John Finnie (Highlands and Islands) (Ind):

6. To ask the Scottish Government what assistance it provides to local authorities for the education of Gypsy Travellers. (S4O-03406)

The Minister for Learning, Science and Scotland’s Languages (Dr Alasdair Allan): The Scottish Government provides core funding to the Scottish Traveller education programme, whose role includes the provision of advice and support for both families and professionals. Within STEP’s remit was the production of guidance for local authorities, schools and support services, which was entitled “Inclusive Education: Approaches for Scotland’s Travelling Communities within the context of interrupted learning”. The guidance was published in March 2011 and was disseminated through the Traveller education network, of which 22 Scottish local authorities are members. That resource is now available online through Education Scotland.

Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Education also produced a publication in 2005 entitled “Taking a closer look at: Inclusion and Equality—meeting the needs of Gypsies and Travellers”, which built on the self-evaluation guidance that is given in “How good is our school?” The guide can be used by schools to evaluate the quality of their approaches to inclusion and equality in relation to Gypsy Travellers and to provide examples of best practice.

John Finnie: I am grateful to the minister for that detailed response. The minister is aware of the level of disengagement that there is with the educational process among the Gypsy Traveller community. That is particularly the case in secondary education and it is particularly the case with young men. Will he look at ways of having contact with the Gypsy Traveller community to explore how to ensure that their lifestyle is supported by education rather than the education system excluding them?

Dr Allan: The member is right to point out the very specific needs of the Traveller community. Of course, the Scottish education system and the curriculum for excellence are founded on the idea that all children, regardless of their ethnic group or their background, have a right to an education that meets their needs and to a system that is flexible enough to cope with their needs rather than demanding that they conform to it. Institutions such as the Traveller education network have done a great deal to promote that further understanding and to ensure that we all listen to the very specific concerns that that community rightly made clear.

John’s amendments supporting workers’ rights have been accepted.  John was delighted that his amendments to the Court Reform Bill, which addressed concerns by the STUC and others that complex cases will no longer get automatic sanction for counsel if they cannot be taken to the Court of Session, have been accepted by the Scottish Government.

John’s amendments put the “Taylor Test” into the Bill to provide certainty for people without resources that they will not be outgunned in the courts by larger organisations.  John also secured an undertaking ensuring that certain personal injury cases below five thousand pounds can be raised in the new specialist personal injury court.

Speaking after the Committee vote John said: “Section 69 of the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act, brought in by the UK Government, shamefully removed employers’ statutory liability in workplace injury cases making it harder for workers to press their claims against employers. I am grateful to the Scottish Government for agreeing the changes which go some way to mitigate the effects of Section 69. With independence we can address this specific issue of liability and start reversing the decades of attacks on workers’ terms and conditions imposed by successive UK Governments.”

During the Ministerial Statement on Greenhouse Gas Inventory 2012, Tuesday 10th June 2014, John pressed the Minister for Climate Change Paul Wheelhouse on targets for district heating schemes.

The statement the Minister provided to Parliament read:

“For example, through the heat network partnership, the Scottish Government and our agencies will build on the work that underpins the Scottish Government’s draft heat generation policy statement to commit resources to supporting delivery of district heating projects, and we are actively engaged with projects across Scotland.

The Minister for Energy, Enterprise and Tourism, Fergus Ewing, has committed to set up a working group under the expert commission on district heating to consider the existing regulatory context and to develop proposals for a regulatory framework. As part of that work, it will investigate how best to ensure that public sector buildings connect to district heating networks, where they are available and when that is cost effective.”

John Finnie (Highlands and Islands) (Ind): I apologise to you, Presiding Officer, and to the minister for missing his opening remarks. I welcome the minister’s comments on district heating—in particular, the announcement on the expert commission, which will clearly require collaborative working, not least with planning and development officials.

The minister has assured us of co-ordination at the highest level. There will need also to be co-ordination at local level. Will he set out a timeframe with specific targets for district heating schemes?

