John Expresses Delight at Jobs Boost for Home Area

 

The announcement of plans to create up to 600 jobs, and invest £120m at the site of the UK’s last remaining aluminium smelter yard at Fort William has been warmly welcomed by Highlands and Islands Green MSP John.

This latest news follows on from the £330m deal announced last month involving Liberty House and Simec to take over the Rio Tinto site in the town.

Speaking following the announcement, John said:

“As a Lochaber man I know the significance the smelter has not just for Fort-William but the entire area.

“When the plant’s future was most recently in doubt, I contacted senior Rio Tinto Executives. We met in the Parliament and I left them in no doubt that they bore a significant social responsibility to the area.

“I was delighted at the collaborative working involving Rio Tinto, Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) and the Scottish Government to give the plant and its valuable hydro schemes a future.

“So, on top of securing the existing 170 jobs, further news of an aluminium wheel manufacturing facility, creating 300 jobs and another 300 in the supply chain is tremendous.

“Credit is due to all those involved and I wish the new owners and their staff every success.

“I sincerely hope the role HIE have played in this will be recognised by the Scottish Government by maintaining the board and their present structure.”

John Slams Tories’ Heads in the Clouds on Air Passenger Duty

The Tory proposals to scrap Air Passenger Duty have been slammed by the  Scottish Greens who say it’s not the “genuine investment” in transport that people in Scotland are looking for.

The Scottish Greens have also highlighted that the Conservative plan is to abolish APD for all flights, not just long-haul flights as has been reported.

John, the Scottish Greens’ transport spokesperson, said:

“The Tories continue to have their heads in the clouds, dreaming up new ways to give tax cuts to the richest and to big businesses. Rather than subsidising the airline industry we should be making a genuine investment in transport, by ensuring that vital bus routes don’t get cut and that train services run on time, with ticket prices that are more affordable to the public. The Tories and the SNP must remember that if we are to meet our climate change objectives, as made clear in the Paris Agreement, it’s inconceivable we can do that while scrapping APD.”

Clean, healthy, safe, productive and diverse seas- John’s Speech on Fisheries

Yesterday, 07/12/16  the Parliament debated the future of Scotland’s fisheries. You can read John’s speech in the debate below.

John Finnie MSP:

“Our national marine plan outlines a vision for

“Clean, healthy, safe, productive and diverse seas; managed to meet the long term needs of nature and people.”

I hope that we all support that position.

My colleague Gail Ross highlighted the use of the term “expendable”, which I too wanted to mention. Our “proud fishing industry”—as the cabinet secretary referred to it—was never, and should never be, expendable. It was not right previously and it is not right for the future.

I have gained the impression from the discussion, not in the chamber today but in the press and elsewhere, that some people will view it as payback time if Scotland leaves the EU. The leave campaign talked about escaping the “disastrous” CFP to “claim back our fish”, which is a highly simplistic approach. Devising any new management regime will be much more complicated than that, for a number of reasons that have already been highlighted, such as the mobility of the commercial species that are fished, which travel through the waters of several countries during their lifetime. It is crucial that, in everything that we do, we determine the actual distribution and abundance of fish stocks from independent research, not just from landings. That would include research on the key spawning and nursery areas and migration pathways.

The North Sea, which has been mentioned frequently in the debate, is bounded by seven countries, so the EU, the UK, Scotland and our coastal communities have a shared responsibility to manage stocks. The Scottish Green Party wants to protect those vital stocks, and we would seek to have the CFP extend powers to regional management bodies that would help stakeholders to work together to prevent unsustainable exploitation of fish stocks and to actively recover the habitats that make up our marine environment. We support the prioritisation of high-value, low-impact fishing methods that support coastal communities. It is important that we mention communities, as fishing is not some abstract industry but one that supports land-based communities.

Although it is not hugely relevant to today’s debate, we want a moratorium on new—

John Scott MSP:

“Will the member take an intervention?”

John Finnie:

“Certainly.”

