Stewart turns to Human Rights Commission in battle for plumbers being chased for millions by pension scheme

Stewart in talks with Mr Menzies and his wife Jenny.

MSP David Stewart’s battle for a group of plumbers being chased for enormous sums by the industry’s £2 billion pension scheme has received another knock back from the UK government’s pensions minister.

The Labour MSP is now lodging a complaint with the UK Parliamentary ombudsman and raising the matter as a human rights issue in talks with the Scottish Human Rights Commission next week.

It comes after Stewart’s appeal to UK pensions minister MP Guy Opperman to use the Covid-19 emergency powers to put in place a Moratorium on the enforcement of the debts was turned down.

His 73-year-old constituent Murray Menzies from Inverness is among those hardest hit, with a shock estimated debt demand of £1.2 million from the multi-employer Plumbing & Mechanical Services (UK) Industry Pensions Scheme.

“Torn to pieces”

Facing financial ruin for doing the right thing, he and another 28 retired plumbers have been told they owe astronomical sums that could cost them their homes, businesses and whole life savings.

Complicated but strict annuity requirements mean they have to pay for employers who are nothing to do with them.

Stewart said: “I see this as a human rights issue and I will be taking this both to the UK Parliament’s ombudsman as well as to the Human Rights Commission.”

He continued: “Mr Opperman said all stones were turned to help these people, but no easements could be found. That’s just not on. I have written back to him asking for another attempt to be made to find a specific easement – just to cover this small group of 29 people. This is grossly unfair. These people’s lives have been torn to pieces, no doubt about it. I can’t think of a worse nightmare than a million pound bill landing on your doormat the minute you settle into you armchair in retirement. It’s a scandal, These plumbers have been begging the government for help but so far nothing has been done.”

“Forced to clamber under floorboards in his seventies”

Stewart has also been back in touch this week with the UK’s All-Party Parliamentary Group for Plumbers’ Pensions seeking update.

And he has written again to the Chief Executive of the pensions scheme, Kate Yate, following earlier face-to-face talks this year.

He said: “I’ve asked Ms Yates if the Trustees are exploring ways in which they might restructure the pension scheme to set this small group of mainly retired plumbers free from these debts. Employer debt law mean the pension scheme must issue these debt demands and I can understand why the law was brought it in the first place – to stop companies from being able to walk away from their pension liabilities. But the law can never have intended to place somebody’s savings or home at risk because of an occupational pension scheme.

“My constituent Murray Menzies has been forced out of retirement so that he and his wife can have a bit in the bank for the dreaded day the debt demand is formally issued and the Sherriff’s officers come to his door. All their plans to relax and enjoy their retirement are ruined. Instead of celebrating their Golden wedding anniversary, he’s clambering under floorboards and putting in people’s shower trays. All because he paid into a pension scheme for his employees without knowing it would trigger a massive debt the day he retired. It’s just appalling.”

“We’re going to be made homeless”

Mr Menzies said he had all but given up hope of the Pensions Minister giving any easements to release him and the other 28 plumbers from their debts.

He said: “In his rejection letter to David Stewart Mr Opperman said we plumbers should have been on top of legislation. Does he not understand that most plumbers are just hard working plumbers? Nothing less, nothing more. They’re not lawyers, or accountants or politicians, and most of them are not high flyers in the business world either. It’s soul destroying to realise that we all have to lose our homes and assets, everything we spent our whole lives working for, in order to pay the pensions of people we never even employed. We will be made homeless to ensure that happens. How can that be right?”

Mr and Mrs Menzies fear they will be left homless and penniless.

“Hold trustees to account”

Garry Forster, spokesperson for the Plumbing Employers Action Group which is supporting Mr Stewart’s actions, said: “It cannot be right nor fair that this small group of retired plumbers are facing bankruptcy through no fault of their own. The pension scheme trustees failed to apply the employer debt laws for 14 years and they need to be held to account for that.”

 

MSP told PSO to protect Wick flights could take up to a year to put in place

Highlands and Islands Labour MSP, David Stewart, is urging the Scottish Government to look seriously at interim measures to save Wick air routes after being told state aid for services could take up to a year to put in place.

Mr Stewart is supporting the campaign for a Public Service Obligation (PSO) to protect the Wick Edinburgh and Wick Aberdeen routes following Caithness being left without scheduled air services.

However, Transport Secretary, Michael Matheson, has now told Mr Stewart a PSO “would likely take around nine to 12 months for services to start due to the regulatory and procurement processes required”.

