Liberal Democrats demand halt to merger of British Transport Police

11th September 2017

Rutherglen Liberal Democrat Councillor Robert Brown has backed calls for a halt to the merger between Police Scotland and the British Transport Police being imposed by the Scottish Government. He described the plan as “another SNP police shambles” following the ill-fated centralisation of the Scottish police forces and after the enforced leave of absence taken by Chief Constable Philip Gormley who is under investigation for gross misconduct.

Robert Brown said:

“British Transport Police provide an independent and specialist service keeping people safe on our railways. While clearly there is and should be co-operation with Police Scotland, the merger is another ill thought out centralisation being rushed through by the SNP. It makes no sense at all to go forward with this at a time when the police organisation is still trying to digest the original centralisation – and when there are problems with the top management in both the police and the Scottish Police Authority, the police oversight body.

British Transport Police should be left alone and the merger put on hold. A merger like this requires strong leadership and with both the Scottish Police Authority and Police Scotland without any permanent leadership it would be irresponsible to allow it to proceed.

There has long been concern over this merger and just a few days ago an HMICS report showed the merger to be seriously flawed. Now with Police Scotland in the midst of a power vacuum such a merger could be disastrous.”

Residents demand action on Broomieknowe Road traffic

11th September 2017

Local residents in Broomieknowe Road are demanding action over traffic using Broomieknowe Road as a ratrun. The volume and speed of traffic on the street has been a growing problem for some time.

Rutherglen South Liberal Democrat Councillor Robert Brown said:

“”The problem of traffic using residential streets as rat runs to avoid traffic lights and shave a few seconds off journeys is an issue across Rutherglen and Cambuslang – but Broomieknowe Road is one of the worst affected.

I am fully behind local residents in looking for action on this and have already raised various aspects of it with the Council.

There are two things I want to see done as soon as possible. One is to install an island in the middle of the road near the sheltered houses at the top of the hill to help older residents cross safely. The other is to put in a right turn filter from Blairbeth Road to Mill Street which I have been pressing the Roads Department to do for many months – at present their position is they will review it at the end of the year. Frankly that is not good enough as the problem had been obvious from the beginning.

But we also need a longer term solution to reduce unnecessary through traffic on Broomieknowe Road. There are various possibilities which I have discussed with local residents and we will be trying to persuade the Council of the need for effective action. The traffic survey done by Brian Shields is very helpful to this.”

Liberal Democrats launch Council By Election campaign

3rd September 2017

Local Liberal Democrats have announced that former Stonelaw High School teacher Ellen Bryson will be the Liberal Democrat by election candidate for the forthcoming Rutherglen Central & North Council By Election to replace Gerard Killen who is standing down following his election to Parliament in June.

Ellen Bryson is a longstanding Liberal Democrat activist and well known to many local people following her 17 year service as Geography teacher at Stonelaw High School. She was also active in the Fair Trade group at Stonelaw. Brought up in Croftfoot and Rutherglen, Ellen graduated with honours in Geography and Economic History from Strathclyde University. Prior to her period at Stonelaw, she taught at schools in Hamilton and in Malawi.

Married with 2 grown up sons, Ellen now acts as a Volunteer guide at the David Livingstone Centre and at the Kittochside Museum of Country Life.

Rutherglen South Liberal Democrat Councillor Robert Brown said:

“I am delighted that Ellen Bryson has agreed to fight the by election for us. She is already proving a great candidate for the Liberal Democrats and is very much a local community campaigner who is in it to get things done for local people. We had a good base in May when our vote increased substantially in Rutherglen Central and North and we are finding that people like our community politics style of campaigning for local people.

Liberal Democrats across the country have had some tremendous Council by election victories over the last 18 months in particular and have made more gains than any other Party. I think we can do very well in this Rutherglen by election – particularly in a ward where people remember how well they were represented previously by former Liberal Democrat Councillor Gretel Ross.

Scottish Liberal Democrat Leader in Rutherglen to support Ellen Bryson

3rd September 2017

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie MSP was out on the doors in Rutherglen last week meeting local residents along with Liberal Democrat Council by election candidate Ellen Bryson, Councillor Robert Brown and the local Liberal Democrat campaign team.

The Liberal Democrat team were out in Rutherglen Central and North Ward in support of Ellen Bryson who is bidding to replace Gerard Killen as Councillor for the area following his election to Parliament.

Ellen Bryson said:

“It was great to have Willie Rennie backing our campaign and he was very well received by local people in Bankhead and the West End. It’s not often you get a Party leader knocking your door – most of them seem to want to stay cooped up with their own supporters! Willie is very much a “people person” though and likes meeting local people and hearing about their concerns.

As far as I am concerned, local council elections are all about local issues and we got a lot of matters raised ranging from traffic and parking issues, graffiti and overhanging trees to dog fouling and the maintenance of houses. This is the sort of thing on which people want to see action to improve their local area.

Rutherglen Liberal Democrat Councillor Robert Brown said:

“We had a great team out and met a lot of local people. This by election is a great opportunity to get a second Liberal Democrat Councillor in Rutherglen working for local people. Ellen Bryson is well known in the area and will do a tremendous job.”

