Old Royal High: My Submission

Edinburgh’s Old Royal High School is a national treasure.  Featuring Greek Revival architecture and a key part of Edinburgh’s skyline it’s rightly listed as being of national importance.  To date over 1,000 Lothian residents have objected plans to develop it into a luxury hotel on the basis that it would irrevocably damage Edinburgh’s renowned Outstanding Universal Value and World Heritage Status.  Flanked by two enormous copper and glass ‘accommodation wings’ the proposed luxury hotel development would impose on the current building and fundamentally damage the setting of St Andrews House and Calton Hill.

In my objection I’ve focused on the impact the proposal would have on the immediate setting and Edinburgh’s world renowned heritage status – a key reason our city is a hit with tourists and a gateway to Scotland for many.

National policy on Listed Buildings only allows significant changes to such buildings as is proposed in exceptional circumstances when all other options have been exhausted.  I’m not convinced that the business case put forward by the developers justifies the damage that would be caused to one of Edinburgh’s most important views, one of our most iconic buildings and the city’s reputation.

I’ve also pointed out that a proposal from St Mary’s Music School, to renovate and retain the building in its current form, shows that there are groups keen to retain the building to preserve the building in a manner consistent with its previous use. That would serve our built and cultural success, ensuring we can support the city’s musical heritage for future generations.  Significantly this proposal is funded and is a genuine proposal that I believe needs to be considered by the Council.  It would be a great way to ensure the reuse of this much loved building.

My objection has now been submitted to the City of Edinburgh Council and I’m pleased to hear that deadlines have been extended after the volume of site traffic pushed the ‘planning portal’ offline.  If you want to make comment or look at the proposals head to the Council’s Planning Portal and use reference number 15/03989/FUL.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Learning from Edinburgh’s Response to Legal Highs

Earlier this week, Parliament debated the Progress the Scottish Government is making in implementing the recommendations of the Expert Review Group in New Psychoactive Substances (Or NPSs).  My contribution to the debate did not focus on the prohibition or liberalisation of substance, but instead called on the Scottish Government to ensure that it provides mechanisms which enables local councils, health boards and police to respond in a coordinated, local fashion, supported by responsive national agencies and legislation.

The intravenous use of one substance, ethylphenidate has been the focus of difficulties in Edinburgh.  Considered to be cheap, purer and of better quality than street drugs it is frequently used in combination with street drugs but its short-lived high caused needle use to grow month on month and users exhibited erratic and sometimes antisocial behaviour. Residents in the Southside, Tollcross and the city centre were distressed to come across people with a frequent need to reinject using their stairs and leaving behind drug-related items.

But since a ban came was introduced in March there has been a marked change in Edinburgh. Infection and injecting are down and support services in Edinburgh are pioneering ways to respond by reducing usage, managing cravings and preventing relapse.  We still need more mental health and emotional support alongside capacity building to ensure that services are co-ordinated with the NHS, police and the council.

It is key the national framework must not downplay the importance of local progress and or deprioritise work that is done by local agencies. Caledonia Youth and Crew 2000 had a good track record of passing on samples of legal highs to police forensic services but, that relationship and the local integration have been lost through Police Scotland centralisation.

Edinburgh’s experience with intravenous drug use in the 1980s was absolutely harrowing and affected a generation. The AIDS (Control) Act 1987, pioneered by Gavin Strang MP, enabled local authorities to track the infection, provide details of infection rates and provide information on the treatment provided. That helped us to control the disease. Since those dark days of the 1980s, Edinburgh has worked hard to support those who misuse substances and to prevent harm to individuals and the wider community.

In Wales, the WEDINOS project has shown that the NHS and justice systems can integrate well to cascade harm reduction guidance to local support services. That service is relied on by local teams but provided nationally.

The local co-ordination of treatment, rehabilitation and public education is key to minimising harm reduction. We need to ensure through national action that resource and discretion are responsive to local demands, and we need to foster co-ordination in communities across Scotland.  Read the full transcript of my speech in the Scottish Parliament Official Report.

Posted in Health, NHS Lothian | Leave a comment

Twenty More Store Launch

On Friday I visited the Twenty More Store in Dumbiedykes, a store ran by a terrific charity called Comas, an organisation that helps a wide spectrum of different households many of whom are struggling with the same thing: poverty.  Many people living in Dumbiedykes face hardships; including the impact of anti-social behaviour and drugs and alcohol misuse.  Although the estate is very close to the city centre it feels isolated to many who live there – hence my longstanding support and campaigning for a decent, regular bus service.

However, Dumbiedykes has a terrific community spirit and lots of residents happy to volunteer to help. Just along from the Braidwood Centre, the new shop has already become a focal point for the community. Comas recognise this, and helped to open a shop selling essentials dedicated to saving £20 per household. This is possible because each product is sold at its cost price; no loss and no profit is made.  It is crystal clear that Comas wants nothing as much as than to see the improvement of Dumbiedykes community, in every shape and form. For more information on the store, visit http://thirdforcenews.org.uk/features/a-helping-hand-to-tackle-poverty.

And for more info on Comas head to http://www.comas.org.uk/twenty-more.php  the charity also runs the Serenity Café which is well worth a visit at 8 Jackson’s Entry, off the Canongate.IMG_20150925_162803 IMG_20150925_165504

Posted in Community Facilities | Leave a comment

Private Hospitals Don’t Resolve Waiting Times

NHS Lothian’s use of private hospitals to tackle waiting times is back in the news again. The last time the health board used this strategy to clear a backlog of waiting time was just a few years ago in 2011. Tackling waiting lists is much-needed, but using private hospitals is so short-sighted. This is simply not the right thing to do. The cost of sending patients to private hospitals can only store up financial problems for years ahead and could contribute to further waiting time pressures in the future.

NHS Lothian needs a budget which matches the demographic change taking place in the Lothians. We’ve got an ageing and growing population, which greater needs, as well as growth from more young people but the budget is not keeping up with the demand. The Scottish Government needs to act so that we can keep NHS Lothian fit for the future. That means investing in GP training as well as practises being sufficiently resourced, to stop bed blocking we need to have enough care home spaces with the right expertise to care for our growing elderly population and ultimately hospitals need to be given the ability to fix this long running waiting time issue.

See the full article on the Evening News website

Posted in Health, NHS Lothian, SNP Government | Comments Off on Private Hospitals Don’t Resolve Waiting Times

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.

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Make Renting Right

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!

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Green Flag Awards 2015

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.

Posted in Carers, Disability, Health, Labour Party, Uncategorized | Comments Off on Autism Parents/Carers Consultation

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.

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Pride and Politics

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 Sarah.Boyack.msp@scottish.parliament.uk by 5pm on Friday 17th July.

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

More information can be found here

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Full Time Press and Policy Officer to work in the office of Sarah Boyack MSP

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.

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Campaigning for Decent Access to Waverley Station