Moreover, in a series of Parliamentary Questions lodged by Mr Stewart, Mr Matheson has said the Scottish Government has held no talks with the UK Government about the serious situation nor made its own assessment of how uncertainty regarding the future of Wick John O’Groats Airport could impact on the Caithness and Sutherland area.

“I’ll say it again, the writing was on the wall long before the collapse of services at Wick airport but the Scottish Government dragged its feet,” said Mr Stewart.

“If a PSO can now not be advanced for up to a year, the Scottish Government must think of emergency measures to ensure services for that area in the intervening period.

“I would have thought discussion with the UK Government, as it has responsibility for the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority and for the UK Space Agency and their investment in the area, would be beneficial but Mr Matheson has said there have been no talks with them.

“There must be rapid movement on this to keep the Far North’s connectivity and to aid development for the future.”

The MSP wrote to Mr Matheson, and First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, after Loganair announced the axing of its Edinburgh-Wick service on Friday, March 27.

The MSP had previously asked the Scottish Government for swift action following the collapse of Flybe when the Wick-Aberdeen route was taken over by Eastern Airways which previously ran it under a franchise for Flybe. Mr Stewart argued that the Wick-Aberdeen service was fragile due to falling passenger numbers. Eastern Airways has now withdrawn this route.

Mr Matheson previously said it was considering carefully the business case submitted by Caithness Chamber of Commerce.
• A PSO, under EU transport law, is a permitted state aid which maintains scheduled air services on routes vital for the economic development of the region they serve.

SCOTTISH PARLIAMENT
WRITTEN ANSWER
15 July 2020
Index Heading: Transport Scotland
David Stewart (Highlands and Islands) (Scottish Labour): To ask the Scottish Government what (a) discussions, (b) consultations, (c) correspondence and (d) meetings it has had with stakeholders in the Caithness and Sutherland area regarding the nature of the services using Wick John O’Groats Airport.

S5W-30261

Michael Matheson: I met with the Caithness Chamber of Commerce on 29 August 2019 to discuss this issue. Since then Transport Scotland officials have met with the Caithness Chamber of Commerce regularly. These meetings have also included representatives from Highland Council, Highlands and Islands Enterprise and Highlands and Islands Airports Limited. We have also responded to numerous correspondence during this period from local representatives and other stakeholders.

SCOTTISH PARLIAMENT
WRITTEN ANSWER
15 July 2020
Index Heading: Transport Scotland
David Stewart (Highlands and Islands) (Scottish Labour): To ask the Scottish Government what discussions it has had with (a) Highlands and Islands Enterprise and (b) the UK Government regarding continuing to operate services between Wick John O’Groats and (i) Aberdeen and (ii) Edinburgh Airport.

S5W-30262

Michael Matheson: Highlands and Islands Enterprise have been part of regular meetings between Transport Scotland officials, the Caithness Chamber of Commerce, Highland Council and Highlands and Islands Airports Limited. We have had no discussions with the UK Government on this issue.

SCOTTISH PARLIAMENT
WRITTEN ANSWER
15 July 2020
Index Heading: Transport Scotland
David Stewart (Highlands and Islands) (Scottish Labour): To ask the Scottish Government what assessment it has made of how uncertainty regarding the future of Wick John O’Groats Airport could impact on the Caithness and Sutherland area.

S5W-30260

Michael Matheson: We have received the report ‘Public Service Obligation Air Services for Wick John O’Groats Airport: Business Case’ from the Caithness Chamber of Commerce which includes an assessment of the impact of the loss of scheduled air services from Wick John O’Groats Airport on the local economy. We have not carried out a separate assessment.

SCOTTISH PARLIAMENT
WRITTEN ANSWER
15 July 2020
Index Heading: Transport Scotland
David Stewart (Highlands and Islands) (Scottish Labour): To ask the Scottish Government what the timescale would be for introducing a public service obligation for services between Wick John O’Groats and (a) Aberdeen and (b) Edinburgh Airport.

S5W-30259

Michael Matheson: If Public Service Obligations were to be imposed on services between Wick John O’Groats and Aberdeen and Edinburgh it would likely take around 9 to 12 months for services to start due to the regulatory and procurement processes required

MSP seeks to keep up momentum on The Haven

Highlands and Islands Labour MSP, David Stewart, who has been supporting The Haven campaign said “It is fantastic news that The Haven has received this £1.1m grant from the Big Lottery Community Fund, hot on the heels of receiving planning permission for the building of the centre.

