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Eilidh Whiteford, MP for Banff & Buchan

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Better Together? Tory Cuts Mean Need to Devolve Welfare More Urgent Than Ever

Friday, 29 June 2012

The SNP has warned that it is now more urgent than ever that welfare is devolved to the Scottish Parliament, following a series of attacks by the Tory Westminster Government on the welfare and benefits system.

This week the conservatives outlined future proposals, which included regional benefit levels which would see cuts for people because they live in Scotland, removing or restricting some benefits to out-of-work families with large numbers of children and removing access to housing benefit for under 25s. There was no clarity over the plans or their timing, although the Prime Minister said he hoped to work on some of them during this parliamentary term.

The SNP has said that Scottish Government progress on tackling poverty and homelessness was put at risk by current and future welfare reforms from the UK Government.

Homelessness in Scotland fell by one fifth in the last year, with local authorities making progress towards meeting the commitment to ensure every unintentional homeless person has the right to a settled home by the end of 2012. But homelessness charity Shelter Scotland have warned that the Tory proposals “would leave thousands with nowhere to go and also hit vulnerable young people such as care leavers or those who have experienced family breakdown.”

The welfare announcement came on the day the Labour party shared a platform with the Tories at the launch of the ‘no’ campaign against independence. With the labour party already indicating support for regional welfare caps, the SNP Work and Pensions spokesperson Dr Eilidh Whiteford MP said voting for independence in 2014 was the only way to ensure a fair welfare system that meets Scotland’s needs.

Dr Whiteford said:

“The conservatives gave us a chilling glimpse into the future with their latest raft of ill-considered welfare cuts. Cutting benefits simply because of where you live, or how old you are risks forcing the most vulnerable in society into a perilous position. But a future Labour government at Westminster cannot be trusted to reverse these plans. Indeed Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary Liam Byrne has already stated Labour’s support for regional welfare caps.

“As for Scottish Labour, instead of standing up for the vulnerable, they are standing together with the Tories. It’s for them to explain how we can be ‘better together’ under the Tories than making decisions for ourselves in Scotland.

“Axing housing benefit for the under 25s could leave thousands of vulnerable young people on the streets. Not everyone has a home to go to – and housing benefit changes already in place will force people with spare rooms to move home and penalise adults living at home.

“The Conservatives are throwing around half-baked, misguided welfare proposals without consideration of the implications for the real lives they affect. Instead of getting to work on the detail of the existing reforms, and making sure proper plans and resources are in place, they are trying to divert attention from their failing policies with further attacks on the most vulnerable.

“The latest Tory announcements are not so much reform as an all-out assault on the most disadvantaged. No wonder polls show 67% of people want the Scottish Government to take control of welfare and benefits – and not leave this crucial issue to London politicians.

“There is no doubt the welfare system needs reform but the deep and damaging cuts to benefits and services fundamentally undermine the system. The Scottish Government and Scottish Parliament are doing their best to mitigate the damage of Tory welfare reforms where it has the power to do so, but full powers are needed to build a better system.

“These latest welfare attacks show yet again the different stance Scotland would take if we had the power to legislate on this issue and it is our clear view that it is the Scottish Parliament, not the UK Parliament, that should decide on welfare policy for Scotland – as would be the case if Scotland was independent.”

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SNP-Led Pressure on Chancellor Leads to Fuel Duty Freeze

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Banff & Buchan MP Dr Eilidh Whiteford has welcomed the announcement from the UK Chancellor that the planned fuel duty increase of 3 pence a litre will not now go ahead in August.

Dr Whiteford was part of a cross-party campaign led by SNP Finance Spokesperson Stewart Hosie MP who were campaigning against this increase and also took part in a delegation to 10 Downing Street last year with motoring and road haulage organisations.

Speaking today Dr Whiteford said:

“I am very happy that this pressure, led by the SNP, has resulted in another UK Treasury U-turn.

“Ever since I’ve been in Parliament I have been campaigning for, not only lower fuel duty, but local control of fuel duty.

