Robert Brown appeals to Rutherglen Labour MP Ged Killen to help stop Brexit

10th June 2018

Brexit can be stopped – but only if pro-European Labour MPs do their duty. This was the message from Rutherglen Liberal Democrat Councillor Robert Brownin a personal letter to Rutherglen & Hamilton West Labour MP Ged Killen this week.

The House of Commons is due to vote shortly on the European Union Withdrawal Bill and, in particular, on the amendments passed in the Lords which the Conservative Government seek to reverse.

Robert Brownsaid:

“I have made no secret of my view that coming out of the European Union is a total and unmitigated disaster, which will damage the living standards and prospects of almost everyone in the United Kingdom. The negotiations conducted by Mrs. May’s Government have achieved literally nothing – which is hardly surprising when the Cabinet is divided even over what they want from Brexit. I have frankly not seen such an incompetent Government in my lifetime.

Parliament has the opportunity to do two things. First, they can insist that, whatever else, Britain remains in the European Customs Union and the Single Market – that is the absolute least that is needed if British trade, jobs and living standards are not to be wrecked by Brexit.

The second is to pass the Liberal Democrat amendment requiring a People’s Vote on the terms of Brexit – with an opportunity to do what the majority of people in opinion polls now clearly want which is to remain in the European Union if the terms are unsatisfactory. Actually we already know the terms are highly unsatisfactory and damaging to our country’s interests.

That is why I have written personally to Ged Killen whom I have known and worked with as a Council colleague and in the campaign to keep Scotland in the United Kingdom.

The position of Labour MPs is crucial. If they back key amendments from the House of Lords, they can halt Brexit in its tracks. If substantial numbers of them vote according to their judgment , they can beat the Government on this and require a People’s Vote on the Brexit terms.

If on the other hand they continue to support Jeremy Corbyn in backing a hard Brexit – in effect giving cover and protection to the Tories – Theresa May, Boris Johnston and Michael Gove – they will condemn the country to a very difficult future.

This is a key moment and it is time for Labour MPs – most of whom are at heart pro-European to stand up for what they believe in.

Ged Killen and many of his Labour colleagues were voted in last May, not least because many young people believed it was the best way to stop Brexit and secure a European future. I hope they were not wrong.“

Paying tribute to Schools – Rutherglen Reformer article

1st June 2018

This week I want to pay tribute to the headteachers, teachers, janitors and support staff who run our schools, nurseries and early years provision – and the voluntary Parent Councils who do so much work in supporting them.

We don’t always think of them that way but schools are big business! In South Lanarkshire we have no less than 123 primary schools, 19 secondary schools and 5 additional support needs schools. The education budget is well over £300 million a year – half the Council’s total revenue expenditure.  Stonelaw, Trinity and Cathkin High Schools each have a roll of over 1,000 young people – and growing.  An individual secondary school will have a budget of around £6 million and approaching 100 staff. Local primary school rolls range from around 140 to over 400.

The SNP Government have come under a lot of attack because Scotland has been falling down the international league tables in education. After a decade of falling teacher numbers, they have been forced to put more money into education through the Scottish Attainment challenge and the Pupil Equity Fund – following in large measure the pupil premiums pioneered by Liberal Democrats in the UK government before 2015.

The enthusiasm and energy brought to a school by a cadre of new, freshly qualified teachers is amazing. As a Scottish Education Minister I recall being totally inspired by meeting lots of fresh young teachers recruited when we raised teacher numbers across Scotland to the unprecedented level of 53,000.

So the last thing schools need is more tinkering with the structures – and the forthcoming SNP Education Bill is largely about that. The success of our schools is based on inspiring leadership, committed teachers and supportive and engaged parents, not interference by Ministers in Edinburgh.

Parent Councils also make a huge contribution through fundraising and other school support but also in representing the wider parent body in engagement with their local schools. I am constantly impressed both by their organisational success with galas, fetes and other events and by their knowledge and commitment. They are undoubtedly amongst the most effective organisations in Rutherglen and Cambuslang.

