Angus & Mearns Liberal DemocratsWorking Year Round for Angus, Mearns & Stonehaven

Jun/16

30

Cuts in Angus Teacher staffing?

By davidmay

Cuts in teacher staffing in Angus was always going to be a possible outcome when Angus Council agreed to change the structure of the secondary school week from the current thirty five period structure to a thirty three period structure. The council commented “These changes will help schools to maximise the resources they have available.”
“The efficient staffing model will be reflected in the formula used to staff secondary schools.”

“The new model is efficient as it enables teachers to work their 22.5 hours contact time in secondary schools.”

A more efficient staffing model is another way of meaning cuts in staffing, as £370,000 needed to implement the changes must be found.

It is a fact that the SNP and that two Carnoustie independent councillors voted for this and I not only opposed this and voted against this but spoke against it.

The council clearly also voted for the fact it was going to be the Wednesday early closure of our schools and there was no doubt about that.

My comments against this change to the new school week included

  • although I support the reduction of some form time from the present 30 mins each day to 10 mins each day as this will mean more teaching time I do believe we could have had the best of both worlds by a different model which would have meant more teaching time and not having to find an extra £370,000 from the education budget
  • Although I can see that having an afternoon available for work experience, extra curricular actvities sport etc. could add to pupil experience and skills, I am concerned as who will organise it and monitor it as this is outwith the teachers contract I feel that there are workload issues about what is proposed and this has not been explained especially when even the education minister acknowledges this and today the teachers have announced action they are talking over workload.
  • We are speaking about thousands and thousands of pupils for this Wednesday afternoon across the whole of Angus, and i have serious doubts that their will be enough employers, volunteers, sports clubs etc. be about to carry this out. As a former timetabler this will be very challenging to organise.
  • Furthermore, what happens to those pupils who need a bus to get home – they will not take part in this unless their homes can provide the transport. Effectively in practice as a rural authority and especially for many pupils in our rural area and especially those in Forfar, Brechin and Kirriemuir who go home on the contracted bus and not have the opportunity to take part in these extra activities.

From:: David May

By davidmay

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Angus council’s press release from 24 June noted that their “new garden waste collection service is proving to be a big success with Angus residents, with more than 15,000 households signing up to the scheme. During the past week alone, well over 4,000 people from all parts of the county have subscribed to the new service which costs £25 per annum.”

The press release continued that the positive public response means that the projected target of one third of Angus households signing up to the service by 24 June has been exceeded.

I am surprised that the council are delighted that only just over 1/3rd of the residents have signed up to paying £25 per annum for a service they received as part of council services previously.

In the last few months I heard complaint after complaint from residents about the imposition of the charge on green waste collection and it is clear from many of the comments that this charge is bound to lead to more going into the purple bin and therefore into landfill. There is also a huge concern that it may also lead to an increase in flytipping.

From:: David May

Earlier today I wrote a letter to all local MPs, MSPs and MEPs urging them to fight to keep Scotland’s place in both the UK and the EU.
The letter read as follows:

“Whilst I am disappointed with the recent referendum result I believe
that there is a way for Scotland to retain it’s EU membership without
holding another independence referendum and that there is also a strong
mandate for doing so.
Currently, Denmark is a member of the EU. Greenland and the Faroe
Islands are both parts of Denmark but are not in the EU. I believe that
the UK could negotiate a similar arrangement where Northern Ireland and
Scotland hold EU membership whilst being members of the UK whist
England and Wales leave.
As 55% of the Scottish electorate voted to remain in the UK and 62% of
the Scottish electorate voted to remain in the EU, I believe that this
solution has a large mandate and would be the best thing for Scotland
and I hope that you will consider doing everything in your power to
push for this outcome.

Yours sincerely,
Ben Lawrie”

To me this is without a doubt the best option for Scotland and the most democratic one. I worry however that this solution will be overlooked by the media who will fan the flames of a second independence referendum as they know that this is a controversial issue in the eyes of the Scottish public and will attract the most readers.

Jun/16

22

The Wembley debate

Watching the final big event in the campaign led me to try and identify the arguments made for leaving the EU. They were all about control. They wanted to control UK borders in order to reduce the number of migrants. They wanted to control regulations, though without saying what they would or would not regulate. Especially they wanted to be in control themselves. They were also optimistic about what the future would bring. They failed to accept that some predictions of economic problems had come from their own side.

Why exactly should anyone believe they can control the world? Getting others to agree to whatever you want implies you think you do control the world. No one has succeeded yet. So why should anyone believe the Brexiteers can do so? Equally, stop the world, I want to get off, is not a vote of confidence in what the UK can achieve, whatever their apparent optimism.

