As members of the PCS public services union stage a fresh strike over pay and pensions, the 5-strong Scottish Green-Independent group of MSPs is showing support for strong public services by refusing to cross the picket line.
Union members are due to rally outside the Scottish Parliament tomorrow (22 Jan), with PCS members at Holyrood on strike during the working day.
The action is supported by Scottish Green MSPs Patrick Harvie and Alison Johnstone, and Independent members John Finnie, Jean Urquhart and John Wilson.
Alison Johnstone, MSP for Lothian, said:
“PCS members are right to protest at the ongoing freeze imposed by the Scottish Government, and can be assured of continued backing from the Scottish Greens. Finance Secretary John Swinney has the power to end this unfair treatment which simply mirrors the unnecessary austerity of the Coalition, signed up to by the Labour opposition.
“When we add in increased pension contributions, we see public sector workers providing crucial services being squeezed despite the availability of underspends and consequential funds. And we also continue to see serious pay inequality in the public sector with those at the top receiving many times more than those on the frontline.”
Labour refuses to commit to ending squeeze on public sector pay (Guardian)
PCS national dispute
In today’s budget debate, the Greens will urge the Scottish Government to give more support to communities facing fracking activity and to increase spending on fuel poverty programmes.
On Monday the Scottish Greens launched a petition urging the UK Government to freeze licensing decisions for onshore gas exploration in Scotland while the powers are devolved. Over 4500 people have signed to date.
Councils like Stirling, Falkirk and others across Scotland face the prospect of complex planning applications and the Greens have asked John Swinney to make available extra funds to increase council capacity, as has been done previously in relation to wind farm applications .
The Greens also want the Scottish Government’s contribution to fuel poverty programmes to be increased from £79m. WWF have called for substantially more than £125m in 2015/16. Holyrood’s Energy Committee expressed concern last week that the Government’s 2016 target to eradicate fuel poverty is very likely to be missed.
The Greens have also raised the issues of continued real-terms public sector pay cuts, support for the wave and tidal sector, and investment in sustainable transport, particularly for areas with serious air pollution problems.
Patrick Harvie, Green MSP for Glasgow said:
“Many councils may soon find themselves on the frontline of fracking developments, so it’s vital that they have maximum ability to scrutinise this dirty industry. The Scottish Government needs to come off the fence on fracking and join the Greens’ call for a moratorium on this dead-end industry.
“If the Scottish Government wants to create thousands of stable, clean jobs in the energy industry it need look no further than spending more on fuel poverty programmes to drag our housing stock into the 21st century. Ending fuel poverty in 2016 now looks like a hollow promise from the SNP, but it’s not too late to inject new money and meet this challenge.”
Alison has secured a pledge from Finance Secretary John Swinney that Scotland’s largest public pension investments will be made more transparent so that local government employees can see whether their funds are invested in the fossil fuels contributing to climate change.
The “divestment” movement, which urges pension funds to withdraw from risky sectors such as coal, oil and gas has been gathering momentum.
Recently Glasgow University announced it will withdraw over £18million of investments from fossil fuel companies, citing the ‘devastating impact’ of climate change. AP2, one of the Sweden’s national pension funds, is divesting £80billion worth of assets.
In a written reply to Alison Johnstone, Finance Secretary and Deputy First Minister John Swinney says he has asked the Scottish Public Pensions Agency and the new local government pension scheme advisory board to “pursue enhanced transparency of investments.”
The Scottish Local Government Pension Scheme is the largest funded public pension scheme in Scotland, with over 200,000 active members, 96,000 deferred members and 167,000 pensioners and dependants.
Alison Johnstone MSP said:
“The science is clear, and the economics is clear. We cannot afford to burn all the fossil fuels we have access to if we’re serious about limiting the effects of climate change.
“I welcome the deputy first minister’s decision to encourage transparency, and I look forward to the Scottish local government pension scheme laying out where its investments lie. Those with a stake in these funds should have the facts so they can make the case for divestment from fossil fuels.”
Alison has lodged a parliamentary motion on divestment
Fossil Free network of campaigns and campaigners working toward fossil fuel divestment
Responding to figures on further and higher education, we’re welcoming the rising number of people in full-time education, but continue to call on the Scottish Government to provide more flexible and short courses for those in part-time work and care roles.
We also call for:
- more support for students from the most deprived backgrounds, as around 35% of this group do not successfully complete courses.
- greater targeted action to address severe gender imbalance in key sectors such as the care profession (73% female), engineering (92% male) and construction (89% male).
Alison Johnstone MSP said:
“There is much in these figures to welcome, but the Scottish Government is still failing too many students from poorer backgrounds who are not completing courses that can transform their prospects.
“Ministers needs a much clearer plan to achieve more of a gender balance in crucial sectors such as engineering and the care profession. Countries like China have shown that with the right approach, women could make a massive contribution to Scotland’s engineering and technology sectors.”
Patrick Harvie is welcoming the start of the Scottish Parliament’s formal inquiry into proposals to legalise assisted suicide.
MSPs on the Health Committee will tomorrow (Tue 13 Jan) take evidence, starting with legal and medical professionals.
A vote in parliament on the principle of the bill is expected this spring. The bill was drafted by the late independent MSP Margo MacDonald, with Mr Harvie agreeing to take it forward.
Patrick Harvie MSP said:
“I’m aware of the strong views on both sides of the debate. There will be complex issues to explore as MSPs examine the detail of the bill, and indeed this has already led to some constructive suggestions for improvements, as well as some clear examples of misunderstanding about the legal issues. People in Scotland are currently being given no clarity over what action might be prosecuted if someone finds their suffering intolerable and seeks help to end their own life.