“While families and businesses will welcome this announcement, we in the North of Scotland are still suffering from some of the highest fuel prices in Europe, most of which is tax which goes straight to the London Treasury.

“While I welcome the announcement from the Treasury, the fact remains that as long as fuel duty is set in London we will have to wait years for derogations or for surprise announcements from Parliament.”

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Whiteford Welcomes High Speed Broadband for Peterhead

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Banff & Buchan MP Dr Eilidh Whiteford has welcomed the news of a major investment for Peterhead which could help create new businesses and local jobs. BT has announced that high-speed fibre broadband will be rolled out to more than 5,300 homes and businesses in the town during 2013.

The investment is expected to give a major lift to the local economy. Recent research by Regeneris Consulting predicted that over the next 15 years BT’s fibre broadband could give the economy of a typical town a £143 million boost, create 225 new jobs and 140 new start-up businesses.

Welcoming the announcement, Dr Whiteford, said:

“This is very welcome news for Peterhead. Super-fast broadband is an essential building block to economic recovery and growth. It gives our local firms a boost and brings us a competitive edge in attracting new businesses, jobs and investment. Residents will also benefit from being able to do more, better and faster, online.

“While this is good news for Peterhead, there are still parts of the North-east where broadband services are inadequate. I hope today's developments will be the catalyst for improvements to internet connections in our rural areas, so local residents and businesses can also benefit from super-fast broadband.”


Cabinet Secretary for Infrastructure and Capital Investment Alex Neil said:

“Communities across Scotland should have access to superfast broadband, no matter where they are. That’s why it is a key priority for us for all parts of Scotland to have next generation high-speed broadband.

“Today’s announcement is helping to deliver the world class broadband infrastructure across Scotland. We are clear that the private sector has a significant role to play too, and this is a welcome step forward towards achieving our vision.

“Everyone recognises the importance of access to superfast broadband, not just for our local economies but for every aspect of life in the modern world.”

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Cameron's "Better Together Boomerang" as He Calls for Benefit Cut on Day of NO Launch

Monday, 25 June 2012

POLL SHOWS 67 PER CENT WANT BENEFITS CONTROLLED BY HOLYROOD

David Cameron has undermined the launch of the Labour/Tory No campaign today, as he set out Welfare reform proposals that would see benefit cuts for people because they live in Scotland. The Prime Minister's intervention comes as an IPSOS Mori poll shows 67% of people want the Scottish Government to take control of welfare and benefits.

David Cameron’s proposals include introducing regional rates of benefits, scrapping housing benefit for the under 25s and removing or restricting some benefits to out-of-work families with large numbers of children.

SNP Work and Pensions spokesperson Dr Eilidh Whiteford said:

“David Cameron’s proposals cement the Tories position as the nasty party of UK politics, and yet today the Labour Party tell us they think it is best for Scotland for the Tories to be in charge of our welfare state.

"Thousands of Scots who now face the uncertainty of UK welfare cuts will be wondering what on earth Labour are doing entering an alliance with the Tories. The big question is whether we will now see regional rates for the state pension, with 1 million Scottish pensioners losing out because we are part of the UK. Can the No campaign guarantee that the Tories won't cut Scottish pensions?

“No wonder polls this weekend show 67% of people want the Scottish Government to take control of welfare and benefits – and not leave this crucial issue to London.

“It is incredible, and acutely embarrassing for Labour, that the prime minister has set out his welfare cuts on the day the anti-independence Labour-Tory pact was launched. Given these latest Tory plans, it is no surprise that only 20% of Scots think that we are better as part of the UK when there is a Tory government at Westminster."

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Whiteford Calls for Westminster Action on Anonymous Voting for Abuse Victims

Sunday, 24 June 2012

NO EXCUSE FOR FURTHER DELAYS

SNP MP Eilidh Whiteford has called for an end to delays from the UK Government in revising rules which could stop women who have been domestically abused from safely voting in Scotland.

Across the UK, anonymous registration is available to voters who can provide evidence of a court order offering legal protection from an abusive ex-partner to an electoral registration officer. But this direct route is not open to women who hold some interdicts commonly granted by courts in Scotland.

