Hugh Henry MSP

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Member of the Scottish Commission for Public Audit
Member of the Conveners Group

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Meeting of the Parliament 20 November 2014 : Thursday, November 20, 2014
Hugh Henry (Renfrewshire South) (Lab)

It does not surprise me that John Wilson lodged a motion on this topic. I have known him for well over 30 years. In all that time, he has retained his passion and his determination to tackle issues such as child poverty and inequalities in our society.

Jackie Baillie mentioned a number of areas across the west of Scotland where she worked. Like her, I worked in that area for a number of years, in the 1980s—a time of massive deindustrialisation and huge increases in poverty. I worked as a welfare rights officer in communities such as Pollok and Priesthill, in Dumbarton and the Vale of Leven, in Greenock and Port Glasgow, and in Drumchapel. It was stark in those days to see just what poverty was doing to decent men, women and children across the west of Scotland. Of course, the west of Scotland was no different from other parts of Scotland. It was debilitating, it was demoralising and it was dehumanising.

The irony is that in those days, bad as we thought it was, we had a more flexible benefits system. There were single payments and weekly additions to basic benefits, and social work departments could afford to use sections 10 and 12 of the Social Work (Scotland) Act 1968 to help the families in the worst circumstances, whereas now, when we see increases in poverty, we find that local authorities are constrained financially and that the benefits system is becoming much more rigorous and is harder on the poorest families.

In those circumstances, it is in some respects harder for families living in poverty to cope now than it has ever been. Alison Johnstone—it is unfortunate that she has had to leave—mentioned that, for a decade, child poverty dropped. However, she should have reflected on Jackie Baillie’s comment that that drop did not come about by accident. It came about because of political will and political determination by a Labour Government to do something about it.

It is no accident that child poverty is increasing yet again now that the Labour Party is out of power at Westminster and out of power in Scotland. We now have two Administrations that are complacent about the rise in child poverty and which pay lip service to tackling it.

If there is one criticism that I would make of John Wilson, it is that he should have used his opportunity to speak to prick the cosy consensus that exists in here on child poverty. In a debate in October, Patrick Harvie accused me of one of the worst examples of cynicism that he had ever heard in this Parliament. That was because I pointed out that, since 2007, each and every one of us sitting in this chamber has done very well from the decisions that the Scottish Government has made, but the people I represent—the people on maximum council tax benefit, for example—have not received a single extra penny of help.

Politicians who talk about tackling child poverty but fail to realise that it is the result of political decisions and political will are the cynical ones if they simply say that they are willing to do something about it but do the opposite by their actions or do nothing. That is the challenge for each and every one of us.

12:56  

Meeting of the Parliament 06 November 2014 : Thursday, November 06, 2014
Hugh Henry (Renfrewshire South) (Lab)

Ross McEwan, the chief executive of RBS, told us:

“We need to remember—and then never forget—that the customer is why we are in business.”

He should try telling that to customers in Lochwinnoch, in the east end of Glasgow, in Armadale, in Fauldhouse and in all the other communities where the last bank in town is being withdrawn. Neil Findlay mentioned the worthless pledge that RBS made. Where was the pledge when Ross McEwan said what he said?

Lochwinnoch is a mixed community. People think that it is an affluent community, and many people who live there are relatively affluent, but there are also many people in Lochwinnoch who are elderly and are on lower incomes. Those people rely on having access to a bank.

As members have said, figures have been given on the reducing number of customers. We have been told that there are alternatives, because more people use online banking. However, internet access in Lochwinnoch is poor and online banking cannot always be relied on. We are also told that the Post Office offers an alternative service. However, the Post Office is being relocated to a Spar store, where an extremely limited service will be on offer.

What about access to the nearest alternative branch, whether it is provided by RBS or any other bank? The nearest settlement is Johnstone, which is more than 7 miles away. Lochwinnoch also has an extremely poor bus service so, for those without a car, it is difficult to get to an alternative branch. In addition, for those without internet access, it is difficult to access a service; even for those who have such access, it is still at times difficult to access a service.

I suspect that many of our constituents across Scotland would accept that there must be service cuts if there was a real problem and everyone faced those cuts equally and they together shared the pain and the grief. However, that is not the case. At the same time as pennies are being saved by branch closures, over the past four years RBS has paid out bonuses of £3.4 billion. A taxpayer-owned bank can afford to pay £3.4 billion in bonuses but cannot use some of that money to keep branches open in communities such as Lochwinnoch.