“Underlying all the issues of detail however is the question of principle. Does a life belong to the person living it? Do we each have the right to make fundamental choices, including how to face a terminal or life-shortening condition which causes unendurable suffering? Or does the state have the moral right to take that control away from people?
“I believe this bill represents the continuation of a long term trend toward respect for the right of people to make choices about their own lives, in an informed and supported way, and to decide what kind of assistance they need. We know that most of the public backs this basic principle, and I have little doubt that in time the law in this area will be changed.
“It remains to be seen whether MSPs are ready to act by passing this particular bill. I certainly hope that they will give it the fair scrutiny that it deserves.”
We reckon there’s little chance of Scotland meeting its target of 10 percent of journeys being made by bike in 2020 without increased funding and greater commitment from the Scottish Government and local authorities.
Today the first ever debate in Government time on cycling and walking was held. Alison Johnstone spoke to a Green amendment calling for a substantial increase in funding, which is still less than 2% of the £2 billion transport budget.
The Scottish Government’s own motion contained no reference to the 2020 target, despite SNP MSPs supporting it in a debate led by Alison Johnstone in 2012.
Alison Johnstone, MSP for Lothian and Co-Convenor of the Cross Party Group on Cycling said:
“Scotland’s new Transport Minister must match the Government’s ambition for an active nation with the funding to hit the target, otherwise we’ll miss out on the huge benefits of a healthier population.
“There is some excellent work going on around Scotland to upgrade infrastructure, reduce speeds and improve training but this will remain patchy without higher and consistent funding. The demand for better cycling keeps growing, so I urge politicians at all levels to take a fresh approach in 2015 and make a cycle-friendly nation one of their top priorities.”
Alison’s amendment in today’s debate:
As an amendment to motion S4M-11980 in the name of Derek Mackay (Active Travel), insert at end “; reaffirms the Scottish Government’s target of 10% of journeys to be made by bike by 2020; notes the estimate by Spokes that active travel funding in the 2015-16 draft budget is lower than in the previous year; calls on the Scottish Government to reverse this cut and substantially increase funding for active travel; notes the ongoing debate and research into the introduction of presumed liability in relation to road accidents, and urges local authorities to meet growing demand for high-quality walking and cycling infrastructure, extend 20mph speed limits in built-up areas and provide walking and cycling training opportunities to every child in Scotland”.
2012 Government amendment to Alison’s debate
Patrick Harvie, whose Rent Rights campaign is pushing for greater protection for private sector tenants, is highlighting figures showing the number of people becoming homeless from the sector has risen sharply over the past five years.
A Shelter Scotland report says almost one fifth of homeless applications made in 2013-14 came from the private rented sector, a rise of 38 per cent in five years.
“These figures highlight the fact that a lack of social rented housing,
and the costs involved in becoming an owner-occupier, means for many
private rented housing is the only option. If we regulated it we could
push out some of the worst elements, something good landlords and
agencies should welcome.
“I want to see greater security of tenure, considered standard in many
other countries, rather than short term leases, and we must explore
measures to tackle rising rental costs. The Government also needs to
act on the supply side, and build more homes.”
Green MSPs today backed a demonstration outside the Scottish Parliament calling for new measures to make private renting more affordable.
The rally, organised by the Living Rent campaign and backed by NUS Scotland and the University and College Union, is calling for rising rents to be brought under control, greater protection from eviction and more secure leases for tenants.
The Scottish Government is expected to bring forward a Bill to reform the private rented sector. Patrick Harvie has been running a Rent Rights campaign, collecting case studies from constituents in Glasgow.
Patrick Harvie, Green MSP said:
“For a growing number of people, private renting is the only option available to them but while wages are stagnant, rent increases in parts of Scotland just keep spiralling upwards.
“We need a much fairer deal for private tenants – one where you feel like you have a home and are paying for a service, not just living in someone’s investment.”
Alison today called on ministers to create training courses and apprenticeships in energy efficient housing.
During a Government debate on Developing Scotland’s Young Workforce, Ms Johnstone pointed out that such apprenticeships do not exist, despite the construction industry warning of a serious shortage of skills.
Ms Johnstone secured agreement from Finance Secretary John Swinney in November that making Scotland’s housing stock energy efficient should be a national infrastructure priority.
“Tackling youth unemployment is vital, and we should seize the opportunity to equip young people to enter meaningful jobs rather than the low-wage low-skill economy being encouraged by Westminster.
“Retrofitting energy efficiency measures such as insulation and double glazing will cut household bills, tackle fuel poverty, and create thousands of new jobs in construction and new opportunities for young people through the modern apprenticeship scheme.
“With surveys of the construction sector showing a real challenge in finding a workforce with energy efficiency skills, I again urge ministers as they decide next year’s budget to invest in the courses and apprenticeships that will improve the quality of our homes, and the job prospects of young Scots.”
Alison today urged Scottish ministers to rethink their squeeze on local authority funding after figures showed there are fewer teachers dealing with more pupils.
The Pupil-Teacher Ratio across Scotland has risen to 13.7 from 13 in 2007. The biggest annual increase has been in Edinburgh where the ratio is now 14.9 compared to 14.3 last year and 13.5 seven years ago.
Alison Johnstone MSP said:
“Fewer teachers dealing with more pupils is a worrying indicator of a wider problem. Local authorities have had their funding squeezed by Scottish ministers, while teachers are dealing with an increasing workload. We’re also seeing councils considering options such as shorter school weeks to cope with budget pressures.
“I have real concerns that our councils are being put in an impossible position. Our schools have been relatively protected from the funding squeeze but unless local government has the flexibility to properly invest in education there’s a risk we cannot provide our children with the high quality learning experience they deserve.”
Summary Statistics for Schools in Scotland
EIS submission on the 2015-16 Draft Budget
“A continued real terms fall in education spending will impact detrimentally on pupils and families and upon educations staff.”