Instead many women in Scotland face a two-tier system and must apply to the Chief Constable or chief social work officer who has to “attest" that they have experienced abuse. Concerns have been raised by Scottish Women’s Aid that the added complication could make women less likely to vote and potentially add to the risk.

Dr Whiteford, the MP for Banff and Buchan, has written to the Scotland Office raising the matter and called for a timetable and action plan from the UK Government to bring forward the necessary changes. The response from the Advocate General for Scotland, Lord Wallace of Tankerness QC, noted the concerns from Scottish Women’s Aid, but still offered no clear timetable for progress. The response indicated that work still needed to be undertaken, including consultation with the Electoral Commission, EROs and others.

Dr Whiteford said:

“The UK Government has had six years to revise the rules and make sure all women in Scotland feel able to safely vote. There is no excuse for further delays.

“If the need for protection has been justified to a Scottish court, then surely this is evidence enough to justify anonymous registration. Women should not have to go through further scrutiny, recounting their experiences again to another third party. The route to anonymous voting should be straight-forward and stress free.

“Voting is a right and it is not in the interests of democracy to make it more difficult. There is no reason why this cannot be resolved before the next elections - the European elections and the referendum on Scotland’s future in 2014.

“According to Scottish Women’s Aid, one in five Scottish women experiences domestic abuse at some point in their lives. It affects women from all walks of life, and is a hidden scourge on society that cannot be tolerated. Those who have experienced domestic abuse must have the support and protection they need to help rebuild their lives. One part of this is the ability to vote safely.

“The UK Government has been sitting on its hands for six years – it’s time to stop procrastinating and revise the rules so that all women in Scotland feel able to exercise their right to vote free from fear."


NOTES:

The general provisions setting up the process of anonymous voting registration were introduced in the Electoral Administration Act 2006.

Direct application for anonymous registration is not available because the most commonly used Scottish civil protection orders were not included in the list of prescribed orders which can be used as evidence. The prescribed requirements are set out in the Representation of the People (Scotland) Regulations 2001 and equivalent regulations in Northern Ireland, England and Wales. Of the 11 orders only 2 are orders issued under Scots law in terms of the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 – no other Scottish protective orders are included.

Scottish Women’s Aid have had meetings with The Scotland Office to rectify this issue since 2006.

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Longhaven Pupils Honoured by MP at Commons Visit

Thursday, 21 June 2012

Pupils from Longhaven School were honoured by local MP Eilidh Whiteford at the House of Commons this week.

The small rural school which has only 15 pupils beat off stiff competition to become the award winners for the whole of Scotland.

As Scottish champions, the children of Longhaven School attended the award ceremony at London Zoo yesterday to receive their certificate and £1000 cheque.  The children were joined by pupils from England and Wales to find out won the title of overall UK Champions for 2012, which was awarded to an English school.

Banff & Buchan MP Eilidh Whiteford invited the school pupils to the House of Commons during their visit to London.  The MP has also tabled a Motion in Parliament congratulating the children on their huge achievement.

Commenting, Eilidh Whiteford said:

“I’m so thrilled for the children.  This is a magnificent achievement, particularly in light of the fact that the 15 pupils at Longhaven School have triumphed in an all-Scotland competition.

“It says much about the quality of education at the school and the commitment of the teaching staff that a small rural school like Longhaven has won this prestigious award.

“The children thoroughly enjoyed their visit to Westminster and I was pleased to be able to host their visit and celebrate their achievement by tabling a Motion in Parliament."

Meanwhile, Peterhead South & Cruden councillor Stephen Smith has proposed the school be given a ‘Pride of Buchan’ award for their achievement.  The awards, which are made by Aberdeenshire Council’s Buchan Area Committee, are to recognise regional or national achievements.

Commenting, Cllr Stephen Smith said:

“This is tremendous news for the school.  When you consider that Aberdeenshire Council wanted to close the school back in 2005 in the face of massive community opposition, to have come from that position to a point where the school is winning national awards it really tells us something about the standard of teaching which children can receive in our small rural schools.

