Author Archives: Sarah

Food, Farming and our Environment.

sarah marketIt’s been a real pleasure to take part in hustings over the last few weeks with local community groups, residents and campaigners representing rural, farming, animal welfare, climate and environmental interests.

We need to tackle the underlying causes of food poverty, we need to repair the disconnect between food, our environment and farming, and we need fairness for producers and consumers.

The fact that more and more people are forced to rely on foodbanks is a scandal.  We need to address the high costs and low incomes that see people trapped in poverty.  We need to tackle the lack of availability of affordable nutritious food in low income communities, the high rents, cost of heating and low incomes that too many people experience.  While I’m a long time campaigner for the Living Wage I’ve been talking to more and more people in social care, retail and in the charity sector who’ve got a pay rise but their employer has cut their wages.  The recommendations in Naomi Eisenstadt’s report would take us some way to tackling the wider roots of poverty. Continue reading

Scottish Labour’s Commitment to Active Travel and Investment in Public Transport

popLast Saturday I joined thousands of cyclists from all across Edinburgh for the annual Pedal to Parliament. It was great to be able to speak at the event and to lay out some of my views on what we can do to promote active travel.

As well as providing good quality, affordable public transport I want to see more investment in active travel, not just to improve people’s transport choices, but to improve people’s health and wellbeing, to make our communities safer and to reduce air pollution.

Our core manifesto commitment is “As well as providing good quality, affordable public transport we also want to see more investment in active travel, not just to improve people’s transport choices, but to improve people’s health and wellbeing, and make our communities safer.  Extra investment in the city of Edinburgh is driving up active travel and we want to see more investment across the country

You can read our manifesto here

We have an excellent record on active travel both in terms of the work I started as Transport Minister to establish dedicated funds for walking and cycling and through investment in public transport, which integrated cycling investment.  In the last Parliament, we worked with the Cross-Party Group on Cycling and supported for increased investment in cycling. We also called for Low Emission Zones and we are continuing to pursue this to deliver better air quality.

IPPR Scotland, an independent think tank, has calculated that, if elected, we will be raising up to £1.2bn extra per year. This will be crucial as it will allow us to stop the cuts, including those being made to local councils, where vital active travel investment is made. Contrast that to the SNP’s revenue raising plans – they will have to make up to £3bn of cuts – and without additional revenue being raised – questions have to be asked about where those cuts will fall.

Our travel and climate change manifesto policies are – to make sure our budgets, legislation and regulations are tested against the Climate Change Act; to aspire to 50% of our energy to come from renewables; to work towards a more integrated transport system, run for the benefit of passengers/users not transport bosses.  We have a clear agenda to support green transport.

We will use Edinburgh – with its 10% target of transport investment in cycling – as our exemplar for delivering on active travel in government.  Edinburgh has built up to 9% of its transport budget on active travel and cycling and will shortly be at 10%.   It’s also developing more 20mph areas.  But we want year on year improvements, so our commitment is clear and it’s why we want to see extra investment not more Tory austerity cuts passed on to local councils by the SNP.

We support the ambition in the Cycling Action Plan for Scotland to see 10% of journeys being made by bike by 2020.  We’d want to maximise investment from central and local government and ensure a more joined up approach between local authorities to ensure we get progress on improving safety, dedicated routes for commuting and leisure.

Scottish Labour Working with African and Caribbean Communities

Scottish Labour for African & Caribbean CommunitiesWe held our Big Idea event – Scottish Labour for the African and Caribbean community at the weekend.  The plan was to open out the discussions we have had about tackling racism and inequality within the Labour and Trade Union movement and to identify the areas where people wanted to work with us to deliver change.

Our common bond was the fight for equality.  Those attending were interested in our plans to tackle austerity and invest more in education and training.  Everyone felt that was the right priority and wanted to see more investment in health services as well.

