Update newsletter from Sarah Boyack MSP

See below an update newsletter from Sarah Boyack – Sarah is a Labour MSP for Lothian. Constituents living in this region can contact Sarah at sarah.boyack.msp@parliament.scot or on 0131 348 6994.

Please note that all views expressed in this newsletter are the views of Scottish Labour and Sarah Boyack – Merchiston Community Council is not a party affiliated organisation. This is for resident information purposes only and MCC should not be held accountable for the views expressed in this bulletin. Thank you – MCC Communications and Media Coordinator (merchistonmedia@gmail.com). 

The Covid-19 pandemic has brought seismic changes in every aspect of our lives and it has dominated our work in the Scottish Parliament. Sadly, we must also take time to remember those who have tragically lost their lives and acknowledge the heartbreak their loved ones are currently facing. Since day one we’ve been raising the need to test trace and isolate, and to speak up for those shouldering the weight of the pandemic. To stand up for all the key workers supporting our communities through their vital work in the NHS, social care, council services, shops, schools, postal workers and transport staff. Their contributions must not be forgotten as they have continued working while access to PPE and the rules on safety have been slow in coming. I will continue to work with the unions to ensure that, coming out of this, we achieve a new deal for key workers, fair pay, safe working conditions and secure contracts. As the furlough scheme ends many more jobs will be vulnerable and already we are seeing job losses. Since the beginning of the lockdown I’ve had almost 250 constituents reach out to me for help and thousands offering their views on campaign issues and the pandemic. Whether it’s students trapped in extortionate student leases in purpose-built student accommodation across Edinburgh, or brand new businesses which have narrowly missed out on support from the government I have worked with my team to provide as much support as quickly as possible.

Politically, we have seen two governments who, despite acting in lockstep, are perceived completely differently by the public. Boris Johnson with his disordered – and often contradictory – messaging has helped obscure the reality of Coronavirus in Scotland. We have the worst testing rate in Europe but, instead, the Scottish Government is focusing on Scotland’s testing capacity rather than the number of tests actually being carried out. As Keir Starmer recently pointed out, this approach is worse. For every test they fail to carry out, a key worker is let down by the Scottish Government. Deaths in care homes have, tragically and unforgivably, overtaken the deaths in hospitals. The event which marked “ground zero” for Covid-19 in Scotland, the Nike Conference in Edinburgh, was hidden from the public and details of the lack of contact tracing continue to emerge. The SNP Government has made it difficult to scrutinise their actions, preferring press briefings to debate. We have consistently argued for more statements and opportunities to ask questions of ministers. Receiving written responses to questions can take weeks, and FOI timetables have only just returned to normal. Scottish Labour MSPs successfully argued for scrutiny throughout the summer and Parliament will meet ‘virtually’ at least once a week through the usual recess.

In the early days homelessness and delayed discharges, which sat in the “too difficult” box, were addressed overnight. Rough sleeping and homelessness? Tackled in the short term but not yet ended. Delayed discharge? Sorted, but with questions now being asked about the potential human cost of patients being discharged to care homes without testing. As Labour MSPs, we are pushing the government not to go back to the way things were before, but to build a better future. As our Local Government spokesperson, I’ve been arguing for properly funding our councils and so they can deliver for our communities, looking at local Green New Deals to reinvigorate and future-proof our local economies, and fixing the holes in the safety net caused by 13 years of SNP underfunding.

  • Coronavirus has highlighted the lack of trust this SNP government has in our councils and has hampered local, community-based solutions to protecting us against the economic and health impacts of Covid-19. Primarily, this has been done by hoarding Barnett consequentials passed over from the UK Government. Westminster passed on two lots of consequentials, both worth £155million (a total of £310 million).
  • While the first tranche has been passed on, councils across Scotland have been waiting over six weeks for the second tranche to arrive. The Scottish Government has finally started to pay out that money but it’s taken weeks of parliamentary questions and a media campaign.
  • To make ends meet while ensuring free school meals are still available, that schools for key workers’ children are open, that our streets are clean, parks are open and that social care is ongoing, councils are having to dip into their reserves.
  • This is no way to fund any arm of government and is a slap in the face to our councils whose staff are working round the clock to keep us safe and adapt to an unprecedented situation. I will continue to raise this scandal with the Government at every opportunity.
  • We need to make permanent changes. I believe that we should start by making the most of the changes which have been implemented so far.
  • Active travel for example is better for the environment, and both physical and mental health, and will be key to ensuring social distancing can be adhered to as we move out of the pandemic.
  • But although we’ve seen reduced road traffic benefitting people with respiratory conditions, we need support for Lothian Buses to enable services to be sustainable as the pandemic limits the numbers of people who can use them while social distancing is in place.
  • For years, Labour has been arguing for a National Care Service and the need for one has never been more apparent. Our Social Care Working Group is looking at how we transform care.
  • We must make Social Care a career, with options to learn and progress. We must ensure safe working conditions. Vitally, we must fight the SNP to secure decent pay across the sector and empower collective bargaining – both of which they voted down in parliament last month.

Finally, as we come to the end of Volunteer Week 2020, we should reflect on the fantastic ways that members have stepped up to the plate, supporting local organisations in our communities. I’ve been meeting up with local and national charities to hear about the work they are doing in our communities. If there is a local group you think I should be working with over the months to come please let me know and I can organise an online catch-up.

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