“The award is well-deserved and I send my congratulations to the pupils and their Headteacher, Mr Loney."

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MP Welcomes Action to Help Pensioners Beat Winter Heating Bills

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Banff & Buchan MP Eilidh Whiteford has welcomed a Private Members’ Bill that would help off-grid pensioner households beat soaring winter energy costs which is to be launched by SNP MP Mike Weir this week.

Mr Weir – one of just 20 MPs successful in a ballot to present a Bill in the House of Commons – said the Bill (the Winter Fuel Allowance Payments (Off-Grid Claimants) Bill) would provide for the early payment of Winter Fuel Allowance to pensioners whose homes are not connected to the mains grid and whose principal source of fuel is home fuel oil, liquid petroleum gas or propane gas.

Bringing forward payment of Winter Fuel Allowance would allow vulnerable consumers to fill up their tanks prior to the onset of winter and at a time when prices tend to be lower.  Mr Weir, who has long campaigned on the difficulties faced by off-gas grid energy consumers, now hopes to build cross-party support for the proposal.  Mr Weir’s Bill will formally be presented to Parliament on Wednesday 20 June.

Commenting, Eilidh Whiteford said:

“I’m pleased to back the Bill that Mike Weir is putting forward as many of my constituents are “off-grid” and are hit hardest at the worst time of the year. 

 “To bring payments forward would mean very little to the Treasury as the cost would be the same as if the payments were left as they are.  The difference, however, would be that many elderly people would not be left in the predicament where they have to decide whether to eat or heat their home.”

Mike Weir, the SNP Energy and Climate Change spokesperson at Westminster, said:

"While all households have been hit by rocketing energy prices, off-grid customers, who have no access so social tariffs, are especially vulnerable.  This Bill would bring forward payment of the pensioners winter fuel allowance earlier in the year so households can fill their tanks prior to the onset of winter and when fuel prices tend to be cheaper.  Not only would this be a real help to older consumers but would be revenue neutral for the Treasury - merely bringing forward payments by a few months. This would provide real help at little or no additional cost.”

Mr Weir said the Scottish Government is doing everything in its powers to tackle fuel poverty but that off-grid customers have been ignored by the UK Government.

He added:

"The heating oil market is subject to sudden and very high price spikes and there is real concern amongst consumers that there is very little competition in the market, leaving them effectively with no option but to pay up.  Off-grid users are the only customers not to have access to social tariffs and a large number of the rural fuel poor are unable to get help with heating bills at all. It is vital that this situation is addressed, and action taken to introduce robust regulation to protect consumers."

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Questions Remain Over Crisis Loan Funding

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

The SNP’s Work and Pensions Spokesperson, Eilidh Whiteford MP said urgent questions remain over funding and implementation of crisis loans and community care grants ten months before the schemes are devolved next year.

The Banff and Buchan MP was speaking after a parliamentary debate she led today (Tuesday) on the lifeline welfare support. During the debate, Dr Whiteford urged the UK Government for clarity over available resources and greater detail on plans for the transition to the replacement schemes.

Dr Whiteford called on the UK Government to address the likely £5-£10million funding gap the Scottish Government will inherit following cuts to the schemes being implemented this year. Dr Whiteford pointed out that cuts were being made at a time of recession, when economic turbulence, financial insecurity and high unemployment made the lifeline support in even greater demand.

The budget for community care grants in Scotland has been cut by 7% this financial year, after being frozen since 2005-06. The spend on crisis loans for living expenses is being pulled back to 2005-06 levels and is expected to be halved this year, at around 4.7 million in comparison to £10 million in 2009-10.

Parliamentary under-Secretary for Work and Pensions, Maria Miller MP agreed to write to Dr Whiteford with information on resources being made available for the administration of the replacement scheme.

Dr Whiteford said:

“With just ten months to go before crisis loans and community care grants are devolved to Scotland, I am disappointed that questions over the funding and set-up of the new scheme are still not being addressed by the UK Government.