We will write up our report from the event but the main issues were: the lack of equality in employment opportunities, both to get into work in the first place and then the complete lack of promotion.  A common theme was lack of opportunity and many examples of well qualified Africans unable to get employment in their area of expertise.  People with PhDs doing security work, trained nurses not being able to get nursing posts working as carers were examples given.

Many people are working in Scotland and sending money back to families as well so the cost of housing and low wages were seen as big problems.

This was an issue raised the night before at the Next Steps celebrations in Glasgow which I attended.  The common theme was that well qualified Africans who have made Scotland their home face real difficulties in getting access to business opportunities or work where their qualifications are recognised and rewarded.  My view is that we urgently need to address this issue not just in terms of equality and social justice but to grow our economy and create new opportunities.

The lack of support for African based projects in Scotland was raised several times with the example of the Africa Centre in Edinburgh having to be closed through lack of financial support being cited.

Education and opportunities for young people was also a strong concern.  A particular concern was that children of African parents are more likely to be accused of anti-social behaviour making their parents more protective and not letting them play outside.

We had a good mix of people attending particularly from the African diaspora.  There was an impressive range of knowledge and experience gathered together from Edinburgh, Midlothian, the Borders and Stirling.  We’ll submit a report to Scottish Labour to highlight the campaigns we want the party to run and the changes we want to see in government.  Our event was supported by Unite, CWU and the Scottish Trade Unions for Labour because they are also keen to see the day-to-day experiences of our African and Caribbean communities fed in to the political process to deliver better jobs and opportunities.

Everyone agreed we’ll meet up after the election.  We plan to do more work to encourage people not just to support us but to get involved as well.  We plan to draw on the experience of Agnes Holmes, who’s been selected for the list of potential candidates for our council elections next year and Otis Orteseh who is on Scottish Labour’s list for the Lothians in the Scottish elections next week.


Otis summed up what he saw as the opportunities of our communities working together.  “Scottish Labour is changing to meet the challenges of these difficult times.  I have supported the Labour Party for over 40 years because I believe in what the Party stands for; inclusive society for all, workers, communities and families. Our African and Caribbean communities need the Scottish Labour Party’s core values of equality, fairness, justice and solidarity now more than ever in these times of austerity. Every Labour MSP elected on Thursday 5th May will give voice to that ambition.  That’s why people need to support their local constituency candidate and to vote Labour on the List ballot as well”.


Time for Action on Climate Change

Climate March 20151128 3To mark Climate Day Kezia Dugdale, Scottish Labour Leader has said it’s time to deliver on Scotland’s world leading ambitions on climate change.

Our plan for a greener Scotland, includes:
·   A ban on fracking
·   Cancelling the SNP’s plan to cut air passenger duty which will lead to an annual increase in greenhouse gas emissions of 50,000 tonnes.
·    A ground-breaking Warm Homes Act to update regulations to tackle fuel poverty by driving up energy and insulation standards.

Climate change is the great challenge for our generation and the next Scottish Government must take action to tackle it now.  Newspaper reports confirm that the SNP’s manifesto will commit to a new, tougher target for reducing carbon emissions.  However, the SNP Government has missed the annual targets set in the 2009 Climate Change Act in each of the last four years.

When we supported the Climate Act Labour was successful in winning support for our amendments to strengthen the legislation to deliver early action to reduce emissions. Unfortunately, the Scottish Government’s progress has been too slow in crucial areas, such as the requirement for public sector organisations to reduce their emissions, and action on housing, transport and agriculture emissions.

The biggest progress since the Scottish Parliament was established has been on the expansion of renewables, something I’m particularly proud of as I set our first radical targets when I was Environment and Transport Minister in Donald Dewar’s first Cabinet.  However although we’ve seen significant expansion of onshore wind, we’ve yet to see big progress in community owned heat and power schemes, widespread use of solar panels for our houses and buildings and the jobs and power projected to come from marine renewables.

We need a Scottish Government not just prepared to set headline grabbing targets, but to do the hard work in making big progress in reducing emissions right across society.

