Campaigning to keep our Dundee Fire Control Room

Today, along with my colleague Alison McInnes, Scottish Liberal Democrat justice spokesperson and MSP for the North East, I toured the Dundee Fire Control Room.   Alison and I are campaigning for the retention of the Dundee Fire Control Room that has a vital role and must be retained.
 
I was hugely impressed with the professionalism and local knowledge of the control staff Alison and I spoke with.  
 
Alison is pictured below outside the control room and Macalpine Road Fire Station:
Alison said, “There is a compelling case for retaining fire control rooms in Dundee and Aberdeen.
 
“Fire control rooms should not be considered backroom assets alongside former HQ buildings.    They coordinate and mobilise front line operations with the benefit of a wealth, sometimes decades worth, of local knowledge.      That is why they cannot be sold off without impacting upon the ability of the fire service to respond swiftly to emergencies and without eroding the service provided to local communities.
 
“I am also concerned that a smaller network of control rooms will be less resilient and I hope that the Fire Board will heed these concerns and decide to keep the control room in Dundee open when it considers the matter again in January.”
 
I was interviewed about this matter on Wave 102 News today.   You can hear the interview by clicking ‘play’ below:

Monday meetings

Today, I had the pleasure of holding two West End surgeries jointly with Alison McInnes, MSP for North East Scotland.    These took place at the Mitchell Street Centre and at Harris Academy.
 
Alison and I also attended the latest meeting of the cross-party Remploy Action Group that took place at the City Chambers.   Alison and I are pictured (right) prior to the meeting today.
 
This evening, I attended City Council committee meetings at which:
 
* I proposed that changes proposed to the Hospital Fund and Johnston Bequest do not go ahead.   Having read the last will and testament of Robert Johnston (1639) and the detail of the Dundee Churches and Hospital Act 1864, it is quite clear that these funds were left to give maintenance to “the poor” (Hospital Act) and “the aged and impotent people” (Johnston Bequest).   The proposal before councillors tonight was to henceforth use the funds for a welfare rights service.   However well-intentioned, this proposal does not meet the terms of the bequests and that much is obvious to anyone who has actually read these terms.
 
* I was elected to serve on the Tay Road Bridge Joint Board.
 
* I welcomed progress to provide modern apprenticeships and asked for the detail as to when these can be delivered.
 

A New Year Message from Alison McInnes MSP

Looking back at the year that’s gone…
 
It is the close of another year, a time to reflect on the past 12 months and look forward to the challenges of 2013.
 
Let me start by thanking all those who fought the council elections in May. Although we knew it would be a tough campaign, it was still so disappointing to lose so many hard working local councillors.  However, in contrast to some other areas, here in the North East we still have a strong cohort of local councillors standing up for liberal democracy and I will continue to work with them in local campaigns.
 
It has been a busy year for the Liberal Democrat group in the Scottish Parliament. I believe our group of five MSPs, ably led by Willie Rennie, has maintained a strong presence in parliament and in the media.  Strong liberal voices speaking out and working hard, listening to our communities.
 
And more than ever, there is a real need for liberal voices, because this last year has fully exposed the centralising and controlling instincts of the SNP Government.  It is a government that displays a casual disregard for parliamentary scrutiny.  Despite promising to govern as if they were still a minority, we have seen the government – time after time – push through legislation unamended, deaf to concerns. 
 
Openness and transparency were never words that were readily associated with the SNP government (we learnt in the summer that they organised secrecy workshops to train civil servants in dealing with freedom of information requests regarding independence). 
 
But October was a turning point – we discovered that the SNP government would go to the Court of Session to prevent the publication of a non-existent document.
 
The extent of Alex Salmond’s cover-up (over whether he had legal advice on EU membership for a separate Scotland) was exposed to the whole nation – we now know that we can’t trust this government to answer a simple yes or no question, let alone give Scottish people access to important facts that will affect their future.
October was the month when we learned that when Alex Salmond says ‘yes’ it can mean anything really. 
That was followed by incidents where the First Minister and his Education Secretary had to be dragged to the chamber to apologise for misleading parliament, not once but twice.
 
We have worked constructively where we can, not opposing for the sake of it.  For example, we supported the Government’s Bills on minimum pricing for alcohol, social care self directed support, long leases, and criminal cases (punishment and review).  Last year Liberal Democrats worked constructively to deliver changes in the budget with extra funding for colleges, social housing and early intervention secured.  This year we hope to be successful in reversing proposed savage cuts to college budgets and securing extra funding for nursery education.
 
But when necessary we have been a vigorous opposition.  When we believe that legislation is ill thought out, or budget decisions will damage our communities we have made our voice heard.  Our most vigorous opposition has been to the Police and Fire Reform Bill. This Bill paved the way for the single Scottish police force and single fire service to come into being in April.  The SNP bulldozed through their centralising reforms, paying no heed to concerns expressed by communities, politicians or chief constables. The opposition parties tabled a total of 125 amendments to this Bill.  They were aimed at improving accountability, re-strengthening the role of local authorities and creating greater transparency.  The government rejected them all.
 
