Cole-Hamilton: Let councils cut business rates to boost local firms

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Alex Cole-Hamilton has today used a visit to Sprinkles Ice Cream in Edinburgh to highlight the plight of small business and make the case for giving councils more control over business and economic development.

The party has set out plans to:

  • Support the restoration of local control over council tax and business rates as part of a comprehensive plan to increase the proportion of funding determined and distributed locally.
  • Campaign for councils to receive their fair share of Scottish Government resources.
  • Work through COSLA to develop a new vision for local councils with a suite of new powers which can be used to make a real difference to people’s lives, particularly in economic strategy, energy, transport, town planning and funding for affordable housing.
  • Promote the long-overdue replacement of the council tax.
  • Support parity of esteem between local and central government underpinned by a fiscal framework that recognises the important work councils do.
  • Give a full power of general competence to local authorities, encouraging innovation and easing the grip of government ministers.

Mr Cole-Hamilton said:

“Local businesses have taken a battering during the pandemic. They need help to get back on their feet and compete with online retailers. That’s why we should be giving councils the flexibility to decide what is right for them.

“It is absolutely bonkers to assume that the person best placed to make decisions on everything from enterprise policy to business rates in Gretna, Greenock or Golspie is an SNP minister in Edinburgh.

“Cutting bills for small businesses on the high streets of our towns and villages can help to revitalise areas and sectors which have fallen behind.

“Every Scottish Liberal Democrat elected on 5th May will offer new hope for local businesses and put local people back in charge, not distant SNP ministers.”


Lib Dems will defend local care services from an SNP takeover

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Alex Cole-Hamilton has today declared that Scottish Liberal Democrat councillors will defend local care services from a takeover by the Scottish Government which would see local accountability, control and innovation put at risk.

Instead of allowing ministers in St Andrews House to dictate social care policy for the entire country, Scottish Liberal Democrats are proposing a model based which will deliver high quality, flexible and locally-run care services and community care built around individual needs and choices. 

The party is proposing to: 

  • Prioritise the establishment of powerful national bargaining with the Scottish Government funding required to deliver on fair work standards for staff. 
  • Respect the social care workforce for the work they do and require care service providers to comply with fair work standards.  
  • Recognise the right of every person to personalised care. 
  • Involve disabled people and other care users in local commissioning so it is informed by local experience of unmet need. 
  • Review the mix of provision available to people requiring care and support including modern sheltered housing, community care hubs, meal provision, community links and models of independent living for younger adults.  
  • Ensure that the relatives of care home residents are able to have full and meaningful contact with their loved ones.  

Alex Cole-Hamilton said: 

“The virus has shown how much we need and value health and care services and the people who work in them. However, they are under pressure like never before. Staff are exhausted. Two years of the virus and 15 years of SNP mismanagement are each taking their toll. 

“It would terrible for care services if authority was to be taken away from local councils and permanently handed to the same Scottish Government ministers who were responsible for sending untested and Covid-positive patients into care homes at the start of the pandemic. 

“Scottish Liberal Democrats have a rich history of investing in Scotland’s health, introducing free dental and eye checks, free personal care and recently winning £120 million more for mental health. Now we want to drive up the quality of care for users and move quickly to reward staff with better pay, conditions and career progression. That’s how to bring change as soon as possible, instead of delaying while new organisations are created by SNP ministers which would siphon resources from the frontline.

“Everyone who believes in local control of local services should vote for Scottish Liberal Democrat councillors on May 5th.”


Care home ruling will send shiver down spines of Scottish ministers

Responding to the court ruling on discharging patients into care homes in England, Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Alex Cole-Hamilton said:

"This verdict will spur on campaigners and send shivers down the spines of Scottish ministers.

"Discharging Covid-positive patients into care homes was one of the saddest episodes of the whole pandemic.

"The First Minster, her health secretaries and senior officials should be preparing to give evidence to the Covid inquiry, but nothing will bring back those who tragically lost their lives in Scotland's care homes"


Put teachers and councils in charge of Scottish education

As he visits Aberdeenshire, Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Alex Cole-Hamilton has condemned the SNP’s record on education and set out a series of proposals for tackling two years of disruption and fifteen years of SNP neglect, including strengthening ASN provision and giving more powers to schools.  

The Scottish Liberal Democrat local election manifesto commits the party to focusing on raising attainment and closing the poverty-related attainment gap through:  

  • the stronger Pupil Equity Fund already won by Scottish Liberal Democrats which will give schools confidence to recruit more long-term staff.  
  • supporting a nationwide teacher job guarantee to cut class sizes, because no teacher should be unemployed or feel underemployed.  
  • pupil support assistants providing more in-class support for children who need it.  
  • making sure every child has access to connected technology.  
  • supporting the expansion of outdoor learning and increased provision of residential experiences to engage children. 
  • supporting a new programme of extra supported study for S4-S6 to guide revision, work through problems and consolidate understanding. 
  • supporting voluntary pilots of a longer statutory early years phase, using play-based learning to help more children get off to a good start before the age of 7.  
  • Re-directing £17m from the SNP’s discredited national testing of children aged as young as four and five towards air filters in classrooms to keep those children safe.

Mr Cole-Hamilton said: 

“Nicola Sturgeon said that education would be her overriding priority. Even before the pandemic Scotland had tumbled down the international rankings and now the attainment gap is wider than ever.

After two years of disruption to classrooms the response should be unprecedented but pupils, teachers and parents can’t see a jot of difference in what the government is offering them. Nobody believes education is the SNP’s top priority.