Paul Wheelhouse: Mr Finnie might be aware that that matter is in the ministerial portfolio of my colleague Fergus Ewing, who has been very supportive of this agenda. I want to thank him for the action that he has taken.
We have an opportunity to consider the current regulatory framework, how it influences take-up of district heating and what kind of regulatory framework we might need in the future. I encourage those who have an interest in the issue to engage in that process. I will ask Fergus Ewing to address the point that the member raises in due course, once further information comes forward about the process.

Commenting after his question John said: “While I was disappointed that the Minister was not able to provide a clearer timeframe, I was heartened to see that the Scottish Government is taking serious steps to ensure that district heating schemes work to their fullest.”

 

You can watch John’s question here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CBEPTqwv20s#t=1965

Below You can read the motions John lodged during week beginning 02/06/2014.

 

Motion S4M-10242: John Finnie, Highlands and Islands, Independent, Date Lodged: 05/06/2014

2014 Rural Scotland in Focus Report

That the Parliament welcomes the report, Rural Scotland in Focus: 2014, produced by Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC); understands that the report highlights the growing number of over-60s living in rural areas who are in fuel poverty; notes with concern the findings that rural pensioners are more likely to be in fuel poverty than not; further notes that the percentage of pensioners in fuel poverty across rural local authorities now reaches an average of 59% and is as high as 75% in Orkney; believes that all parties and governments must play a role in reversing this unacceptable statistic, and calls on all members to take up the report’s call for an overarching strategy for rural Scotland that properly challenges the interconnected issues that it faces.

Motion S4M-10232: John Finnie, Highlands and Islands, Independent, Date Lodged: 04/06/2014

Congratulations to Appin Community Co-op, 30 Years of Serving the Community

That the Parliament congratulates the Appin Community Co-op on celebrating 30 years of serving the community; understands that the co-op was established in 1984 following a share issue that was match-funded by Highlands and Islands Development Board; notes that this was at a time when the future of the shop at Port Appin was in doubt and there was considerable seasonal unemployment in the area; believes that the co-op has made a considerable contribution to the community through projects such as the establishment of the Appin Charitable Trust, which has contributed to a number of initiatives, including the building of a play park, the all-weather pitch at Appin Primary School and supporting the area’s housing association development, and commends the work of the co-op and the trust as excellent examples of how a community can work to ensure its development and sustainability.

Motion S4M-10231: John Finnie, Highlands and Islands, Independent, Date Lodged: 04/06/2014

25th Anniversary of Tiananmen Square

That the Parliament commemorates the 25th anniversary of the end of the ’89 Democracy Movement in China, commonly known as the Tiananmen Square protests; understands that the student-led protests, which lasted from 15 April 1989 to 4 June 1989, calling for political reform, including democracy and press freedom, were brutally suppressed by the Chinese military on 4 June 1989; understands that, while the official death estimates range from 200 to 300, the number killed is generally thought to be at least 1,000, though no deaths occurred in Tiananmen Square itself, rather in the streets of Beijing; understands that a recent poll found that the iconic Tank Man photograph, which dates from 5 June 1989, was known by only one in 10 students in China, reflecting the successful repression of the event by the Chinese authorities; further understands that, while suppression of the anniversary will take place on the mainland, memorials are planned for Hong Kong and Taiwan, and calls on the Chinese authorities to officially recognise the Tiananmen Square protests, cease the public suppression of the anniversary and follow through on the calls made by the protesters who died 25 years ago.

 

Motion S4M-10216: John Finnie, Highlands and Islands, Independent, Date Lodged: 04/06/2014

NY2SY

That the Parliament supports the Gaelic broadcaster, Niall Iain Macdonald, in his attempt to row from New York to Stornoway, a journey of 3,400 miles, which is expected to take more than three months; believes that this will be the first time that anyone has attempted to row this particular route; understands that Niall Iain hopes to raise £100,000 for the Scottish Association for Mental Health (SAMH) and that anyone wishing to sponsor him can do so at http://www.justgiving.com/NY2SY, and wishes Niall Iain the very best in his attempt and a safe journey.

John is calling on both the Scottish and UK Governments to take urgent action to tackle fuel poverty amongst older people in rural areas following the publication of a recent report.