I believe this legislation is a destruction of the community foundations that our police and fire and rescue services are built upon and as the Liberal Democrat justice spokesperson I led for the party on this. Needless to say we did not vote for the legislation.
 
Concerns remain over accountability, local control and political independence.  I have not been convinced by arguments put forward as to how the new services will function in practice.  Over the last month we have witnessed the unedifying sight of the chairman of the Scottish Police Authority and the new chief constable engaged in a public power struggle over where responsibility lies. It’s barely 100 days since the legislation received Royal Assent and already the centralising Act is in turmoil. I also continue to have serious doubts over the outline business case and estimated savings.  
 
Justice issues remain to the fore at parliament, with the government’s proposals to remove the need for corroboration in criminal trials and reforms to criminal legal aid causing controversy.  Scotland’s justice system is under sustained attack from the Scottish government at the moment.  The SNP portrays it as pursuing a reforming agenda, but I fear there is a cavalier disregard for the founding principles of our criminal justice system, and we will do what we can to resist wholesale changes.
 
I have invested a great deal of time in campaigning for prison reform, particularly for changes to the women’s prison estate.  You could be forgiven for thinking that the description of conditions for woman offenders in Scotland were pulled straight from the pages of a Dickensian novel and not from Her Majesty’s Inspectorate reports: overcrowding, poor sanitary conditions, food not fit for consumption, excessive use of solitary confinement and a lack of adequate medical facilities have all been features of Scotland’s only prison for women offenders – HMP Cornton Vale. 
 
Our justice system has for too long been failing women offenders and our communities. The chronic overcrowding that has been the hallmark of Cornton Vale has led to an increase in violence and self-harm. It has also fostered an atmosphere which is in no way conducive to rehabilitation and efforts to break the cycle of re-offending.
 
For too long, the SNP Justice Secretary dodged his responsibility to improve the scandalous conditions that where getting worse on his watch. Again and again, I and others implored Kenny MacAskill to support calls for a new, purpose-built facility to house women offenders. Again and again Mr MacAskill refused to act and pointed to the cost of building a new prison.  However, I am pleased to report that at last we have worn him down.  He announced last month that a new prison will be built. This is a welcome chance to have a fresh start in our approach to rehabilitation. I’m pleased that the Justice Secretary has finally agreed with me that the cost of doing nothing is a price a tolerant liberal society should not be prepared to pay.
 
Constitutional Matters
In May, The Scotland Act was passed, devolving significant new financial powers to our parliament.
 
In October The Edinburgh Agreement, successfully negotiated by our Liberal Democrat Scottish Secretary Michael Moore was signed. This set out a proper basis for the referendum and crucially, thanks to Michael Moore’s steely resolve, ensures that one single question is posed. Both governments agreed that the referendum should have a clear legal base, be legislated for by the Scottish Parliament, be conducted so as to command the confidence of parliaments, government and people, deliver a fair test and decisive expression of the views of people in Scotland and a result that everyone will respect. It must be held before the end of 2014.
 
The North East in Parliament
College mergers, transport infrastructure, Union Terrace Gardens, hospital waiting times, council funding, rural GP practices, local job losses, farming regulations, retained fire stations, the oil and gas industry and road safety are all issues I have pursued through debates, oral questions and Ministerial contact.
 
The coming year
The next 12 months will be testing for Liberal Democrats across the UK, as the Westminster government tackles the economic mess left by Labour, while here in Scotland we gear up for the 2014 independence referendum. These will be challenging times but nonetheless there will be opportunities too for us to stand up for our beliefs as Liberal Democrats. We should be proud of the role Liberal Democrats are playing, locally, nationally, and throughout the UK.
 
With best wishes
 
Alison
 
Alison McInnes MSP
Liberal Democrat MSP for North East Scotland
 
PS: If I can be of assistance, please get in touch: alison.mcinnes.msp@scottish.parliament.uk.

Yesterday’s election – our many thanks

I am not long back from the AV referendum count at DISC after three hours sleep last night and a 22.5 hour working day on polling day, so I’ll try to keep this necessarily short …

The election result has been exceptionally disappointing for the Liberal Democrats and in Dundee it was no different.   I would like to take this opportunity to thank all who voted Scottish Liberal Democrats in Dundee yesterday and also place on record my appreciation to Alison Burns in Dundee City West, Allan Petrie in Dundee City East and our team of party workers for all their hard-working efforts in such difficult circumstances.

The SNP has won a famous victory across Scotland and they deserve congratulation for their slick, professional campaign.    They have promised the earth.   Their majority government has no excuses for failure to deliver.   So let’s wait to see the effect of on council services of their unfunded 5 year Council Tax freeze, how long they put off an independence referendum, and if they deliver on the many other costly promises they have made.