John Scott MSP

“Without wishing to reincarnate Jamie McGrigor, I am concerned that no one has yet mentioned the depletion of stocks in the west coast fisheries, which seems to be an abiding problem on which the minister touched. Do the Greens have any answers to that problem? It appears to have been intractable for as long as I can remember, and no one has yet managed to resolve it. Does John Finnie have any ideas for how the depletion of stocks might be reversed in the west coast fisheries and the Firth of Clyde?”

John Finnie MSP:

“I do not personally, but I commend to Mr Scott and to all members the approach that says that everything should have a scientific basis rather than being based simply on commercial exploitation. The cabinet secretary spoke about the need to respect scientific evidence, which is very important. The role that Scotland’s marine protected areas play involves planning that is based on scientific evidence, and it is important that communities are engaged in that work so that protected areas are implemented with those communities rather than—as is often perceived—being something that is done to them.

I know that there are conflicts between groups. The Scottish Green Party supports sustainable fishing, and if there is no fishing industry where there historically was one, that fishery has clearly not been sustainable.

We are very concerned about the destructive method of dredging, which damages the environment, and we also refute the nonsense about ploughing the sea bed to restore it. Anyone can see the damage that has been done. There is ample video evidence out there about how marine areas can recover, as has happened in some of the restricted areas around Wester Ross. We want our maritime resources to be viewed as an entire community resource.

On representative bodies, there have been many references to the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation, but of course it does not speak for the whole industry. I commend the Scottish Creel Fishermen’s Federation and the various other fishermen’s federations. I am sure that the cabinet secretary will engage with all bodies and not just that single one.

Over the weekend, we have had talk of efforts to evade the scrutiny that is absolutely vital to ensure that our marine stocks are maintained. Marine monitoring is vital, which is why the Green Party will support the Labour Party amendment. Marine monitoring staff play an important role in preserving our fishing stocks. As has been said, there should be no loss of remuneration for those important public employees—they are public servants who work in very hazardous circumstances.

Some positives come out of the common fisheries policy. I know that many have derided it, but there have undoubtedly been some benefits—not everything can be transferred into pounds, shillings and pence on the quayside. The situation with discards is often referred to. The discard ban will benefit a sustainable fishery and has the potential to increase overall fishing revenue and resilience. It is about selectivity. Much has been made of the innovations that have been put in place with gear, which we certainly support. There are clear economic arguments for that.

I commend the briefings that we have received from WWF and the RSPB, which others have mentioned.

Catch limits are in accordance with scientific advice. We may all wish to see maximised catches but, as John Scott alluded to, where historically there has been a fishery and there is no longer one, that shows that the method used did not work. Certainly, some of the tactics that were employed in the 1970s and 1980s contributed to such situations. The issue is important, because we need to retain a reputation as a supplier of high-quality and sustainable food.”

You can also watch John’s speech using the link below.

http://www.scottishparliament.tv/20161207_debate?in=01:03:20&out=01:10:08

 

 

Rail passengers deserve action on overcrowding

Railways back in public ownership: Not for profit; Improved services; Reduced fares.John Finnie has welcomed the announcement of a public bid to run ScotRail, but says passengers also need immediate changes to relieve overcrowding and make compensation easier to get.

John is transport spokesperson for the Scottish Greens, and will ask Transport Minister Humza Yousaf for action today in the Scottish Parliament.

Scotrail operator Abellio has been forced to produce a performance improvement plan by Transport Scotland, and the Mr Yousaf is due to make a statement on the problems with the service at 2.40pm this afternoon.

John is asking for passengers to automatically receive a form to claim a refund when performance is poor, rather than having to search for one. He is also urging immediate capital improvements to station facilities so that passengers have warm, comfortable rooms in which to wait for their connections.

Longer-term, the Greens want to see additional staff hired to ensure services flow smoothly, for staff to be consulted on ways to get punctuality and reliability back up to standard, and for Network Rail in Scotland to be devolved so that responsibility for rail infrastructure rests with the Scottish Government.

John Finnie said:

“Greens have long called for Scotland’s railways to be publicly-run as they are a public service. While we’ve yet to hear directly from the transport minister on this point, it is welcome that he has spoken of the need to prepare a public sector bid.

“In the short-term, passengers deserve action to improve the current dismal situation. Far too often commuters either have to stand all the way or they simply can’t board a train due to overcrowding. Abellio need to understand that poor service is unacceptable, and that offers of compensation should be automatic and easy to complete.

