Local Liberal Democrats welcome new Party Leader

24th July 2017

Local Liberal Democrats have welcomed Vince Cable as the new Liberal Democrat leader. Rutherglen Councillor Robert Brown commented that Vince Cable had the standing and experience to make sure the Liberal message was strongly heard, not least on the way forward on Europe.

Vince Cable was at one time a Labour Councillor in Glasgow – he is therefore well placed to attract support across the political spectrum.

Robert Brown said:

“Vince Cable has predicted that Brexit may not happen and that he wants to offer “an exit from Brexit”. It is increasingly clear that the whole sorry Brexit process is a slow-moving car-crash and that it is time to think again.

We have the unprecedented situation of an incompetent Conservative Prime Minister and government who seem incapable of negotiating with the European Union – and a Labour Opposition leader who has totally lost the plot. Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party have given the Tories a blank cheque on a hard Brexit. I cannot recall a time when the Opposition on the key issue of the day was so pathetic.

Vince Cable and the Liberal Democrats offer a different future and I think we will be joined by quite a few Labour and Tory MPs looking for a way out of the mess as the Brexit negotiation plunges onwards and downwards.

I welcome the letter last week from senior figures across Scottish politics, business, academia and the arts calling for a halt to Brexit. Liberal Democrats have argued all along that Theresa May will never be able to get a deal for Britain outside the EU as good as the one we now have as members of the European Union. This is one of many signs that public opinion is turning against Brexit.”

Robert Brown expresses concerns about proposed Rutherglen house building sites

21st July 2017

Commenting on the Local Plan Main Issues Report in connection with the 3 East Farm sites, Rutherglen South Liberal Democrat Councillor Robert Brown said:

“I am unenthusiastic about these proposals. A growing population means there is a need for new housing but it is preferable if this is located on brownfield sites wherever possible.

Like many local people, I am also concerned about further erosion of the Green belt and of agricultural land around Rutherglen.

These 3 sites are substantial, catering for about 300 houses in all. The only realistic access is onto Cathkin Road which is narrow, winding and overgrown with a difficult exit at the bottom. The Report says “access from Cathkin Road is achievable” which is hardly an overwhelming recommendation. I am not convinced that cars for 300 houses coming out on to an unsuitable country road is ideal. There are already safety ssues at the junction with the Inchmurrin estate further up.

The Report points out that there are issues with services, and indeed with school capacity – and everyone knows the amount of water that pours off the Cathkin Braes in winter.

I think these sites will prove pretty controversial.”

Burnside RBS Closure is “A significant hammer blow to the local Community” – Robert Brown

14th July 2017

The confirmation from Royal Bank of Scotland that their Burnside branch is to close on 12th October is “a significant hammer blow to the local community”, according to Rutherglen South Liberal Democrat Councillor Robert Brown who represents the area.

Robert Brown said:

“The Royal Bank seem to have forgotten that personal customers, local businesses and local Voluntary Sector groups are their base, as they have been for several hundred years.

It is the Bank that had to be bailed out by the public after the financial crash – and indeed is still part owned by us – because the greed of its top management almost collapsed the UK economy.

It does not look as if RBS are even yet focusing on their local customer base or thinking in terms of providing the services that people want.

Burnside branch is a busy branch- there are usually customers in it, whatever the time of day. In Burnside, many customers are older and less keen on using online banking facilities – they prefer a more personal service. Local businesses too need a facility to receive cash taken in by their business. I have always supported the role of the Post Office and Royal Mail but the Post Office facilities are not a satisfactory alternative.

When the closure was proposed, I asked RBS to reconsider but I also suggested to them that they might look at the option of sharing public access facilities with the other Banks which could save them some money whilst still providing public access banking arrangements to Burnside customers. Unfortunately this was rejected – indeed their first letter was clearly a standard reply and I had to contact them again for a proper reply.

It seems to me quite obvious that the so called consultation was never intended as anything other than a box ticking exercise.”

