EK News Column – 02.03.16

Linda Fabiani MSPI’ve had a few queries this week about folks wondering if they’re still on the Electoral Register since the UK Government shifted us to individual electoral registration instead of the old way when the ‘head of the household’ registered everyone who lived there.

Constituents are right to be concerned because there has been a worrying fall in the number of registered voters in Scotland – the number of people registered to vote in the Scottish Parliamentary election has fallen by 100,000 since March 2015.

One of the great successes of the independence referendum was the level of voter engagement that swept across every community in the weeks and months before the vote and then the voter turnout on the day itself. We really don’t want to lose that. Easy to check online, or call South Lanarkshire Council’s Voter Registration Service.

Much of last week’s parliamentary business was concerned with the Fiscal Framework covering more powers for Scotland to come in 2017. John Swinney and Nicola Sturgeon did a good job negotiating with the Tories in the UK Government and making sure that the agreement made did not disadvantage Scotland financially. I’m looking forward this week to scrutinising the Agreement made before my Committee recommends to our Parliament whether or not to allow Westminster to legislate for us. Exciting stuff – honest!

Alongside that though there were a few other announcements that didn’t get much coverage at all:

On Health, new figures published show that over 1 million NHS patients have now benefited from the 12-week Treatment Time Guarantee, introduced by our SNP Government in 2012. Official waiting time statistics for October to December 2015 show that 95.2% of inpatients and day-case patients were treated within 12 weeks – up from 94.6% during the previous quarter and testament to the hard work of those who work for our National Health Service.

On a sad note related to the NHS, NHS Health Scotland has found that “the association between trends in mental health problems among low-income working-age adults and the level of sanction activity is striking”. This is awful, and unfortunately no surprise to those who meet and deal with people affected by the heartless and rigid policies being imposed through the Department of Work and Pensions. We have called for the UK Government to halt all benefit sanctions until a full independent review is carried out. The system is cruel and must be changed.

The Children’s Minister told us last week that the Scottish Government has provided £500m funding to local authorities since 2014 to expand free early learning and childcare; also, close to 50 nurseries have been built or expanded to help accommodate the additional hours, flexibility and of course the children! Our Government has increased free childcare provision by 45% since 2007 and committed to go further – the early years are so important, and all the studies have shown that money and time spent then, means benefit further on. I’m glad that all parties now seem to recognise that.

Housing is of course a big issue in East Kilbride and I know that residents welcome seeing housebuilding, especially Council and other social housing, in the town. To compliment that, the Social Justice Secretary announced plans for a Private Rented Sector Rental Income Guarantee scheme which was estimated could directly support construction of thousands of additional homes in the newbuild-to-rent sector. When you couple this with the measures to help first-time buyers by imposing a tax supplement on those purchasing additional homes as holiday homes or investment properties, then we are tackling the housing shortage from all angles.

All issues that matter for our town’s residents, and that’s why everyone should make sure they’re registered to vote.

For our Scottish Parliamentary election of course we agreed the vote for 16 and 17 year olds. Those currently 15 years old, but with a birthday on or before the election date of Thursday 5 May 2016, should register to vote now too.

Nobody should find themselves turned away at a polling station this May.

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