SNP Plan a “recipe for super austerity” – Liberal Democrats

27th May 2018

Local Liberal Democrats have described the Report of the SNP Growth Commission as “a recipe for super austerity” which “holed the independence campaign below the waterline.”

Commenting on the Report, Rutherglen Liberal Democrat Councillor Robert Brownsaid:

“The SNP appear to have ditched the plan that failed so spectacularly to convince the public in 2014. Gone is much of the social democratic rhetoric and the idea that an independent Scotland would have money growing on trees. Gone is the bonanza of the oil revenues.

Instead the SNP want to cut public debt drastically. This is understandable, given the costs and uncertainties of independence but the result would be cuts in services that can only be described as a recipe for “super austerity”. Even Theresa May and the Tories have given up on this policy now. Far from being the plan for optimism and hope described by the First Minister, this is a grim plan for Scotland for a future of falling living standards and belt tightening from the SNP.

In short Nicola Sturgeon has ditched the plan they gave us in 2014 which fell apart on contact with reality. Now she has given us another plan, which is undoubtedly more realistic about how difficult and undesirable independence would be. However, if she can ditch one plan so readily, the Scottish public can be forgiven for being unconvinced by the new plan.

The reality is that the costs and complexities of independence are similar to those of Brexit that we see unfolding every day before our eyes.

A further independence referendum on top of Brexit would be a total distraction when we should be concentrating on improving public services and driving improvements to our economy. Instead of opening up the debate on independence, Nicola Sturgeon should ditch it “for a generation”. This needs building relationships with others, not breaking up our long-established United Kingdom.

This will be a slow burning fuse – but I believe the SNP’s own Growth Commission has in fact holed independence below the line.”

Time for Programmed Maintenance of Council houses – Robert Brown

27th May 2018

South Lanarkshire Council’s Housing Repairs Policy Review threw up some criticism at last week’s meeting of the Housing & Technical Resources Committee.

Rutherglen South Liberal Democrat CouncillorRobert Brownsaid the document was “deliberately vague” in the way it dealt with programmed maintenance of things like gutters, close painting and slab repairs. He said it was time the Council had a programme for checking and maintaining routine issues like that.

Robert Brownsaid:

“The reality is that there is not a proper programme for when closes and external areas get painted or gutters cleared. Consequently there were tenement buildings right across Rutherglen that had not been painted for years and others where weeds were growing from gutters. The painting programme has slipped from 5 years to 10 years before it even began.

I know there are problems with divided ownership – some council tenants, some owner -occupiers, some private tenants – in individual blocks. However it must have a higher priority to get on top of this.

The Council say they do 5 yearly checks on the condition of properties but this must be followed by speedier action to tackle the issues shown up. Many tenants simply don’t know what is happening in their areas on repair programmes.”

Letter to Rutherglen Reformer on Council Budget

30th March 2018

Dear Sir,

Conservative Councillors are making a fuss (Rutherglen Reformer 28thMarch 2018)because the recent Council budget did not add in a further £1 million for roads for next year’s Budget. But let’s look at the whole picture.

The Council – with longstanding support from all Parties – currently spends £24million a year on road maintenance and carriageway resurfacing and has already put an extra £1million a year into this in recent years.  Consequently South Lanarkshire’s roads are significantly better than those in surrounding areas, although they have taken a hammering in the current bad winter. There is to be a review of the roads programme this year anyway.

Had the Conservatives had their way, there would have been £2.5 million less raised this coming year from the council tax. That would hardly have helped improve the roads!

In addition, the Conservatives would have slashed £1.5 million off the budget for teachers and support staff and £2 million off the funding for the excellent proposals for training 100 much-needed early years and social care staff.

The Conservatives would also have cancelled the modest proposals for tackling poverty by the long overdue rise in the school clothing grant, the proposals for holiday lunch clubs and the inflation rise in support for the voluntary sector bodies that do so much in our communities.

