A noisy and combative PMQs ahead of the budget today was dominated by rows over Brexit, with Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn attacking the Prime Minister on issues ranging from Northern Ireland and worker’s rights to immigration and tax avoidance.
Edinburgh these days feels like strolling through Santa Claus’ winter wonderland. Blinking trees, gift ribbon decorated houses and sparkling light chains illuminate the town. Once again, Edinburgh’s Christmas market opens its doors, adding extra glow to Scotland’s capital.
Prime Minister Theresa May has hinted that next week’s UK budget might contain a move to alleviate the impact of VAT liability on Scotland’s emergency services.
In response to a question at today’s PMQs from the SNP’s Westminster Leader, Ian Blackford, May said: “We will look at this issue and report on it in due course. I am pleased to say that very constructive representations have been made by my Scottish colleagues on this particular issue.”
But the PM also hit back at the SNP’s position stating that the Scottish Government had “pressed ahead despite knowing that” the creation of unified, Scotland-wide emergency service authorities in 2013 would make the services liable for VAT payments.
The SNP’s Westminster Leader, Ian Blackford, also urged the prime minister to repay the £140 million the services had paid since their liability began.
Australians in support of same-sex marriage are celebrating today after over 60% of citizens voted in support of marriage equality.
Although the referendum result is not legally binding, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull took to Twitter to reassure the country, posting: “The people of Australia have spoken and I intend to make their wish the law of the land by Christmas. This is an overwhelming call for marriage equality.”
The postal vote referendum was marred in controversy with critics asking why the move could not be legislated for in Parliament without the need for a referendum – as was the case in Scotland. The move follows the equal marriage referendum in Ireland, which took place in May 2015.
In Zimbabwe, the military have taken control. President Robert Mugabe, is being held under house arrest.
The 92-year-old leader became head of state in 1987, after seven years as Prime Minister.
It is alleged that the military take-over was at least in part caused by the sacking of Vice President Emmerson Mnangawa, who was relieved of his duties last week.
International tensions between Russia and neighbours are rising. On Monday, Theresa May claimed the Russian government were responsible for planting fake news stories to cause discord in the West.
Yesterday, French President Emmanuel Macron told the BBC that Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin are a threat to Western values, namely tolerance and openness.
The Russian Government have proposed a bill that will require all foreign journalists working in the country to register as ‘foreign agents.’
The state Duma (lower house) voted in favour of the move. It will now come before the Federation Council (upper house) and must be approved by Vladimir Putin.
The move comes in retaliation to ‘RT’ having to register as a foreign broadcaster in the U.S. Formerly ‘Russia Today,’ the media outlet are financed by the Kremlin.
This comes against the back drop of allegations that the Russian government interfered in the 2016 U.S. elections, which Kremlin representatives deny.
Brexit Talks Get Underway
Yesterday, MPs voted in support of a landmark Brexit Bill, which will end the supremacy of E.U. law in the U.K. Ministers voted to repeal the 1972 European Communities Act.
This comes early in eight days of talks on the topic of the Withdrawal Bill, with Britain’s withdrawal from the E.U. scheduled for 29 March 2019 – exactly two years to the day since the triggering of Article 50.
Reports claim the decision to fix the date of the Withdrawal so early in the debating process was criticised by some, but this has been dismissed by those within the Conservative Party as media attempts to divide the party.
Union Unite has pledged to put BI-Fab’s yards into lock-down with no turbine jackets leaving the site until workers get paid.
With a work-force of up to 1400 jobs under threat in the dispute between yard owners, BiFab, and Dutch commissioning company, Seaway Heavy Lifting over disputed payments for completed work, Unite’s leader Bob McGregor said:
“If we don’t get a resolution they shouldn’t think they can take those jackets without paying the workers. No one can take anything on or off site without permission. The guys have to protect themselves and are protecting the site. We want the site secured for the future not closed and left as a graveyard.”
Members of Unite and the GMB commenced a work-in at Bi-Fabs yards on Monday after Bi-Fab bosses announced that the company could be forced into administration, and the yards closed over a contractual dispute with (SHL) left BiFab with a cash flow crisis and unable to pay its workforce.
Sub-contractor companies and suppliers are also facing problems as BiFab remains unable to pay its bills.
Speaking ahead of crunch talks with the Scottish government and a major joint-union demo at the Scottish Parliament tomorrow, Bob MCGregor emphasised that the unions were looking to find a way to secure not just the jobs of members but that the future of the entire manufacturing base for the renewables industry in Scotland was at risk if BiFab failed.
