27/11/2014

Feast of Christ the King

On Sunday I joined a number of council colleagues and others from Westminster and Holyrood and from the world of academia at a Mass to celebrate the Feast of Christ the King at St Andrew's Cathedral in my ward.  This is an annual event and this was the first time that Bishop Stephen Robson has presided at the event.

As ever it was a beautiful service, with some fantastic singing from the choir. It was also good to get the chance to meet so many constituents amongst the congregation.  There is always a very warm welcome given at the Cathedral.

Bishop Stephen preached on the Gospel of the day which was Chapter 25 Verses 35-45 of Matthew's Gospel.  This is passage about feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, welcoming the stranger, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and visiting prisoners.  This is a passage that I hold very dear and which I hope influences my actions as an elected representative.  I think that this passage is a challenge to politicians (whether they are Christians or not) and sets a standard which we should aim for.  Bishop Stephen certainly set out a number of challenges for everyone listening on Sunday.  As ever we were thanked for our service as councillors which is very nice, but which is not something that I look for or expect.

26/11/2014

Make Renting Right

Private rented housing is a big issue in the West End and right across Dundee and Scotland.  It is important that people who rent in the private sector are treated fairly and that standards in the private rented sector are improved.

I deal with constituents on a regular basis who are suffering from problems in the private rented sector.  It is important for the West End that we create a regulatory framework which works in the best interests of tenants (and indeed their landlords) in the West End and beyond.

I was pleased to support Shelter Scotland's Make Renting Right campaign.  This campaign calls for
  1. Stability for people wanting to make rented housing their home. A stable private rented sector would be good for both tenants and landlords, as it would ensure that renting privately is seen as a positive choice for all. If tenants feel more secure in their homes, they can play a bigger part in their community whether that’s children settled in school, local initiatives or getting to know neighbours. Security, from the fear of eviction for no reason, will help build a valuable, trusting relationship between all landlords and tenants. And landlords benefit from more secure and guaranteed income.
  2. Flexibility for people to stay in their home as long as they need.
    The private rented sector is changing. Current demand suggests that while some people want the option of a tenancy that lasts for as long as they need it, others want flexibility if they need to move.
    We want a tenancy regime that can respond to people’s needs and work for both landlords and tenants. For tenants, it is about striking the balance between being able to live as long as they need in a property, with due consideration given to the landlord in terms of adequate notice when they want to leave.
  3. A modern tenancy that gives security and flexibility for tenants AND landlords.
    To meet current and future demand in the private rented sector, we need a modern tenancy agreement which works for both tenants and landlords.
    That means a more secure tenancy for people who need it and modernisation of the processes and timeframes for landlords, should they need someone to leave their property.
    A modern tenancy regime for private renters should reflect that the sector is growing and need to work for different individuals and families.
  4. A fair system for sorting out renting problems when they occur.
    When problems do occur, we want to see a better way of resolving them.
    The introduction of the Private Rented Sector Tribunal, a formal dispute resolution process, where both tenants and landlords can have easy access to help resolve issues, will help achieve this.
  5. Predictable rents for tenants and landlords.
We want to see a private rented sector where rents are fair and a system where any rent increases are proportionate and structured so tenants can prepare for changes in their rent.
A new, modern tenancy regime should formalise this process.

I will be looking for the Scottish Government to make a real difference and hope that their consultation on tenancies in the private sector will make a real difference to people's lives. 

I share the concerns raised by my colleague James Kelly MSP that the Scottish Government blocked plans by Scottish Labour to stop tenants being ripped off by landlords charging excessive rents.

James Kelly MSP  has commented on this:
"The SNP cannot continue to ignore the need for rent reform. It has now become clear that we need to create a system that works for tenants.

 

“Too many families in Scotland are choosing between heating and eating. Too many families in Scotland are living from pay cheque to pay cheque, and too many families in Scotland are trapped in the private rented sector, unable to access social housing or get a foot on the property ladder.

 

“The SNP were wrong to side with the Tories and rogue landlords to block rent reform. They have a chance this week to do the right thing, work with Scottish Labour and deliver a system which will offer some protection and security to over 100, 000 Scots who live in poverty in the private rental sector.”
 
Please support Shelter Scotland's important Make Renting Right campaign.

25/11/2014

Tayside Hindu Cultural & Community Centre 30th Anniversary

The picture shows some of those attending on Friday night (thanks to my friends in Dundee SNP for the picture)
On Friday evening I attended the celebrations to mark the 30th Anniversary of the Tayside Hindu Cultural and Community Centre.  The centre is in Taylor's Lane just off the Perth Road.  I was delighted to join with all those present including Joe FitzPatrick MSP and my ward colleague Councillor Vari McDonald.

Dundee is a diverse city and it is a city which is built on a history of immigration.  I was happy to pay tribute to those members of the Indian community who have made their homes here in Dundee.  I am proud as a Labour councillor in Dundee to follow Dr Jainti Saggar who served as a Labour councillor in Dundee from 1936 until 1954.  Dr Saggar was the first black or Asian councillor in Scotland and along with his family he made a real contribution to the history of Dundee and this is why Saggar Street in the Pentland estate in my ward is named after him.  Dundee is also a religiously diverse city in which people live together and share in each others festivals and respect each others traditions.  It was good to see members of the Christian and Muslim communities at the celebrations.

It was good to get the opportunity to hear about the work of the centre and to learn more about Hindu culture and religion.  It was great to listen to the traditional songs and see the traditional dances.  It was also great to the chance to taste some authentic food.

Readers of the Courier will be aware that the Tayside Hindu Cultural and Community Centre is currently re-negotiating its lease with the city council.  I have made representations to officers making it clear that I think there should be a solution which makes everyone happy.  It makes no sense for the council to evict this group which adds so much to the cultural diversity of the city. I am clear that a compromise should be found which allows the centre to remain and which allows the council to receive some income for the property.

It's Not Fine - Unfair Charges for parking on Private Land

http://www.cas.org.uk/about-us/campaigns/its-not-fine-campaign-unfair-private-parking-charges
A number of constituents have raised concerns with me regarding unfair charges which are charges for parking on private land.  One example of this in the Lidl supermarket at the West Port.  The Courier recently reported the case of a man who was sent a Parking Charge Notice for parking there he was asked to send his bank statement to prove he had in fact shopped at the store.  This would have left him open to identity theft and highlights the lack of regulation of this industry in Scotland.

I find this absolutely unacceptable.  It makes it clear that there is a real need for regulation of these private parking charges. They have little or no legal basis in Scotland.  I’m not advocating that people just park anywhere, or parking on private land with no consideration to the owner, but there is a need for regulation. It’s obviously silly that there isn’t a way of organising these things that doesn’t look like a form of extortion.  I will be writing to the Scottish Government to take action.

Citizen's Advice Scotland has produced a very interesting report on this.  The report It's Not Fine makes some very sensible recommendations.  These include stopping the parking industry attempting to mislead people into thinking that they have actually been fined when this is not the case.  There should also be an independent third party appeals service in Scotland.  The Scottish Government should legislate to regulate the operations of the private parking industry.  Retailers should also remember that it is their customers who are being penalised unfairly here and work to find a better way of operating car parking at their premises, a way that doesn't feel and look like extortion.