Make Renting Right

Sarah Boyack supporting our MRR againToday, in an article for the Evening News, I called for action to be taken against the rip-off rent rises that we are currently seeing throughout Edinburgh.

This year, we have witnessed a massive rise in the price of private-sector rents – with an average increase of 8.8% on last year’s prices. We have also seen house prices rise faster than in any other city across the UK.

These trends indicate that more people will be effectively shut out of the property market and forced to rent in an increasing expensive private sector. As prices continue to rise, we will see people, who are already priced out of the housing market, also being priced out of the rental market.

Not only will this be bad for Edinburgh’s economy, but it will have a severe impact on the individuals that are subject to these rises – many of whom are already struggling to make ends meet. Recent research by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) suggests that the number of private rented households living in poverty has doubled in the last decade to 120,000.

What’s more, according to the JRF: “private rents are forecast to rise by around 90 per cent in real terms between 2008 and 2040 – more than twice as fast as incomes. This would push up to 50 per cent of private renters into poverty by 2040”. If this trend continues we will see tens of thousands of people being pushed into poverty.

Yet, new figures show landlords are making more whilst more tenants struggle.

This appears to be intuitively unfair and risks deepening the inequality in our society. It is clear that we need to take action to reform the private rental sector to make it to work for everyone, rather than simply acting as a cash cow for landlords.

To do this we must create new laws to tackle the rising private-sector rents, but we also need to see a significant increase in the availability of affordable social housing in the city.

Scotland’s social housing stock has fallen by 17% in the last decade, which has caused the proportion of households in the private rented sector to double – from 8% per cent to 14%.Furthermore, a recent study conducted by Generation Rent found that “if current trends continue, renters will start to outnumber home owners in 104 UK Parliamentary seats across the UK by 2021”.

The SNP Government cannot continue to turn a blind eye to rent reform. The 54,000 private renters in Edinburgh deserve better than that.

I have been a strong supporter of campaigns such as Shelter Scotland’s Make Renting Right campaign, and I would encourage anyone interested in this to also sign up. Together we can make the Scottish Government pay attention to the need for affordable housing.

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Green Flag Awards 2015

Green Flag Award Logo Colour JPEGThis week, a record 65 Scottish parks were awarded Green Flag status.

The Green Flag Awards, administered by Keep Scotland Beautiful, are a national standard of excellence given to parks that have achieved an exceptional quality in the management and presentation of their outdoor spaces.

Impressively, 28 of these award-winning parks can be found in Edinburgh – a testament to the quality of our cities green spaces and to the dedication of those involved in maintaining and improving these sites.

Congratulations to all the award winners on receiving their Green Flag. Keep up the good work!

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Autism Parents/Carers Consultation

Header (1)As part of my work as Vice Chair of Labour’s Scottish Policy Forum, I want to draw your attention to an autism consultation that I am trying to get up and running in the Lothians.

The care and support available to autistic children should be symbolic of the aspirations and compassion we have for all children in our society. Unfortunately, the current resources and care options available to autistic children, their parents, and their carers often falls far short of what is required to adequately meet their needs.

I was made aware of the seriousness of this issue when Councillor Ricky Henderson, Labour’s Care and Support Spokesperson in Edinburgh, passed on the experiences of one of his constituents to enable us to discuss his experience of having two children with autism.  He told us about how, despite his best efforts, he was forced to leave his job and become a full-time carer; about the shortfall in care assistance within the community; about the stresses on the current mental health system; and the failure of the Scottish Government to pay attention.

His story moved us, and knowing that other parents in the community were experiencing the same difficulties, we decided to draw up a consultation form to pass round organisations who dealt with those impacted by autism – in the hope that the data collected could be used to inform our policy making through our Scottish Policy Forum.

Last month, Ricky and I met families at the Gorgie City Farm to discuss their experiences. The parents and grandparents we met appreciated being able to talk about the reality of their day-to-day experiences. The responses collected so far give a real insight into the deficits in our health, care, and education services and where we might improve.

If you have been impacted by these issues, or know of anyone who has, please feel free to complete the Autism parents and carers consultation questionnaire and send it back to me.

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Pride and Politics

LGBTI PrideIt was great last month to join parliamentarians from across the spectrum in celebrating 20 years of Pride.  The first Pride Scotland event was in Edinburgh in 1995 and I believe we’ve made huge steps forward over the years.   I’m particularly proud of work of the Labour Party in supporting action on equality.  Labour’s LGBT group deserve our thanks for their campaigning over the years.

One of the highlights of the year for me was seeing Pride released in cinemas and being a massive success.  It was a fantastic reminder of the solidarity of the Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners group which was instrumental in building support in Trade Unions and the Labour Party for Equality, including banning discrimination in the workplace, and in goods and services.