Full Report promised on Cathkin Relief Road situation

1st July 2017

A full report on the implications of the collapse of Land Engineering, the contractors on the Cathkin Relief Road, has been promised by South Lanarkshire Council, following a demand by Rutherglen South Liberal Democrat Councillor Robert Brown. Land Engineering went into administration at the end of May following the completion of the road construction but leaving a number of landscape and other aspects unfinished.

Robert Brown said:

“The contract for the Cathkin Relief Road involved Land Engineering being responsible for finishing off the landscape work and, crucially, maintaining the landscaped areas in a decent condition for 5 years afterwards. Clearly, with the firm going into administration, this is all up in the air.

It is clear that there are still a lot of loose ends to be finalised. The grassed areas leave a good bit to be desired, there are areas which need to be cleared of stones and leveled off and there are poor finishes in some parts along the outside of the project. There are other individual issues, some resurfacing of neighbouring roads and some community benefit promises to be taken forward such as the path through the wood from Glenfarg to Hillhead Avenue. On top of that, there is the complex issue of maintaining the landscape, cutting the grass, replacing and maintaining bushes and bringing some landscape area up to scratch. The Council’s own Land Services are doing some work on temporary maintenance but that needs to be put on a proper basis as soon as possible.

I also want to see the precise financial position – how much has been kpt for retentions, what is the financial impact of the 5 year maintenance arrangement, have we lost any money due to the administration and so on.

The Chief Executive, at my request, promised an early report on all this and I am sure the local community will be keen to know the position too as soon as possible. I hope the promised Report will at least focus the key issues and provide a plan going forward.”

Local Plans for deprived areas a shambles – Robert Brown

1st July 2017

40% of Rutherglen zones and 20% of Cambuslang areas are identified as being in the most needy areas of South Lanarkshire for deprivation and inequality. And Rutherglen South, Rutherglen Central and North, Cambuslang East and Cambuslang West are amongst 9 Neighbourhood Planning Areas proposed for particular action in a report to the Council’s Executive Committee on Wednesday.

But the Council proposals for the future of community planning in these areas received a rough passage at the Council’s Executive Committee on Wednesday.

Rutherglen Liberal Democrat Councillor Robert Brown described the proposals as being like a “mint with a hole in the middle” because there was no plan for how things would work in the local area or how local communities would be consulted or involved. Other Councillors attacked the lack of consideration given to poverty in rural areas.

Under severe pressure from Opposition Councillors, the SNP administration agreed to set up a Working Group to examine the arrangements.

Robert Brown said:

“I thought this huge 80 page Report largely missed the point and missed out almost entirely how Locality Plans would work and how the local community would be involved. To be honest, it was a bit of a shambles.

Everyone agrees that there are significant areas of multiple deprivation, not least in the Rutherglen and Cambuslang areas, which need extra action to give people more opportunities, to boost employment and family incomes and to tackle the many aspects of multiple deprivation.

The problem was that the Council have been told by the Scottish government to produce Locality Plans on far too tight a timetable and without any review of how it all fits with existing arrangements. My personal view is that the Rutherglen and Cambuslang Area Committee and the other Area Committees should be given more powers, the successful Neighbourhood Management Boards in areas like Cathkin and Fernhill should be built on, and other arrangements like the Housing Forums should be reviewed to ensure a wider public involvement and a closer link with the Area Committee.

I hope the Working Group which has now been agreed will look at all this and come up with some decent arrangements.”

Liberal Democrats welcome Frank’s Law to support free personal care for under 65s

1st July 2017

Proposals being put forward in a Member’s Bill in the Scottish Parliament to provide free personal care for people under 65 with a serious degenerative illness have been welcomed by local Liberal Democrats.

Rutherglen Liberal Democrat Councillor Robert Brown said that Liberal Democrats in the Scottish Parliament had been key to delivering free personal care for over-65s – but that it was now urgent to extend this to the smaller number of people under 65 who were in similar need.

