41st Edition
November 28th, 2016

Monday 21st November

My Column appears in The National every Monday. Scroll down the right side to read the full article.
Photo: The National
George Kerevan: Austerity won’t end with Chancellor Hammond, a stickler for the bottom-line

ON Wednesday Philip Hammond, our newish Chancellor of the Exchequer, will present his first mini budget, known as the Autumn Statement. Since entering Number 11 Downing Street, Hammond has kept a lower profile than previous incumbents. This is partly because the Tories are in disarray over their Brexit strategy and partly because Hammond’s Treasury has been fighting a turf war with Liam Fox’s new Foreign Trade ministry. Come Wednesday, Mr Hammond will have nowhere to hide.

You can read more HERE
On arriving in London at lunchtime I spent my afternoon catching up with correspondence and researching ahead of the Chancellor of the Exchequer’s Autumn Statement. I also attended a meeting of the Economics Team of the SNP UK parliamentary group.

Tuesday 22nd November

Some of you on your visits to Edinburgh will have visited the Royal Botanic Garden, not least for the great view of Auld Reekie’s skyline! On your visit you many also have gone to Inverleith House, a Georgian mansion now housing an art gallery. It sits at the heart of the Garden but now faces closure. Myself and Deirdre Brock, SNP MP for Edinburgh North and Leith have submitted the following Early Day Motion to the House of Commons:

“That this House notes with concern the closure, without adequate consultation, of lnverleith House, one of Edinburgh's premier public art galleries, by the Board of Trustees of the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh (RBGE); recognises the need to guarantee a future for lnverleith House, a historic Georgian mansion built in 1774 that sits at the heart of the Royal Botanic Garden; further notes the large degree of public opposition to the closure as expressed by the 10,000 signatures gathered so far in a public petition; further recognises the significant contribution made to national and local culture by lnverleith House since it opened as a gallery in 1960, first as home to the Scottish National Gallery (SNG) of Modern Art, exhibiting artists such as Picasso, Matisse, Miró and Henry Moore, and later, after SNG moved to a larger facility in 1986, as a popular centre for exhibiting contemporary artists, including Andy Goldsworthy and Damien Hirst; commends the gallery's long-time director, Paul Nesbitt, for creating a world-class exhibition program; welcomes the creation of a taskforce involving RBGE, the Scottish Government and Creative Scotland to explore options for the future of lnverleith House; and calls on all parties to work together to preserve lnverleith House as a home for the arts.”

This week I have signed Early Day Motions congratulating the organisations Women against Violent Environments and the Domestic Abuse Project, expressing concern over women’s rights in Bahrain, over about the sell-off of public assets such as those owned by the National Air Traffic Services. and over any possible sales following the suggested privatisation of the Land Registry.

I also took the opportunity to attend BT’s Parliamentary Reception at lunchtime where I had the chance to talk to the Chief Executive, Gavin Patterson, over Broadband access in East Lothian and elsewhere.

In the afternoon my constituency staff arrived from Scotland, and we held a full staff meeting with my parliamentary assistant to discuss our work and how it could be improved. Here we all are in Westminster Hall: Karen, Ruth, Chris, Lorraine and Angela with myself.

Wednesday 23rd November

In the morning the constituency staff attended a training course run by the House of Commons Library, which they can access via the internet. Library staff provided information on how to obtain information on Universal Credit, tax, immigration and so on. I was pleased to hear that the constituency staff found the training useful to the valuable work they do in helping constituents.

Then we were all present for questions to the Secretary of State for Scotland, Prime Minister’s Questions and the Autumn Statement delivered by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Philip Hammond.

Much had been expected, but little was delivered! Hammond has gone back on his predecessor George Osborne’s pledge to close the budget deficit by 2020. Instead that’s been put back to 2025. In reality that means austerity will be extended until then. Further cuts to welfare and increased inflation as a consequence of the fall in the value of the pound will translate into a further fall in living standards for the majority of the population facing zero or minimal pay increases.
The UK government’s finances are worsening, with the Office for Budget Responsibility reporting  a £58 billion black hole at the heart of government finances, and Britain will need to borrow a further £122 billion over the coming five years. The OBR also warned that Brexit will leave the economy 2.4 per cent smaller than if the vote had been to Remain.