As a member of Donald Dewar’s Cabinet I was proud of our early action to scrap the homophobic Section 2A.  The Scottish Parliament has gone on to introduce civil partnerships and now equal marriage.  We’ve also supported law on hate crimes to make sure LGBTI people receive the full protection of the law.  I’m particularly proud that we were identified as the best country in EU for LGBTI for legal equality this year.

Last month we had Ireland’s vote for equality – with its Gay Marriage Referendum – followed by the US last week when the Supreme Court ruled that the US Constitution guarantees the right for same-sex couples to marry in all 50 US states.

But there is still more to do.   The Scottish elections next year will be a chance for equalities campaigners to make representations about the issues they want to see in our Manifestos.   There’s the Equality Network’s Equal Recognition Campaign focus on trans and intersex equality and the fact that young people still experience homophobic bullying in schools.

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Full Time Press and Policy Officer to work in the office of Sarah Boyack MSP

Job role

– Conducting research in relation to the day to day business of the Parliament as well as long term campaigning and engagement objectives set by the MSP

– Drafting Parliamentary motions and questions

– Drafting press and social media releases and responses to campaign emails and general correspondence


Applicants must:

– Have a good grasp of political structures in Scotland

– Have excellent communication skills, both written and verbal

– Be able to demonstrate analytical thinking

– Be a good team worker


Salary £20-22,000 a year depending on skills and experience.

To apply please send a CV and one page cover letter to by 5pm on Friday 17th July.

Interviews will take place during the week beginning Monday 27th July.

More information can be found here

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Campaigning for Decent Access to Waverley Station

Last month I had the chance to raise the concerns of constituents to demand better access to Waverley Station at the Infrastructure and Capital Investment Committee.  I had previously submitted comments to the Committee.

I was able to raise the specific issues constituents have brought to me regarding the problems of access at Waverley Station.  It’s frustrating that while a huge amount of investment has gone into improving capacity at the station, people still face very basic access barriers.

Passengers need to get access to stations; get in and out of them easily, and get on and off trains easily.  However, I’ve heard the experiences of one constituent with mobility problems who was left in the cold for 20 minutes at the Calton Road entrance, waiting for someone to help her into the station, even though she had alerted the station in advance.  Other constituents have reported problems negotiating their way round the station due to a lack of effective signage.

I recently met with senior staff in Waverley Station along with two of my constituents, one of whom has a physical disability and uses a wheelchair and the other who is blind.  It was great to be able to demonstrate to the staff just what the barriers were, with my constituents able to explain why the station wasn’t working for them.

It was useful to be able to feed their experiences directly to the new head of the Scotrail/Abellio Franchise at the Infrastructure Committee inquiry and good to hear that he also expected to address the issue of improving cycle access to the station.

In addition I was able to raise the problems on the ramps in and out of the station.  There is currently a real issue with cyclists having to share a very small space with pedestrians.  I know from personal experience what little space there is for people struggling with luggage, bikes or children.

The interest in improving cycle access to the station was demonstrated when 120 people turned out to a recent SPOKES meeting I chaired.  They were interested not just in improving access to stations but improving integration generally.  The new Borders railway was seen as an important opportunity given the range of cycle routes that will be accessible.  You can see the exciting new plans for the Scotrail network here.

Later this month I will be following up on the campaign with another meeting at Waverley, this time to talk specifically about changes that can be made to improve bike accessibility.

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Wild Animals in Travelling Circuses

The Scottish Government has published the findings of a public consultation on the use of wild animals in travelling circuses. The results clearly indicate that the Scottish public are strongly in favour of an outright ban – with 98% of respondents demanding an end to the practice.

I welcome these findings and strongly believe that a travelling circus is no place for a wild animal.

A vast body of evidence shows that travelling circuses do not offer a suitable living environment for wild animals. Too often the lives of these animals are blighted by unacceptable deprivation, confinement, and abuse.

The British Veterinary Association, while formally backing a ban, has stated: “the welfare of these animals is emblematic of the way we treat all animals under the care of humans. The welfare needs of non-domesticated, wild animals cannot be met within a travelling circus – in terms of housing or being able to express normal behaviour.”

The Labour Party firmly believes that animals should not be subjected to the unacceptable conditions of circus life. We have been a strong advocate for introducing a ban (we made it a manifesto promise at the General Election), and we will continue to campaign hard to bring an end to this cruel practice.

With a clear mandate from the Scottish people, support from professional organisations, and a strong evidence-base, it is time for the Scottish Government to take decisive action to ban the use of wild animals in travelling circuses.

