Many people have written to me regarding campaigns of interest to them. Below you can read my position on some of the most recent campaigns people have contacted me about.
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The Cost of Living (Tenant Protection)(Scotland) Bill has been rushed and poorly consulted on. Stakeholders barely had any time to review the Bill and MSPs had less than three days to scrutinise the Bill from start to finish.
Scotland is already experiencing a housing shortage and the SNP-Green Government, and Labour, must realise that the rent freeze risks the removal of vital housing stock from the market, making the housing crisis even worse and with it, higher rents and homelessness in the long-run.
Therefore, this legislation will not help address the cost-of-living crisis. In fact, it may make things worse by
increasing evictions due to increased financial pressures on landlords, forcing tenants to look at potentially more expensive accommodation elsewhere. It is also unfair that that this protection is being made available to renters while there is no similar support for homeowners with mortgages.
As Patrick Harvie has indicated that the rent cap will not be lifted for private tenancies, the situation will only get worse while social rented tenants, who were likely to see an average rent increase of 6.1%, could now face an 11.1% jump when the rent freeze for them expires.
Rent freezes in other European countries and cities have caused more harm than good when imposed. In Ireland where rent controls have been imposed, the number of available properties for rent in August 2022 plummeted to 716. In Stockholm, renters have had to wait multiple years on waiting lists to rent properties. In Berlin, rent controls have created a ‘grey economy’ whereby landlords have demanded that tenants pay ridiculous prices for furniture, kitchen appliances, and other basic amenities as a condition of renting.
The housing crisis has been apparent for years and is a direct result of the SNP’s failure to meet their own housebuilding targets and decision to close down schemes, such as the Help to Buy Scheme and the First Home Fund for first time buyers. The Scottish Conservatives believe that the best way to address this crisis is through increased home building across all sectors and have set out plans to build 25,000 new homes across Scotland each year and by introducing a Rent to Own scheme.
GP services in Scotland
I share your concerns that access to face-to-face appointments at GP surgeries remains limited for some people in Scotland. While general practice is keen to open itself up for more face-to-face appointments, and GPs have worked tirelessly throughout the pandemic, the SNP Government’s poor workforce planning means that GPs remain under huge pressure. With that said, I am clear that patient preference needs to be met through a balance of appointment types. People deserve to be able to see their GP in person if they feel that they require it and the SNP Government must do more to help facilitate this.
Sadly, the SNP Government have been neglecting the GP workforce for far too long. The workforce shrunk in real terms in the six years leading up to the pandemic, while the SNP’s plan to increase the GP workforce by 800 by 2027 is on course to be all but wiped out by the number of doctors expected to retire or change their workforce patterns by that time.
That is why the Scottish Conservatives would invest at least 11% of the overall NHS budget in general practice, increase training places and ensure that all GPs are supported by a multi-disciplinary team. This would enable GPs to offer longer appointments to those who need them.
It is also a fact that under the SNP, local healthcare services are in decline, with many facilities centralised, meaning patients are having to travel further for treatment. That is why we will fight for the retention of local services by supporting a Local Healthcare Guarantee, which will include a presumption against centralisation to protect local services like GPs and community hospitals.
Finally, as we learn to live with Covid-19, and start to deal with the backlog, Scottish Conservatives would like to see a sustained and targeted campaign to encourage people who have been putting off visiting their GP to come forward. We will continue to follow progress very closely in the Scottish Parliament.
Cladding on Buildings
We all remember the awful scenes from the Grenfell Fire, and we should be doing all we can to stop anything like that from happening again. This will mean that some buildings in Scotland will need to be reclad, but we believe it would be unfair to expect homeowners and lease holders to be expected to foot the bill for this work.
That is why we welcome the decision from the UK government to place the obligation on developers to pay for recladding buildings, which will protect homeowners and leaseholders from these costs. We are also glad the SNP have followed the UK Government in doing so.
The Scottish Conservatives would undertake an extensive audit to identify all buildings where combustible cladding is used, not just high-rise properties, and support remedial work where it is needed.
