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Updates from Holyrood

Alison writes a regular column for local newspapers in the North East to keep residents updated with the latest goings on at Holyrood, and on her work on important issues from around the region. Below you can find a recent column, along with links to those from previous months.

Housing Bill

From 2016 council and social housing tenants in Scotland will no longer have the right to buy their homes.

'Right to buy' was among the most prominent and, at one time, popular policies of Margaret Thatcher's government. Since its introduction in 1980, it has enabled 455,000 tenants in Scotland to fulfil their aspiration to purchase their own home.

But it has also led to a chronic and acute shortage of social housing. There are more than 180,000 households on local authority housing waiting lists, but only 50,000 social housing properties become available each year.

In passing the Housing Bill last week, MSPs voted overwhelmingly to abolish the policy, helping to protect the remaining social housing stock, give tenants more choice and hope to those who have been on waiting lists for years.

The Bill also improves the regulation of private letting agents and introduces a tribunal system to help resolve disputes. There is no doubt that the majority of landlords are diligent, fair and provide a professional service. However, the extraordinary growth of the private rented sector demands that we provide more protection against the unscrupulous minority who operate in a predatory fashion and prey upon the vulnerability of some tenants.

Stop and search change must prompt fundamental reform

The stop and search change received widespread media coverageHundreds of police searches are conducted upon young children each year, many without their parents present.

I have spent months demanding Police Scotland, the Justice Secretary and the First Minister explain how it can be right to ask young children to agree to a so-called 'voluntary' search. But they have been unable to grasp that it is ludicrous to think young children, perhaps even of pre-school age, are capable of giving their informed consent.

Now senior officers have finally admitted to me that the practice is "indefensible" and that it will stop.

I am delighted to have secured this change in policy with regards to children. However, there has been an unprecedented surge in the use of this tactic under the SNP and the national force. You are now seven times more likely to be stopped and searched here than in England and Wales. And Police Scotland is conducting hundreds of thousands of searches each year without sound legal basis, intelligence or suspicion.

The more the unregulated use of this controversial tactic is put under the microscope, the more evidence emerges to support further changes to the system of police stop and search in Scotland.

North East healthcare

Last week it was announced £120 million will be spent on a new maternity hospital and cancer centre at Foresterhill in Aberdeen.

Recent health inspections have drawn attention to the need to replace the existing maternity hospital. Caring for 6,000 women each year from across the North East and beyond, this new state-of-the-art facility will help ensure patients have full confidence in the quality of care provided.

With NHS Grampian continuing to struggle to meet its waiting time targets for cancer treatment, the new dedicated centre is also particularly welcome. Early treatment can make all the difference to those diagnosed with cancer, so we must everything possible must be done to bring waiting times down.

Without in any way claiming the credit, these announcements came hours after I had called for more spending on North East health infrastructure while leading a debate in Parliament on the challenges faced by our GPs.

Growing demand for their services is being accompanied by a fall in the share of NHS spending they receive and difficulty recruiting and retaining GPs. And we cannot expect them to spend more time with patients and provide more care closer to home without appropriate facilities.

Staff at Ellon Health Centre are striving to provide for our growing community. However, they are hampered by premises that are no longer fit for purpose, built when the town was a fraction of its current size.

In the North East we already have some of the busiest practices in the country and our burgeoning population is expected to grow by almost a quarter during the next two decades. The Scottish Government must therefore ensure GPs have the facilities and staff they need to deal with their growing workload.

I have also been encouraging NHS Tayside to re-open the GP ward at Montrose Infirmary. The hospital closed following the failure of heating and water systems in April but partially reopened last month. I am hopeful patients, who have been transferred to Brechin in the meantime, will be admitted to the GP ward at Montrose later this month, making it easier to keep in touch with families and friends.

Carer's week

One in eight of us are carers and look after an ill, frail or disabled family member or friend. Most of us will do so at some point in our lives.

Carers make a huge difference to the lives of those they care for and their local communities. However, many people don't even realise they are carers at first, or sometimes ever. Providing personal, emotional and practical support can be a 24 hour a day job with little, if any, financial reward. Without the right support it can have a devastating impact upon carers' finances, health

That is why it is important that events such as Carers Week, held between 9 and 15 June, celebrate the contribution of the UK's 6.5 million carers and ensure they have the advice, support and services they need. It is vital that we all understand the challenges they face and reach out to those who we may know who are caring for a loved one.

My Holyrood Columns