Parliament has been on recess over the school holidays, but plenty has still been going on. As Cabinet Secretary for Health and Social Care, I have been visiting the Scottish Islands to meet with NHS staff members. It has been enlightening to see the challenges the islands face – I got a taste for this myself when my flight back from Shetland was delayed a day and a half due to fog and bad weather.
Congratulations to everyone who completed their SQA examinations this year, following a very unusual hybrid style of learning over the last two years. The disruption caused by the pandemic has not appeared to have negative impact on the exam results however, with the pass rates for National 5s, Highers and Advanced Highers increasing to near record levels for any exam year since the current qualifications were introduced. I hope that each student is very proud of their effort and hard work.
While the results show the gap between attainment levels in the least and most deprived areas has narrowed from the 2019 level, the Scottish Government know that the pandemic has disproportionately impacted learners from more disadvantaged backgrounds. Therefore, the Scottish Government is determined to accelerate the progress that has been made and is investing a record £1 billion in the Scottish Attainment Challenge during this parliamentary term.
There are many different pathways to success, and I want to highlight that SQA grades are not the only route into your chosen career path. For more information or advice, young people can receive support from the Scottish Government’s Young Person’s Guarantee.
Progress on Building a Fairer, Greener Scotland
New funding has been announced to cut carbon emissions in homes and commercial properties, as the Scottish Government continues to focus on delivering its net zero targets and support families with the cost of living.
The announcement of the £16.2 million funding for five zero emission heat networks coincides with the first anniversary of the Scottish Government and the Scottish Green Party Parliamentary Group signing the Bute House Agreement: a plan to work together to build a green economic recovery from Covid, respond to the climate emergency and create a fairer country.
In its first year, the agreement has delivered a range of benefits for households, communities and businesses and has seen work begin on a number of longer-term reforms. Progress has been made in a range of areas including:
- Doubling the Scottish Child Payment to £20 per week per eligible child from April 2022.
- Bringing ScotRail into public ownership.
- Introducing free bus travel for under 22s.
- Investing a record £150m in active travel in 2022-23.
- Publishing Scotland’s National Strategy for Economic Transformation setting out how Scotland will transition to a wellbeing economy.
Moving forward, the Scottish Government is primarily focused on four key tasks: reducing child poverty; addressing the climate crisis; recovery from Covid-19 in Scotland’s public services including the delivery of the National Strategy for Economic Transformation; and the development of the prospectus for an independent Scotland and an independence referendum in October 2023.
Additional Funding for Energy Advice in face of Rising Bills
More than £1.2m of funding is being awarded to key energy advice organisations to make sure energy customers can access crucial support and advice to deal with rising energy bills and heating costs. Key agencies in receipt of this funding include Advice Direct Scotland, Home Energy Scotland and Citizen’s Advice Scotland.
The additional funding announced earlier this month is on top of the Scottish Government’s existing investment in free income, welfare and debt advice services, including support to Money Advice Scotland and the Welfare Advice and Health Partnerships Programme. The funding will help reach more people who need help.
The Scottish Government, energy companies and advice organisations recently met for a Scottish Energy Summit hosted by the First Minister Nicola Sturgeon.
During the meeting a consensus emerged around next steps that must be taken by the UK Government, and where further work and action will take place between energy companies, advice organisations and the Scottish Government ahead of a follow up meeting next month. The meeting was focussed on practical solutions, but without action by the UK Government to address the problem at source, the actions discussed at the summit can only ever mitigate the impact of such dramatic price rises at the edges.
In the Constituency
- I recently met with the Urban Youth Project who are based in South Glasgow. They are a recently established group who are trying to raise funds for their premise whilst providing their great services. Urban Youth Project carry out young-person-led work with diverse communities in the South of Glasgow. Their services are specifically aimed at BAME young people but they welcome all communities in the area to join in with their services
- I had great fun attending the community days in Nitshill and Levern Bridge. A lovely day spent chatting with many folk from the constituency. It was wonderful to see family, friends and the community enjoying themselves, especially after the couple of years we have had. Well done to all organisers and volunteers for a fantastic day!
- I want to highlight that the Glasgow communities fund is now open. Over £55m is available to third sector organisations in city to tackle poverty, inequality and promote inclusion. Applications close at midday on 12th September 2022. Applicants can apply for a minimum annual grant of £20,000 and a maximum annual grant of £200,000. Find out for at the following link: http://ow.ly/AL2v50Kf17E
- The Govan Appliance Project is now open. Located at 24 Burghead Place G51 4JR, the project will see supplies of refurbished white goods sold at reduced costs and will also provide training on repairing and installation of white goods. A great opportunity for all!
- Scotland Loves Local vouchers of £105 are being issued to households in most significant need. Over 700 businesses signed up to the scheme and 85,000 homes are in receipt of the voucher. Letters have been issued to eligible households which contain information about activating the voucher.
- I met with constituency colleagues to discuss plans for nearly 2000 Ukrainian refugees to be housed on the MS Ambition cruise ship when it docks at George V dock in Govan in early September. We discussed what infrastructure is already in place, and how we can best support local services and community organisations in welcoming our new constituents.