Don't cut Bus Pass Entitlement

I'm campaigning for better bus services

I was pleased that Dundee City Council spoke with one voice recently against the proposals by the Scottish Government to raise the age for entitlement for free bus passes. (pages 16-33)

The Council has vowed to fight Transport Minister Humza Yousaf’s plan to change the age at which people are eligible for a free bus pass, branding it “unwelcome” because of the city’s “high levels of deprivation”. 

Despite promising to protect the pass in its 2016 manifesto, the SNP Government has cut £9.5 million from the bus pass budget and is consulting on the future of the scheme. 

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and the Transport Minister have both repeatedly refused to rule out raising the qualifying age from 60 to 65.

Under the SNP, there has been a decade of decline in bus services with: 

•             Bus passenger journey numbers down by 78 million

•             Nearly 70 million vehicle kilometres stripped out of the bus network

•             The number of bus routes registered with the Traffic Commissioner down by a fifth.

Scottish Labour introduced concessionary travel for older people and disabled people in 2006 and 1.3 million people benefit from the free bus pass.

My friend and colleague Neil Bibby MSP who Scottish Labour’s Transport spokesperson, has said:

“A Labour government introduced the free bus pass, allowing older people and disabled people the freedom to travel where they choose. 

“We will fight the SNP's cuts to the bus pass – and it is welcome that SNP councillors are finally realising the damage raising the bus pass age would do too. 

“The SNP has already cut £10 million from the bus pass budget and now it's consulting on plans to cut back eligibility and restrict the number of people who will get the free bus pass in future.

“In its 2016 manifesto the SNP promised that the bus pass would continue and said nothing about cutting it back. The SNP has absolutely no mandate to make these cuts. To do so would be a betrayal of voters' trust.

“Humza Yousaf should go and read his own 2016 manifesto and ditch his plans to cut the bus pass, which have never been endorsed by the electorate.”

I am pleased that Dundee City Council unanimously opposed plans to cut the bus pass scheme. It was good that Dundee SNP councillors recognised just how unwelcome this cut would be.  We say no to cuts to bus passes.  I’ll be campaigning against cuts to the bus pass and for improved bus services.


Disappointed at Post Office Decision

The picture shows me campaigning with the CWU to protect the
Post Office along with Ed Balls before he was famous
disappointed at the decision of the Post Office to continue with plans for a franchised Post Office to replace the Crown Post Office in Dundee city centre.  On behalf of the Labour Group on Dundee City Council I responded to the consultation on the future of the Central Post Office and had made the case for Dundee retaining a Crown Post Office.  I am particularly disappointed that the Home Office Biometric Enrolment Service will be relocated to Perth, this is a service which is needed in a university city like Dundee.

As a city with a large student population I am disappointed that the Biometric Enrolment Service will not be retained in Dundee.  This will move to Perth which as the Post Office's response helpfully points out is a 65 minute bus journey away from the centre of Dundee.  This will be a major inconvenience for many overseas students, with the possibility of the numbers needing to use the service increasing after Brexit.  People will be able to pick up Biometric Residency Permit card from the Post Office in Dundee but in order to apply for the card they will need to travel to Perth.

I think that all of the changes which the Post Office are saying will be good about the new franchised Post Office could have been achieved whilst retaining the status of a Crown Post Office.  A more central location and longer opening hours could have been achieved if the management of the Post Office were minded to implement those changes.

I hope that all existing staff are looked after.  I have concerns that in a city where our ambition is to be a Living Wage City we are seeing a Living Wage employer leave.

I am very disappointed that the Post Office has not listened to the views which I put forward on behalf of the Labour Group.  I think that Dundee should have a Crown Post Office and that we will see in years to come that this was the wrong decision.


Welcome for Decision to Revisit Residents' Car Parking Scheme

I welcome the decision by Dundee City Council to revisit the issue of a residents' car parking scheme in the West End of Dundee.  At the November meeting of the West End Community Council the Depute Convener of City Development Councillor Mark Flynn announced that Dundee City Council will be revisiting the issue of a residents 'car parking scheme in the West End.

I have been consistent in asking for action on this important issue.

I welcome this announcement.  It is good that the City Council has listened to my concerns and the concerns of other local residents.   This welcome news and it recognises that something needs done.

Residents in the West End have raised concerns about not being a able to park near their house.  I welcomed the announcement from Councillor Mark Flynn tonight.  It is a very welcome change of heart from the Administration of the City Council.  It is important that the council learns the lessons of the previous attempt at implementing a residents parking scheme.  There can be no one size fits all solution.  We need may need different solutions in different streets.  We also need to recognise that the biggest problem with the previous proposals was that the proposed cost of £80 was just too high.

We also need to do all that we can to cut back on demand for car parking spaces.  We need to do all that we can to cut back on the number of people using their cars and coming and parking in the West End.  We also need to be wary of unintended consequences of any proposals, we need to be careful about merely moving the problem.

The devil will be in the detail of these proposals and it is important that local people have their say over the proposals when they are brought forward.  The council needs to listen to local people and deliver on proposals which they support.  I am pleased to see action at long last.

The video here is from October 2015 and it sums up my views on what is needed  - no one-size-fits-all approach and a need for clarity about the future.

Need to deal with Gig Economy

Recently I was asked about my views on companies like Deliveroo operating in Dundee.  I am happy to hear about businesses doing well in Dundee, but I am also clear that we need to make sure that people have a good quality job.