Time to Support our Pensioners

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It was great to see Scottish Labour Leader Kezia Dugdale set out our five pledges to support older people yesterday.

  • We’ll make sure that thousands of women born between April 1951 and 1953 do not lose out from the changes to the State Pension
  • We’ll protect the winter fuel payment and take action against fuel poverty
  • We’ll protect older people’s free bus passes and regulate buses to keep services reliable and regular
  • Labour will protect our NHS from cuts and guarantee an appointment at your GP surgery in 48 hours
  • Labour will stop the cuts to the community services older people rely on

The changes being made by the Tory Government will hit thousands of women across Scotland. Although they have paid into the system over the course of their life they’ve now found out that through no fault of their own they are going to be worse off because of these changes.

Labour has led the opposition to these cuts at Westminster and we’ll carry on fighting to make sure that these women are no worse off, but we cannot wait for the Tories to create a fairer outcome for these women, especially given that we have the power to act now.

That’s why we’ll use the new powers of the Scottish Parliament to top up the pensions of these women and make sure that none of them are worse off.  We’ll deliver real change, not warm words.

For me the choice of using the powers of the Scottish Parliament or carrying on with cuts to women’s pensions is crystal clear – Labour will use the powers.  I hope the SNP will join us and support our plan to help the thousands of women affected.

Our proposals to invest more in social care and the NHS are also crucial.  One of the biggest issues in my mail bag in the last couple of years has been from women who act as carers, for their children or their husbands and partners who have been left without the support they need.  That’s why I also strongly support Scottish Labour’s  plans to fix local government funding and invest in GPs.

Positive Help

IMG_20160407_105627Last week I visited Positive Help, a charity supporting people with HIV and Hep C and their families.  It was great to speak to staff and volunteers to discuss the range of support provided.

It was inspiring to hear about the work Positive Help provides – through transport to hospital, home support, buddying, and befriending.  Medical advances mean that medication can give people with HIV longer lives, but many experience long term health issues such as arthritis, dementia or sensory losses.  That makes work impossible for many and means people are stuck on benefits and can become increasingly isolated.  The Home Support team visit people and provide back up and help with household tasks such as cleaning or help with things that become too difficult such as shopping or gardening. 

4,000 lifts to hospital are provided every year by 6-7 volunteer drivers through the Supportive Transport Team.  This is a vital service since many people with HIV or Hep C are not able to travel easily by public transport.

The support for children from Study Buddies and the Children and Young People’s Befriending services was inspiring.

Although much of the prejudice that people used to suffer has gone there are still many families who wish to keep their condition private because of their fears about how their children might be affected.  The befrienders support children giving them the chance for social experiences such as visiting the cinema or museums that they would otherwise miss out on.  It was moving hearing about the nutritional problems some children experience which affects their capacity to get on at school and the success achieved helping children with homework was inspiring.

The project has 70 volunteers and is always looking for more people to get involved.

If you want to find out more about the project you can get in touch at

On one level the visit was a break from the campaign trail, but issues such as support for people with HIV and Hep C, educational attainment and the resources available to teachers to give extra help to vulnerable children have been the subject of national campaigning so it was great to see for myself the work being done locally to provide practical support.

Autism Consultation Update

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In 2011, the Scottish Government launched its Scottish Autism Strategy – an ambitious plan that aimed to “address the entire autism spectrum and the whole lifespan of people living with ASD in Scotland”. We are now five years into that plan and it is clear that our education and mental health infrastructure is still struggling to meet the needs of those with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) and the needs of those who care for them.

Last year, I conducted my own autism parents/carers consultation and the responses collected gave a real insight into the deficits in our health, care, and education services and where we might improve. It also gave an insight into the gap between the rights that parents expect from the legislation enacted by the Scottish Parliament and their experiences.