On the remain side, they thought positively about the rights and economic success we have, and attributed them to working with others rather than claiming we had achieved them all by ourselves. In particular Europe has a role in safeguarding workers’ rights and in making us a good place to do business, with a level playing field helping us compete. This seems a much more realistic view of the world as most people know it.

Is that world perfect? No. Can the British Government make things better for its own citizens, not least in helping British people as well as new arrivals into work and providing the infrastructure we all need? Yes, it can and should. Much of the resentment at immigration comes from successive British Governments not having done enough. The present government, and its successors, should all do more.

Can the EU reform itself? Yes it can, as every treaty change shows. Specifically it should help its member states deal with the problems their people are having now, and reduce the risk of national resentments building up and hatred destroying lives. It can do this by using the money it gets from member states to help economic development, as it already does in training and cross border infrastructure. It must be realistic about helping the Greeks become solvent again. This includes discouraging the Germans from lending money to allow those who cannot afford them to buy German goods. None of this is rocket science, and can be worked on after June 24th to get agreement on changes within the EU in the next year or so. Meantime, it is up to us to Vote Remain on 23rd June, to start building a better future.

Jun/16

19

Call for answers on the Mulberry Unit

By davidmay

North East MSP Mike Rumbles and Angus Councillor David May are urging the Scottish Government to take action over the possible closure of the Mulberry mental health ward in Stracathro Hospital.

NHS Tayside has not ruled out that one of the three mental health facilities in the area may be under threat. Campaigners in Angus are concerned that the Mulberry Unit has already been identified as the preferred option for the closure.

The unit is the largest at the Susan Carnegie Centre, with 25 beds for acute admission, assessment and treatment of adult with mental health problems. The state of the art centre was opened in December 2011 at a cost of £20 million.

Mr Rumbles said: “We have made significant headway in recent years promoting and raising awareness about mental health treatment in Scotland. The Scottish Government have pledged to support that cause – and put provision for mental care at the top of the health agenda. So it beggars belief that NHS Tayside or the Scottish Government would even consider closing this state of the art facility.

“I have asked the Minister to clarify the Scottish Government’s position on this case. Having equality of access to mental health treatment is not a luxury but a necessity for many people in the North East and across Scotland. I see no good reason why communities and vulnerable people in Angus should be singled out in this way.”

Mr May said: “We need to be expanding mental health provision not reducing it. At a time when the Scottish Health Minister makes comment that mental health provision is a priority, how can she say this and enable the opposite to happen.

“NHS Tayside also has a lot of explaining to do. Closing the facility would have an impact on crisis help in Angus as well as community-based care. It is obvious that closure will mean additional travel and costs for many patients and staff, and support from family and friends for patients will be more difficult. I call for a guarantee from the health minister to ensure that the £20 million 25 bed unit only opened in December 2011 remains open” ”

From:: David May

Jun/16

16

The murder of Jo Cox

After her horrific murder, I write to express my personal sympathy to the family, friends and colleagues of Jo Cox. It is for the police to investigate her death, and to take the action they think is needed to protect others.

However, this is not the first time an MP has been attacked by a constituent. I think everyone should reflect on how politicians are seen by the public. The politicians I know all want to make a difference, and to help their constituents in any way they can. Public service is a noble ideal, which they strive to live up to.

This is not the picture painted by many sections of the media. How often have we heard sneering reference to ‘politicians’ in general, as if every politician were the same? Such glib language invites the public to despise politicians and undervalue their work. Politics is the art of the possible, and that means making progress in small steps, to achieve the best outcome for individuals.

It is for the media to say what has happened, not to speculate endlessly about motive and character of those involved. Or even worse to speculate about what has yet to happen and may never happen. Reporting should be calm, objective and factual. Anything else is a disservice to the public, and to the very possibility of democracy.

Jun/16

16

On treaties and sovereignty

What exactly is the relationship between treaties and sovereignty? And is there a difference between parliamentary sovereignty and state sovereignty? I think the Leave camp is muddying the waters by talking of wanting to take back control, as if we had ever lost it.

The UK doctrine of parliamentary sovereignty comes from the Glorious Revolution of 1689. Parliament was then defined as combining Crown, Peers and Commons. Nowadays, sovereignty belongs to the elective dictatorship of the Commons. This means that the Commons could decline to act on a referendum outcome, because any referendum is advisory. However, politically, that would be difficult, in this case certainly for David Cameron but also for others. Constitutionally, the making and unmaking of treaties is still part of the royal prerogative. The monarch normally acts on the advice of the Prime Minister of the day. It was a constitutional novelty when John Major put the Maastricht Treaty to the House of Commons. But we are now in uncharted waters because of the splits within the Conservative party. Would one Tory faction decline to act on a referendum result, insist on a Commons vote, and invite other parties to support them? If they believe in parliamentary sovereignty, they should.

