Recently I met with Sarah and Harry from OneKind to discuss animal welfare in Scotland, a cause close to my heart at Westminster.
Yesterday I met with Bob Hope, Chair of Trustees at FOTA (Friends of the Award). They do fantastic work supporting delivery of the Duke of Edinburgh Award across Edinburgh and the Lothians.
The charity specialises in supporting young people with additional challenges in their lives whether that be a learning or physical disability, being a young carer, living in residential care or any other difficulty. Bob shared some of the impressive results they've had and I'm delighted that FOTA have received lottery funding to expand their service supporting young people with mental health difficulties.
Lovely morning catching up with Kelly and the day service users at Caring in Craigmillar. Already looking forward to visiting again and seeing the new garden - the plans look great!
I had a great visit yesterday to Shaw Trust, Forth Sector and St Jude’s Laundry.
It was lovely to meet Alistair Kerr, Gemma Hope and Annie Dell from Shaw Trust who told me all about their focus on employment and wellbeing - running projects which help people with disabilities get into work.
Finally, it’s summer recess and I get to spend some time in the constituency. I’m sure you all know about my love affair with the Fringe. I was delighted to be able to help the Fringe celebrate its 70th year with a reception in Speaker’s House at the start of July after their original event had to be cancelled due to the election! I’m looking forward to it all starting.
Thanks to everyone who has donated to the Edinburgh Back to School Bank at my Portobello Office – there’s been a fantastic response. If you can help we'd be delighted to receive school clothing for pupils aged 4-18. They regularly list items they are short of their Facebook page but are always short of girls black leggings - all sizes but especially ages 9-10 10-11 11-12 and ladies small black jumpers, cardigans and sweatshirts of all sizes from age 5 to 15.
Well, it's good to be back. After a snap general election that wasn’t needed and that nobody wanted, I am delighted to have been returned to Westminster as MP for Edinburgh East. Thanks to all those who supported me and came out to cast their vote on what must have been one of the wettest days of the summer so far! I pledge to help everyone, no matter who they voted for or what their political persuasion - it’s what I’ve been doing for the past two years and I don’t plan to change that now. I’m here to speak up for the people in Edinburgh East and to have the voice of our communities heard in Westminster.
I’m pleased to say that my Portobello Office is now a drop off point for the Edinburgh Back to School Bank. If you can help we'd be delighted to receive school clothing for pupils aged 4-18. They regularly list items they are short of their Facebook page but are always short of girls black leggings - all sizes but especially ages 9-10 10-11 11-12 and small ladies and black jumpers, cardigans and sweatshirts of all sizes from age 5 to 15. Thanks in advance.
My week started with a 9am briefing this morning from senior council and fire service officials. Since the tragedy happened at Grenfell House in West London they have been looking at fire safety in Edinburgh's high rise blocks. Everyone is anxious to make sure that such a horrific tragedy cannot happen again.
There are 45 multi-storey blocks of flats in Edinburgh - housing about 4000 tenants. Of these, 16 are relatively modern and have not been refurbished. The remaining 29 have had works done including external cladding. Every single one of them was inspected last week and we were told that in no case were materials used which were the same as those in Grenfell. All the cladding and insulation panels are mineral based and non-combustible.
I think we are all still processing the appalling news of the horrific fire at Grenfell House in London and the terrible loss of life – the extent of which is still becoming clear. My thoughts are with everyone affected and their families. The public inquiry into what has gone wrong promised by the UK Government must be thorough and wide-ranging.
Upon hearing the news, I immediately contacted the City of Edinburgh Council to seek assurances about the fire safety of residents of multi-storey tower blocks in Edinburgh East and across the city more generally. The Council has responded with the following statement:
Earlier in the month I held a public meeting on the future of Scotland post Brexit with panellists Simon Pia and Nicola McEwan. Thanks to them for joining me and to all those who came along - there was a great turn out and some very useful discussions. Interestingly, a significant proportion who had voted No in the last Indy ref would now vote Yes or were at least open-minded.
Last weekend I attended and spoke at the pro EU march to mark 60 years of the European Movement. On the same day I joined the Anti-Fascist demo to counter the White Pride gathering – their gathering actually turned out to be around 20 folk and a dug but the strong opposition showed that our city will not tolerate these extreme right wing views.
The Scottish Government is in the process of consulting the public on unconventional oil and gas. I would encourage everyone to take part. If you have any concerns about fracking in Scotland then now is the time to voice them.
Long before I stood for election I was opposed to fracking so I thought it might be useful to share my answers to the consultation questions. These are my views – no doubt you will have your own. Even if you don’t agree with me I would encourage you to make your views heard.
I met with RBS at Portobello High Street to raise my concerns about the impact the closure of the branch would have on the local community. The bank have made a commitment to continue to invest in the local community with charitable fundraising for local projects – if you have any ideas let me know and I will pass them on.
They are also running sessions to equip those who want to switch to digital banking with the skills they will need. But I recognise that many will still need to access a branch. If you want to switch to a bank that will continue to have a presence on the high street you can do so easily - find out more here.
I am a longstanding advocate of the Palestinian people and am vice convenor of the All Party Group on Palestine. I am very proud to have written the motion and worked with colleagues across the political parties to succeed in having the motion discussed in the main chamber.
It is clear that if there is to be a viable two-state solution then the occupation has to end and the settlers will either need to be relocated or become citizens of a new Palestine. It’ll be one of the most difficult and complicated negotiations in international conflict resolution. But unless a halt is called to the settlement building programme and both sides commit to starting peace talks the situation will only get worse.