Tory Councillors cutting Council funding; schools and social care funding slashed; no concern for families in need. I think that is perhaps an alternative Budget that South Lanarkshire needed like a hole in the head.

Yours faithfully,

Robert Brown

(Robert Brown)

Liberal Democrat Councillor for Rutherglen South

Employment programmes for Early Years and Care Workers

30th March 2018

A new initiative by South Lanarkshire Council will see 50 Social Care and 50 Early Years students trained over the next 2 years. The £2 million scheme was introduced in the Council’s recent Budget and further details have now been given to the Council’s Executive Committee.

Rutherglen Liberal Democrat Councillor Robert Brownwelcomed the scheme but said it was important to ensure that the students came from right across South Lanarkshire, including Rutherglen and Cambuslang.

Robert Brownsaid:

“This is a great scheme and will help to make sure there is a supply of trained staff available to support both the expansion in early years’ care and the needs of older people cared for in the community.

The students will be largely in the age group of 16-19 so I want to see strong links with the 3 local Secondary Schools – Cathkin, Stonelaw and Trinity – so that there is a career path for young people interested in this work. The scheme must also be attractive and provide ongoing career opportunities so that staff are retained in the area after their training.

The students will get both practical experience and formal qualifications in Social Services and Health Care or in Childcare. They will be placed either with the Council or with social care or childcare partners and will  be on an initial 2 year contract.

I believe the scheme will  make a significant contribution both to career prospects and to high quality care staff numbers in the local area.”

Winter emergency costs likely to be around £7million in South Lanarkshire

30th March 2018

The current costs to the Council of this year’s severe weather are likely to be around £7 million, according to a report by officials to the Council’s Executive Committee. Much of this is the cost of winter gritting work.

Rutherglen Liberal Democrat Councillor Robert Brownsaid the figure showed just how extensive the winter work by the Council was and paid tribute to the efforts put in by Council staff during the winter emergency.

Robert Brownsaid:

“Like everyone, I hope we have seen the back of the snow and the icy weather.  This was apparently the worst winter for about 10 years.

The cost to the Council of £7 million is roughly twice the money to be brought in by the 3% increase in Council tax this year – which gives an idea of the scale and cost of the work carried out by Roads and Lands Services in particular.

The Scottish Government have activated the Bellwin Scheme which means that some of the cost will be recouped from the broader shoulders of national government. The Bellwin Scheme operates when winter costs arise above a threshold.

I asked the Roads Department to review the winter gritting operation to see if any improvements could be made to its effectiveness within the budget. I gather this is being done. However, with the best will in the world, the Council can’t grit all the roads and pavements and the system is reliant on local communities and families helping out where they can. This was what happened in many cases but it can be a grim experience for elderly or disabled people stuck in their houses for a week.”

Road Safety and the Year of Young People

26th March 2018 Rutherglen Reformer article

Recently I went to Loch Primary School in Springhall to see Baldy Bane Theatre. Founded in 1991, they focus on hard hitting issues like bullying, knife crime, internet safety and abuse in teenage relations. They have been commissioned by Road Safety Scotland to deliver a programme on road safety.

Children make choices when walking or cycling to school – peer pressure to go by a quicker but unsafe route, whether to give a friend a lift on your bike, crossing the road using your iPhone, moving to Secondary School. One play starred an agitated Lollipop lady’s problems.

The actors pushed the children to contribute, changing the plays accordingly. By the time the bell went, almost all the children were putting in their ideas – they clearly were able to feel themselves in the shoes of the participants.

Now this was not just a bit of fun. It was intended to change children’s ways of thinking about road safety and help keep them safe. Children are more likely to be injured on the roads than any other age group.

But it is a challenge for parents too.

At Loch, like many schools, there is a congestion problem when parents drop off and pick up their children at school. Lochaber Drive is a cul de sac serving both Loch and St. Anthony’s. As school rolls expand, congestion gets worse. The Council, police and others take action to help but the real answer is many fewer children arriving by car.

