SNP and Brexit – Letter to Reformer

23rd September 2018

Dear Sir,

It does appear that the growing demand for a People’s Vote on the terms of Brexiit is causing a lot of confusion in the ranks of SNP/Independence supporters – as evidenced by the letter from Robert Brennan (Reformer 12th September 2018).

The SNP are now the only anti-Brexit Party who have not backed giving the final decision on the Brexit terms to the people. The People’s Vote is now backed by the Liberal Democrats, the Greens, many people in the Labour Party like Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London, and increasing numbers of pro-European Conservatives like Justine Greening and Sarah Wollaston. More importantly it is now increasingly backed by the public in opinion polls.

Robert Brennan says that this is because Nicola Sturgeon “understands the complexities and dangers in this regarding any future independence referendum”. He is undoubtedly right because the SNP view absolutely everything through the prism of how it affects independence.

However the SNP position is neither very noble nor very sensible in Scotland’s interests. This is not the time for such narrow, partisan considerations. Every day that passes demonstrates more clearly just how disastrous Brexit will be for Scotland and for Britain. More and more people are recognising that a People’s Vote on the terms is the only democratic way out of the mess. Time is running out for the SNP and I suspect that Scottish voters will not forgive them if they let down Scotland on Brexit.

Let me also respond briefly to John Reilly (Reformer 19thSeptember 2018)who thinks it is undemocratic and a sell out to the elites to take the final decision on Brexit back to the people/ I couldn’t disagree more. The political elites in Parliament – particularly the Prime Minister, the hard Brexit ex Tory Ministers and the Labour Opposition – have totally failed to find a way forward out of what is clearly a looming disaster. Now the only way out is to let the people make the final decision.

Yours faithfully,

Robert Brown

Liberal Democrat Councillor for Rutherglen South

Post Office closure symptom of a wider High Street problem

14th September 2018

Rutherglen Reformer article

Concerns over the future of Rutherglen Post Office have been mounting amid a wall of silence from the Post Office organisation. The Reformerhas an in depth article on the issue this week.

But the Post Office issue follows bank closures in Cambuslang and Burnside, reductions in police offices and a long list of high street closures and cost pressures on major national stores like Frasers, Marks & Spencer and now John Lewis. Problems in suburban centres are now being followed by decline in big city centres too.

It is easy to blame the Post Office, the banks and the retailers – and indeed they have too often shown a woeful lack of interest in their customers and local communities. But Rutherglen and Cambuslang Main Streets and others like them across Britain have been in decline for many years as a result of changes in shopping practice – not least the growth of out of town shopping malls and now of online services.

Most of us now very rarely need to go to the post office, bank or police station; we patronise the convenience of Kingsgate, the Forge or Silverburn rather than the local butcher, baker, grocer or toy shop we remember from our youth. Life is much more rushed for young families.

There are advantages in the “new” shopping – everything under one roof, cheaper prices, more choice, greater convenience. But there are major downsides too – the seeming inability of Amazon and Starbucks to pay a proper level of tax, despite hyper profits; a drabness and lack of choice in local high streets, unnecessary dependence on monopoly retailers, reduction in local and regional specialities and empty, unproductive shop units in both Rutherglen and Cambuslang centres.

The solutions are not easy. There are more coffee shops, takeaways and restaurants – but also more bookies, charity shops and pound shops.

The previous Rutherglen Town Centre Forum was not successful but perhaps it is time to establish a powerful Town Centre Action Group able to look at the whole picture – nurturing local entrepreneurs and social enterprises, one shop council/post office/advice centres, local transport, tourism, events and financial support.  Above all, can we bring in people with ideas and expertise – perhaps from a Housing Association, Clyde Gateway or innovative planning background to provide dynamism? There must be many local people with skills to offer.

Rutherglen’s historic Main Street remains a superb asset. What is its potential in the 21stcentury?

Post Office must act now on Rutherglen branch

12th September 2018

Commenting on the continued lack of progress on re-establishing a Rutherglen Post Office, Rutherglen Liberal Democrat Councillor Robert Brown said:

“The Post Office seem to have forgotten their primary obligation to the public. Rutherglen has now gone over 3 months with no post office service where there used to be a Crown Post Office. This causes inconvenience to local customers, not least the elderly, who have to travel to Burnside or elsewhere for a post office service. It also sends out entirely the wrong signal, namely that the Post Office is no longer interested in its customers.