I am by nature a party loyalist, and my natural instinct is always to be supportive to the party and the leadership.   But I am gutted at what happened the Scottish Liberal Democrat vote in Scotland yesterday and the loss of so many good, hard-working MSPs.     I am awfully relieved at the re-election of our North East regional MSP Alison McInnes and at the election of Willie Rennie to the parliament – the Scottish LibDem MSP to watch.   But I cannot pretend it was anything remotely like a half decent night for the Scottish Liberal Democrats.   But we’ll bounce back.   In the immortal words of Yazz, the only way is up.

Campaigning in the West End for Fairer Votes!

My Dundee Liberal Democrat colleagues – parliamentary candidates Alison Burns (Dundee City West) and Allan Petrie (Dundee City East) have met up with Alison McInnes, Liberal Democrat MSP for North East Scotland, in the West End to show their support for the Yes to Fairer Votes campaign.   They are pictured below in Taylor’s Lane.

Alison Burns said, “At the moment, MPs can be elected with fewer than one vote in three. With fairer votes, MPs would have to aim to get more than 50% of the vote to be sure of winning. This is good for democracy.”

Allan Petrie added, “We need political reform now and the Alternative Vote is our best chance. For far too long we’ve had a situation where a monkey could get elected just by wearing the right colour of rosette.

That must change if we want the right people in government taking decisions on our behalf. We must say goodbye to First Past the Post, and vote Yes to AV.”

Alison McInnes MSP said, “I am delighted that Dundee Liberal Democrats are campaigning for a YES vote on 5th May. The campaign for Fairer Votes is gathering momentum in Dundee and across Scotland.”

Liberal Democrats campaigning for local policing

As featured on tonight’s STV News and on local radio, North East Scotland MSP Alison McInnes, together with myself and Dundee Liberal Democrat colleagues, today launched a petition outside Tayside Police’s Headquarters that invites the public to support the campaign to stop Scotland’s emergency services being centralised into Scotland-wide force.

Alison then visited the Broughty Ferry and West End shopping areas to meet local people and explain why she and the Liberal Democrats oppose the abolition of Tayside Police and Tayside Fire and Rescue and believe that centralised police and fire services would be to the detriment of areas of Scotland outside Strathclyde & the central belt.

Alison said, “The SNP Scottish Government is aggressively pursuing the creation of a single nationwide police force and a one-size fits all approach to policing. It is clear that this proposal is being driven by personal preference rather than facts.

“However the Justice Minister has failed to give any details of where the £200 million savings that he purports will be made is to be found. In reality, it will be hugely expensive, increase political interference and could reduce the number of officers on the beat. Indeed there are fears that the proposals could result in the loss of up to 4,000 officers across Scotland.”

Allan Petrie, former Dundee Councillor and now Convener of Dundee Liberal Democrats, added, “The Scottish Government has failed to account for the costs of implementing a merger. This could amount to millions of pounds and was the reason similar plans were previously scrapped both here and in England and Wales.

“Tayside is already one of the most efficient police forces in the country. It would be extremely foolish to see an efficient force like Tayside become part of a Scotland wide force, to the detriment of the people of Dundee, Angus and Perthshire.”

Allan added that a merged Fire Service could result in re-opening the debate over the future of the Balmossie Fire Station. He said it was very clear that the people in Barnhill, Monifieth and across Broughty Ferry who are served by Balmossie do not want to see the fire station downgraded and he was concerned that, in a single Scotland-wide fire service, local voices would be drowned out.

Alison Burns, Liberal Democrat candidate for Dundee City West, said, “Inevitably, with a single force run from either Edinburgh or Glasgow, bureaucrats would be given far too much say over local policing without full awareness of local circumstances and issues.

“This policy poses the greatest challenge to our local police service for a generation and would be disastrous for Dundee and Tayside.”

From my own perspective, it is clear, speaking to constituents in the West End today that they are very concerned by these Fire Service and Policing centralisation proposals. People in Dundee value local Police and Fire services and centralising the services into a national service is something they view with concern.

THE PETITION READS :

“We are concerned that a one-size-fits-all approach to our emergency services will leave our area worse off. We are concerned that it will lead to a loss of local accountability, increase political interference and reduce the numbers of officers on the beat and firefighters in our local fire stations.

Help Alison and the local Scottish Liberal Democrats oppose the proposed centralisation of the Police and our Fire and Rescue Services by signing our petition and returning it to: Alison McInnes, Dundee Liberal Democrats, Freepost SCO3668, Dundee, DD4 7ZR.

“I/We the undersigned oppose any moves toward a single nationwide Police Force or Fire and Rescue Service”.

Some photos from today :

Above:   From Left – Me, Alison McInnes, Alison Burns and Allan Petrie

Above :  Alison McInnes in the West End

Above :  From left – Alison McInnes, Alison Burns and I take the petition to Blackness Fire Station