Improving broadband in Mid-Scotland and Fife

Many people in our rural communities continue to have trouble with slow, ineffective broadband. Poor or non-existent broadband limits economic as well as community growth in these areas.

I have worked hard with a number of local communities to secure better rural broadband provision and have helped countless individuals with broadband problems. But we need to see more progress being made.

Both the UK and Scottish Governments have an important role to play in improving broadband access and I continue to place pressure on both for faster delivery.

Communities can also play an important part in making sure their voice is heard.

I recently witnessed a great example of community action when attending the launch of the Balquhidder Community Broadband project a few weeks ago.

This entirely community driven broadband project will now deliver some of the fastest broadband throughout the UK at half the cost of the equivalent commercial service. By the end of this year the scheme will deliver broadband access to all 197 premises in the area including many rural-based businesses.

However, more needs to be done.

The UK Government has delivered by creating the universal service obligation and has also worked hard to force mobile phone providers to improve reception in black spots across Scotland.

However, the Scottish Government also has a role to play in achieving better connectivity for all.

Greater funds need to be made available and I have long argued that the Community Broadband Scotland scheme should be opened up to individual households, charities and businesses, not just community groups.

The SNP is simply not delivering on broadband, leaving people across Mid-Scotland and Fife without basic connectivity.

People across Mid-Scotland and Fife deserve better nd I will be campaigning to make sure they get the broadband services they deserve.

Mental Health Services

As a nation, we must do more to support our front-line mental health professionals as demand for services increase.

This is particularly the case for Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS).

The evidence shows that over half of all diagnosable mental health problems start before the age of 14, so it is vital that young people across the region and in other areas get the help that they so urgently need when they need it.

I have met with the Minister for Mental Health to discuss the ongoing seriousness of the situation across the Mid-Scotland Fife region.

I am pleased that we have seen some improvement in waiting times for Child and Adolescent Mental Health services in Mid-Scotland and Fife.

However, much more needs to be done and I will continue to do all I can to press the Scottish Government for a step-change in the way in which mental health is treated.

Bank branch closures

A number of banks have recently announced branch closures across Mid-Scotland and Fife.

Since these announcements, I have been active in campaigning to ensure that affected communities retain some access to banking services and that the relevant banks re-consider their positions.

While it is clear that people have changed the way they use banks in recent years, the loss of high street banks in smaller towns or villages can adversely affect vulnerable communities.

In some areas, branch closures mean that the only option for residents to withdraw money is to use private autoteller services that will impose extra charges.

As a member of the Economy Committee of the Scottish Parliament, I will be looking into the issue of bank branch closures in further detail in the months to come.

Save our cashpoints campaign

I am fully supportive of the joint campaign launched by Which? and the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) to save our cashpoints.

Plans announced by the UK's largest cashpoint network, Link, to remove free to use cashpoints from some of our communities will leave many of my constituents completely cut off and businesses without access to any cash.

Evidence shows that many people still rely on free-to-use cashpoints to access their money. And with more than two million people in the UK almost entirely reliant on cash, I think it is vital that they can access their money easily and free of charge.

At the time where many back branches are under threat, these plans would be deeply damaging to communities across Mid-Scotland and Fife.

I have received cross-party support for a members’ business debate in the Scottish Parliament on the subject. The text of the motion and the support received can be seen below.

Motion Text:
That the Parliament notes the campaign by Which? and the Federation of Small Businesses to call a halt to the potential closure of free-to-use ATMs across Scotland because of plans to reduce the interchange fee by the cashpoint network, LINK; recognises that ATMs are an important service in communities, particularly for people on low incomes, older people and in areas such as the Trossachs, Perthshire, Kinross and Fife; believes that this might exacerbate the problem of bank branch closures as some consumers might be left without access to even the most basic banking services; notes the calls for the Payment Systems Regulator to take action to prevent there being complete ATM absence in some areas, and acknowledges the view that assurances should be given that consumers and small businesses can maintain access to the network of free-to-use ATMs.

GP Services

GP Services across Mid-Scotland and Fife remain under severe pressure.

Within the next few years, experts believe that there will be a shortage of more than 800 GPs across Scotland. Currently, a third of Scottish GP training places go unfilled and as many as 3,000 Scottish trained doctors are now estimated to work abroad.

That is why I support calls for primary care to be prioritised in the NHS and for 11 per cent of all NHS spending to go directly to GP Practices.

I was shocked to learn that a multi-million pound scheme to recruit GPs in NHS Forth Valley had not delivered a single new GP.

Locum spending also remains a concern in the area with figures released by the health board revealing that £329,892 was spent on locum GPs in 2016/17, compared to £18,141 in 2013/14.

I have met with several GP practices to hear first-hand their concerns about the severe pressures that they find themselves dealing with and will continue to listen to the views of our hard-working NHS staff about their priorities.