“This centre will transform the lives of children and young adults with complex needs throughout the Highlands but additionally, it will provide construction jobs for one year and social care jobs thereafter. It is a win, win, win for the Highlands.

“The project organisers are now half way to securing the total amount needed, £4m, and I am today contacting the Scottish Government to encourage them to also back the project financially.

“The Highland community wants the project, the Highland economy needs the project and the Scottish Government has a role to play in delivering the project. I will do my utmost to make sure it becomes a reality.”

Stewart congratulates business on its award for innovation and excellence

Tony Lister has thanked MSP David Stewart for his “lifeline”support.

Inverness-based estate agency Remax Elite was given national recognition through the Corporate Livewire Awards.

Judges on the platform which provides business professionals with latest news and developments chose Tony Lister’s firm as clear winner in the Estate Agency Small Business of the Year for Scotland category.

And now, Highlands & Islands regional MSP David Stewart has praised the firm for its win. It comes after Mr Stewart successfully appealed on Mr Lister’s behalf for Covid-19 grant funding of £10,000.

Mr Stewart said: “I am delighted to see a small company like Remax Elite recognised for its innovative work. Mr Lister deserves something positive after the difficult period he – and others in his field – have been going through. I know the firm puts innovation and excellence at the centre of everything it does. I congratulate Mr Lister on his success and wish him the best for the future.”

In April, Tony Lister turned to David Stewart after Highland Council said he did not qualify for a £10,000 government grant.

Due to an error when registering his business lease, Mr Lister’s firm was not eligible for a £10,000 handout from the coronavirus Small Business Support Grant Scheme.

The stressed-out businessman insisted an “honest mistake” had been made. But the council, which was administering the scheme for the government, said its hands were tied.

However, the decision was reversed when Mr Stewart put the merits of Mr Lister’s case to local authority chief executive Donna Manson and to Scottish Government ministers.

Mr Stewart, who is also helping businesses denied insurance interruption insurance pay-outs during covid-19, said: “It took two attempts to get this decision overturned in which time another constituent contacted me with the same problem. The council said modifications were made to the qualifying criteria for the small business grant scheme which meant both constituents could qualify. I understood the council was following government guidelines but no business should be penalised for admin errors, especially in the current climate.”

Mr Lister, who lives in Nairn, said: “I want to thank David for his kind words and more importantly for supporting us when we needed it and I feel the award underlines the efforts that he has gone to in order to help save the company.”

 

 

Cancer screening – it could take at least 12 weeks to access once restrictions are lifted

A health authority has told an MSP that cancer screening services could take 12 weeks to restart prior to a decision to reopen the service.

Highlands and islands Labour MSP, David Stewart, wrote to NHS Highland’s Chief Executive, Paul Hawkins, on behalf of a health professional concerned that patients were not receiving access to screening.

Mr Stewart said that during the COVID-19 pandemic, there had rightly been a focus on the need to protect the most vulnerable from catching the virus and saving lives.

“Cancer, however, hasn’t gone away and remains Scotland’s biggest killer,” said Mr Stewart.

“I want to see non-COVID-19 services restored with clear strategies for how patients will be protected and how to the backlog of demand will be addressed. Providing cancer services must be an absolute priority.

“Scottish Labour supports Cancer Research UK’s campaign for COVID-19-free safe spaces for cancer services and the Scottish Government must work constructively with health boards to achieve this within the existing NHS estate, while also ensuring staffing can be maintained at appropriate levels.

“As lockdown is eased we cannot return to business as usual. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the NHS was already in crisis due to long waiting times, resource pressures and unsustainable vacancy levels.

“In the meantime, I echo the health authority’s plea for anyone having worrying symptoms to contact their GP.”

Mr Hawkins told the MSP that National Services Scotland (NSS) which delivers services critical to front-line patient care to support NHS Scotland, paused breast, bowel and cervical screening programmes on March 30 due to Covid-19.

NSS was consulting with national and local officials to assess how these services could be safely recommenced, and this included looking at the risks, patients’ willingness to attend and infection, prevention and control measures.

Mr Hawkins said: “In the case of breast screening, for example, decisions will also need to be made regarding the scheduling of women to be invited e.g. whether to start from where the pause was implemented, or restart the programme where the service should have been screening if no pause was implemented.

“The issues are therefore significant and complex with NSS colleagues currently advising that a 12-week period prior to any restart will potentially be required.”

NHS Highland is advising patients to attend their GPs should they have any worrying symptoms and in recent weeks the number of referrals being received by GPs have been very close to the numbers being seen before the Coronavirus outbreak.