“We are hoping to find a resolution in the shape of a government rescue package or a government buy out, or even some interim support. We want the site secured for the future. The Scottish government says that renewables are the future, so we need them to step up the plate. We want the U.K to benefit from renewables, both from manufacture and from the electricity generated. We don’t want them to be built offshore.”
Union vows: ‘Nothing leaves Bi-Fab yards until we get paid’ ://edinburghnapiernews.com/2017/11/15/union-vows-nothing-leaves-bi-fab-yards-until-we-get-paid/ pic.twitter.com/UsCmUGcJYc
In a topical question to the Scottish Parliament yesterday, Fife MSP David Torrence, whose constituency includes BiFab’s Methil site and neighbours the company’s Burntisland facility, asked Cabinet Secretary Keith Brown: “…it is clear that the workforce at BiFab are serious about playing their part in the company’s survival and future success. Does the cabinet secretary agree that the Scottish Government owes it to those workers to leave no stone unturned in finding a solution?”
The cabinet Secretary responded: “I have also spoken directly to the trade unions and conveyed that we will do everything possible to support the workforce. I appreciate that this is a very concerning time for the workforce, but the Government is committed to doing everything that we can to find a positive solution to the situation.
“I appreciate that this is a very concerning time for the workforce, but the Government is committed to doing everything that we can to find a positive solution to the situation. We want to see a solution at BiFab and ensure that Scottish engineering and manufacturing are central to the supply chain for the renewable energy sector and for oil and gas going forward.”
“We want to see a solution at BiFab and ensure that Scottish engineering and manufacturing are central to the supply chain for the renewable energy sector and for oil and gas going forward.”
On Monday, BiFab’s MD Martin Adam, Managing Director , said “We are very disappointed that we have found ourselves in the current position which has arisen as a result of a challenging situation in respect of our ongoing contracts which have been providing much needed employment locally in Scotland. We are seeking a rapid solution with our key stakeholders and the Scottish Executive to our current cash flow position and are hopeful that this can be achieved quickly to secure the future of the business and the 1,400 strong workforce.”
Gary Smith, GMB Scotland Secretary, said:
“This is a critical moment for the future of BiFab, its workers and the communities these yards support. Yesterday we were told that despite the evident problems, it would be business as usual and our members should report to work as normal. This morning we were told that there is no money to pay our members wages, stemming from a cash flow problem with the contractor Seaway Heavy Lifting (SHL).
“Everyone with an interest in these workers, their communities and the welfare of the Scottish economy must pull together now and the Scottish Government must lead this effort. This is a viable workforce and these are viable yards – important strategic assets – and they stand ready and able to help deliver the future of Scottish manufacturing. Letting these workers and their communities go under is not an option. We’ve got to battle for BiFab.”
Earlier this year, SHL became 100% owned by global engineering giant Subsea 7, who acquired K&S Baltic Offshore (Cyprus) Limited’s 50% shareholding in the company.
On 9th November 2017, Jean Cahuzac, Chief Executive Officer, said in the press statement of the company’s Q3 report :
“Good progress was achieved on the Beatrice wind farm project with almost all the piles installed by the quarter end. Installation of the wind turbine jackets by the heavy lift vessel Oleg Strashnov commenced in August and 24 jackets had been installed by the end of September. Several SURF projects were substantially completed in the third quarter including the Clair Ridge, Callater and Western Isles projects, offshore UK.”
The report confirmed:
“Third quarter revenue of $1,063 million was 15% higher than the prior year comparative period, largely due to increased activity in renewables partly offset by lower revenue from SURF projects.
“Subsea 7 guidance for the full year 2017 is unchanged. Revenue is expected to be higher in 2017 compared to 2016.”
Scottish Labour has been thrown into disarray just days before the announcement of the results in its leadership election.
Interim leader Alex Rowley has resigned his post and referred himself to party investigation chiefs following allegations of abuse and threats of violence to an ex-lover – claims Rowley denies.
In a statement, the Mid Fife and Central Scotland MSP said: “I totally refute these allegations and will take all steps necessary to clear my name. These allegations must be properly and thoroughly investigated in line with our party’s procedures – and I will refer myself to the party so such an investigation can take place. While that investigation is carried out, I will step aside as Deputy Leader, as well as Interim Leader, of the Scottish Labour Party.”
