares from Falkirk and Polmont to Edinburgh and Glasgow are more per mile than most. A passenger station in Grangemouth would also be exceedingly welcome.

“Rail might be expensive and serve too few places, but bus travel is undoubtedly the biggest bugbear. If we are serious about tackling climate change and encouraging people to use public transport, we need better buses, more routes and timetables that meet the public’s needs.

“It is too easy to say that there is no demand when the lack of services has forced travellers to use private transport. It is too easy to say that people would rather use their cars and that buses are uncomfortable, inaccessible and expensive. It is also too easy to say that services are not viable when, if the truth be known, they arrive late, leave early and miss connections, if they appear at all.

“People need reliable and affordable public transport that is a pleasure to use, not a nightmare. Without it, we will not achieve our targets for modal shift and climate change.

“To be fair, some bus companies realise their shortcomings and the better among them attempt to take on board passengers’ views, but the bottom line is always profits, not people.

“Competition between bus companies is often imperfect, if it exists at all. In such circumstances, we cannot expect companies to provide adequate self-regulation and to achieve proper integration of public transport. We need Scotland-wide regulation. We also need to address the Scottish Government’s policies, which have left Scotland’s bus operators with higher costs than those in other parts of the United Kingdom and have led to massive fare increases for bus passengers throughout Scotland.

“We have seen a secret deal to extend the rail franchise and higher-than-inflation increases in rail fares. There has also been outrage among users of ferry services on the Clyde, in the northern isles and on most routes in Argyll because of discrimination in ferry fares between islands.

“In particular, we should strive for better provision for older and disabled travellers, and young families with prams and small children. Bus timetables should include information about low-loader and accessible buses. I still hear stories about disabled people waiting an hour or more for an accessible bus. That is not good enough.

“Free bus passes have been very well received by the people of Scotland. I have yet to hear a good reason for not extending concessionary travel to those who are on the lower rate of the disability allowance. We must also address the need for a concessionary travel scheme for those who depend on community transport, and I welcome what the minister said about that. It is time to stop dithering and to regain the momentum to improve public transport in Scotland.”

Grangemouth Transport Forum

The Grangemouth Transport Forum met on Friday 6 June at 10.30am in Grangemouth Town Hall.

Participants included local Community Councillors, Cathy Peattie MSP and representatives of Police, Falkirk Council, Ineos, Kemfine, Forth Ports, ASLEF, rail transport and road hauliers.

The Forum was set up last year, and a working group has since met several times to discuss plans for improvement to Grangemouth infrastructure.

Cathy Peattie said:

“We are looking at the future needs of Grangemouth as an intermodal freight hub, and trying to achieve a sustainable solution that allows economic growth and social and environmental improvements for local people. We want to see more rail and sea freight, better public transport, if possible including a rail passenger station, and routes that take heavy traffic away from residential areas.

“The key to making progress is likely to involve improvements to our motorway junctions, and Falkirk Council are currently undertaking detailed studies of the options. We hope that by September when we meet again, these will be sufficiently advanced to allow us to take the next step, lobbying for government support, as we are already doing with the Avon Gorge project.”

Walter Inglis of Grangemouth Community Council said

“Grangemouth Community Councillors remain encouraged by the ongoing spirit of partnership developing in the Grangemouth Transport Forum.”This partnership of elected representatives, community representatives, council officers and local industrialists has the potential to deliver a significant benefit to the community in the form of the nationally recognised freight hub and in an environmentally sustainable way.”

Climate Change

Falkirk East MSP Cathy Peattie has signalled her determination to have a strong Climate Change Bill for Scotland.

As the Deputy Convener of the Scottish Parliament’s Transport Infrastructure and Climate Change committee, Cathy will be heavily involved in the consideration of Scottish legislation on Climate Change measures.

Speaking in the Scottish Parliament, she called for improvement to planning and building regulation to make it easier to improve energy efficiency and install microgeneration equipment such as solar panels, with grants and tax incentives to encourage people to do so:  

“I was listening to the radio recently, and it was clear that quite a few people still prefer to bury their heads in the sand when it comes to the personal implications of climate change—the doubting Thomases, prepared to seize on any suggestion that climate change does not exist. At the other end of the spectrum are the prophets of doom, arguing that what we are doing is too little, too late. Sadly, there is some truth in that, but it would be a bigger disaster if that dented our determination to tackle the problems that face us. We cannot avert climate change, but there are significant actions that can minimise its extent and impact. Internationally, we must pursue contraction and convergence as an equitable solution to tackling climate change.

“As part of that strategy, there is much that can be done in Scotland. We need ambitious targets, and we need to stick to those targets and not leave them to one side when the going gets difficult. If we promise a 3 per cent annual reduction in emissions, we should deliver a 3 per cent annual reduction in emissions. We can and should extend microgeneration to schools and other public buildings and remove the barriers that are holding back microgeneration and energy efficiency measures in the home.

“The Government’s consultation on its climate change bill has recently ended. I have no doubt that many worthwhile proposals will have been submitted by a wide range of organisations. Within my local communities, there is support for measures to support the reduction of emissions through reform of planning and building standards to facilitate energy conservation and renewable generation. Incentives could be incorporated into local taxation. I am sure that much can be done in areas such as food production and distribution and by promoting local sourcing and reducing food miles.

“Scotland has enormous expertise and natural resources that make us supremely well placed to be a world leader in renewable energy. As we have heard, just this week we took a significant step forward, with our first tidal device, in Orkney, which will supply electricity to the national grid. Increasing support for our renewable energy industry would be good for the environment and for jobs. We must ensure that developers operate not just to minimal standards but aspire and adhere to higher environmental standards, incorporating microgeneration technologies as standard.

“We must make it easier for people to upgrade their homes with small-scale microrenewables such as wind turbines and solar panels, and we must provide grants for doing so. Where possible, combined heat and power schemes should be incorporated into developments. We need to be able to monitor our progress reliably and demonstrate that we are making the progress we desire in reducing emissions year on year.

“We can do more to reduce waste and increase recycling. We can do more to reduce congestion and unnecessary travelling, through the use of new technology, flexible working and better use of public transport. We can do more in the Parliament and collectively as a nation. The climate change bill is an opportunity to make it easier to do more to address the challenge of climate change. I will do my utmost to ensure that the bill rises to that challenge.”