“Occasional delays and technical problems are understandable, and these can be made bearable by providing decent facilities for passengers. Our ageing stations are long overdue modernisation. We also need to ensure appropriate staffing levels and involve the staff themselves in any improvement plans as they know best how the service can be improved.

“Public transport has been overlooked by the Scottish Government for too long. It’s a shame it has taken till now for them to notice. Greens stand ready to offer constructive solutions to make Scotland’s railway the high quality public service it should be.”

Argyll police stations face closure threat

John Finnie 2John Finnie has written to the Chief Constable after it emerged that dozens of police stations – including several in Argyll – are under threat of closure.

A Freedom of Information request by BBC Scotland has revealed that Police Scotland buildings in 58 locations are being reviewed, including Oban, Loghgilphead, Campbelltown, Inverary and Taynuilt.

John is the Justice spokesperson for the Scottish Greens and MSP for the Highlands and Islands. He said:

“Of course all organisations should review processes.

“I don’t doubt some of these buildings will be less than ideal for modern needs, some of the locations on the list are very worrying whilst closure of any of the Argyll stations is unacceptable.

“With five stations in Argyll under threat suggests we could have next to no visible police presence on the West coast at all.

“While many people do use phone and the internet to interact with police, there is still a significant number of people – many elderly and vulnerable – who do not. Accessibility is paramount.

“In the past, Police Scotland have handled counter closures badly, so lessons must be learned.

“While there is much to be said for co-location of public services, such as Police and Fire or Police and Council sharing, we must prevent withdrawal from communities.

“Public confidence is vital. I look forward to the Chief Constable’s reply.”

John’s speech against welfare conditions and sanctions

2016-11-02-john-finnie-debatingJohn spoke about on welfare conditionality yesterday evening, in a Member’s Business debate brought by SNP MSP, and Convenor of the Parliament’s Social Security Committee, Sandra White. Ms White’s motion read:

Motion S5M-01360: Sandra White, Glasgow Kelvin, Scottish National Party, Date Lodged: 09/09/2016
Welfare Conditionality Study

That the Parliament notes with concern the first wave findings of the welfare conditionality study that was carried out by researchers from several leading universities, including the University of Glasgow and was presented to MSPs on 7 September 2016; understands that it found universally-negative experiences of conditionality, which it reported as creating both “widespread anxiety and feelings of disempowerment” among service users and leading some people to turn to crime in order to survive because of the sanctions that they faced; recognises the report’s conclusion that the common thread linking stories of successful transition to work was the availability of individual support rather than the threat of sanctions; notes that the report includes what it considers to be deeply disturbing service users’ accounts of the conditionality; understands that some described the system as “intimidating, dehumanising and disempowering”; congratulates the University of Glasgow and the other researchers on what it considers to be its important work, and looks forward to the next wave of findings being published.

John’s speech is below. You can see it in the full debate transcript here, or watch it on YouTube here.

John Finnie (Highlands and Islands) (Green):

I join others in congratulating Sandra White on bringing the debate to the chamber and in applauding and thanking the researchers for their work. It was my intention to say that we have all heard of or dealt with cases involving the devastating and harrowing impact that sanctions can have, but perhaps Mr Tomkins and his colleagues have not or, if they have heard, they have not listened, which would be more worrying.

The effect of removing people’s only means of support has a mental and physical health impact on them and their families but, unfortunately, the situation is even worse when we consider what jobseekers are being asked to do and how likely that is to improve their chances of finding employment. Around 65 per cent of participants leave the work programme without having gained and stayed in a job for at least six months. The figure is considerably higher for participants with health conditions or disabilities, around 85 per cent of whom have not entered and stayed in employment for at least three months. For those who are considered furthest from employment, the figure is as high as 94 per cent.

The report gives clear reasons why that might be the case. Claimants are asked to apply for jobs regardless of whether they are appropriate. The study’s interim findings show that people are being forced to apply for jobs that they tell Jobcentre Plus and employment programme providers they cannot do because of disability, ill-health or childcare responsibilities, yet those organisations insist on claimants applying. The report of interim findings cites the ridiculous case of a Scottish universal credit claimant who was asked to apply, under the threat of sanction, for a job as a driving instructor, despite the fact that he had said that he did not have a driving licence.