SNP's proposed National Care Service
I have deep concerns about the SNP Government’s plans to establish a National Care Service. Social care provision in Scotland is in crisis and the last thing we need right now is a major bureaucratic overhaul of services. The National Care Service could see over £1.3 billion diverted away from frontline services this is completely inappropriate at a time when the sector is crying out for help.
The SNP Government’s plans also represent a direct attack on localism, with local authorities set to stripped of their existing and longstanding responsibilities. This is likely to have a very significant impact on local services and the understanding of local needs and local accountability, which will be superseded by a top-down, blanket mindset.
My greatest concern however is that the National Care Service will centralise care, with less input for people accessing care and a poorer service for rural and remote areas. We cannot afford to see an increase in the number of people being transferred out of their local area for care, which is why we are calling on the SNP Government to introduce a local care guarantee, which would ensure that support is delivered as close as possible to those who need it.
Coping with terminal illness is of course hugely distressing and difficult, both for the patient and their family. These cases are truly moving and evoke the highest degree of compassion and emotion. Should the law in this area ever be altered, I believe it is neither a matter for Government to decide nor a matter for the judiciary, but ultimately a matter for Parliament, and individual MSPs in a free vote.
You may be aware that the original End of Life Assistance (Scotland) Bill was defeated at Stage 1 in the Scottish Parliament in 2010, and Margot MacDonald’s Assisted Suicide (Scotland) Bill was also defeated in 2015.
Following the proposals lodged by Liam MacArthur MSP, if draft legislation comes before the Scottish Parliament, I will consider it carefully.
We recognise that ferry services play a vital role in the lives of islanders and want to see a greater emphasis on improving reliability and value for money. The SNP have repeatedly let island communities down by allowing harbour infrastructure and vessels to degrade and by failing to improve their performance.
Scottish Conservatives have repeatedly challenged the SNP Government over its poor management of the Ferguson Marine yard. Scottish civilian shipbuilding, which used to be a proud part of our national tradition, is now being totally mismanaged by the SNP.
I agree that it is a national scandal to see that the delivery of the two overdue and overbudget CalMac ferries has been delayed again. These ferries were originally due to enter service in 2018 but vessel 801 is now scheduled to be delivered in 2023, with vessel 802 not to be completed until 2024. On top of that, these ferries are now expected to cost over £250 million, with the Scottish Government yet to confirm a final total.
The Scottish Conservatives support introducing long-term contracts for ferry operators as part of a review of island connectivity, aimed at simplifying ferry services and ensuring they are as sustainable, efficient and effective as possible. We are also calling on the Scottish Government to answer important questions such as why did they give Ferguson Marine these contracts when they were warned multiple times not to do so?
Low Emission Zones
The Scottish Conservatives support efforts to reduce harmful emissions, however, we also recognise the need to ensure continued vehicle access to towns and cities for households and businesses.
The Transport (Scotland) Act 2019 provides legislation to create and enforce LEZs, and divides responsibilities between the Scottish Government and local authorities. It states that the Scottish Government should develop regulations and guidance relating to several key aspects, including emissions, penalties, certain exemptions and parameters for grace periods. Local authorities on their part have the powers to create, enforce, operate, or revoke a LEZ in their areas and to design the shape, size and vehicle scope of their LEZ based on their specific, local requirements.
The Scottish Conservatives believe that the development of LEZs should be left to local authorities. The recent slashing in council budgets, however, has decreased the capacity of local authorities to reach their net zero goals.
Furthermore, the Scottish Government must do a lot more to ensure that Scotland’s roads have the necessary infrastructure to support low emission vehicles, such as EV re-charging points. The latest figures from Transport Scotland have shown that Scotland is not on track to build the 30,000 charging points the Climate Change Committee says it needs by 2030, the year the Scottish Government aims to phase out the sale of petrol and diesel powered vehicles.
The Scottish Government need to get their act together if they do not want to miss their legal emission targets, like they did is the three years before the pandemic.
The UK Government have announced that the UK will continue to meet our commitment to the world’s poorest, spending 0.5 per cent of Gross National Income on overseas aid in 2021 – amounting to £10 billion pounds in this year’s Spending Review. During a time when we need to prioritise jobs and public services, sticking rigidly to spending 0.7 per cent of our national income on overseas aid is difficult to justify to the British people.
