Save Cumbernauld HMRC

The recent National Audit Office (NAO) report highlighted the severe flaws in the UK Government’s plan to close HMRC offices across the UK , labelling it: “unrealistic”, “over-optimistic” and “carrying a high risk of disruption”.

Cumbernauld tax office, by the Government’s own measures, meets all the key criteria for a successful regional centre, with experienced staff and an excellent location. It makes absolutely no sense for the UK Government to close the tax office in Cumbernauld, a decision which will cause significant disruption to employees and damage the local community. The overall programme is bad for staff, bad for communities and bad for taxpayers and should be abandoned.

Jamie Hepburn MSP and I have now called upon North Lanarkshire Council to carry out a Socio Economic Impact Assessment of the closure of the HMRC office in Cumbernauld. This assessment would provide a clearer picture of the impact of this closure on the local community and our economy which should be presented to the UK Government for consideration and a full response.

North Lanarkshire Council have stated that they are considering carrying out such an assessment and will confirm their plans shortly. I will provide a further update once I know more.



Welfare Cuts

At Westminster I have continued to campaign against the right wing UK Government’s austerity cuts and disastrous changes to social security.

Most recently I spoke in a debate about the roll-out of Universal Credit and I have also criticised the vile rape clause and other changes to the benefits system such as the ‘family cap’.

I have received countless emails from constituents who are struggling to get by as a result of the Universal Credit roll out and in a debate this afternoon I called for the disastrous roll out to be halted with immediate effect.

The roll out has been a complete dog’s breakfast, with people being left without any income for weeks on end and this ludicrous situation has resulted in arrears and some constituents falling into a spiral of debt and despair. On top of this, studies have shown that the combined effect of cruel Tory austerity cuts, such as the reductions to Universal Credit, will force one million more children into poverty by 2020.

When a social security system is acting completely contrary to its original purpose – substantially increasing rather than reducing poverty – it’s surely time to go back to the drawing board and ask what it is we are trying to achieve.



Post Study Work Visa 

Scotland’s Universities enjoy a fantastic reputation around the world, with four institutions in The Times Top 200 list and a proud history of innovation and world leading research. There should really be no problem in attracting international students to come and study here and indeed more than 94 per cent of international students believe Scotland is a “good place to be”.

However, Scotland’s higher education sector and the reputation of our universities are now being put at risk by the UK Government’s increasingly hostile rhetoric and draconian policies towards international students – including a ‘crack-down’ on student migration and the loss of the post-study work visa.  Other countries are taking advantage and attracting students that would once have come here – partly by offering the type of post-study work visa that the Tories have scrapped.

All of the evidence suggests that international students contribute immensely to Scotland’s economy, society and culture – and if we can encourage some of them to stay, that also helps to tackle some of the demographic challenges the country faces.  It’s extremely disappointing that the Tories have chosen to target these students as part of their obsession with meeting a net migration target that’s rightly been described as unworkable and undeliverable.

In my role as Spokesperson for Immigration, Asylum and Border Control I’ve continued to make the case for the reintroduction of the post-study work visa in Scotland. In doing so, I’ve joined a range of voices speaking out in favour of a this scheme, including the Scottish Government; Universities Scotland; NUS Scotland; the STUC and all of Scotland’s political parties!

The case for post-study work is simply overwhelming and along with my colleagues at Westminster – particularly those on the Scottish Affairs Committee – we have been able to express the sense of frustration that the Tories ‘one size fits all’ approach to immigration has created in Scotland and the urgent need for change.  But on this hugely important issue the UK government just isn’t listening to Scotland – they have continued to persist with the same tired arguments which just don’t stack up under scrutiny.

So it’s no wonder that the range of voices arguing that Scotland should have the powers to design its own immigration policy is growing – and one of the top priorities when that happens will be the post study work visa, attracting top international talent to our Universities, and encouraging them to stay here to contribute afterwards.



Spouse and Partner Visa Rules for Non EU Nationals

Giving evidence to the new Home Affairs inquiry into immigration last week, Phoebe Griffith from the Institute for Public Policy Research told members that the net migration target has “created a whole set of quite perverse incentives” to restrict certain forms of migration. There is surely no clearer example than the drastic changes to the immigration rules for non-EU spouses and partners introduced in July 2012.

In one fell swoop, instead of a light touch financial maintenance test which in effect required income levels of £5,500, an applicant wishing to join their spouse or partner here suddenly required to show their UK-settled sponsor earning at least £18,600 – plus £3,800 for a first child, and £2,400 for each extra child involved. And while the family could previously make reference to third party support from friends and family, or the potential earnings of the non-EU spouse, the new draconian rules excluded such factors from consideration.

Analysis suggests that 45% of the UK population couldn’t afford to sponsor the person they loved. In some parts of the country that rises to as high as 48% for couples and up to 66% for a couple with two children. The rules also disproportionately impact on the young, women and ethnic minorities.

I made the case for prioritising the right to a family life; putting the best interests of the child first; and not making citizens have to choose between their country and their family. At a minimum, that means ditching the new thresholds, and relaxing the rules again on the types of income that can be considered.