Burnside Primary has made a big effort since their school was rebuilt to make the school entrance in Glenlui Avenue safer – far fewer parents now use Glenlui. Consequently the school entrance is pleasanter and safer and it is easier to encourage more children to walk to school.

But we also need to look more closely at safe routes to school –school entrance areas, difficult crossing points like the junction of Rodger Drive and Stonelaw Road, vehicles blocking pavements near schools, traffic speed on school routes, poor pavement surfaces and flooded crossing points.

Wouldn’t it be great if the Year of Young People saved young lives and delivered safer routes to school!

Local Liberal Democrats take European campaign to the people

26th March 2018

Local Liberal Democrats were out on the streets in Rutherglen, Cambuslang and Blantyre at the weekend taking their campaign to force a public vote on the terms of Brexit to local people.

Rutherglen Liberal Democrat Councillor Robert Brownand local Liberal Democrat activists ran street stalls in the 3 centres and talked to passers by about the issue. Leaflets are also going out across many doors in the local area. The street stalls and leaflet drive are part of the Liberal Democrat National Action Campaign against Brexit.

Robert Brownsaid:

“We had a really good reception from local residents. Most people are horrified at the unfolding disaster of Brexit which is already costing jobs and business, damaging security and harming our Universities.

Our job is to persuade people that we can stop Brexit if people across the United Kingdom are determined enough. Liberal Democrats are campaigning for a referendum on the terms of Brexit – with an option to stay in the European Union if we wish. Opinion polls now suggest that the very narrow and indecisive referendum vote in 2016 to leave the EU would have a different result if it was being held now.

The biggest obstacle to stopping Brexit in its tracks is Jeremy Corbyn. Instead of doing his job as Leader of the Opposition, the Labour leader has given a free pass right down the line to Theresa May, Boris Johnston and Michael Gove. Yet most Labour supporters are strongly in favour of remaining in the European Union. I can’t imagine what local Labour supporters think Jeremy Corbyn is doing by backing the Tories’ hard Brexit.

As it turns out, the Campaign to stop Brexit is well timed – following the allegations that the Leave campaign breached election spending rules as well as the furore over the sacking of Owen Smith by the Labour Party.

Former Labour leadership contender Owen Smith MP came out in support of a referendum on the terms of Brexit – and got sacked by Jeremy Corbyn for his trouble. Apart from Owen Smith, the Liberal Democrat position on this is now supported by a number of other senior Labour politicians and by people like the former Conservative Prime Minister Sir John Major.

There is clearly everything to play for. This is a vital time and people must stand up and be counted if they want to safeguard Britain’s continued membership of the EU Single Market – and of the EU itself.”

Council to report on local housing regeneration challenge

10th March 2018

A report has been promised from housing officials on the extent of structural and environmental work required currently on council housing across South Lanarkshire. The promise was made following a demand from Rutherglen South Liberal Democrat Councillor at the Council’s recent Executive Committee. Housing officials said it could be a snapshot in time but Councillor Brown said council tenants were entitled to know where they stood, the extent of the problems and how long they might have to wait to fix them.

Robert Brown said:

“I have argued for some time that many of the older council houses across Rutherglen have been left behind, despite paying their rent for many years – and indeed seeing a significant increase in rent this year and next.

In Springhall, there are major environmental problems with back green areas, rubbish collection systems, close mouths, slabbing, bin shelters and lockups. The areas around many houses and tenemental blocks are unattractive and decaying. We have managed to get some money spent each year to regenerate small parts of the estate but it is far too slow and will take the best part of 20 years to complete at this rate.

In other areas like Blairbeth, Spittal, Fernhill and Cathkin – and indeed in similar parts of other wards in Rutherglen and Cambuslang, there are pockets of both tenenental and semi detached housing which still have the original roughcasting which is no longer fit for purpose and looks very grey. In addition, there are structural and roof issues to be tackled.

The promised Report from the Housing Department is a very small step – but at least it should give a clearer idea of the extent of the physical and financial challenge – and give a basis for taking it forward.

I understand the need for new housing – but it should not be at the expense of existing longstanding tenants.”