State sovereignty goes back to 1648 and the Treaty of Westphalia. At this point, the German states established that they were sovereign within the Holy Roman Empire. The Emperor could not interfere in their internal affairs. I have heard two different lawyer views on treaties, and I suspect they are both correct in their way. The first is that a treaty is simply an agreement between the states who signed it to do what they have agreed to do. There is no enforcement mechanism (other than war), so if one or both sides renege on their word, there will be no comeback. In any case, a state can formally repudiate a treaty it has signed. On that reading, no state sovereignty is lost by signing a treaty.

An example of no comeback is the recent ruling of the Strasbourg court against the UK’s blanket penalty of losing the vote if you were in prison. This court comes from the Council of Europe treaty, which predates the EU and includes Russia. The court said that it was legal to deprive someone of the right to vote if the judge so decided on the facts of the case. Instead of changing British law to give discretion to the judge, the UK Parliament chose to reassert the blanket loss of voting rights for all prisoners. There has been, and can be, no comeback. So in this case, the sovereign parliament used its power to override a supra-national court, to whose jurisdiction the Crown had signed up in a treaty.

The second lawyer view is that a treaty pools sovereignty on those issues it deals with. This is a point commonly made about the EU treaties. That is because they agree what the member states will work together on. The same argument would also apply to the NATO treaty, which is about pooling sovereignty for defence. This treaty contains a commitment to come to the aid of any member state which has been invaded or attacked by a third party. I have not heard anyone from the Leave camp argue that we should leave NATO. Yet if they are serious about state sovereignty, the NATO treaty, because it concerns the state’s core function of defence, is a bigger infringement of UK sovereignty than the EU treaties.

There are two big lies in the Leave case. The first is that the EU is a state which is bigger than the UK and can impose its will on us. The EU is not a state, but a treaty organisation. We agreed the treaties, and under them have voting rights in the Council of Ministers to decide on individual issues. Most decisions are taken by consensus. In the minority of cases where there is a vote, the UK has been on the winning side more than 85% of the time in the last five years. In the real world, negotiation results in an acceptable outcome, but not exactly what each individual wanted. The EU belongs to the real world, not the Leave fantasy.

The second lie is that the UK has no control over the future development of the EU. In particular it is claimed that the UK cannot veto any applicant to join the EU. But a new entrant is admitted through a treaty signed and ratified by every existing member. That means the UK has a veto as long as it is a member state. The UK has supported Turkey in the past, but in its present disregard for democracy it does not meet the requirements of membership.

The governments of many member states have the bad habit of wanting Brussels to take necessary but unpopular decisions. They vote for them in the Council of Ministers, and then announce to their national media that Brussels has forced them to do something. This habit is now coming back to bite us all.

Liberal Democrat MSP for North-East Scotland Mike Rumbles has come out in favour of a remain vote in response to my recent call for MSPs to campaign to keep Britain in the EU.
Last week I received a letter from Mike Rumbles saying that “membership of the European Union has long been a strongly held commitment of the Liberal Democrats and I am proud to say that we are leading a very strong and positive campaign for our continued membership.”
He went on to outline the economic advantages that a remain vote would have for Scotland pointing out that “hundreds of thousands of jobs in Scotland depend on our trade relationship with our friends in Europe with more than £11 billion of exports from Scotland ending up in other EU countries” as well as the fact that “Scotland is set to receive around £6bn in funding from the EU between 2014 and 2020. More than half of the foreign investment which comes to Scotland is from EU member states.”
He also highlighted how Scottish farmers benefit from EU membership as they receive “vital support through EU funds and their produce is sold right across the continent” adding that he was “disappointed that the Scottish Government has failed these farmers with the delayed Common Agricultural Policy payments.

Mike Rumbles MSP backs Britain's continued membership of the EU.

Mike Rumbles MSP backs Britain’s continued membership of the EU.

Mike also agreed with me that our EU membership also keeps Scotland safe with the European Arrest Warrant “helping to bring criminals across the whole of the continent to justice.”
He finished his letter saying “I believe Scotland’s place in the EU helps ensure that every family, every business, and every person in Scotland is part of a stronger, safer and more prosperous nation.”

I wholeheartedly agree with the points that Mike makes and am proud that the Liberal Democrats have been leading the campaign to keep Britain in the EU.