I appreciate that there may have been confidential issues with the previous postmaster. That is now entirely irrelevant. The issue now is putting in place an alternative Post Office location. It is astonishing that the Post Office has made no announcement saying they are doing this, nor, as far as I know, have they advertised for interest from local businesses. I cannot believe there would not be an interested shop or retail premises in the Arcade or up and down the length of the Main Street.

I have myself just written further ton the Post Office about the unacceptable delay in going forward on this.

The Post Office should sort this out without further delay and let Rutherglen know what they propose to do to resolve the situation.”

Council are failing local people on tenement planned maintenance and environmental work

22nd August 2018

South Lanarkshire Council are failing local people over flawed plans for tackling tenement close painting, gutter maintenance and environmental upgrades in the area. This was the view of Rutherglen Liberal Democrat Councillor Robert Brown following discussion of the issues at the Council’s Housing Committee on Wednesday.

The Committee heard that the Council had had to revise its plans for planned maintenance on gutter cleaning, painting of tenement closes and other painting because of difficulties in getting sign up from private owners in the tenement buildings. In addition, spending on much-needed environmental works in areas like Springhall was low down the priority list as against new house building, central heating and energy improvements to houses.

Robert Brown said:

“I know of tenement closes which have not been painted for 40 years. There are also gutters which, as someone observed, can be like rooftop gardens with the amount of weed growth on them.

I accept there are sometimes problems with buildings where individual flats have been bought under the Right to Buy or are in the hands of absentee landlords. The Council must find ways to tackle this, both by looking at how maintenance can be done more economically and by investigating improved ways of helping owners to afford or spread out the costs.

It is also high time that the environmental improvement programme for Springhall was speeded up. The work done on certain areas like Ross Place and Slenavon Avenue makes a great deal of difference but the condition of close mouths, slabbing, bin areas, back courts and greens across much of the rest of Springhall needs urgent attention. People pay significant rents and should be entitled to a reasonable standard of environment outside their doors.”

Radiology scans farmed out to external providers 400,000 times

22nd August 2018

An enormous increase in the number of scans being sent outside the NHS for analysis is a “stark warning” of a crisis in radiology within the Health Service, according to local Liberal Democrats.

Figures uncovered by the Party through a series of Freedom of Information requests reveal that on 398,000 occasions scans have been sent to external providers for reporting over the last 3 years. The number has risen from 121,000 in 2015/16 to 144,000 in 2017/18.

Greater Glasgow & Clyde Health Board sent scans to providers elsewhere in the UK on 24,199 occasions during 2017/18. However no information could be obtained from Lanarkshire Health Board who replied to the FoI request by saying:

“I regret that I am unable to provide the information on the number of scans sent to external radiology providers in Scotland and the rest of the UK. Scans are sent via Medica which covers both Scotland and the UK…I can advise that no scans have been sent outside of the UK.”

Rutherglen Liberal Democrat Councillor Robert Brownsaid there could hardly be a clearer indication of a crisis in recruiting and retaining radiological staff.

Robert Brown said:

“Many people who undergo scans fear they have a serious illness. The NHS should have as a major priority the ability to carry out scans and identify the results quickly. The reality is there can often be a significant wait which is hugely worrying for people.

Now we know the huge number of scans going outside Scotland for analysis, it is clear what part of the problem is. It is incidentally quite astonishing that Lanarkshire Health Board, alone amongst mainland Scottish Health Boards, is unable even to provide the figures. If others can do so, why can Lanarkshire not even track the figures?

There is clearly a staffing shortage of radiologists and support staff in Scotland. It is only last week that the chair of the Royal College of Radiologists warned that the NHS was on “red alert” due to a shortage of qualified doctors.

This is a failure of workforce planning by the SNP government – something we have also seen in teaching and other professions too. It is time the Scottish Government published an annual report on workforce planning to allow a radical improvement in forward planning. Meantime radiology departments and patients suffer from the shortage.”

