Park The Hysteria

(Originally Published in the Herald 16th February 2019)

 

Last month the Scottish Parliament voted for the £42.5billion Scottish Budget thanks to a deal between the Scottish Greens and the SNP. In previous years Greens have focused on securing funding for vital local services and this year we went much further.

 

We secured a package of measures that will reform how local government is funded, making taxes fairer and giving public sector workers and the services we all rely on security and stability. Part of that package was government support for my amendment to the Transport Bill, which aims to give local councils the power to design, consult upon and introduce a workplace parking levy if they choose.

 

This modest measure has attracted the combined fury of the Tories, Labour and the Liberal Democrats, aligned together behind a hysterical tabloid campaign that has been misleading at best. To those outside the Holyrood bubble, the cause of the current apoplexy must be baffling.

 

As the Herald’s political editor Tom Gordon observed in these pages last week: “Local governments across Europe raise and collect numerous taxes. It is the norm. Two decades on, Holyrood should surely be more adult about tax, and let councils get on with it.”

 

My proposal is based on powers that local councils in England have had for 18 years. It was first proposed by the UK Labour government but removed by the Labour-Lib Dem Scottish Executive when they caved in to pressure from the business lobby. It has been implemented by a Labour-run council in England, and Labour councillors in Edinburgh have called for it. Lib Dem MSPs used to support devolving such power but are now inexplicably opposed to it.

 

The Tories’ knee-jerk reaction was predictable but for Labour and the Lib Dems to perform such a rapid hand-brake turn reeks of opportunism. They are happy to play along by talking about “The levy proposed by the SNP and the Greens…” when there is no proposed levy.

 

Why would political parties who claim to be concerned about air pollution, climate change and local democracy rage against such a win-win policy? Could it be that they actually distrust localism?

 

The Scottish Greens believe in local decision-making. We want to rebuild local democracy in Scotland so that communities have more control to address the issues that affect them, just like local government in most other European countries. Powers to introduce a Workplace Parking Levy where appropriate – and powers to introduce a tourist tax, which we also secured as part of the Budget negotiations – are small steps towards this vision. Once introduced, however, it’s not for MSPs in Holyrood to develop such schemes. That is the job of Local Government, who understand and are able to engage with their communities, and are able to tailor policy so that it has the impact it needs to have.

 

Is it any wonder that public trust in politicians generally is so low, when some parties so readily misrepresent and exaggerate? And all to cover their own unwillingness to engage constructively in a parliament of minorities, where every day presents an opportunity to help our communities. Mind you, public trust in local councillors is greater than for members of parliament, so perhaps it’s a case of jealousy from certain MSPs that explains their irrational desire to hoard powers centrally.

 

As for the actual benefits of a parking levy, should a local council decide it’s an option they wish to pursue, let’s remember the public health crisis we face in towns and cities across Scotland.

 

A series of reports have outlined the impact of traffic fumes – including detrimental effects on teenage mental health, a huge reduction in intelligence among children growing up in polluted areas, and a record number of asthma deaths. *  On top of that, road congestion costs the UK economy nearly £8 billion a year.

 

In Nottingham, the decision to levy a charge on large employers came about after transport officers found that congestion was a significant problem in the city during peak commuter times. The charge of £400 per year per space is passed on to half of the car drivers affected. There are exemptions for emergency service workers and Blue Badge holders, and an extensive business support package.

 

The council has ensured alternatives such as car clubs and bike hire, travel planning support, and integrated ticketing for public transport. It has resulted in a big shift toward public transport, walking and cycling. Climate change emissions are down by a third. Revenue of over £50million has been raised and reinvested in the city’s transport infrastructure.

 

Campaigners and academics this week wrote to all five Scottish political leaders in frustration at some parties’ attempts to mislead and spread falsehoods about an idea that has been shown to deliver benefits to public health, the environment and the economy. Organisations such as WWF and the Confederation of Passenger Transport see the opportunity presented by my amendment. I look forward to delivering a power local government in Scotland should have had long ago. It will bring us a step closer to a transport system fit for the future.

We Must Prioritise Better Buses

This article was first published in the Strathspey and Badenoch Herald and other Scottish Provincial Press publications.

You may have heard of a report recently produced by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Professor Philip Alston.