Analysis by the Scottish Rural Colleges (SRUC) found that 60% of over 60’s living in rural areas suffered fuel poverty compared to 45% in the same age group living in urban areas.

On the Western and Northern Isles this figure rose to between 69 and 70%.

A household is considered to be living in fuel poverty when it spends over 10% of its income on gas and/or electricity.

Speaking on the issue, John said:

“Fuel Poverty has been on the political agenda in Scotland for over four decades but we continue to see households struggle to meet their bills.

“The SRUC report clearly demonstrates that there is no single solution to solve this crisis. Policy makers at all levels need to work within rural communities to increase participation in fuel efficiency and warm home schemes.

“Scotland is an energy rich nation and as such it is shameful that we have a situation where those living in rural areas are more likely than not to be in fuel poverty. Obviously there are great challenges in supplying energy to rural areas but that should not prevent us from fixing this scourge once and for all.

“I hope that the UK and Scottish Government, including politicians that sit in either Parliament, come together to tackle the myriad of problems which lead to this tragic statistic.

 

Link to report: http://www.sruc.ac.uk/downloads/file/1959/rural_scotland_in_focus_2014_high_resolution

 

Motion S4M-10242: John Finnie, Highlands and Islands, Independent, Date Lodged: 05/06/2014

2014 Rural Scotland in Focus Report

That the Parliament welcomes the report, Rural Scotland in Focus: 2014, produced by Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC); understands that the report highlights the growing number of over-60s living in rural areas who are in fuel poverty; notes with concern the findings that rural pensioners are more likely to be in fuel poverty than not; further notes that the percentage of pensioners in fuel poverty across rural local authorities now reaches an average of 59% and is as high as 75% in Orkney; believes that all parties and governments must play a role in reversing this unacceptable statistic, and calls on all members to take up the report’s call for an overarching strategy for rural Scotland that properly challenges the interconnected issues that it faces.

Following confirmation by Police Scotland that 40,000 firearms are licensed in the Highlands and Islands John is continuing to question the arming of local police.

The figures on gun ownership were provided at the request of Highland Council and most are held by farmers and on shooting estates.

Police Scotland maintain that the policy of routinely arming a small number of police officers in the region is ‘the right thing to do’.

Speaking on the figures, John said:

“The two issues [levels of gun ownership and routinely arming police officers] are totally and utterly unconnected. It’s a bit like saying the number of road accidents is dependant on the number of cars.

“Those figures are quite spurious and perhaps the most alarming thing is that having spent decades reassuring the public about gun ownership, suddenly the police are taking up the issue. Who gave all those people the authority to hold guns? The very police force that is now having to put into place measures to address any issues that may arise.

“The reasons behind the success of policing in the Highlands and Islands has been the level of community engagement and, quite simply, people are less likely to engage with an armed officer.

“If the current assessment shows the need for routine arming of a small number of officers, why do they need to be openly armed when arrangements can, and indeed do, exist for firearms to be covertly carried?”

 

John, a former police officer and member of the Scottish Parliament’s Police Committee, has welcomed Police Scotland’s plans to increase young peoples’ awareness of their rights under the law.

The Parliament’s Sub-Committee on Policing recently took evidence from Police Scotland on its approach to ‘local policing’, including stop and search.

Commenting John said:

“The committee heard from Police Scotland on its approach local policing and received reassurances regarding their apparent increased use of stop and search.

“During that evidence session, I commended the approach taken by Northern Constabulary in 2001 when it produced 20,000 copies of a booklet entitled “Check it out… know your rights” which set out for young people their rights when stopped by the police.

“I believe the success of policing in the Highlands and Islands was due to the level of public cooperation as well as positive engagement with young people playing its part.

“I am delighted that Police Scotland has responded so positively to my suggestion, having recognised the benefits of the Northern Constabulary approach and I welcome their plans to use social media and websites to increase awareness.

“I have contacted the Scottish Human Rights Commission, drawing their attention to this positive move. No-one, least of all Police Scotland, has anything to fear from individuals fully understand their rights, and obligations, under the law.”