Lots of anniversaries this year. Of course it’s 70 years since East Kilbride was designated Scotland’s first new town, so many of our organisations have also been celebrating special anniversaries. Over the last few years, some of our churches have been marking 50 years of serving their communities and last year was East Kilbride Rep’s 50th Anniversary too. On Saturday night we had a super celebration in the Ballerup Hall marking 50 years of the East Kilbride Sports Council – Scotland’s longest established Sports Council. Thoroughly enjoyable to pay tribute to all of those volunteers who have contributed over the years, including the indefatigable Angus McConnell, stalwart who seems to have been there since the very beginning!
This year also marks 20 years since the referendum on devolution which reconvened our Scottish Parliament in 1999. There have been real achievements since that time. Free personal care introduced in the early years has helped so many, the banning of smoking in public places, and Free Concessionary Bus Travel for our elderly stand out. In the past ten years, the SNP Government expanded free early learning and childcare, abolished prescription charges, re-introduced free eye and dental checks, kept access to university free of tuition fees, and established Scotland as a world-leader in confronting climate change. There has been lots of progress on improving our motorway system and of course the delivery of the new Queensferry Crossing over the River Forth.
Upon returning from summer recess, the Scottish Government refreshed its agenda to meet the changing needs of our people and the challenges of our times, including of course the forthcoming exit from the European Union, which East Kilbride and Scotland voted against. The Programme for Government will shape the kind of Scotland we surely all seek – an inclusive, fair, prosperous, innovative country, regardless of our constitutional situation.
There will be major reforms in education, health and justice, new opportunities for our communities and important measures to safeguard the environment and improve the quality of housing. The public sector pay cap will be lifted, and a responsible debate on how best to use our new tax powers will be opened with other parties.
The Scottish Government’s focus on our education system will be reinforced with an Education Bill, with reforms to our education system to help close the poverty-related attainment gap. The Pupil Equity fund will continue as part of the Scottish Attainment Challenge. By putting more resources directly into the hands of Head Teachers, a clear focus can be made to ensure pupils are getting the right help at the right time. I have always been impressed with our teachers here in East Kilbride. At primary and senior level the commitment and achievement of our educators is notable, linking in in with other East Kilbride organisations, like the Sports Council, to ensure the best possible opportunities for local children and young adults. I have full confidence in their abilities, and I am looking forward to hearing from all the Head Teachers their plans for using the Pupil Equity Fund resource.
I was really pleased too when Nicola Sturgeon, First Minister of Scotland, announced plans for the implementation of “Frank’s Law” – this will expand the provision of free personal care to those under 65 who need it. Thus, those with a terminal illness need not worry for the cost of their personal care. I was heartened too to hear of plans to legislate for the Organ and Tissue Donation Bill. It’s essential we get this ‘soft opt-out’ right, potentially save many lives, but maintain everyone’s rights by including safeguards to minimise the risk of a person becoming a donor if they would not have wished to donate.
There is much more within the Programme for Government – free sanitary products in educational establishments, emphasis on local food supply, investment in our film industry, employment opportunities for those with disabilities, deposit/return scheme for drinks’ bottles and cans. Much to be welcomed, and I am happy to give further information and detail to anyone who wishes to contact me at our EK Office, Parliament, or by email or social media.
Pictured top – Cllrs Geri Gray and Collette Stevenson, Linda Fabiani MSP and the Deputy Mayor of Ballerup