The report has been widely cited as it takes an in depth look at the pernicious social security policies of the UK Government, describing the Tories flagship policy change, Universal Credit, as “Universal Discredit”. Professor Alston also highlighted the hugely gendered nature of the UK Government’s atrocious programme of social security cuts commenting that it looked like it had been designed by, “a group of misogynists in a room.”

One aspect of the report, which has not had a great deal of coverage so far relates to bus services.

The report states, “Transport, especially in rural areas, should be considered an essential service, equivalent to water and electricity.” I agree wholeheartedly with this statement, and it is one of the reasons I started my Better Buses campaign, which aims to capture the experience of bus users across the country.

Bus patronage has been falling year on year, and while the Scottish Government’s Transport Bill does propose some initiatives in relation to bus services, it does not go anywhere near far enough, and will do nothing to offer communities, particularly those is rural areas, the good quality services that they need.

Local Councils should be empowered to provide bus services that serve the needs of our diverse communities, many of which are currently cut off from services, with commercial operators deeming them unviable.

The Scottish Government does provide some funding to support the provision of services, but it announced a cut of £7 million to this support in its draft budget.

While the current system of bus operation is complex and frustrating, it is disappointing that the Scottish Government is neither providing the necessary financial support, nor suggesting a new model to support communities.

Around a third of people do not have access to a private car, yet the Scottish Government’s transport policies are almost exclusively focused on this mode of transport. Government policies should focus on the needs of everyone in our communities, not only those who have a car.

We need to tackle the issues of congestion, air pollution, and climate change urgently.

Academy Street in Inverness city centre is among Scotland’s most polluted streets, and air pollution is responsible for around 2500 deaths in Scotland each year. It is therefore vital that we encourage folk to leave their cars at home, but we can only achieve this if we make the alternatives more attractive.

If we are going to do this the Scottish Government needs to prioritise bus services, which are reasonably priced, clean, and reliable.

Scottish Government Must Take Control of ScotRail Shambles

Highlands and Islands Green MSP John Finnie has called on the Scottish Government to take control of the ScotRail shambles, in the Scottish Parliament today (8 Jan 2019).

Mr Finnie once again highlighted the poor service commuters in the Highlands, and across the country, have been receiving in recent months, asking the Cabinet Secretary for Transport what level of mismanagement is required from Abellio before Ministers will take control of the situation.

John Finnie said:

“Passengers have been failed time and again by ScotRail over recent months, with overcrowded, understaffed, delayed, or cancelled services becoming the norm for many passengers. Abellio has been given multiple chances to improve, and it is quite clear that they are providing a substandard service. It cannot be right that they can continue to fail, and face no serious repercussions.

“I am pleased that the Cabinet Secretary finally hinted today that ending the franchise early was an option he would consider. Given Abellio’s pitiful performance, this cannot come soon enough.”

Support over the Christmas

As John’s office will be closed over the Christmas Period (21st Dec- 6th Jan) you can find a list of numbers if you need any support or help over this period below.

Out-of-hours Emergency Contacts

Highland Council

  • Health and Social Care – 0845 601 4813
  • Roads, Flooding and Street Lighting – 01349 886690
  • Housing and Homelessness – 01349 886691

Argyll & Bute

  • Social Work Services – 01631 566491 or 01631 569712
  • Homelessness – 0345 056 5457
  • Housing Repairs – 0800 028 2755
  • Local Roads, Flooding and Street Lighting – 0800 373 635

Moray Council

  • All Emergencies – 03457 565656

Orkney Islands Council 

  • Health and Social Care – 01856 888000
  • Roads, Flooding and Street Lighting – 01856 876338
  • Housing – 01856 873430
  • Homelessness – 07921582962

Shetland Islands Council

  • Social Work Services, including homelessness and emergency housing – Duty Social Worker – 01595 695611
  • Roads, Flooding and Street Lighting – 01595 744866
  • Housing – 01595 693972

Western Isles Council

  • All out of hours services for CNES and HHP are delivered through Faire Community Alarm Service – 01851 701702