Local Councillor warns of need to tackle structural and environmental issues in older council housing

30th August 2017

South Lanarkshire Council’s Local Housing Strategy 2017-2022 was approved by the Council at the Executive Committee meeting on Wednesday.

However Rutherglen South Liberal Democrat Councillor Robert Brown took the opportunity to press the case for more investment in the older council housing stock in the area which, he said, had sometimes been left behind when new houses were built or areas regenerated.

Robert Brown said:

“Areas like Springhall have major environmental problems with things like back courts, close mouths, slabbing, bin shelters and lock ups as well as some structural issues like roof or balcony problems. Throughout areas like Fernhill, Blairbeth, Spittal and Cathkin, there are pockets of older houses – tenements particularly but also other house types – which need investment. The outside appearance of the houses looks tired with old roughcasting, long-term lack of painting of closes, railings and panels and so forth. The Council’s plans for planned maintenance on things like painting and gutter repairs seem to have slipped badly.

My view is that this is about people’s homes and that tenants are entitled to expect the Council to keep them in a good quality condition. We all know the pressure for building new houses and that is important – but it is no use if the older houses are not attended to.

In fairness, some work is being done on these things – both environmental works in Springhall and roof and roughcast works elsewhere such as the recent work done in Spittal or the work currently happening in Quarryknowe, However the pace needs to speed up if the houses are to remain popular.”

Time for Cathkin Relief Road land maintenance arrangements to be in place

30th August 2017

It is time for the longer term arrangements for finalisation of the Cathkin Relief Road landscape work and the details of the 5 year post-completion maintenance regime to be in place. This was the view of Rutherglen Liberal Democrat Councillor Robert Brown who raised the matter at Wednesday’s meeting of the Council’s Executive Committee.

The plan had been for Land Engineering, the contractor who built the road, to finalise the landscape work and undertake maintenance for the 5 year period following completion. This was thrown into confusion when the firm went into administration earlier this year.

Robert Brown said:

“Land Engineering’s demise was unfortunate and threw the numerous problems connected with the landscape completion and maintenance back on the Council. It was inevitable that there would be a period of time before alternative arrangements were put in place. In the meantime the Council’s Land Services Department have done some basic grass cutting and similar work but it is now time to see a proper regime in place to sort out the remaining issues and maintain the landscaped areas going forward.

I had previously been assured that Land Engineering had not been paid for work not done and there were also sufficient retentions on the contract. In other words, finance is not a problem in doing what is necessary.

However I am receiving increasing complaints about things like the condition of the verges around the site and the need for thorough attention to the various remaining snagging issues which would normally have been dealt with by this time. Local residents want to see the landscaping finished and properly cared for.”

SNP’s Education centralisation a threat to local democracy

30th August 2017

South Lanarkshire Council seem likely to take part in an a joint arrangement with other councils in the West of Scotland with a view to sharing best practice in schools across the area. The move has come as part of a response by Scottish Councils to the SNP Government’s proposals for a compulsory government-led Education Regional Improvement Collaborative. The matter led to a heated debate at the Council’s Executive Committee on Wednesday which resulted in the Council’s partnership initiative being approved in principle subject to the details being further developed. The Councils’ move follows detailed discussion in COSLA, the Scottish Local Authorities body, and was designed to keep effective control of education with locally-elected Councils and avoid a centrally-imposed bureaucracy run by Ministers in Edinburgh.

Rutherglen Liberal Democrat Councillor Robert Brown said:

“The Scottish government have come in for a lot of stick because of difficulties in education performance with Scotland slipping down international league tables since the SNP came to power. Most schools do a great job but have been held back because of a drop in teachers numbers of 4,000 since 2007 and a fall too in support staff, all of which makes the job of schools more difficult.

The SNP’s answer appears to be fiddling about with the structures and handing increased power to Scottish Ministers in Edinburgh. This proposed Regional Collaborative in education follows on the unsatisfactory centralisation of the police and emergency services. In my view, it is a threat to local democracy and will divert attention away from the real challenges in the schools. It is almost always a bad thing when Ministers in Edinburgh try to micro manage everything centrally.

It is ironic that 6 of the 8 West of Scotland Councils involved in the so called Glasgpw City Region Educational Improvement Collaborative are SNP led – and they are unanimously signed up to doing their best to thwart the centralisation plans of John Swinney, the SNP Education Secretary.

Everyone wants to see our schools thrive and give the best start in life possible to our young people. Sharing best practice locally is a good thing – but having the Scottish government doing a power grab would be a terrible mistake. I hope John Swinney ands the SNP government will back down and accept the approach being pioneered by the local Councils.”

General Election voting system is not fit for purpose – Liberal Democrats

28th August 2017

The voting system used at the recent General Election is broken beyond repair, according to local Liberal Democrats. Local Party spokesperson Ellen Bryson said the First past the Post system used for Westminster elections was a ‘democratic disaster’ and distorted the way elections operated in Britain.