The Labour Party confirmed in a short statement: “Alex Rowley has stood aside as Interim and Deputy Leader of Scottish Labour and referred himself to the Party’s internal complaints procedure regarding allegations made against him.”
Rowley stepped in to run the party and to steer Labour through new leadership elections after Kezia Dugdale’s surprise resignation in August.
But his interim leadership has been dogged by allegations of bias and increasingly bitter tone between MSPs supporting rival candidates Anas Sawar and Richard Leonard, has lead to claims that the party in Scotland is deeply divided.
In September secret recordings, claimed to have been made of a discussion between Rowley and a student activist in a queue for an event at the party’s Brighton conference, suggested that Rowley and fellow left labour MSPs had plotted the ending of Kezia Dugdale’s leadership of the party and declared his support for Richard Leonard as its new leader. The claim led to calls for Rowley to stand down as chair of an important Labour committee.
Richard Leonard’s campaign for the Scottish Labour leadership has been spear-headed by Alex Rowley’s daughter, Danielle Rowley, MP for Midlothian, who has refused to comment on her father’s resignation.
BREAKING NEWS – The jobless rate in the UK has fallen by 59,000 in the past two years.
However overall employment throughout the UK has also decreased. The previous quarter saw 14,000 less jobs.
Unemployment has dropped by 0.05% within the past year down to 4.3%, marking a 42-year low.
Earnings by workers are beginning to catch up to inflation, rising 2.2%, yet it are still behind by 3%.
According to Bloomberg Brexit, here is the latest change in the GBP.
Latest data in Britain:
– Unemployment rate is 4.3%
– Holds at lowest since 1975
– Number in work falls by 14,000
– First decline in 13 months
– Wage growth just above 2%
– Far below rate of inflation
– Pound rises slightlyhttps://t.co/a9qPI1vM5rpic.twitter.com/a8WUPXISGS
How Can Both Unemployment and Employment Fall Simultaneously?
While confusing at first, this is the result of more people dropping out of the workforce all together. Those who drop out of the workforce are viewed as being economically inactive, which rose in the last quarter.
They may have become economically inactive for one reason or another, such as those being primary care givers for family members or trading work for the classroom.
According to the Office for National Statistics, 151,000 people have become economically inactive in the last quarter.
Dr. Bell’s Family Centre launches an appeal to raise £25,000 by April 2017, following a 50% reduction in external funding last year.
Speaking at the launch on Monday, January 23rd, Sarah Gunn, Chair of the Board said:
“Dr. Bell’s Family Centre is a vital community hub which has supported over a thousand struggling families in Leith over the last ten years.
“We are unique in offering family support in the same location as a crèche and community cafe, meaning we provide a wide range of support: from counselling, to helping parents into employment, low cost childcare to English language skills, and offer a place to make friends and build up confidence.
“We want to do more, but to do that we need to be here, this year and in the long term.
We are calling on the local community, businesses and partners to come together to back Dr Bell’s and support our campaign.”
Former Leith MSP and Board member Malcolm Chisholm remarked on the significance of the launch by noting that there was “not many events with three MSPs” attending. He also added:
“Although the reduced services we currently provide are targeted at those who need them the most, there is a high demand for family support in Leith which we believe is not currently being met.
“Raising these funds will put us back on a secure footing to continue delivering vital support services to the local community”
SNP MSP for Edinburgh Northern and Leith, Ben Macpherson also spoke at the launch:
“For over 10 years Dr Bell’s Family Centre has supported hundreds of local children and many local families, often at difficult times. Their services provide significant, and sometimes critical, support for the local community.
“I will continue to do all that I can, working with local councillors, NHS Lothian and others, to help keep this excellent centre open for Leith.”
The cause has drawn attention and support from across the political spectrum. Kezia Dugdale, leader of the Scottish Labour Party, said:
“The Family Centre provides some incredibly effective resources through the family support work, counselling and employability services provided by the centre and also provides crèche facilities for hundreds of children, many of which come from some of the most deprived parts of our city, providing them with a better start to life.
“I wholeheartedly support the efforts of all the staff and volunteers at Dr Bell’s Family Centre in the fundraising campaign and will continue to support the centre whenever and however I can.”
The centre was set up as a partnership between the City of Edinburgh Council, NHS Lothian and the local community in 2006 in response to a recognised need within the community for family support.