The proposed legislation is known as Frank’s Law as a result of a campaign by Amada Kopel whose husband Frank – a former Dundee United footballer- was diagnosed with dementia when he was 59.

Robert Brown said:

“There is some way to go on this yet. I understand the Members’ Bill has the support of all Parties except the SNP. However the Scottish Health Secretary has promised a review over the summer and I hope this will prove positive. Liberal Democrats passed a motion at our last Conference in favour of Frank’s Law and it is supported by the Tories and Labour in Edinburgh.

Frank’s Law aims to end the situation where people under 65 who have conditions such as dementia, motor neurone disease, Parkinson’s, multiple sclerosis and cancer have to pay for the care they need. The situation of people under 65 with degenerative illnesses like this is tragic and difficult and there is no obvious reason why they should not receive the support that others get. The pressures if you have dementia or MND for example are the same whether you are 55 or 75.”

SNP still ducking and diving on second Independence Referendum

1st July 2017

Nicola Sturgeon’s announcement that a further independence referendum has been put on hold changes nothing, according to Rutherglen Liberal Democrat Councillor Robert Brown.

Robert Brown said:

“The SNP lost 21 seats at the General Election which was as clear a rejection of a further independence referendum as you could get. Yet Nicola Sturgeon’s statement in the Scottish Parliament last week was a total non event. It appears that the SNP have learnt nothing and forgotten nothing. After her long, hard think, the First Minister has decided that – there should be another unwanted independence referendum at a time of her own choosing but probably a bit later. Absolutely nothing has changed.

Meantime the Scottish economy is slipping into recession – with the uncertainty over an independence referendum being a major cause of why Scotland is doing worse than the rest of the United Kingdom.

It is time that the SNP stopped ducking and diving, accepted the result of the General Election and took their divisive proposal for another independence referendum off the table and accepted that the 2014 decision settled the issue “for a generation”.

Liberal Democrat challenge to new Rutherglen Labour MP

1st July 2017

Rutherglen and Hamilton West Labour MP Gerard Killen has been challenged by local Liberal Democrats to explain his position on Europe after he abstained on an amendment to the Queen’s Speech which could have stopped a hard Brexit, kept the United Kingdom in the European Single Market and the Customs Union, and made sure that the views of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland were taken account of.

Rutherglen Liberal Democrat Councillor Robert Brown said the Labour Party were all over the place on Brexit and were in practice giving the Conservative Government a free run on the issue which would be most damaging to local people.

Robert Brown said:

“At the General Election, people rejected Theresa May’s view that Britain should not just come out of the European Union, but also abandon the Customs Union and the Single Market which are so important to business and jobs in Scotland. There should now be every prospect of being able to stop the Tory hard Brexit and salvage something from this impending disaster.

All 12 Liberal Democrat MPs voted for an amendment by Labour MP Chuka Umunna in support of staying in the Single Market and the Customs Union. 51 Labour MPs defied the Party Whip to do the same. The rest were ordered by Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn to abstain.

I was glad to see Gerard Killen made his maiden speech during the debate – and I congratulate him on that. During his speech, he mentioned his concerns about austerity. Brexit will guarantee ongoing austerity for years to come and I am therefore astonished that Gerard Killen sat on his hands and abstained on this issue. I appreciate he was under orders from Jeremy Corbyn but it leaves his own position in great doubt.

I am very clear that the voters of Rutherglen and Hamilton West – who voted strongly to stay in the European Union last year – did not expect their new MP to give Theresa May and the Conservatives a free run on their Brexit plans. It is gravely disappointing that the Labour Party have proved so weak on fighting for our European links.

I hope Gerard Killen will tell us clearly what exactly the Labour Party are up to on Europe. It is one of the mysteries of our time!”