Mrs. Bryson’s comments followed the publication of a highly critical Report on the 2017 General Election by the Electoral Reform Society which found that the result did not accurately represent how electors voted, distorted the result in all 4 nations of the UK, failed to produce a decisive winner (for the third election in a row) and was more akin to a lottery than a democratic election in a modern European democracy.

In Scotland there were huge changes in 2017, both in vote shares and in representation. The winner in most seats got less than 40% of the vote – such as in Rutherglen & Hamilton West where, as in many seats, the majority was less than 1,000. The worst example was North East Fife where the Liberal Democrats missed victory by only 2 votes.

Ellen Bryson said –

“The United Kingdom is literally the only country in the whole of Europe to use the First Past the Post voting system. The ERS Report shows it is not fit for purpose. It is arbitrary, encourages negative tactical voting, often produces the wrong result and grossly over-represents or under-represents the various political parties, not just across the United Kingdom but within each of Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and England.

In Scotland the SNP lost 21 seats  in June – but still got far more seats than they deserved on their vote share. Both Labour and the Tories were under represented in Scotland in 2017.

Across the UK as a whole, the Tories were over represented by far while the Liberal Democrats, Greens and UKIP all should have been entitled to more seats based on their vote share. In the case of the Liberal Democrats, they have been grossly under represented at every election for the last 60 years.

The results of this electoral lottery are far reaching – there would almost certainly have been no disastrous Brexit referendum under a more proportional election system; quite probably there would have been no Conservative Prime Minister in any of the last 3 elections while, in Scotland, the nonsense of the SNP winning every seat bar 3 in 2015 could not have happened.

Liberal Democrats are clear that the British general election voting system is discredited beyond repair – it is time to replace it with a proportional system like STV (single transferable vote) which gives the power to the voters, produces a fair result based on votes cast, encourages positive voting and is democratic. It is a serious matter indeed when our Parliament does not properly represent the public.”

South Lanarkshire Local Plan

21st August 2017 – Reformer Guest article

The most contentious political issues are often planning matters – the best use of land to enhance and protect local communities while providing the facilities that communities need but don’t necessarily want on their doorsteps. New housing is a prime example.

From 1999-2008, the supply of new housing in Scotland hovered around 25,000-28,000 houses a year. After the financial crash – and the advent of the SNP government – this crashed throughout the last 10 years to around 15,000-18,000 houses a year. Now we need to increase house building to meet population changes – and experts agree that, in particular, we need around 12,000 council and Housing association houses for rent. South Lanarkshire plans to build 1,000 socially rented houses by 2021 – and space has to be found for this and for perhaps twice as many houses for sale.

So it is not surprising that publication of the Main Issues Report 2017 for the South Lanarkshire Local Plan has again raised the thorny issue of preservation of the Greenbelt amidst fears that Rutherglen and Cambuslang could soon be a continuous urban area with East Kilbride. Locally, sites at East Farm, Cambuslang, Newhouse Farm, Newton and Duchess Road, Farme Cross are suggested as suitable for housing on top of existing locations like the remaining sites in Fernhill.

In the past – for example in Drumsagard and Newton – there has been a bad mismatch between the arrival of new houses and the necessary community facilities like shops, restaurants, schools, transport, community hall and play facilities that support them.

Greenbelt provides the “green lung” for urban areas as well as helping to provide a more balanced environment for us all. So the public interest requires a stringent approach to land supply.

The approach should include:

  1. Delivering the land supply for the necessary homes needed
  2. Presumption in favour of retaining current Greenbelt land
  3. Priority for building on unused brownfield sites
  4. Early provision of schools, shops and community facilities
  5. Availability of public transport links
  6. Supporting existing town centres and local shops

There is much to consider as the new Local Plan is developed.

SNP Government are using “industrial scale evasion” to thwart Freedom of Information laws

14th August 2017

A call for an enquiry into the operation of the Freedom of Information legislation and what has been described as the “problem of industrial scale evasion” by the SNP government has come from the Liberal Democrats.

The call from the Party comes after countless complaints from journalists, opposition parties, the independent Information Commissioner and open access campaigners about the Scottish Government’s adherence to freedom of information laws. Criticisms include failing to reply to requests, late responses, minutes of meetings not being taken so they can’t be released and special advisors becoming involved in assessing the responses collated by expert civil servants “for accuracy”.

Rutherglen Liberal Democrat Councillor Robert Brown said:

“Robust freedom of information arrangements are vital in any true democracy – but they can be thwarted by a government that wants to manipulate it. Liberal Democrats introduced the Freedom of Information Act in Scotland when we were in Government in Holyrood and it blew a wind of change through attitudes to public information. Indeed it was one of the major achievements of the Scottish Parliament and I was very pleased as an MSP at that time to help to bring it in.

However the regular evasion and shilly shallying by the Scottish government since the SNP came to power is entirely unacceptable and it is time for a full independent review. The lack of timeous release of information frustrates investigative journalism and hides Important information that the public should know about and which the Scottish government would prefer they didn’t know about.”