Notes to editors:

Total 2015/16120,533
Total 2016/17133,812
Total 2017/18143,983
  
Total (2015/16 – 2017/18)398,328

The Scottish Liberal Democrat freedom of information request broken down by health board can be found here.

SNP and Labour out of step as Public call for final Brexit say

21st August 2018

The pressure for the public to have the final say on Brexit is growing by the day, as more and more people recognise just what a hash the Conservative Government has made of the Brexit negotiations. Rutherglen Liberal Democrat spokesperson Councillor Robert Brownsaid he was astonished how out of line with the new public mood were both the SNP and Labour Parties., as a new poll showed overwhelming majorities of current SNP and Labour voters both wanted to stay in the European Union and supported a public vote on the Brexit terms.

Robert Brown said:

“Theresa May’s Government is probably the worst government in modern times and has shown itself divided, leaderless and incompetent in the Brexit negotiations with huge risks to the country’s future prosperity as a result. Yet the dithering by both Nicola Sturgeon and Jeremy Corbyn on the Brexit issue has meant there is no effective opposition to Brexit – not least to the disastrous prospect of there being no deal at all with our European neighbours.

The Liberal Democrats were first to demand a People’s Vote on the Brexit terms and we have now been joined by an increasing number of sensible people in Labour, the Conservatives and the SNP. Yet the leadership of both Labour and the SNP are absent from duty. The SNP are still up an irrelevant independence cul de sac when Scotland is crying out for effective opposition to Brexit. Meantime Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour leadership can only be described as fellow travellers on the Tory Brexit.

Interestingly the public trust neither the Westminster Government nor the SNP Government on Brexit.

Last weekend’s Rally for a People’s Vote in Edinburgh and previous marches across England have shown how the public mood is changing. Now the largest poll of public attitudes to Brexit since the EU referendum has found overwhelming majorities in Scotland for stating in Europe and for a People’s Vote on the terms.

The SNP’s current voters want to stay in the EU by a margin of 83 per cent to 17 per cent, while they back a People’s Vote on Brexit by a margin of more than four-to-one (66 per cent to 18 per cent) once don’t knows have been removed. Labour’s current supporters in Scotland would vote to stay in the EU by a margin of 74 per cent to 26 per cent and support a People’s Vote by 64 per cent to 21 per cent.

It is increasingly obvious that whatever deal can be patched up by the Tories on Brexit will not be anything like as good as the deal we have now as EU members.

Why on earth will the SNP and Labour leaders not do their obvious duty and back the Liberal Democrats in supporting a People’s Vote on Brexit. It is what the vast majority of their supporters want – it is certainly what the country needs. It would actually make it very likely that this disastrous Brexit could be stopped.”

Liberal Democrats call for halt to merger of British Transport Police

21st August 2018

The new Chief Constable, Iain Livingstone, should be allowed to make it his first task to halt the merger of British Transport Police into Police Scotland, according to local Liberal Democrats. The Party believe it is time to learn lessons from the botched merged of the ormer 8 police forces into Police Scotland.

Rutherglen South Liberal Democrat Councillor Robert Brown said:

“The new Chief Constable has a lot of unfinished business on his desk after the numerous problems surrounding the setting up of Police Scotland. The SNP Justice Secretary needs to stop the politically-motivated merger with the British Transport Police – it is the last thing the new Chief Constable needs and it should be scrapped.

The take over of the Scottish arm of the British Transport Police is a deeply flawed project for which there has never been a business case. Iain Livingstone has already had to tell the SNP government that their original merger plan could not have gone ahead “without compromising public safety.”

I have always been sceptical about the value of many of the centralisation projects the SNP Government seem to like. I don’t accept that Ministers in Edinburgh are best placed to direct local services. The problems of the police centralisation are now built into the organisation. It is time for an Independent expert Commission to recommend reforms and repair the damage.”