Cancer Research has highlighted that up to 1.2million invitations to take part in bowel, breast and cervical screening have not been sent out nationally.

More information at Cancer Research UK

https://scienceblog.cancerresearchuk.org/2020/06/22/getting-cancer-services-back-on-track-during-the-covid-19-pandemic/

Labour MSP continues to press the Scottish Government to stop dithering about future of Wick air routes

 

Highlands and Islands Labour MSP, David Stewart, is to again tackle Transport Secretary, Michael Matheson, about the dire situation in Caithness which has been left without scheduled air services as previously predicted.

This follows the news that Eastern Airways has now cut the Wick/Aberdeen route that it has operated for a number of years.

“The writing was on the wall long before this week’s announcement and still the Government appears to be dithering about what to do,” said Mr Stewart.

“I doubt whether any other areas of the UK have been left without such vital air links. In fact the UK Government and the Northern Ireland Executive have already moved to protect air links between the two countries.

“Mr Matheson needs to get a shift on to talk to his UK counterparts to make sure Caithness is in a good position to get connected again and quickly.”

Mr Stewart is lodging a series of Parliamentary Questions, including asking the Scottish Government what assessment has been made of the importance of Wick airport for the future development of Caithness and Sutherland.

The MSP also wrote to Mr Matheson, and First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, after Loganair announced the axing of its Edinburgh-Wick service on Friday, March 27.

The MSP had previously asked the Scottish Government for swift action following the collapse of Flybe when the Wick-Aberdeen route was taken over by Eastern Airways which previously ran it under a franchise for Flybe. Mr Stewart argued that the Wick-Aberdeen service was fragile due to falling passenger numbers.

Mr Matheson previously said it was considering carefully the business case submitted by Caithness Chamber of Commerce.

  • A PSO, under EU transport law, is a permitted state aid which maintains scheduled air services on routes vital for the economic development of the region they serve.

“Easing of Lockdown Restrictions Not Licence To Litter” – David Stewart MSP

Highlands and Islands Scottish Labour MSP, David Stewart, has voiced his concerns about the potential increase in flytipping and littering across the region ahead of the expected further lifting of lockdown restrictions and the move into Phase 2 of the Scottish Government route-map.

After the first changes to Scotland’s lockdown restrictions were implemented taking the country into Phase 1 last month there was a spike in anti-social behaviour, flytipping and littering at a number of beauty spots in the region including at Dores Beach near Inverness which Mr Stewart contacted Police Scotland and Highland Council about after local residents raised concerns.

To coincide with restrictions beginning to lift and to help inform the public about enjoying the outdoors responsibly, organisations including the National Farmers Union (Scotland) have produced a new range of colourful posters for their members and will launch these in the next few days.

Commenting on the issue, David Stewart MSP said:

“The vast majority of the public across the Highlands and Islands have of course behaved well and have followed the guidelines to the letter, but as we saw when restrictions were lifted in Phase 1, a small minority acted totally irresponsibly leaving litter and waste at many beauty spots.

“As we move towards Phase 2 and the further lifting of restrictions it is vital that people do not see the easing of lockdown restrictions as a licence to litter.

“Communities across the region have been blighted by the irresponsible actions of others over recent weeks through flytipping, vandalism, groups holding picnics and parties, often with dangerous barbeques and failing to take litter home with them.

“I hope that people will listen to and follow the new guidelines carefully and enjoy the outdoors responsibly within the rules and with respect to the countryside and the environment.”

‘It’s a Disgrace’ says MSP David Stewart on Covid-19 health inequalities

Highlands and Islands Labour MSP, David Stewart, said it was “a disgrace” that those who live in our most deprived areas were more than twice as likely to die with Covid-19 than those in wealthy areas.

At the virtual meeting of the Scottish Parliament’s Health and Sport Committee this morning (June 17) Mr Stewart, who is also Scottish Labour’s Shadow Public Health Minister, asked Ms Freeman what the Scottish Government intended to do to reverse health inequalities.

“The Royal College of GPs concluded in evidence to our committee that the pandemic has ‘shone a light on the persistent health inequalities that continue to exist in Scotland’, he said.

“All our witnesses will know this, but those who live in our most deprived areas are more than twice as likely to die with Covid-19 than those in the least deprived communities.

“Cabinet Secretary I feel this is a disgrace. What action is the Scottish Government going to carry out to reverse health inequalities?

Mr Stewart also raised the connection with obesity, conditions such as Diabetes and Covid-19 and called for cross cutting policies in the future – for example policies that cross the different aspects of housing, health and employment.