By davidmay

IMG_2512

It was brought to my attention that there has been a reduction in the large recycling bins in Wharf Street and that the bins are not only overflowing but there is rubbish on the area in front of them.

I visited the area and it is clear that in front of the bins is now an eyesore and the glass bin is full of other rubbish and not only glass. Some of the bins are so full up there is no room for anything else.

I have as a result been in touch with the local waste manager and I expect action to be taken quickly to sort out the mess.

From:: David May

The UK’s Public Accounts Committee has opened an inquiry into improving access to mental health services which you can read about by clicking here.
Whilst the committee is no longer accepting evidence towards the inquiry from the public (the deadline was at midday today), I managed to make a written submission yesterday.
I submitted the following written evidence to the Public Accounts Committee:

“Written evidence submitted by Ben Lawrie on a personal capacity.

  • Paragraph 1 – Introduction
  • Paragraph 2 – Waiting times for mental health services are far too long.
  • Paragraph 3 – Not enough varieties of services are offered.
  • Paragraph 4 -The waiting list utilises a system which disadvantages those who need help the most.
  • (1) My name is Ben Lawrie, I am 21 years old and I am a studying a joint-degree in Psychology and International Relations at the University of St Andrews. Having suffered from depression and anxiety myself I am a dedicated mental health activist and am currently the Mental Health Representative on my University’s Wellbeing Committee. My reason for submitting this written evidence is that I have seen first-hand the short-fallings of the mental health services through my own experience in seeking help, as well as hearing accounts from friends who have also not received the support that they deserve.

 

  • (2) Waiting times are far too long, when I was referred to a psychiatrist in Angus where I live it took around four months for me to get an appointment. For someone with depression and suicidal thoughts, a whole night is a very long time to persevere, four months is simply not good enough. After finally receiving an appointment I had roughly four months to wait between each appointment with the new-found knowledge that I had a mental illness but without any therapy or medication to deal with it. I quickly became disillusioned with the mental health services and stopped going for appointments. Now I am registered in Fife as that is where I attend university, I have again been referred to a psychologist and this time I have been told that the waiting list will be at least a year long, I don’t think I need to explain how this is simply not good enough. Sadly I am not a unique case, a friend of mine in Angus who suffers from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder managed to get an emergency appointment with the mental health services, despite it being an emergency appointment the waiting time was two months long. Normal appointments should not take this long let alone emergency appointments.

 

  • (3) After persevering through excruciatingly long waiting times, it is often the case that the support provided is not satisfactory. The psychiatrist I saw seemed generally disinterested in me and eager to put me on anti-depressants and send me on my way. He seemed unsure of what was wrong with me and made it out to be my fault for not finding the words to explain it properly and therefore I was reluctant to take medication if he wasn’t even sure what the problem was to begin with! I’m sure that somebody wouldn’t be sent for chemotherapy unless the doctor was sure they had cancer so I don’t see how it’s acceptable to prescribe anti-depressants to someone when you don’t yet know what mental illness they have. Because of this I was reluctant to accept medication and insisted on counselling instead. After a few weeks wait I finally received counselling from a woman who had the best intentions but after my second sessions she told me that my problems were maybe a little complicated for the counselling she could offer and I was sent back to seeing the psychiatrist once every few months. It was then that I became disillusioned with the support on offer, grudgingly accepted medication (which came with unpleasant side effects) and stopped seeing the psychiatrist. This brings me to my second point, when someone is successful in receiving therapy it tends to be Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), and whilst CBT has its merits, its currently being used as a one size fits all solution and many people would benefit far more from different kinds of therapy. There needs to be more of a variety of therapies to suit different individual needs.

 

  • (4) Finally, the waiting list system in place in Fife (I’m not sure if its used everywhere in the country) leads to people who need help the most not getting it. This is because after a few months of being on the waiting list they send you a letter asking if you wish to remain on the waiting list and if you don’t reply within two weeks they take you off of the list. I recently received such a letter and as I was in a fairly reasonable state of mind upon receiving it I was able to reply promptly. However, a close friend of mine who suffers from bipolar disorder and is also on the waiting list received her letter whilst going through a severe manic episode. During this time she was under the delusion that she was somebody else and did not reply to the letter in time. Subsequently she was taken off of the waiting list and had to re-join again from the start. Because of this system, people with more severe mental illness and need help the most are the ones most likely to find themselves unable to respond to their letter and be pulled off of the waiting list and this is a huge problem which needs to be addressed.”

This written evidence was submitted yesterday and I will post updates as I get them.

 

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