Nursery New build plans

16th August 2018

Comment by Rutherglen Liberal Democrat Councillor Robert Brown on increases in Nursery School places

“The increase in nursery entitlement to 1140 hours is both long overdue and challenging. The target date is 2020 – only 2 years away – and there is a requirement both to build new nurseries and expand some existing ones. I was glad to support the proposal to build 6 new nursery facilities including a much needed one in Newton – at a total cost of £9million. It is urgent that these go ahead without delay.

Delivery of the 1140 hours depends, as it aways has, on partnership with the private sector nurseries and child care providers. I know from contact with nurseries in this area that there are concerns about the funding arrangements for them and this needs to be sorted out as soon as possible. I have already had correspondence with the Director of Education about this. That is a different issue from the Council’s 6 projects. There will be a huge expansion in nurseries by 2020 and there should be increasing business for the private providers who are a key part off the mix. “

A European perspective on the NHS

Reformer article 10th August 2018 

4 broken ribs after a trip on a pavement on holiday this summer gave me a closer encounter with the Italian health service than I wished!

European Union E111 Card

Fortunately I had remembered to renew my E111 card which covered the costs of health care – a stark reminder of yet another advantage of being in the European Union. Without the E111 card, I would have required to pay.

Two days in an Italian hospital were interesting. The care and food was excellent – and there was a high emphasis on thorough cleaning of the ward.

NHS needs change

The National Health Service is rightly regarded as one of Britain’s key institutions – providing free health care (unlike the USA for example where poorer people can be left with very limited health care).

But the NHS is struggling with growing demand – with Government waiting times targets frequently broken, the stress of delays in seeing specialists, repeat visits for different tests, poorer outcomes than some other countries.

The Netherlands have one of the highest rated systems, funded by a compulsory health insurance – but with a separate social insurance fund from general taxation to cover mental health, elderly care and end of life care. The German system is funded by payments of about 13% salary, while the Swedish system is run by the 21 local Councils – but charges people for seeing the GP or for prescriptions, albeit with a yearly cap.

Long term NHS funding

More funding is vital. A high level Report, commissioned by the Liberal Democrats this year, proposed replacing National Insurance by a dedicated Health & Care tax to ensure sustainable long-term funding of the NHS.

But money is not the only thing. The NHS also needs more local accountability, rapid and comprehensive access to diagnostic tests, a greater priority on mental health services and to become a national health service rather than a national sickness service to counter pressures from growing obesity and life style issues.

The NHS has been a valued friend for 70 years. The time is right for a comprehensive reassessment of the NHS, its role, funding and priorities to ensure it does the job for the next century.

Parking congestion requires urgent action

14th July 2018

Rutherglen South Liberal Democrat Councillor Robert Brownsaid this week he was hugely concerned about the problem of access by emergency vehicles to Drumilaw Way, Blairbeth reported in last week’s Rutherglen Reformer. He said the issue was now a pressing one, affecting many streets across Rutherglen and Cambuslang.

He has called on the Council to carry out a survey of the worst access “hotspots” across South Lanarkshire.

Robert Brown said:

“This is a problem which has been getting steadily worse over the last 5 or 10 years as levels of car ownership increase in areas which were never designed for this. It is not just access by emergency vehicles, it is also routine use of pavements by elderly people, parents with prams and young children and disabled people who all have to risk their lives by stepping on the road because selfish parking has blocked the pavement,

There are proposals in the new Transport Bill lodged before the Scottish Parliament on June 8thto ban pavement parking and double parking and ensure pavements and roads are more generally accessible. Whilst this is welcome, it will be a number of months before it passes into law and, after that, there will probably be a need for detailed guidance as to how it would work in practice.

It will be up to Councils to look at their areas and produce solutions that tackle the problem whilst still allowing people to park their cars in their local areas.

There is no easy answer but I think the Council should start the process by looking at the worst hotspots and identifying what action is needed so they can be ready both to make sure the Transport Act does what it should, and that effective action can be taken across the board as soon as possible. Of course not everything has to await the new Act and any action that can be taken now should be considered.

There are many areas across Rutherglen and Cambuslang that have the same congestion problems experienced by Louise Spring in Drumilaw Way. Blairbeth and Spittal have particularly narrow streets, Fernhill Road has cars parked on both sides making through access more difficult, parts of Cathkin, Springhall and Burnside have similar problems.