After the consultation, I presented a study of its findings to Scottish Labour’s Policy Forum. I also held a roundtable event to discuss my findings with Labour politicians, interested charities, and the families who were involved in the study. This open, discursive event led to a number of valuable insights into what needs to be done to improve services for those with ASD in the Lothians. This process highlighted the need for improvement in the following areas:

  • The need for a greater understanding of ASD by our care and support services. Specifically, specially trained staff to provide the necessary care for those with ASD.
  • The need to reduce waiting times for diagnosis and for better access to, and quality of, the information available on ASD support services – particular regarding the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS).
  • The need for greater recognition of the impact that the current deficit in support has on parents’ employment status and general well-being and for more to be done to help support these carers.

Since then I’ve met with PASDA, carers of people with autism, and have heard first-hand the challenges young people and adults face in their attempts to receive appropriate care and support. I’ve also met with local constituents campaigning for a new school to support children with autism who have a high level of learning difficulties and a high level of communication and behavioural needs.  Last week, I attended the National Autistic Society’s round-table event where we swapped ideas over how we can improve autism services in Scotland.

It’s clear to me that there is a real desire to improve our ASD services. However, it is also clear that the Scottish Government must do far more to help improve the lives of those with ASD and for those who care for them before the Scottish Autism Strategy can be considered a success.

Our local authorities are key to improving education, social care, and employment support for people with autism.  But after 9 years of the council tax freeze there is huge pressure on local services.  That’s why I’m supporting Scottish Labour’s plans to invest in education services and see this as key to give young people with autism at school the proper support they need without lengthy and damaging delays.

This week is Schools’ Autism Awareness Week and I hope it will raise awareness of how far we need to go to change our education system in order for it to give all young people with autism access to better educational opportunities.

For my part, I will continue campaigning on this issue and hope that real progress can be made in the near future. I will now liaise with Scottish Labour’s health and education teams to discuss the issues raised during these events and how we might, as a party, proceed with commitments to improve the lives of people with autism and their families.

NHS Lothian is overstretched and under-resourced

Sarah Boyack 345Last Friday was the last NHS Lothian Parliamentarians briefing of this session.  As ever a major part of the meeting was dominated by discussions on the budget, the pressure of delayed discharges and the importance of GP services as everyone’s first point of contact with the NHS.

If anyone was in any doubt about the financial pressures facing NHS Lothian, they should take a look at the health board’s submission to the Scottish Parliament’s health committee in November. It was made in response to the committee’s call for evidence regarding its scrutiny of the Scottish Government’s health budget for 2016/17.

Not only does the board suggest that it is not receiving its fair share of funding from the Scottish Government when compared to other parts of the country, it also highlights a £60m funding gap for the next financial year (see page 5).

To add to this, in 2014 NHS Lothian published a document stating that it had to make £400m of efficiency savings within the next decade. You can read about this here. It would appear from the recent health board papers that NHS Lothian is having real difficulty in meeting its efficiency savings targets.

The significant financial pressures on the health board can be explained in large part by the systemic underfunding from the Scottish Government over the years and the fact that we have one of fastest growing populations in Scotland leading to a huge increase in demand on services.

The hugely negative impact of the financial pressure on our health services is there for all to see. Edinburgh Royal Infirmary is consistently failing to meet its A&E targets and in a response to my recent Freedom of Information request the health board revealed that in the last three years over 350,000 bed days have been lost to delayed discharge.

NHS Lothian has said that it would welcome a review of the funding it receives. The Scottish Government should listen to the health professionals. If it fails to do so it will simply store up even more problems for NHS Lothian in future years.  My recent surgeries have been dominated by lack of care services for older people, reductions in respite care, and the difficulties increasing numbers of Edinburgh residents experience in accessing GP services.

My colleague Richard Simpson MSP welcomed the additional £20m that the SNP Government announced last week but noted that “the SNP have cut £1.6 billion from primary care in the past decade, so in that context £20 million is little more than a sticking plaster.”  He put the current pressure on GP services in context by saying it was “the biggest crisis in family doctors for a generation”.  The fact that practices serving communities are overstretched and under resourced is clear to see in Edinburgh.