Text of Queen’s Speech Amendment:

Amendment proposed: at the end of the Question to add:

“but respectfully regret that the Gracious Speech does not rule out withdrawal from the EU without a deal, guarantee a Parliamentary vote on any final outcome to negotiations, set out transitional arrangements to maintain jobs, trade and certainty for business, set out proposals to remain within the Customs Union and Single Market, set out clear measures to respect the competencies of the devolved administrations, and include clear protections for EU nationals living in the UK now, including retaining their right to remain in the UK, and reciprocal rights for UK citizens.”—(Mr Umunna.)

Let’s open up South Lanarkshire Council

9th June 2017

Extract of an article in the Rutherglen Reformer

by Rutherglen South Liberal Democrat Councillor Robert Brown

South Lanarkshire Council has always had a majority Labour administration, or a Labour administration sustained by the Conservatives which made little difference. This May, no political Party had a majority of seats. The 3 main groups each had to elect a new leader, so there was very much a changing of the old guard.

Eventually a minority SNP administration emerged. It is though a ruling group of only 25 – a full 7 Councillors short of a majority.

This is a major opportunity to open up the Council and make it more accountable and accessible to the public.

Petitions Committee

The SNP have already indicated they want to set up a Petitions Committee – which Liberal Democrats also support but I want this as part of a wider programme to give the public better opportunities to influence the Council.

I want regular Town Hall meetings where the Council is accountable to local people and organisations on the budget, the operation of services and major local initiatives.

More exciting Council meetings

Council meetings themselves often last only 10 minutes with only a roll call of attendees and approval of minutes. The Council should be the showpiece of local democracy, debating the big choices facing the area, a regular Question Time to grill administration leaders, and the ultimate decision-making on key matters. This needs a reform of the Council’s standing orders and a more outward looking approach by Council leaders.

Power for local People

Much more power should be exercised locally. The Area Committees should be strengthened and the arrangements for public consultation reformed. The Neighbourhood Boards in Fernhill and Cathkin have been very successful but have recently been stripped of support. The Housing Forums have been less successful and better ways need to be found to consult Council tenants.

Royal Burgh heritage

Rutherglen has always been proud of its Royal Burgh – an independent community with historic legal rights. Yet the Royal Burgh heritage hasn’t amounted to too much in recent years and it is time it was rebuilt as the focus of local community pride. Key to this is using the talents and expertise of the people in some of the amazing local organisations

An open Council, strong Area Committees, the power of the Royal Burgh and other local traditions, more powerful public involvement – these are the keys to a stronger local democracy in Rutherglen and Cambuslang and across South Lanarkshire.

Robert Brown comments on General Election result

9th June 2017

Following the declaration of the results, Rutherglen & Hamilton West Liberal Democrat candidate Robert Brown said:

“Many congratulations to Gerard Killen on his victory. The Liberal Democrat vote doubled in Rutherglen & Hamilton West which is very welcome but our focus at this election was always to win in our target seats across Scotland.

I am delighted that the Liberal Democrats have gone up from 1 to 4 seats across Scotland and have knocked out the SNP in Edinburgh West, East Dunbartonshire and Caithness – and only missed in North East Fife by an agonizing 2 votes.

The big losers were the SNP in Scotland and the Conservatives across the United Kingdom.

The story of the night was the demolition of the damaging and divisive SNP stranglehold on Scotland with their loss of 21 seats. This must mean the end of the unwanted second independence referendum for a long time.

But the minority situation in Westminster also means that there is a better chance of avoiding the disaster of the hard Brexit the Conservatives have been pushing down our throats. It is time for the Prime Minister to show some statesmanship, ditch her meaningless rhetoric and try to work as closely with Europe as possible in all our interests. My personal prediction is that the Brexit negotiations will unravel and that the minority Conservative government will not last unless she genuinely tries to build a wider consensus that will unite Britain rather than further divide us.

Both a bit of SNP humility on the independence referendum and a change of heart by the Tories on their hard Brexit strategy would be highly welcome to most people in Rutherglen & Cambuslang.”