Much of the support offered is of a generic nature when, as others have said, it should be person centred. It has been limited to things such as help with writing CVs and job search skills. Individualised packages of support are needed. Sick and disabled jobseekers who were interviewed in the study reported being offered only that very general kind of support.

The DWP’s own survey of work programme participants found that over 70 per cent of those on the programme with a health condition were not offered health-related support to help them find work. Providers have openly admitted that there is not sufficient funding in the work programme to pay for on-going specialist support to help participants with disabilities and health conditions. The Centre for Social and Economic Inclusion reported that work programme providers spend as little as £545 to provide up to two years of support for employment and support allowance participants.

One of the few positive messages to come out of the report is that on the great work done by Jobcentre Plus disability advisers. Perhaps inevitably, in the topsy-turvy world of the DWP where nothing seems to make sense, those advisers are now being withdrawn from jobcentres and mainstream jobcentre staff will be expected to provide specialist disability support. The structure of the contracts, which prioritises job outcomes, means that those who are relatively close to the labour market are offered the most support and that more disadvantaged jobseekers are provided with very little practical help.

If the purpose of sanctions is to help benefit recipients into work by enforcing, under the threat of sanction, participation in employment programmes and other schemes of support, and if that support is unlikely — in some cases very unlikely — to help them find employment, the whole basis of the sanctions regime is brought into very serious and fundamental question.

We can now use the powers in the Scotland Act 2012 to chart a different course. Sandra White spoke about dignity and respect, and those principles should underpin our approach.

Although sanctions are not devolved, powers over the employment programmes — some of which are currently compulsory — have now been devolved and new programmes will operate from spring next year. Those will involve a more supportive approach in which people are encouraged to take up offers of employment support not because they are bullied into doing so, but because there are genuine opportunities to find work.

I was very proud to stand for election earlier this year on the only party manifesto that pledged to use the new powers over employment services to reduce significantly the numbers of benefit sanctions that are applied in Scotland. My colleague Alison Johnstone, who has worked with others on that issue, called on the Scottish Government to use the powers in that way and released a plan that explains how it could be done.

Last month, I was pleased to hear the Minister for Employability and Training commit to operating those new programmes on an entirely voluntary basis, and I commend that approach. It will require significant investment in schemes of support that go far beyond the current DWP schemes.

Finally, I turn to the costs of complying with benefit conditionality, which can be considerable. That is an issue in particular for benefit recipients in rural areas, where the cost of transport from recipients’ homes to the nearest jobcentre to attend appointments or to the nearest library in order to use computers to apply for jobs can eat significantly into the scant amount that those people are paid in benefits.

Dignity and humanity will be the hallmark of the way in which we use the newly devolved powers, but we can apply that approach to the entire system only when we have the ability to use all the powers, which will come with independence.

John uncovers £18.5m government handout to arms industry

John Finnie three-quarterJohn Finnie has asked the Scottish Government to stop bankrolling the arms industry, after discovering that two of its agencies have handed out £18.5m in support for the trade.

In response to a Parliamentary Question from John, Economy Secretary Keith Brown MSP revealed that over the last ten years Scottish Enterprise has given the arms insustry £15.1m, and Highlands and Islands Enterprise has given £3.4m, to support development, manufacture or marketing.

John said:

“It is rank hypocrisy for SNP MPs to, as they have, condemn the sale of arms from the UK while at the same time the SNP Government is handing out millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money to support that very industry. The scale of funding will shock many people, and I think the public will rightly be angry that public funds are being used to encourage such an abhorrent trade.

“By supporting the making and selling of guns and bombs our enterprise agencies are squandering vital funds. They must rethink their approach and invest instead in meaningful, lasting employment.

“Scottish Government ministers must lead by example. Instead of praising bomb-makers they should face up to modern-day security challenges: conflict over resources, climate change, cyber security and terrorism. They should stop funding outdated and immoral businesses and focus efforts on peace and human security.”