“The Scottish Government is planning for a replacement scheme with one hand tied behind its back. It still does not know what resources will be made available for the administration costs - I look forward to greater detail on this issue from the Minister in the letter she has promised.

“There was also a total lack of recognition from the UK Government of the funding gap the Scottish Government will inherit, following Draconian cuts to the schemes put in place this year. While demand for Social Fund support has risen dramatically since the start of the financial downturn, budgets have not kept pace with growing need.

“The growth in applications for crisis loans in recent years is clearly linked to the onset of the recession – and reflects the growing demand for the fund. It beggars belief to cut this lifeline support at a time when millions of people are living on the breadline.

“Cuts to crisis loans and community care grants are the cruellest cuts yet from the Tory-led government. They impact on the most vulnerable households at exactly the time when they most need a helping hand. By their nature crisis loans are a last resort, and so cutting their availability causes real hardship and drives people towards loan sharks and high interest lenders.

“The devolving of funds for crisis loans and community care grants is to be welcomed – it will allow the Scottish Government to build a fairer, simpler system, better integrated with other aspects of Scottish welfare policy - but it must be properly resourced, and properly implemented.

“The UK Government must provide clarity over the resources to make sure the new system can work for all those who need it."


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Whiteford Sponsors Debate on Crisis Loan Cuts

Monday, 18 June 2012

UK GOVERNMENT TO BE PRESSED ON ‘LIFELINE’ FUNDING

The SNP’s Work and Pensions Spokesperson, Eilidh Whiteford MP, has condemned cuts to crisis loans and community care grants, and called on the UK government to ensure adequate funds are put in place before the schemes are devolved next year.

The Banff and Buchan MP will raise concerns over the funding issues during a parliamentary debate she has secured to be held on Tuesday.

The budget for community care grants in Scotland was cut by 7% this financial year, after being frozen since 2005-06. The budget for crisis loans for living expenses is expected to be around half of recent spend, at 4.7 million in comparison to £10 million in 2009-10.

The ability to claim awards was also dramatically cut back this year with funding for household items such as cookers and beds abolished except in disasters such as fires or floods, and applicants restricted to three awards in a rolling twelve month period. Thousands of applicants in Scotland are expected to lose out as a result of the cuts.

The cuts to the social fund streams take place in the year before responsibility for community care grants and crisis loans is devolved to the Scottish Government under the UK Government’s localisation agenda. The budget transferred for the successor scheme is expected to be around £25 million, leaving a significant gap compared with recent spend in Scotland.

In addition to the cuts to available funds, no clarity has been provided by the UK Government on whether it will provide adequate resources for the devolved Scottish Government to set up and administer the new schemes.

Dr Whiteford said:

“Community Care Grants and Crisis Loans offer vital lifeline support to the most vulnerable at times of exceptional pressure. To cut these emergency funds is appalling - the Con-Dem government are penalising the poor for a financial crisis not of their making.

“These are small sums of money which make a big difference to people facing exceptionally difficult times – such as helping a person to remain in the community rather than go into care, help for people going through a family breakdown or emergency, or support for women fleeing domestic violence.

“By their nature crisis loans are a last resort, and it is outrageous that the Tory-led Government is cutting this safety net so drastically. The only winners from this will be loan sharks and high interest lenders.

“But it’s not just the Tories who are guilty of undermining this vital welfare support. Under the Labour party community care grants were frozen at 2005-06 levels, which is a real terms cut of 11-12%.

“The welfare system needs reform to make it simpler, more effective, protect the vulnerable and support people back into work – but the Tory-Lib Dem reforms are simply not fit for purpose. You can’t reform the system by cutting massive holes in the safety net.

“The UK Government must ensure adequate funds are in place to ensure genuinely vulnerable individuals do not become an easy target for Conservative and Lib-Dem cuts."

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Banff & Buchan MP's Delight at Ardallie School's Green Flag Achievement

Friday, 15 June 2012

Banff & Buchan SNP MP Dr Eilidh Whiteford has expressed her delight at the news that Ardallie Primary School has been awarded a ‘Green Flag’ for its eco-education credentials.