Mr Stewart said: “There may well be future pandemics, or of course regional health emergencies such as the foot and mouth crisis in 2001, but we can read the crystal ball that the poor will get a raw deal on these. How can we turn health inequalities on its head and place the disadvantaged on the top of the list?”

Health Secretary, Jeane Freeman, said Mr Stewart was absolutely right about the light being shone on those more severely impacted by Covid-19.

She detailed how there was also emerging evidence about the longer term impacts of those who have had the disease in terms respiratory, cardiovascular and renal functions and clear indications that certain underlying health conditions may make an individual more susceptible to a serious response to the infection, or the infection causing serious ill health in an individual compared to those who do not have underlying health conditions and some of those underlying health conditions related back to the circumstance of poverty and deprivation.

She added that the Chief Medical Officer and senior officials had been tasked to undertake an early piece of work looking at what was needed to tackle population health particularly in relation to health inequalities.

“There is a clear pressing demand now for us to find ways to be more effective in reducing health inequalities and reaching groups of people with important but practical ways by which they can improve their own health that we have not so far been successful in doing in 20 years of devolution. There is much more for us to do and we have already tasked the initiation of that work,” said Ms Freeman.

After the meeting Mr Stewart said he welcomed Ms Freeman’s assurance that work was underway to look again at health inequalities and her comment that it was “entirely fair to demand of this Government or any Government that as you plan for your response to any health emergency that your early thoughts go to those who are most disadvantaged in your society”.

Mr Stewart added: “However, in January, even before Coronavirus lockdown, the scale of persistent health inequalities was highlighted by Scottish Government statistics.

“In 1997, premature mortality rates were three times higher in the most deprived areas compared to the least deprived; in 2018, rates were four times higher in the most deprived areas.

“Over the last decade there has been a desperate need to plough more investment into these communities, to find better ways to tackle health inequalities. Covid-19 has brought into sharp focus that this has not happened and it’s shameful.”

David Stewart raises lack of payouts for Business Interruption Insurance in Parliament

Highlands and Islands Labour MSP David Stewart raised the issue of how companies were being affected by not having their claims for Business Interruption Insurance being met.

Meeting of the Parliament (Virtual) 11 June 2020 [Draft]
o Portfolio Question Time
 Rural Economy and Tourism
 The Deputy Presiding Officer (Linda Fabiani):
Welcome to this virtual meeting of the Scottish Parliament. The first item of business is portfolio questions on the rural economy and tourism. In order to get in as many members as possible, please could all members make questions and answers short and succinct—especially the supplementary questions and answers.
 Rural and Island Economies (Impact of Covid-19)
 Highlands and Islands (Impact of Covid-19 on Tourism)
 2. David Stewart (Highlands and Islands) (Lab):
To ask the Scottish Government what assessment it has made of the impact of Covid-19 on tourism in the Highlands and Islands. (S5O-04389)
 The Cabinet Secretary for Rural Economy and Tourism (Fergus Ewing):
The Scottish Government is keenly aware of the impact that the coronavirus has had on the tourism economy of the Highlands and Islands and is working extremely hard to address that.
 David Stewart:
Tourism is the lifeblood of the economy of the Highlands and Islands. My mailbox is full of contact from disgruntled tourist businesses that have for a variety of spurious reasons been denied business interruption insurance for interruption due to Covid-19. Will the cabinet secretary join my campaign to raise that injustice with the regulator, and ask insurance companies to think again?
 Fergus Ewing:
I entirely agree with David Stewart that the response of the insurance companies has been deeply disappointing, which is why the Scottish Government has been very active on the matter. Fiona Hyslop, who is the lead cabinet secretary on the matter, and I had a conference call with the Association of British Insurers just last week. During it, I expressed my extreme displeasure about the fact that so many insurance companies seem to be denying liability on the basis that the pandemic is the “wrong sort of pandemic”. How truly pathetic. We are campaigning on the matter and will work alongside David Stewart.
This is the first opportunity that I have had since Mr Stewart announced his planned retiral to say what a pleasure it has been, and will continue to be, to work alongside him in representing people in the Highlands of Scotland.

Highland Wildlife Park at Risk: Can you help?

I’m supporting the Highland Wildlife Park at Kincraig in their bid to re-open early, such as is planned in England. The Park is also desperately looking for support to weather the COVID financial storm. Can you help?

 

You can donate via the following link:- https://www.justgiving.com/campaign/HelpYourPark