One month on from the Referendum, the focus is again on the local community I represent and the issues which it faces.
There is so much to be done.
Three areas for starters:
We are in a rapidly developing area, where, as a result of poor planning decisions and short-sightedness by previous administrations, the infrastructure has not kept pace with the needs of the residents. There are justifiable demands from both young families and older residents for better community facilities. We hear much talk of “empowering communities” to have greater control over their own local services, but this can only be done effectively where a community can come together and share ideas and tasks. Rhetoric is fine – practical responses are better. The community needs somewhere where people can meet together and get to know each other, whether in a hall over coffee, on a sports’ pitch or in a workshop. I do believe that we have a real chance to move forward on this through the Community Asset Transfer process and I have been supporting several local groups work towards securing this.
We are in a prosperous area of North-East Scotland with very low levels of unemployment, but still 8.13% of local children live in poverty. Every week, I collect donations handed in to the Jubilee Hall in Portlethen for the local Food-Bank and take them to the Trussell Trust for putting into emergency food boxes. This must not become a long-term solution – we must instead tackle the issue of low pay and work towards a realistic living wage for all. In 2013, I campaigned long but successfully to put in place the living wage for Aberdeenshire employees. Earlier this year, SNP MSPs voted against putting a clause on the living wage into public procurement contracts. This could have been a huge step towards making work pay and thus towards eradicating poverty. Affordable housing is also much needed locally, and the problems caused by huge energy prices need to be reduced through a freeze in energy prices.
The ongoing construction of new (costly) family homes in North Kincardine means that we are also an area with growing numbers of children. The Government’s child-care policies, although welcome, were introduced far too rapidly for considered, and funded, local implementation. They were clearly part of a political time-table, rather than a practical one. The pressure they have created on local facilities has put other existing and valued community activities under threat. Trying to ensure equality and fairness within this situation is a real challenge, and this is taking managerial resources away from considering options for another desperate area of need: out-of-school care. So many parents are finding returning to work difficult because they cannot find affordable, accessible child-care! So many grand-parents told me, while I was gathering feedback for the Every Step Campign led by Labour’s Education Spokesperson, Kezia Dugdale MSP, that they feel forced to support their working children by caring for their grand-children on a regular basis, because there is no other provision locally. This is an area which requires creative yet well-considered solutions and a funding arrangement which makes sense for both parents and local authorities.
Building community infrastructure; tackling poverty; developing accessible, affordable, equitable child-care – three areas of work towards a stronger, fairer, more equal community.