That same chief executive, Ross McEwan, is in line for a £1 million-a-year share allowance that sidestepped the European Union bonus cap, which effectively doubles his salary. He also received shares of almost £1.5 million as part of a £3 million signing-on deal when he was first hired from the Commonwealth Bank of Australia. We are not all in it together. It is not right that my or other members’ constituents should be asked to bear the burden, so that a handful of people can continue to exploit the generosity of not just the customers, but the British taxpayer.

What we are seeing is just cynicism and a continuation of the greed that brought the British banking system to its knees. We are not seeing a level playing field where people are sharing out problems and responsibilities. RBS has not consulted, as Neil Findlay said; it has ignored its customers, despite Ross McEwan’s promises and commitments. We are seeing a taxpayer-owned bank cynically treating its customers badly, caring not one jot about the consequences.

I hope that, even at this late hour, RBS will think again. However, if it chooses not to do so, the very least that it can do for the communities is to look at what it is doing with its assets and see how some good can be put back into the communities that it is damaging.

12:52  

Meeting of the Parliament 06 November 2014 : Thursday, November 06, 2014
Hugh Henry

Will the member take an intervention?



Meeting of the Parliament 06 November 2014 : Thursday, November 06, 2014
Hugh Henry

Does Gavin Brown not agree that a very small part of the massive bonuses to which I referred would be enough to keep open the branches that are threatened with closure? Would doing that not be justified and would it not enable RBS to keep its pledge to keep open the “last bank in town”?



Public Audit Committee 05 November 2014 : Wednesday, November 05, 2014
The Convener (Hugh Henry)

Good morning and welcome to the 17th meeting in 2014 of the Public Audit Committee. I have received apologies from Tavish Scott—Liam McArthur will attend at some point. I also have received apologies from Bruce Crawford; David Torrance is here in his place. I ask everyone to switch their electronic devices to in-flight mode, so that they do not interfere with the electronic equipment.

Do members agree to take items 5, 6 and 7 in private?

Members indicated agreement.



Public Audit Committee 05 November 2014 : Wednesday, November 05, 2014
The Convener

I welcome Caroline Gardner, the Auditor General for Scotland, Tricia Meldrum and Jillian Matthew. I invite the Auditor General to make opening remarks.



Public Audit Committee 05 November 2014 : Wednesday, November 05, 2014
The Convener

Thank you.

You mention that the waiting time targets may not be sustainable, yet we know that the setting of targets has had a remarkable impact on service delivery. We need only think back some years ago to the waiting times that people used to have for treatments that are now seen as relatively routine things that can be done quickly. If you think that the targets may not be sustainable and if it is accepted that targets have made a contribution by improving the service for patients, what is the solution?



Public Audit Committee 05 November 2014 : Wednesday, November 05, 2014
The Convener

Which is the most critical factor—increased demand for services or squeezed budgets?



Public Audit Committee 05 November 2014 : Wednesday, November 05, 2014
The Convener

When we look at exhibit 5 on page 23, we see particular issues in some health boards compared with others. For example, in NHS Grampian and in NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde, there are a number of areas in which we see a deterioration, no improvement, or just a failure to meet the targets. NHS Forth Valley also has significant areas of concern. Are there specific reasons in those health board areas? Is it a management issue? Is it a budget issue? Why do those issues arise in some boards and not others?



Public Audit Committee 05 November 2014 : Wednesday, November 05, 2014
The Convener

At paragraph 48, you mention that the NHS

“spent £128 million on bank and agency nursing and midwifery staff in 2013/14, an increase of 15 per cent”.

That is a staggering figure, yet at the same time, in exhibit 7 on page 28, you show that the number of nursing and midwifery vacancies is rising. There is an increase in vacancies and we are using more private staff. Why can we not simply recruit some of those private staff to fill the vacancies?

