My office caused a bit of a stooshie last week when we slammed the Department of Work & Pensions. We’d called them on behalf of a constituent who hadn’t received their benefits. As usual we phoned the ‘Resolution’ service, for elected members, but this time we were told that from now on Members of the Scottish Parliament would have to put requests in writing with proof that the constituent had asked for help. This hurdle would not apply for constituents who went to members of the UK Parliament. We were not best pleased, and a letter has gone to the appropriate UK Government Minister to tell her so!
It’s hard enough for someone on benefits when their only income suddenly stops without having to think “who should I go to for help under the current constitutional settlement”. It has always been my office philosophy that we will help where we can, perhaps drawing in local Councillors or others for the best outcome. Sensible and fair. I would imagine that most elected representatives would be happy to work together regardless of who’s responsible for what amongst the Scottish Parliament, the Local Authority and the Westminster Parliament.
It can be confusing – each institution has its own responsibilities and remits, and works autonomously covering these subjects: importantly, none of them is an ‘appeal court’ for another.
Local Councillors deal largely within their ward area, covering South Lanarkshire Council responsibilities Iike Education Services, Planning and Housing, Licensing, Waste and Recycling, Social Care. They also of course take decisions across the whole South Lanarkshire area when they vote on policy matters in Council and on the various Committees.
Westminster Members of Parliament are responsible for raising and voting on issues reserved to Westminster, and which affect their constituents; matters like Defence and National Security, Foreign Policy, Immigration, Health and Safety, Broadcasting and Telecommunications, Gambling, Energy. Of course, they are also responsible for Employment Law and Social Security, hence our inability here in Scotland to ban Unpaid Trial Shifts for example, and the necessity for the Scottish Government to financially mitigate some of the worst excesses of Westminster’s welfare reforms. Some elements of Social Security are to be passed to the Scottish Parliament, but only a small amount in the greater scheme of things.
Scotland’s Parliament and its Members cover devolved issues whilst in Parliament. These include health, most aspects of criminal and civil law, the prosecution system and the courts, economic development and tourism, most aspects of transport, agriculture and the environment, sport and the arts. Of course there are lots of crossover with local government because the Scottish Parliament funds the majority of the services provided by local councils.
So, it’s not always clear-cut. That’s why I will continue, despite the UK Department of Work and Pensions, to consider my office in Strathmore House as a ‘one-stop shop’ for anyone needing a bit of help, even if it’s just to signpost the best course of action or pass on details to another elected member. That’s why I’ll argue all the way in the best interests of East Kilbride, regardless of whether an issue is ‘devolved’ or ‘reserved’.
One of the main elements of Westminster responsibility of course is the bulk of general taxation, and the operation of Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs. We all know of the unforgivable decision of the UK Government to move the expert HMRC service from East Kilbride to Glasgow, and the ongoing EK News/PCS Union Campaign to ‘Stay in EK’.
I was enraged to read recently the statement by the UK Secretary of State for Scotland that he was increasing the UK Government presence in Edinburgh to “support the Edinburgh economy”. What about the blow he’s imposing on our economy! Yet another letter sent to the Westminster Government … … I really am turning into ‘Angry of East Kilbride’. With justification!