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Community Empowerment Bill Passed

SAGSI have been involved with the Community Empowerment (Scotland) Bill through my work as a member of the Rural Affairs and Climate Change Committee. The bill was passed by the Scottish Parliament last Wednesday.  It will provide a stronger legislative framework that will empower community organisations through the ownership of land and buildings, improve the process of community planning, and enable communities to have increased access to, and have a stronger influence over, the decisions that really matter to them.   I was particularly pleased that the representations made by the Scottish Allotments and Gardens Society were acted on and that the problems created by the SNP Government’s first draft were sorted out when we amended the bill.

Scottish Labour strongly supports the principle that communities should be given more opportunities to work together to improve people’s lives. The bill is a huge opportunity to ensure that we tackle inequalities and that we look after our land and buildings. Scottish Labour therefore strongly supports the ambitions behind the bill. We see it as dealing with unfinished business from the Land Reform Act that we passed in 2003.  For me the extension to urban Scotland is very important and will create new opportunities for communities in our towns and cities.

Yet, the bill itself leaves new unfinished business.  Important issues were raised by the Land Reform Review Group, including those around compulsory purchase orders and compulsory sale orders, which will now be considered by the Scottish Law Commission.  More work will need to be done.  Crucially, we need to build capacity and support in our communities to ensure that we deliver the social justice and regeneration of communities that are at the heart of the bill.

I hope that a more constructive and positive set of relationships between landowners and communities will flow from the legislation.  Its very existence will be good across the country, and it will raise people’s aspirations. The bill is about empowerment and opening up new opportunities for our communities, particularly those that are disadvantaged. It will create new opportunities, and as MSPs we need to ensure that our local communities will benefit from the changes.

If you would like to read my full speech, please visit this link

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Tackling Our Long-Term Health Challenges

Sarah Boyack 345Earlier this month, the Scottish Parliament discussed a Labour motion that addressed the ability of NHS Scotland to deal with the increasing levels of demand placed on its key services. The debate was in response to the call from the RCN and the royal colleges for a genuine debate about the way forward for the NHS. In my speech I took the opportunity to raise my worries over the capacity of NHS Lothian to respond effectively to the numerous challenges ahead:

The region covered by NHS Lothian “has people who are experiencing ill health as a result of deprivation; it has people with multiple and long-term health conditions; it has a population that is growing month on month, with no sign of that changing; and its population is changing, with more older people living longer, who will have many more contacts with our NHS, whether with GPs, our care system or our hospitals”

NHS Lothian is now dealing with more patients than ever before, and, on average, those patients are becoming increasingly harder to treat – due to the prevalence of age-related illness and levels of deprivation.

I took the opportunity to stress the need to invest in Lothian’s GP practices, which have become increasingly understaffed and underfunded, in the hope that this may help alleviate some of the strain.   As the first point of contact for the vast majority of us, I believe GP practices must play a larger role in the future of our NHS, but to do this increased resources will need to be provided by the Scottish Government.   I raised this issue directly with the Cabinet Secretary for Health in relation to the £50m GP fund she has available.

If you would like to read my full speech, please click here.

I strongly believe a wider, more preventative approach to health is urgently needed with a focus on poverty reduction, investment in active travel, action on obesity and support for carers. We also need to make the case that investment in our environment has positive health benefits, whether it’s allotments and green spaces or improving air quality. Yesterday, the Lancet published a paper arguing that climate change will set back global health advances by 50 years.

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Student flats consented for Homebase site

Homebase Map

The Scottish Government’s planning reporter has granted permission to UNITE Group PLC for the development of student accommodation at the Homebase site on St Leonard’s Street, Edinburgh.

The appeal follows a decision by the City of Edinburgh Council to refuse the application earlier this year.

Assessing the application, the reporter judged that as the site was ‘adjacent’ to the university campus and that, although it would increase the proportion of students in the local population, it would not lead to a loss of family housing. You can read the full decision here.

The decision is the latest demonstration of the shortcomings of the Council’s existing policy on student accommodation, based on the appropriateness of the location and ambition to limit excessive concentration of student housing in local communities.  I recently contributed to a council consultation on the issue which details my concerns around the issue.

In an attempt to support retention of the current Homebase store on the site following a meeting with local residents I wrote to the company.  In response, Homebase stated that while they were keen to remain at the site, the landlord had made clear its intention to develop the site.  As a result, there was no prospect of the store’s lease being extended beyond the end of July.

This is a disappointing outcome and I will be continuing to lobby the Council to improve planning guidance.  We need to strike the right balance between supporting the growth of our universities while preserving cohesive and sustainable communities.

We particularly need new housing developments to address the city’s affordable housing crisis.  I will be meeting with the new President of Edinburgh University Students Association as I also have concerns about the affordability of new purpose built student housing and would be interested in seeing more cooperative housing options being pursued.

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