In my view a good quality job includes things like a good rate of pay and I agree with the report of Dundee Fairnesss Commission which wanted Dundee to be a Living Wage city.  People also need to have a clear expectation of what hours they are going to work and their income from week to week.

The ambition of the city is to a be a Living Wage employer: that’s what the Fairness Commission said and we should be looking to give people reliable and sustainable income.

I know a lot of people do like the flexibility of what is known as ‘the gig economy’ but there are people doing these jobs because they have no other alternative.

It’s good to see business doing well and coming into the city but we need to make sure the dignity of workers is always recognised.

I was recently at the Co-operative Party conference where Jeremy Corbyn spoke about the need to embrace these new digital platform. 

Jeremy Corbyn said at the Co-operative Party Conference,

'The top-down model of organisation, whether in politics, the media or in business, is being challenged and is breaking down.

The technology of the digital age should be empowering workers, enabling us to co-operate on a scale not possible before and yet too often it has enabled a more rapacious and exploitative form of capitalism to emerge.

Look at Uber, Deliveroo, and others. The platforms these companies use are the technologies of the future. But, too often, their business models depend not on technological advantage, but on establishing an effective monopoly in their market and using it to drive wages and conditions through the floor.

Governments have to make sure that regulation keeps pace with changing technologies.
But sensible regulation of working conditions would not only improve the lot of existing workers – and yes, despite what some firms try to claim, they are workers – it would mean that new businesses could survive in the market.

Digital platforms are opening up huge opportunities for horizontal, more democratic, forms of organisation to flourish.
Imagine an Uber run co-operatively by their drivers, collectively controlling their futures, agreeing their own pay and conditions, with profits shared or re-invested. The next Labour Government, working with you, can make that a reality.

The biggest obstacle to this is not technological but ourselves. We must have the confidence and organisational skill to make it happen. That’s why we commissioned our report on Alternative Models of Ownership. To start asking fundamental questions about who should own our economy in the digital age, and how to ensure that it’s enormous potential benefits serve the many, not the few.

Its authors recommend that co-operatives be supported by government through access to finance, through legal changes to level the playing field for cooperatives in the market, and through a better government procurement policy, so that public money is being used to support companies that serve the public good.

To prevent just the few benefiting from the “rise of the robots” the report suggests we consider higher minimum wages, a shorter working week, profit sharing schemes, or putting the ownership and control of the robots in the hands of those who work with them and come to rely on them.

We don’t have all the answers yet but are thinking radically about how we can shape the next thirty years to use the power of new technology to make our economy work for the many not the few.'

We need to ensure that the economy is run democratically and ensure that every worker is treated fairly and with dignity.


Exempt Police Scotland & Scottish Fire & Rescue Service from VAT - Pay back the £140 million

Tonight at Dundee City Council's Community Safety & Public Protection Committee the Labour Group called for a VAT exemption for Police Scotland and for the Scottish Fire & Rescue Service and for a refund of the £140 million they have paid in VAT since 2012.  The way in which the Scottish Government set up the centralised police and fire service made them eligible to pay VAT, this was pointed out to the Scottish Government at the time these bodies were set up. 

At a recent meeting of Dundee City Council's Community Safety & Public Protection Committee the local commander of the Scottish Fire & Rescue Service was unable to give any guarantees about the future of any of their services in Dundee due to the extent of cuts they face.  On Monday evening Dundee City Council decided to write to the Chancellor of the Exchequer about the VAT charge levied on Police Scotland and the Scottish Fire & Rescue Service.  Labour is demanding that he exempt both Police Scotland and the Scottish Fire & Rescue Service from VAT and reimburse the £140 million paid since 2012, we're looking for the Scottish Government, Police Scotland and the Scottish Fire & Rescue Service to commit to protecting services in Dundee.

I am determined to protect police and fire services and jobs in Dundee.  The Labour Group will work with other political groups, with trade unions and with the local community to protect crucial police and fire services in Dundee.

The Scottish Government got in wrong in the way in which these centralised services were set up. There is little to be gained in point scoring about this.  We should accept that a mistake has been made and we should move on to find the best solution.  The Labour Group is calling for both Police Scotland and the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service to be exempted from VAT and for the UK Treasury to reimburse them the £140 million which they have already taken from these hard-pressed services.

The Labour Group was shocked to hear that the local commander of the Scottish Fire & Rescue Service could not guarantee any services in Dundee due to expected budget cuts.  We are calling on the UK Government to stop taking this level of funding out of these important services.  We are also calling on the Scottish Government, Police Scotland and the Scottish Fire & Rescue Service to commit to funding services in Dundee at a level which means that there will be no closures of services and that there will be no further diminution of services in Dundee.

I was pleased that there was quite strong cross-party support for the motion which I moved.  It was disappointing that in the end the council's administration was unable to follow the logic of their own motion and demand support for police and fire services from the Scottish Government and from the Scottish Police Authority and the Scottish Fire & Rescue Board.

I will be writing to the Chancellor demanding that Police Scotland and the Scottish Fire & Rescue Service are exempted from VAT and that the £140 million is reimbursed.  I will also be writing to the Cabinet Secretary for Finance and the Constitution, the Scottish POlice Authority and the Scottish Fire & Rescue Board seeking a reassurance about the future of police and fire services in Dundee.  This is important to protect services and give local people the reassurance that they need.