FMQs; Snap Election And NHS The Main Talking Points

First Minister’s Questions took place today on the back of the Westminster government on Tuesday voting in support of a December 12th general election.

 

With MSPs off parliamentary duty last week, there was much to catch up on. Interim Scottish Conservatives leader Jackson Carlaw opened the questioning, citing Jeremy Corbyn’s announcement that Labour would allow a second Scottish Independence referendum if he became Prime Minister to suggest an alliance between Labour and SNP.

 

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon replied that whether it was Labour or the Conservatives ended up in power in a December election, the Westminster system is “broken” and that only the SNP would allow Scotland the power to decide its future.

Image result for nicola sturgeon holyrood

 

Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard asked the First Minister about the NHS, looking back to 2013 when the SNP said they wanted to make NHS workplaces “a great place to work.” He quoted a recent audit that said the NHS in Scotland is “running too hot, with too much pressure on staff” and said that around a quarter of staff sick hours are being taken up by stress-related absences.

 

The First Minister replied by stating that her government had increased NHS staffing by 13,000, more than a 10% increase. She also pointed out a 6% health budget increase in the last five years and said that if at the last Scottish election Labour had come into power, the NHS budget would be £758 million less than it is now.

 

Co-Leader of the Green party Alison Johnstone used her question to bring up short let controls for properties in Scotland. This has been a hot topic in Edinburgh recently, with an increase in landlords choosing short term lets being linked to a housing shortage. Johnstone asked the First Minister to put a timeline on when controls on short term letting would be put in place, with the First minister replying that she aimed to have proposals in place at the beginning of next year. Johnstone cited a 2017 short term letting control proposal that the SNP blocked, but Sturgeon insisted that it was important for constituencies to be able to decide if controls were necessary on their own rather than enforcing a “one size fits all” blanket ban.

 

As we head towards a snap election and Brexit continues to rumble on, the tense atmosphere visible at Holyrood today will only continue.

EN4News Local Bulletin: 31/10/19

Local Correspondent Heather Ferguson shares today’s local headlines!

 

 

Report reveals new Sick Kids Hospital safety issues

Following a review of the buildings electrical and fire systems further failings at the new Edinburgh Sick Kids Hospital have been revealed.

In a report published today by the NHS National Services Scotland, experts found more failings.

It was found smoke dampners were not be fitted in corridors serving sleeping accommodation, creating a risk that smoke could travel through the ventilation system and affect escape routes.

Experts also said more assurances must be made against loss of electricity supply to life support equipment.

These failings follow a series of issues found with the water, ventilation and drainage systems.

The most urgent fault in the NSS report – rated “major: absence of key controls, major deviations from guidance” – was the need for repair on high and low voltage installations around the hospital.

The report also criticised the fact all three uninterruptible power supplies were in the same room.

Council Leader Calls for Urgent Action On Dumped Benches

Councillor leader Adam McVey has called for urgent action after memorial benches were dumped at edge of East Princes Street Gardens to make way for the Christmas Market.

 

Culture Convener, Donald Wilson and his deputy Amy McNeese Wilson, signed a two year contract extension for Underbelly without Councillors being shown plans for the expansive steel structure.

 

Heritage body The Cockburn Association called for the market not to open without planning permission.

In a statement on their website: “The Cockburn believes that there are multiple, systemic failures in the governance and management of these proposals”.

“The structure erected here is so grossly out of keeping with previous events and is so incongruous in scale that it destroys the very character of the city which the operators are trying to exploit”

This year’s the event will have a further 20 stalls and a ‘silent disco’. The first market to be held there following the 22 million pound redevelopment to improve access to Scottish National Gallery.

Organisers have insisted the city’s residents have ‘voted with their feet’ and expect visitor’s numbers to increase. The festivities are set to go ahead on 16th November.

The Samhuinn Fire Festival 2019

Tonight, thousands of spectators will flock to Calton Hill for a spectacular display with an otherworldly atmosphere.

A modern celebration of the Celtic New Year, the Samhuinn Fire Festival is an annual event taking place on the 31st of October of each year.

On the night, performers  will act out a dramatic battle between the Winter and Summer Kings and their respective forces, a romantic representation of the changing of the seasons. The battle is acted out by an array of talented singers, drummers, actors, acrobats and fire performers.

A fire dancer mid-way through the performance: Copyright Vince Graham for Beltane Fire Society. All Rights Reserved. www.beltane.org / www.facebook.com/beltanefiresociety

The Edinburgh-based event is actually influenced by the Gaelic celebration called ‘Samhain’.

Samhain marks the end of the traditional harvest season and the beginning of winter and darker nights. It is unique in that it is celebrated from the setting of the sun on the 31st of October to the setting of the sun on the 1st of November. This is known as a ‘quarter-day celebration’.