International Women’s Day 2016 – pledge for parity

Today is 20160308_131741_resized (2)International Women’s Day – a day to celebrate the amazing women we know, to celebrate how far we have come in championing women’s rights, but also to take stock of how far we still have to go.

The theme for this year’s IWD is “pledge for parity.” When the Scottish Parliament was first elected in 1999 it would have been unthinkable that all three major parties would be led by women. It’s symbolic and is certainly a major step forward in terms of political representation, but as Scottish Labour leader, Kezia Dugdale, has often said – it’s not enough to have a women in charge, you need to have a feminist in charge.  I’m proud that Scottish Labour will have an equal balance in our candidates for May’s elections, something none of the other parties can claim.  Parity in our political representation, as well as our policies, is vital in taking the next steps towards equality.

Key area where women are still consistently let down is pay. That new analysis has found that over their lifetime, women are likely to earn £300,000 less than their male counterparts is totally shocking.  Moreover new research has uncovered that 1 in 4 Scots have witnessed gender discrimination in the workplace.  Not only are men paid, on average, 24% more than women each year, but gross earnings for women only grew by 1.4% compared to men’s 1.6%. While we can celebrate the fact that more women have been appointed to boards of public bodies than ever before, the volume of women struggling to earn as much as their male counterparts, and the number struggling tIMG_20160308_124932 (2)o get back into the workforce after having children, means we aren’t tking full advantage of half of the population’s skills and knowledge.

As expensive childcare costs and timings are often what prevent many women working the job, the hours or for the pay they want, Scottish Labour has pledged to act.  We’d use the new welfare powers coming to Scotland to raise the Sure Start Maternity Grant, and to add 1p onto income tax to stop the Tory and SNP cuts to schools and childcare, as well as continuing to fight for women everywhere – for their rights, for equality and for better representation.

Consultation on future rail development

Traffic congestion as with many other cities in the UK is a big problem in Edinburgh. We are now at a stage where we can’t accommodate new road traffic coming into the city. Therefore we need more options for commuters.

Key to this will be improving our rail services. Network Rail is holding a consultation on the future needs of Scotland’s railways. It’s therefore important we get a wide range of views submitted which support investing in our rail infrastructure.

The consultation particularly needs to hear from the people who use rail lines, who can recognise the areas in need of improvement from their everyday use of the service. The consultation responses will influence funding decisions for the period of 2019-2029.

Here is a list of potential choices identified by the draft document:

  • Edinburgh Waverley platform extensions and approaches to the station
  • East Coast Main Line– including options for four-tracking the line between Wallyford Prestonpans
  • Enhancing capacity at Glasgow Central
  • Strengthening services on the Ayrshire and Inverclyde routes
  • Phased electrification to Aberdeen
  • Electrification of East Kilbride/Barrhead and Kilmarnock/Barassie lines
  • Remodelling Carstairs junction
  • Remodelling Perth Station
  • Route enhancements to Inverness / Aberdeen / Far North.

These options have been chosen as their development and enhancement would have a significant and long term impact on improving connectivity, capacity and resilience on the existing network.  We need to see priority given to a railway network which links in to other transport users – so park and ride for car users, better bus connections and safe access for pedestrians and cyclists need to be maximised – not added as an afterthought.  I recently met with Network Rail again with two of my disabled constituents to discuss improving access to Waverley Station for people with disabilities.  Waverley Station is a good example of a station where more needs to be done to make the station accessible to people’s needs.

I believe that the South Suburban Railway also needs to be on the agenda. In my view, the development of this line would be good for the citizens of Edinburgh and it’s economy. You can read my recent speech on the matter by clicking here.

And you can access Network Rail’s consultation document here.

The rail industry would welcome views you may have by 10th March 2016. Comments can be emailed to:    Please make clear if you would like to withhold all or part of your response and/or name from publication on the Network Rail website.