Appointment of Esther McVey as Work & Pensions Secretary 'a disgrace'
The Prime Minister's chaotic reshuffle did nothing for her credibility but certainly reinforced the 'nasty party' image of the Tories. Appointing Esther McVey as Secretary of State for Work and Pensions was a particularly dreadful move. McVey has an appalling track record of supporting callous and calculated cuts to disability benefits. This is a woman who has said food banks are 'right' and compared job seekers to badly behaved pupils needing 'teaching' through benefits sanctions. The idea that driving people into greater poverty and despair improves opportunities is utterly offensive drivel.
The hard facts tell a different story. We had a scathing report from the UN last year, showing the UK is in violation of disability rights, astonishingly ignored by the government - I had to bring it to the chamber myself. We also have alarming research showing a recorded a rise in attempted suicides amongst people claiming out-of-work disability benefits, doubling from 2007 to 2014. This is a shocking state of affairs that should spur any government into action – yet putting McVey in charge of the DWP doesn't give me hope that the Tories are set to change course. I'll be raising my concerns with the new Secretary of State and will keep fighting for fairness, respect and decency in all public policy making.
Be Gamble Aware
I discussed ways to tackle gambling-related harm, and support those affected, at an event sponsored by my SNP colleague Ronnie Cowan MP (pictured). One of the issues raised was high stake 'fixed odd betting terminals', where in theory you could lose an incredible £18,000 in just one hour of play! I support the campaign to reduce the maximum stakes and a range of measures to tighten regulations.
The UK Government currently has a consultation on Gaming Machines and Social Responsibility closing on January 23rd – you can have your say here: https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/consultation-on-proposals-for-changes-to-gaming-machines-and-social-responsibility-measures
Pay Equality Long Overdue at the BBC
I raised the issue of the lack of gender pay equality at the BBC between senior international editors (doing the same job!). As a member of the All Party Parliamentary Group for the BBC I think it's very important to question the corporation closely on this.
As I said in the Chamber, you'd think 47 years was time enough for the BBC to get their house in order and comply with the Equal Pay Act of 1970. Even the Minister seemed to agree on this one - it's time to finally sort it out and have greater transparency and fairness in their pay structures.
Supporting Small Businesses
As Fair Work Spokesperson I attended the all-party parliamentary group (APPG) for Small and Micro Businesses this week. MPs had a chance to quiz representatives from the building trade, one from the Federation of Master Builders and two smaller building companies. We heard about the difficulties they face, particularly competing against much larger outfits. I asked about ways to encourage partnership working between smaller firms and whether some methods more commonly used in Scandinavia could be introduced in the trade here which could help smaller businesses. There's work to be done, particularly in the light of this week's news of the worrying collapse of the Carillion giant and its likely impact on all sorts of public projects.
The Games Industry in Edinburgh North and Leith
It wasn't much of a surprise to learn that Edinburgh North and Leith supports the largest cluster of games technology jobs in Scotland (you're a smart bunch!) At the moment there's 12 companies, 450 development and over 800 supply chain jobs in the constituency, adding nearly £50million to the economy. Many graduates with these skills also move on to jobs in areas such as cyber-security, so it's an important growth area.
Despite this success, the industry faces significant challenges and I discussed how these could be addressed with Rick Gibson (pictured) founder of the proposed new agency the British Games Institute.
The Outlander Effect on Scottish Tourism
Mary's Meanders - an independent Scottish tour company – is one of the businesses enjoying the 'Outlander effect', as I learned at a busy reception hosted by my collagues Martyn Day and John McNally. They have seen demand for tours rocket since the TV series became such a world-wide hit. Hopetoun Estates (which homes the building that stands in for Lallybroch (Jamie Fraser's castle in the Outlander series) has seen its footfall numbers jump significantly too. Local Scottish cheeses, salmon and meats have also been in greater demand. I enjoyed a very interesting chat with Ian and Christopher from Campbells Meat who discussed the many issues facing the food industry in Scotland, particularly of course Brexit...And although I didn't indulge myself Scottish craft beers from Kinneil Brew Hoose were also available to sample.
This was a very busy reception, it was great to hear of business in all areas booming and fascinating to hear of the huge difference just one big TV series can make to the Scottish economy.
Oh, and I couldn't resist the opportunity to get a pic taken with this cut-out of a certain fella - what can I say? Love a man in a kilt! 😍