While the festival has been observed in other countries, Samhain is most commonly celebrated widely throughout Ireland, Scotland and the Isle of Man.

The Samhuinn Fire Festival was founded by the Beltane Fire Society (BFS) in 1995.

Becca Inglis, a BFS representative gave a little background on why the Samhuinn Fire Festival was created: “The founders were looking for a way to highlight the importance of ritual, celebration, and coming together in public.”

24 years on and the Samhuinn Fire Festival is thriving and gaining more attention with each coming year. Last year (2018) approximately 3,500 people were in attendance atop Calton Hill for Samhuinn.

This marked the first time that the festival was held as a ticketed event and it sold out very quickly.

According to Becca Inglis, a much larger audience is expected tonight: “We’re expecting a sellout event of 7,500, which is very exciting! It’s nearly double what we had last year. It’s fantastic to see so many people getting excited about the festival.”

With a larger audience in attendance this year, the BFS have gone to some lengths to captivate and enchant first-time participants as well as surprise and enthral long-time fans.

“Our audience will be used to the single procession that makes its way around Beltane Fire Festival, and at this year’s Samhuinn we have three! People will be able to follow the Winter King and Summer King as they journey around the hill, and then they’ll all meet in a big cacophony of drums and fire halfway through the night.”

Costumed participants enact the battle between winter and summer – Copyright Neil Barton for Beltane Fire Society. All Rights Reserved. www.beltane.org / www.facebook.com/beltanefiresociety

“There’s also a big emphasis on Autumn this year, and a nod to climate change – our kings will wake up to a confusing planet where they can’t tell which season it is, so instead of starting as enemies they will seek comfort and friendship in each other.”

The 2019 Samhuinn Fire Festival will take place tonight (October 31st) on Calton Hill. Gates open at 7pm and the event is expected to finish at around midnight. Tickets are £10 on the door and anyone is welcome to come along and partake in the festivities.

 A Week in Scottish Politics

 

This past week has been another tumultuous one for British politics, following the great trend of the past few years. With calls for a General Election before Christmas and Britain on track to fly through to another Brexit extension, it can be difficult to keep up with everything that’s happening in the country. And with much of it looking like it will have a direct impact on Scotland as well, let’s break down some of the stories from the week in the orbit of Scottish Politics. With particular interest to what could be brought up at this weeks First Ministers Questions:

Brexit

It is perhaps poor form to write an article about politics without mentioning the B word and Brexit has certainly been a hot button issue this week.

Of course, the big news from this week is the extension to the Brexit deadline until January 31st. This extension is half of the time of the last one from March until now. It’s also a real blow to Boris Johnson’s position after continued insistence that Britain would leave the EU on the 31st of October no matter what.

This comes after a week where Johnson’s deal failed to make its way through the House of Commons which precipitated this extension. Important to note for Scotland, the SNP drew issue with the fact that Scotland was not mentioned once in the Bill that Johnson presented to parliament. With that deal seriously stalled it will be interesting how Sturgeon deals with Scotland’s position as a remain-voting part of the union at today’s FMQs.

 

Scottish Brexit Bill Vote

This issue first raised its head at the start of last week when the presiding officer made the decision not to recall parliament before the end of its recess so they could vote down Johnson’s Brexit Bill and call for another election. At the time, the intention was to reconvene on the 29th and hold that vote then.

No matter what happens, it is likely that the First Minister will be asked many questions about Scotland’s stance on Brexit today. Whether that will be to call for another independence referendum or to continue to disavow Johnson’s handling of the ongoing Brexit negotiations is yet to be seen.

General Election

In the fallout of Johnson’s failure to pass his Brexit deal through the House of Commons was not just a Brexit extension but also the looming possibility of a snap General Election before Christmas. With Johnson currently without a majority in the house of commons after removing the whip from a number of conservative rebels, the hopes for an early general election rely on the support of Jeremy Corbyn.

In talks with Boris Johnson last week, Corbyn stated that Labour would support an early General Election as long as a no-deal Brexit was taken off the table and although many are saying that no-deal could still be a possibility in the future, Labour has backed an early-general election. The date for which will be the 12th of December; the first time an election has been held in December since 1923.

Many MPs, particularly those in the Liberal Democrats, say that this early election is a substitute for a second referendum. Under those circumstances, it will be interesting to see how Nicola Sturgeon addresses it at today’s First Ministers Questions. And how the election can affect the balance of MPs in Scotland.

 

And there are some of the big political stories from the past week. Like many weeks before it, politics in Britain has again been entirely dominated by Brexit. With the general election looming over the horizon, it will be interesting to see where the balance of power will lie a month from now. What the SNPs position in Scotland will look like and whether Johnson will be able to continue his government until the next Brexit deadline remains to be seen.

Edinburgh mum planning hunger strike in effort for Government to help her son

An Edinburgh mum has today spoken of her desperation ahead of her hunger strike which aims to pressure the Government into funding her son’s medication.