The prestigious Green Flag award is the third to be awarded to Ardallie Primary School.

Speaking at a special parents, pupils and teachers event held to celebrate the raising of the Green Flag, Dr Whiteford commented:

“I am absolutely delighted that Ardallie School has managed to claim this coveted award for a third year running.”

“These type of awards and the educational work that they reward, really do add value to schools and Ardallie’s continuing success in this field just goes to show how our small, rural schools can become real centres of excellence and achievement.”

“A big congratulations to all of the staff and pupils at Ardallie Primary School on this big achievement.”

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European Pelagic Sector Meet with Icelandic Ambassador to UK to Discuss Mackerel Dispute

Thursday, 14 June 2012

European pelagic industry leaders have met with Benedikt Jonsson, Icelandic Ambassador to the UK, to discuss the ongoing dispute over international shares of mackerel quota in the North East Atlantic. The meeting in London was set up a part of a joint initiative by Ambassador Jonsson and Banff and Buchan MP, Eilidh Whiteford.

Both parties took the opportunity to have a frank exchange of views regarding the current situation, with each side stressing the importance in finding a solution to the current impasse as soon as possible.

Mr Jonsson stressed that Iceland was extremely serious about reaching a compromise agreement and stated that the EU should view the appointment of Mr Sigurgeir ├×orgeirsson as negotiator to the mackerel talks as a clear intention of Iceland’s willingness to settle the mackerel dispute.

Both parties agreed the meeting was a useful exercise which may be repeated in the autumn, and the EU industry thanked Ambassador Jonsson for his role in setting up the discussions.

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UK Government Bury Bad News as Funeral Payments Fall

Sunday, 10 June 2012

SNP Work and Pensions spokesperson Eilidh Whiteford MP has called for a review of the eligibility rules and adequacy of social fund funeral expense payments after figures revealed an 18% drop in the number of applicants receiving an award in Scotland over five years, with the funds received falling far short of requirements for a basic funeral.

Figures released in response to parliamentary questions from Dr Whiteford show the average amount awarded in Scotland in 2011-12 was £1,500 pounds, far short of the average funeral cost, estimated at £2,648 in 2010.

The percentage of applicants receiving an award has fallen from 66% in 2007 to 49% in 2011-12.

Dr Whiteford said:

“Having to arrange a funeral is difficult enough for anyone, but when you’re on a low income the financial burden makes it even more stressful.

“Help with funeral expenses can be a crucial support for bereaved families, so it’s important to ensure everyone who is entitled to funding receives the help they need.

“In these times of UK austerity, it’s a worry that less than half of applicants for funeral payments receive the award. This is a cost that many relatives cannot plan for, and the rising costs of funerals hits the poor the hardest.

“Even for those who receive the social fund payment, the funding received falls short of what is required for even a basic funeral.

“A survey from the National Association of Funeral Directors found funeral costs leapt by almost 50% between 2007 and 2010, while the funding available from the social fund for expenses like funeral director’s fees and the cost of a coffin has been capped at £700 since 2003.

“Social fund funeral payments are an important safety net for people who have no means to save for funerals – at such a stressful time in people’s lives, it’s important we get this right.”


Notes: Figures on the average amount awarded for funeral payment over the past five years in Scotland, and the number of applications received,


Average amount awarded for funeral payment over past five years in Scotland

        Applications    Awards  Average award (£)
2007-08 8,700           5,700   1,200
2008-09 8,600           5,400   1,200
2009-10 8,400           5,200   1,200
2010-11 8,300           4,600   1,300
2011-12 8,500           4,200   1,500

Funeral payment applications and awards over the past five years in Scotland Proportion of applications which received an award

        Applications    Awards
2007-08 8,700           5,700   65.52%
2008-09 8,600           5,400   62.79%
2009-10 8,400           5,200   61.90%
2010-11 8,300           4,600   55.42%
2011-12 8,500           4,200   49.41%

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