Leith Councillor, Adam McVey commented:
“Dr Bells has been there for people who needed their services, now Leithers are needed to help secure those services for the future”
Rachel King from Mental Health and Wellbeing department of NHS Lothian expressed her interest in helping students help Dr Bell’s:
“Family based support such as that available at Dr Bell’s Centre is very positive for parents mental health and wellbeing, and the centre offers a welcoming space, great food and staff who can work with the whole family.
“I would be very interested in hearing from university groups that could be involved in the fundraising for this unique family support centre”
Donate here and spread the word using #backdrbells.
About 60,000 homes are expected to be built in Lothian as a part of the City Deal Programme. It hopes to transform the City of Edinburgh’s housing situation by providing 25,000 extra homes by 2026, according to official estimates.
Last week’s Autumn Statement revealed the UK Government is committed to securing a multi-billion pound investment in the Lothian region, to respond to the growth in population that has recently affected the area.
The devolution of rail services in Scotland could be a step closer, after a report released today by think tank Reform Scotland harshly criticised ScotRail for failing to deliver an acceptable standard of service.
Transport Minister, Humza Yousaf, renewed calls for devolution of responsibility for Scottish train services, to the Scottish Government.
The Minister said:
“Network rail should be devolved to Scotland. That’s a call I’ve made, that’s a call my predecessors collectively have previously as well, and now it seems Labour politicians are making the same case as well. I welcome that [agreement] from Tom Harris and welcome that [report] from Reform Scotland.”
Fiona Clark, Centre Manager for Fundraising & Strategy, has said that they have been at risk of redundancy since March.
“Some staff will be made redundant, redundancy is optional for everyone. Other staff will continue in reduced service from January”
However Clark has reassured the community that the centre is not closing, and will continue delivering services.
Dr Bell’s currently employs ten members of staff, with only one full-time employee.
The centre also relies on volunteer support, coming majoritively from people who have used the services in the past and now want to give back.
The centre manager sums up the importance of the organisation:
“We provide all-round family support, we have crèche for children up the age of 8, one-to-one family support, group work, counselling, trauma therapy, healthy-eating cooking classes, Mum’s group, Dad’s Worker, employability advice and tackling money worries”
The services are focused around a community café, which Clark describes as:
“Non-stigmatizing, non-judgmental gateway that encourages people to come in for some healthy-eating food and chat”
A month ago, the centre calculated that they would need £40,000 to stay open till the end of March 2016.
Concerns have been raised that the funding gap could lead to the centre’s closure by April next year.
However, the decision to reduce the services offered, alongside receiving other funding since the £40,000 gap prognosis, make it increasingly possible for the centre to continue delivering its services.
Dr Bell’s Family Centre is currently the only place in Edinburgh that has a free crèche in the same location as parenting support groups and other services.
The impact of the centre’s work on the Leith community is of great significance: they work with over 350 families a year, according to Clark.
“Last year 256 children came to the crèche, we supported 42 families through family support and 70 single mums through employability programme”
The centre is launching a fundraising appeal in an attempt to continue supporting the Leith community.
Dr Bell’s Family Centre in Leith has been forced to sack staff members following funding cuts.
The Leith-based support centre for families with young children attributed recent cuts to their crèche services, and staff lay offs to a reduction in the city council’s annual grant from £95,000 to £47,000.
Centre manager Fiona Clark said to Edinburgh Evening News that the deepening funding crisis may result in complete closure by April next year.
Dr Bell’s Family Centre opened its doors in August 2006, and was set up as a partnership between local people, Edinburgh City Council and NHS Lothian.
The centre operates with ten staff members and the help of volunteers. Concerns are raised over the future of the organization after all ten staff have received redundancy notes.
Providing a crèche for over 200 children, the centre also offers cookery classes and other services like family support and counselling for dozens of families, according to Clark.
Scottish councils could face a combined funding gap of £553 million by 2018, according to a new report from the Accounts Commission.
The Commission has said that, based on figures from 2015-16, local authorities are currently in good financial health, but have found that there could be “significant challenges” in the future.
Forecasting for the next three years, the report’s analysis found that the deficit between the money that councils raise and what they spend could rise from £87 million in 2016-17 to £553 million in 2018-19.
The figures would mean that a large proportion of local authorities would face a gap in funding higher than the amount currently held in reserves.
The Commission acknowledged that councils face, “increasing pressure from a long-term decline in funding, rising demand for services and increasing costs such as pensions.”