Karen Gray, 44, uses oil that comes from a whole cannabis plant, which is illegal in the United Kingdom, to treat her son Murray’s epilepsy. The prescription of Bedrolite and Bedrocan costs around £1200 a month which Ms. Gray has been crowdfunding since her son was given the prescription by a Dutch doctor in March.

Murray now attends school regularly with friends and hasn’t had a seizure in over 100 days, however, this still is not enough for a doctor to sign off on the prescription in this country.

The Government has not yet allowed for the prescription to be made available on the NHS and so along with seventeen others from campaign group End Our Pain, Ms. Gray is heading to Downing Street to begin a hunger strike from November 1st.

Ms. Gray said: “We’re in a desperate situation, we’ve absolutely had enough. We feel like we’ve got no option and we have to do something drastic. The government needs to step in and provide funding until the prescriptions are sorted out.”

 

The hunger strike is not the only form of fundraising that the Edinburgh mum has undertaken. Previously she has taken part in a sponsored walk across the Forth Road Bridge, as well as having a race night in November.

Local News: Lunchtime Headlines Thursday 24th of October

Catch up with the latest National news with our local news Reporter Fergus Robb.

Part 1

 

Part 2

 

Controversial City Centre car park awarded ‘listed’ status

This week Historic Environment Scotland (HES) announced that Castle Terrace Car Park will receive a Category B listed status, meaning the car park will be protected by the government and consent must now be given to make alterations to the property.

Picture by Scott Bird

Castle Terrace Car Park was designed and built between 1959 and 1966 as a central car park for Edinburgh’s growing motorist population, with the property remaining true to its original design since its completion. The car park, owned by the UK’s largest private car park company NCP, has been praised for its distinctive Brutalist architecture and is now ranked among the likes of The National War Museum of Scotland, The Cameo Cinema and The Balmoral Hotel.

Historic Environment Scotland defines a Category B listing as:

“Buildings of special architectural or historic interest which are major examples of a particular period, style or building type.”

Castle Terrace Car Park was initially built to deal with the parking problems that came with the 30,000 drivers now crowding the streets of 1950s Edinburgh. It was the first modern multi-storey car park built in Scotland with designers allegedly drawing structural inspiration from Edinburgh Castle which can be seen from the car park.

However, Castle Terrace Car Park is not exactly a revered location among locals, with most residents believing it to be a hub for anti-social behaviour and extortionate parking fees. NCP Car Parks currently charge drivers £31 to park at Castle Terrace for between 6 and 24 hours with some users branding these prices as “daylight robbery” and “the embodiment of human greed”.

It appears that NCP Car Parks might be the only party benefiting from the car park’s listed status which now means that the company will be open to receiving government funding to “support costs associated with culture and heritage conservation”, with maximum grants reaching up to €100 million.

Pothole revelations show £1.6m spent by Edinburgh City Council

Edinburgh City Council spent £1.62 million in the last financial year on resolving potholes issues within the city, a Freedom of Information Act request has found.

It equates to just under the total amount spent on other non-pothole related road issues, with £1.68m spent on other maintenance work.

It was reported last year that it costs £60 to repair one pothole, which equates to around 27,000 potholes being repaired in the last financial year.

That is a rise by almost 2000 repairs in the last two years, with over 25,000 being fixed in 2017.

However, the issue goes back further than 2017, with Edinburgh found to average 73 potholes per kilometre of road in April 2015.

Transport and Environment Convener Councillor Lesley Macinnes said: “It’s not surprising that around half of our revenue spend focuses on repairing potholes and other damage, as this budget is specifically allocated to maintaining our network of roads and pavements. In addition to this, revenue budget is used for a variety of improvements, including gully clearing and hard landscaping.”

“Tackling poor and damaged road surfaces is a real priority for the Council, and significant investment in the roads network has seen our road condition rating improve to its best since 2011. This is in part thanks to our proactive approach to repairs as well as an increased output in road renewals, as part of our £15m spend in such projects last year.”

“Our teams work extremely hard to make sure our streets are safe and usable by pedestrians, cyclists and drivers and as a result the vast majority of defects are made safe as quickly as possible, negating the need for the public to claim for damage.”

Edinburgh locals have taken to Twitter in recent weeks to raise their complaints about the number of road repairs needed in the city.

The FOI request was made by consumer champion Scott Dixon, who runs the Facebook page The Complaints Resolver. He told EN4 News about a pothole he spotted at Prestonfield Bank in 2017 which was “repaired” in ten minutes, and he believes that the fix was rushed and unprofessional.

Credit: Scott Nixon

A few months ago, data analysis FixMyStreet found that potholes were the top cause of council complaints in Edinburgh. With numbers rising, it seems the issue is not any closer to being fixed.

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