I believe it is right at this difficult time that the UK Government puts rebuilding our country and protecting jobs first. However, we hope to see the 0.7 per cent international aid commitment restored when resources allow in the future, and the Chancellor has indicated that this will be the case.
Based on the latest OECD data, the UK is still the second highest aid donor in the G7 – higher than Italy, Japan, Canada, and the US.
The UK is and will remain a world leader in international development, demonstrated by the UK hosting the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) and a major girls’ education summit next year. Very few countries do more than us to lift communities out of poverty or tackle climate change worldwide. And the UK Government have been a world leader in funding vaccines and treatments for coronavirus worldwide.
Road infrastructure upgrades
Driving is an essential form of travel across many parts of Scotland where public transport is too expensive, impractical, or not available.
The Scottish Conservatives believe that roads play a vital role in connecting Scotland and require significant amounts of ongoing investment to meet the changing needs of our population. It is disappointing to see that the SNP Government is now rowing back on commitments to upgrade key road links across Scotland.
We continue to call on the government to carry out vital improvements to our roads, including but not limited to the A77, A75, A82, A90, A96 and A9. Improving these roads will help to reduce congestion, make driving quicker and improve safety on our major roads.
Local roads are in a state of disrepair across Scotland due to the SNP’s underfunding of our local councils. The Scottish Conservatives would ensure that councils receive fair funding so that they have the resources they need to properly maintain and expand local road networks.
While we want to tackle climate change and reduce emissions, we do not believe that this can be realistically achieved in many parts of Scotland by reducing the use of cars, which many people rely on for commuting and traveling. That is why the Scottish Conservatives are pushing the SNP Government to rollout Scotland’s electric vehicle charging network faster. With new petrol and diesel vehicles being phased out by 2030, Scotland will need around 30,000 charging points to support electric vehicles. As it stands, the SNP risk falling woefully short of this target.
Deposit Return Scheme
The Scottish Conservatives recognise the climate emergency and the need to reduce our impact on the environment. We believe that a circular economy and a deposit return scheme are part of the solution and support their implementation.
Deposit return schemes can increase the number of disposable drinks containers being returned for recycling and help tackle litter for those items. We would like to see a well-designed, accessible and fair DRS that operates throughout the whole of the United Kingdom. One which offers benefits in terms of consumer behaviour change and jobs in reprocessing and manufacturing of DRS machines.
However, the SNP-Green Government’s implementation has been shambolic from day one. Even though the scheme was scheduled to be delivered in 2022, the SNP-Green Government has been forced to delay the scheme, with the live date now set to be the 16 August 2023.
Yet still there is very little confidence that the DRS can be delivered successfully. The SNP-Green Government’s own Gateway Review found ‘that a fully functioning and compliant DRS cannot be in operation for the revised August 2023 schedule’ and added that a ‘softer’ approach to DRS implementation should be pursued. In addition, the hospitality and drinks industry has highlighted their concerns, with over 500 operators writing an open letter calling for the SNP-Green Government to pause and revise their deposit return scheme. While the Scottish Retail Consortium has called for a complete blueprint for the Deposit Return Scheme by the end of the month to avoid further delays.
Further still, a convenience store owner has been given permission to hold a Judicial Review on the SNP-Green DRS in the Court of Session.
This is just another example of an SNP-Green Government project that has went woefully wrong. They have failed to provide key information to build a workable return system that has already been delayed, further showing they cannot match their rhetoric when it comes to tackling climate change. The SNP-Green Government need to focus on these important issues, rather than treating them as an afterthought to their obsession with independence.
The Scottish Conservatives would like to see a single deposit return scheme for the whole of the UK, which delivers for the environment, as well as businesses and consumers. However, it’s clear that the SNP-Green Government are introducing their differentiated approach purely for political purposes, no matter the consequences.
The Scottish Conservatives believe that the SNP-Green Government must now publish a complete blueprint and ensure that retailers and consumers do not face higher costs and reduced choices. We understand your concerns with this disastrous policy, and we will continue to hold the SNP-Green Government to account in both the Scottish Parliament and by directly speaking to the relevant ministers and officials.