Planning is always a hot topic of discussion. Baileyfield South is a brownfield site and, given the number of houses required to meet the need in Edinburgh, it's right that it should be used for residential development. But the application seeks to squeeze too many houses into the available space, which would be bad for both the existing neighbours and the future residents. Developers know that people want to live in a vibrant, lively community like Portobello but unchecked development pressure could harm Portobello’s character. I've put in my objections - the developer should withdraw it, rethink it and resubmit it.
If you’re not already aware, a process of revaluation of business rates has been undertaken. I have been liaising with a range of business owners, particularly in Portobello, who are seeing rates increasing beyond all reason (nearing 500% in one case). I will be fighting their corner in the weeks ahead – there is no way these increases can be justified and we cannot see some of our most popular pubs, restaurants and cafes go under because of this.If you are a business owner and haven’t already checked your proposed rates change – please do so at https://www.saa.gov.uk/ and do let me know if you have any issues.
In the run up to Christmas, I put out an appeal for presents for those who wouldn't otherwise receive a gift. The generosity of constituents was overwhelming and I was delighted to be able to hand over bag after bag of gifts for all ages to the Trussell Trust Foodbank in Craigmillar. Thanks to everyone who donated.
We handed in our petition to the TSB branch on Niddrie Mains Road a week before it was due to close. Sadly, despite vocal protests from local residents and our petition having nearly 1000 signatures, it did close. The situation has been made worse by the Post Office closing a couple of weeks earlier. There will undoubtedly be an impact on residents who find it difficult, for a variety of reasons, to travel that bit further. This week I wrote to the bosses at TSB and at the Post Office. I asked the bank to provide some pop-up banking services and I asked the Post Office to hurry up and find a new postmaster. We will keep asking until services to the area are improved.
I’ve been working hard with the community to try and keep the TSB on Niddrie Mains Road open. The petition is going strong, if you haven’t signed it already pop in to my office, the Neighbourhood Alliance, the library or one of the many shops on Niddrie Mains road with petition sheets in them. We plan to present it to TSB on 4th November at 4pm – please come along and be part of the campaign to save our bank.
You may be aware of the decision to allow a large hotel to be built in the Old Town - at the site covering the beautiful A-listed India Buildings and the B-listed Cowgatehead. Alongside my piece in the Evening News, I’ve written twice to the Council’s Planning Convenor, and to the Local Government Minister to highlight concerns about the decision. The effects on the neighbouring Central Library, the finest Carnegie-endowed library in the nation, could be huge, especially the loss of natural light to the principal lending room. I fully understand the Council’s desire to sell some assets so it can look after others properly but we need to reflect on how we, as a city, go about this and make sure that we don’t sell off our heritage to the highest bidder.
This year marks 20 years of the Ripple Project. It was great to be able to pop in and join them in their celebrations. If you're not already aware of it, the Ripple Project is a community organisation and charity that works to improve the quality of life for residents of all ages in Restalrig, Lochend and Craigentinny. Their hub offers all sorts of activities from toddler groups and youth clubs to gentle exercise classes and a knitting network. Find out more on their website.
Have you walked down the street in your community, seen something you would like to change, and wondered how easy it would be to make that happen? Maybe it’s a neglected bit of land that could become a community garden. Maybe it’s a new development that you feel needs input from local people who will be affected. Maybe it’s improvements to cycle provision, or somewhere crying out for benches or a wall that needs painted.
Democracy functions on many levels, and in some ways the closer you are to the coal face the more you can be part of making actual, tangible changes happen. On Monday nominations opened for Community Councils across Edinburgh and I hope that many of you will consider putting yourselves forward for them.
A few months ago TSB called to say that they were closing the Craigmillar branch on Niddrie Mains Road. This concerned me a lot. There are branch closures happening all over the country, but in this case it is the only bank in the area. And this is an area that has had its fair share of difficult times over recent years.
Craigmillar has many elderly people and disabled residents. Having to get a bus and walk further will be a real barrier to them being able to access banking services. And as there are no other banks they can't take their custom elsewhere. But this is also an area which is regenerating itself and has a bright future - not to mention the thousands of new people who will be moving in over the next few years.
I had a great time meeting the folks at Community Renewal Scotland. Sheila McWhirter, Sean Connor and Archie Lowe took me through all the work they are doing across East Edinburgh and the projects specifically focused on Magdalene and Bingham.
They have a holistic approach which involves employability services for all but also a focus on supporting young people into employment and other positive outcomes such as training, education or volunteering. They have a Health Case Manager who offers individually tailored support from counselling to referrals. They also work with communities, listening to what they want and then helping people connect and become active and find ways to achieve change. This is what they have been doing in Magdalene and Bingham and they are now looking at how to build on the response from the community.
Four weeks ago I was worried about writing this column on the eve of the last major parliamentary debate on Brexit. Anything could have happened, rendering my speculation obsolete by the time you read it. I shouldn’t have fretted. Anything could have happened but nothing did.
Here I am again. Groundhog day. It’s Tuesday. There’s a big debate tomorrow.
Tuesday. Another day spent discussing Brexit. Another day of my life I’m not getting back.
We are no further forward. As the clock ticks down to exit it’s only fair to ask: What the hell is Theresa May playing at?
Open Letter to Jeremy Corbyn MP
Leader of the Labour Party