We in Scotland will receive little from the relatively small sums dedicated to investment in the UK’s infrastructure (rail, roads, housing etc.).

All in all, it reinforces the SNP’s commitment to win independence and thereby maintain access to the European Single Market.

I was called to ask a question of the Chancellor in the debate on the Autumn Statement which you can watch HERE

Thursday 24th November

I was touched to receive the following letter:

Dear George,

I wanted to thank you for speaking in last week’s Backbench Business debate on Employment and Support Allowance, to highlight concerns about the changes to the Work Related Activity Group. Macmillan campaigned strongly against the changes during the passage of the Bill because of the negative effect they could have on people affected by cancer and other health conditions. We were therefore pleased to see so many colleagues from across the House highlighting the need for a rethink of the changes in their speeches during the debate. 

We were disappointed that the Minister didn’t acknowledge the need for both financial and employment support for those in the WRAG – and predominantly talked about the Green Paper and employment support in her response. Macmillan believes that financial and employment support should not be mutually exclusive. If the Government is truly committed to supporting people who are ill to return to work when they are ready, it must adequately invest in both.

Thank you again for speaking in the debate and continuing to raise concerns about the plans. If you would like further information or to discuss Macmillan’s work on welfare, and the financial impact of cancer more generally, please do not hesitate to get in touch.

Best wishes, Grace

Grace Brownfield | Public Affairs Officer
Macmillan Cancer Support

Later, in my capacity as chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Fair Business Banking I met with Norman Lamb MP, David Hanson MP and Baroness Susan Kramer.

Friday 25th November​

Back in East Lothian, the day began in Haddington, where I met representatives of the Bath House Project, Prestonpans. The Trustees of the Battle of Prestonpans 1745 Heritage Trust plan to turn the Prestongrange Industrial Heritage Museum into a home for the Battle of Prestonpans Tapestry, with an associated learning programme. They are applying to the Heritage Lottery Fund for a grant towards an ambitious transformation of the pithead baths , and I have written a letter of support.

Finding a home for the tapestry in Prestonpans is absolutely essential. After all, this is the tapestry which inspired the Great Tapestry of Scotland and the Scottish Diaspora Tapestry - soon to be shown at Westminster. Congratulations to Cockenzie constituent Andrew Crummy, who created the cartoons for all three tapestries, and a few more since, and who has just become chair of the Preston Seton Gosford Local Area Partnership.

Then on to my advice surgeries. This being the fourth Friday of the month, I started at Bleachingfield, Dunbar, went on to St. Andrew Blackadder, North Berwick, and then came back to the office in Haddington, where there were a host of people waiting for me. The subjects we discussed included Brexit, the banks and the dreaded Universal Credit. I also had a courtesy call from Sean Wood, who has taken over the brewery at The Goth. All power to his elbow.

Saturday 26th November​

The last Saturday of the month is one of my favourite days, as it's a day for markets. Today I was at Haddington Farmers' Market to buy the weekend groceries, and dropped in at the Scouts' Jumble Sale, where I picked up a pile of books, including one by East Lothian writer Quintin Jardine, who kindly supported my campaign. Then on to Musselburgh for their Christmas Market, looking for Christmas presents. Sadly, the sun had gone in by then.

Sunday 27th November​

I got up early to write my column for The National newspaper so that I could attend the St. Andrew's Day service at Athelstaneford Parish Church. Local nursery and primary school children had worked hard to produce a shoal of fish and some imaginative portraits of St. Andrew to decorate the church, and the service was followed by the traditional blessing of the Saltire Flag, the singing of the Saltire Anthem and the raising of the flag at the Memorial.

I had visited the Flag Heritage Centre before, on a sunny July day, and this completed the experience. It was quite moving to stand in the churchyard, thinking of the inspiration the cross of St. Andrew gave to the brave Picts and Scots who faced down the Anglo-Saxons back in 832 or thereabouts – and the inspiration it has provided to generations of Scottish soldiers since.

At Westminster, I pass under the image of St. Andrew every day on the way to my office, which has been temporarily located to a windowless garret in the Palace, and like to think that he looks down benevolently on me.

Thanks to the Minister for a thought-provoking service, to the organist and pipers for some stirring music, and to the organisers for a sumptuous buffet lunch afterwards. It was a day to remember. Here I am singing the Anthem and watching the flag-raising.
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