Vote DetailMSP VoteResult

Selection of the Parliament's Nominee for First Minister
Not VotedCarried

Selection of the Parliament's Nominee for First Minister
Not VotedCarried

Selection of the Parliament's Nominee for First Minister
Not VotedCarried

S4M-11567.2 Margaret Mitchell: Lowering the Drink Drive Limit—As an amendment to motion S4M-11567 in
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NoCarried

S4M-11507.1 Cameron Buchanan: Progressive Workplace Policies to Boost Productivity, Growth and Jobs—
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NoDefeated

S4M-11507 Angela Constance: Progressive Workplace Policies to Boost Productivity, Growth and Jobs—Th
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YesCarried

S4M-11494.3 Jackie Baillie: Welfare Benefits for People Living with Disabilities—As an amendment to
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Not VotedDefeated

S4M-11494.2 Alex Johnstone: Welfare Benefits for People Living with Disabilities—As an amendment to
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Not VotedDefeated

S4M-11494 Margaret Burgess: Welfare Benefits for People Living with Disabilities—That the Parliament
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Not VotedCarried

S4M-11484.1 Jackson Carlaw: Human Rights—As an amendment to motion S4M-11484 in the name of Roseanna
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NoDefeated

Search for other Motions lodged by Hugh Henry
EventIdTypeSub TypeMSP NameParty NameConstituencyRegionTitleItemTextFormattedAnswer DateAnswerStatusIdExpectedAnswerDateAnsweredByMspApprovedDateSubmissionDateMeetingDateProductionStatusIdRecordStatusIdStatus DateOnBehalfOfConsideredForMembersBusinessCrossPartySupportRegisteredInterestSupportCountSupportDateIsEventLinkCurrentMinister
Motion S4M-11543: Hugh Henry, Renfrewshire South, Scottish Labour, Date Lodged: 13/11/2014 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-11506: Hugh Henry, Renfrewshire South, Scottish Labour, Date Lodged: 11/11/2014 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-11369: Hugh Henry, Renfrewshire South, Scottish Labour, Date Lodged: 30/10/2014 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-10941: Hugh Henry, Renfrewshire South, Scottish Labour, Date Lodged: 08/09/2014 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-10547: Hugh Henry, Renfrewshire South, Scottish Labour, Date Lodged: 04/07/2014 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-10544: Hugh Henry, Renfrewshire South, Scottish Labour, Date Lodged: 03/07/2014 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-10419: Hugh Henry, Renfrewshire South, Scottish Labour, Date Lodged: 20/06/2014 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-09647: Hugh Henry, Renfrewshire South, Scottish Labour, Date Lodged: 04/04/2014 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-09621: Hugh Henry, Renfrewshire South, Scottish Labour, Date Lodged: 03/04/2014 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-09325: Hugh Henry, Renfrewshire South, Scottish Labour, Date Lodged: 12/03/2014 Show Full Motion >>
Search for other Questions asked by Hugh Henry
EventIdTypeSub TypeMSP NameParty NameConstituencyRegionTitleItemTextFormattedAnswer DateAnswerStatusIdExpectedAnswerDateAnsweredByMspApprovedDateSubmissionDateMeetingDateProductionStatusIdRecordStatusIdStatus DateOnBehalfOfConsideredForMembersBusinessCrossPartySupportRegisteredInterestSupportCountSupportDateIsEventLinkCurrentMinister
Question S4O-03532: Hugh Henry, Renfrewshire South, Scottish Labour, Date Lodged: 16/09/2014 Show Full Question >>
Question S4W-22501: Hugh Henry, Renfrewshire South, Scottish Labour, Date Lodged: 22/08/2014 Show Full Question >>
Question S4W-22502: Hugh Henry, Renfrewshire South, Scottish Labour, Date Lodged: 22/08/2014 Show Full Question >>
Question S4W-22497: Hugh Henry, Renfrewshire South, Scottish Labour, Date Lodged: 22/08/2014 Show Full Question >>
Question S4W-22499: Hugh Henry, Renfrewshire South, Scottish Labour, Date Lodged: 22/08/2014 Show Full Question >>
Question S4W-22498: Hugh Henry, Renfrewshire South, Scottish Labour, Date Lodged: 22/08/2014 Show Full Question >>
Question S4W-22494: Hugh Henry, Renfrewshire South, Scottish Labour, Date Lodged: 22/08/2014 Show Full Question >>
Question S4W-22491: Hugh Henry, Renfrewshire South, Scottish Labour, Date Lodged: 22/08/2014 Show Full Question >>
Question S4W-22492: Hugh Henry, Renfrewshire South, Scottish Labour, Date Lodged: 22/08/2014 Show Full Question >>
Question S4W-22490: Hugh Henry, Renfrewshire South, Scottish Labour, Date Lodged: 22/08/2014 Show Full Question >>

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