Irvine Times column, 13 November 2018

This week saw the Scottish Government adopting recommendations to promote an inclusive approach to sex and relationships education in our schools, while tackling LGBTI bullying and discrimination. All state schools will now have to teach equality and inclusion, and to tackle homophobia, biphobia, transphobia and other prejudices in relation to the LGBTI community.

It follows the excellent work of the Time for Inclusive Education (TIE) Campaign, which I was delighted to gain support for in a North Ayrshire Council debate two years ago. I have supported this campaign because I firmly believe that our young people have the right to see themselves and their families respectfully and honestly reflected in what they are taught in school.

In welcoming the announcement, which covers state schools, I asked the Cabinet Secretary, John Swinney, how private schools will be monitored to ensure similar teaching is carried out there, and was reassured that the same ethos will be reflected in the inspection regime for these.

Also in Parliament this week I raised the issue of the Ayrshire Growth Deal, for which the United Kingdom Government’s budget last week contained only a passing reference to a commitment to “progress”.

During Portfolio questions in the chamber, I asked the Cabinet Secretary for Finance, Derek Mackay, if the Scottish Government continues to see the Ayrshire Growth Deal as a priority, and if it remains committed to its implementation, and was pleased to receive an absolute assurance on this.

One of the key areas for which investment is being sought through the deal to improve growth in our local area is Ardeer, which is currently subject to a Special Development Order implemented in 1953. This allowed building work without the need for full planning permission, but whilst perhaps necessary in 1953, the absence of any planning process now means that there is currently nothing to evaluate considerations such as traffic, parking, design, noise and environmental impacts.

This is an issue which has been raised with me by the area’s Cllr Davina McTiernan, constituents, local groups and indeed North Ayrshire Council, and I was pleased that my amendments to the Planning (Scotland) Bill, gained the unanimous support of the local government committee and minister, Kevin Stewart, and the legislation will now be updated.

Finally, this week is Talk Money Scotland Week, organised by the Money Advice Service and the Scotland Financial Capability Forum, providing advice on issues such as free debt advice, the use of credit, retirement planning, and many other financial issues. You can find out more at https://fincap.org.uk/en/articles/talk-money-week, and follow discussions online using the hashtags #Talkmoney and #TalkMoneyScotland.

And with Christmas approaching, I will be hosting a Scam Awareness Surgery on Black Friday, 23 November, at Towerlands Community Centre, from 10.30am-12.30pm.

Entry is free, and we’ll have experts along from Police Scotland, Trading Standards Scotland, Citizens Advice Scotland and 1st Alliance Credit Union to help shoppers spot the warning signs of dodgy transactions.

Better Off North Ayrshire will be there to offer advice. I hope that you can join me and the team.