Other Numbers

  • BEAR Scotland – 0800 587 1107
  • NHS 24 – Call free on 111 if you are ill and it can’t wait until your regular NHS service reopens
  • Police Scotland – 101 (for all services) 999 (for all emergencies)
  • Scottish Fire and Rescue Service – 01463 240999 (24 hours) 999 (for emergencies)
  • Scottish Water –  0800 0778 778 (24 hours)
  • Samaritans – 116 123
  • Scottish Women’s Aid – 0800 027 1234
  • Alcoholics Anonymous – 0800 9177 650
  • Gambler’s Anonymous – 0370 050 8881
  • Rape Crisis Scotland – 08088 01 03 02
  • Mikeysline – Text to Talk – 07779 303 303

Green MSP Calls for ScotRail Franchise to be Ended

Highlands and Islands Green MSP John Finnie has called on the Scottish Government to end the current ScotRail franchise as chaos continues across the rail network.

Mr Finnie, The Greens’ Transport spokesperson, made the call in parliament this afternoon (18 Dec 2018). He highlighted the Scottish Government’s ambition to take control of Network Rail, which is currently controlled by the UK Government. Greens support the devolution of Network Rail, and believe that both track and train operations should be run by a public sector operator.

John Finnie MSP said:

“ScotRail’s performance has gone from bad to worse in recent months, and the Scottish Government’s response has been wholly inadequate. Simply ordering review after review, while ScotRail’s performance continues to get worse is not good enough.

“Greens support the Scottish Government’s ambition to see Network Rail devolved. However, there seems little point in seeking control of one part of the rail operation, while franchising out another. The Transport Secretary must bring to an end Abellio’s disastrous reign and put in place a public sector operator to run Scotland’s railways exclusively in the public interest, at the earliest opportunity.”

Finnie Highlights HIAL Failings

Highlands and Islands Green MSP John Finnie has called on the Scottish Government to ensure Highlands and Islands Airports Limited (HIAL) is adequately delivering for the remote, rural and island communities it is supposed to serve.

HIAL operates airports in the Highlands and Islands on behalf of Scottish Ministers. Mr Finnie highlighted a number of areas where the company is failing in its duties, in the Scottish Parliament this morning (6 Dec 18).

  • Inverness Airport has received a ‘very poor’ environmental compliance rating from SEPA for four years in a row.
  • Air Traffic Controllers may be about to go on strike over pay and plans to centralise air traffic control operations.
  • HIAL has repeatedly failed to consult the remote, rural & island communities it is supposed to serve, on behalf of ministers, on important issues including the introduction of parking charges.

Mr Finnie said:

“HIAL is wholly owned by Scottish Ministers and has a duty to serve communities throughout the Highlands and Islands. It is becoming increasingly clear that the organisation is failing on a number of fronts. Ministers must take responsibility for these failures and commit to urgently improving the service its company provides to my constituents. I gave the Cabinet Secretary for Transport the opportunity to express confidence in HIAL’s management and it won’t be lost on HIAL, and the wider public, that he chose not to endorse their performance.”

Finnie warns Transport Bill doesn’t address poverty or do enough to tackle deaths from air pollution

Scottish Greens Transport spokesperson John Finnie MSP today (21 Nov) warned that the Scottish Government’s proposed Transport Bill doesn’t address poverty or do enough to tackle deaths from air pollution.

During today’s meeting of Holyrood’s Rural Economy & Connectivity Committee, Mr Finnie questioned Transport Secretary Michael Matheson.

John said:

“Whilst much of the evidence has revolved around technical aspects of ticketing and Low Emission Zones (LEZs), I was keen to ask the Cabinet Secretary about the human aspects of his legislation. The Cabinet Secretary agreed with me that the Bill didn’t have direct regard to addressing the role that transport can play in addressing poverty.

“Similarly, with regard to LEZs, whilst everyone seemed happy to discuss engine types and compensation schemes, the Cabinet Secretary acknowledged that the Scottish Government had not done any projections on the implications their introduction could have for the 2,500 lives lost in Scotland each year which are directly attributable to air quality.

“I took some reassurance from an official who stated that, whilst there may be evidential challenges directly attributed any drop in deaths to the introduction of LEZs, a committee was examining this matter. I look forward to hearing back from the Cabinet Secretary on the matters of poverty and deaths from poor air quality, both matters which should have been addressed already.

“Greens will always place a greater focus on people and will continue to push for a more robust Bill which meets the widest community needs ahead of the exclusive interests of the road haulage industry or car owners.”