“Education is the single biggest item in a council’s budget but interference by out of touch ministers and failing agencies like the SQA has got out of control. Scottish Liberal Democrats would give power back to teachers, schools and councils, deliver more in-class support, employ every teacher available to help with the recovery of education and boost ASN provision so that every child that needs help gets it.

“Scottish Liberal Democrat councillors will champion great local schools and a great local education for every child.” 


Cole-Hamilton sets out plan to help families with housing and childcare costs

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Alex Cole-Hamilton has today used a visit to Pennywell Pantry in north Edinburgh to highlight how the party’s councillors will deliver for families worried sick about the cost of living crisis.

The party’s priorities at this election include:

  • Raising and accelerating national targets in order to build thousands more homes for social rent.
  • Extending free early learning and childcare to cut costs and give families the flexibility, holiday options and wraparound provision they need.
  • Supporting children through breakfast clubs available to everyone who would benefit, removing hunger as a barrier to learning.
  • Making sure every child has access to connected technology after many were left without devices during remote learning.
  • The creation of a permanent nationwide Holiday Fun Fund and guaranteed access to life-changing activities outside of school.

Pennywell Pantry, run by the charity Community Renewal, is a dignified way to get food for low-income families in Muirhouse and West Pilton, which aims to offer a wide range of fresh and store cupboard food. The Pantry is currently fully subscribed though anyone is welcome to sign up to the waiting list for the next opening.  

Mr Cole-Hamilton said: 

“Pennywell Pantry is a fantastic community initiative that helps so many individuals and families in need. In the middle of the biggest fall in living standards since the fifties, it saddens me but does not surprise me how in demand their services are. 

“Their work shows how important it is for people making decisions to be embedded in the communities they serve. It is just five miles from here to St Andrews House but it can feel like another universe.

“Scottish Liberal Democrat councillors will get to grips with what really matters right now which is the cost of living crisis.

“Together we are determined to get extra help to families, including on housing and childcare. Those bills can be just as frightening as the gas bill.

“Every Scottish Liberal Democrat elected on May 5th will offer new hope for communities across Scotland.” 

Sheila Thomson - Community Renewal’s Regional Director for the East - adds:  

“The pantry is one of many services Community Renewal offers from our community hub on Pennywell Rd. In addition to providing affordable food and household items, we also support residents with practical advice on a range of issues including employment, health and wellbeing and community matters. 

“We are delighted to welcome Alex today and are especially keen for him to meet some of the committed volunteers who provide such a friendly welcome and safe environment for all the pantry members.”  


FMQs: Sale of Scotland's renewable assets threw away a fortune

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Alex Cole-Hamilton today challenged the First Minister about the £700m sale of Scotland’s seabed for the building of windfarms after new analysis exposed the gulf in price compared to earlier sales in England and Wales – after the Scottish Government forbid companies bidding any higher.

Figures compiled by the Scottish Liberal Democrats raise questions about why a £100,000 per km2 cap was placed on bids for the 7,000km of seabed.

 The one-off payments are a fraction of the average £361,138 per km2 companies had already freely offered in deposits alone in an open market auction for sites off the coast of England and Wales.

In England and Wales extra option fees are also paid on a yearly basis until a lease is entered into – potentially further multiplying the total funding received by the Treasury. Meanwhile, companies bidding for Scotland’s seabed weren’t asked for additional annual payments.

Speaking at FMQs, Alex Cole-Hamilton said:

“In January, the Scottish Government announced it had sold the lion’s share of Scotland’s seabed for £700m. On it will be built huge windfarms.

“What ministers didn’t tell Parliament that day, was that the Scottish Government and Crown Estate Scotland explicitly stopped companies paying a vast amount more.

“There was a cap on bids of £100,000 per square kilometre.

“That’s despite a sale in England and Wales - where there isn’t a cap - achieving four times that in initial deposits alone.

“We know windfarm jobs are going overseas. It happened again in Moray last week, so the First Minister can’t tell Parliament this is about employment.

“Scotland’s seabed can only be sold once. The sale price matters because it is cash that flows straight to the Scottish Government’s budget for schools and hospitals. 

“The Scottish Government has sold these national assets on the cheap. They have thrown away a fortune.

“So can I ask the First Minister, when the auctions south of the border netted four times more, why was she still determined to limit how much companies in Scotland should pay?” 


Nationalists vote down Lib Dem proposals to tackle cost of living crisis

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Alex Cole-Hamilton has today accused Scotland’s nationalist parties of hammering households after SNP and Green MSPs voted down a series of measures to tackle the cost-of-living crisis including plans to cut rail fares, increase disability benefits, protect councils from having to raise council tax and introduce an emergency nationwide home insulation programme. 

Speaking after the vote, Mr Cole-Hamilton said: 

“Scotland is facing the biggest fall in living standards since the fifties. 

“The Scottish Government has an arsenal of tools to tackle this crisis but they are still sitting on the side-lines. 

“Hiking rail fares and council tax will hammer households at the worst possible moment. In the case of the Green party this even means abandoning an explicit manifesto promise to discount fares by a third. 

“Scottish Liberal Democrats have set out a clear plan of action to cut bills for you and your family. I am disappointed that nationalist MSPs just to vote against those proposals today.” 


Lib Dems secure switch off of domestic vaccine passports

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Alex Cole-Hamilton said domestic vaccine passports must not be allowed to return after the Scottish Government today conceded that it was not appropriate to continue to allow their use on a voluntary basis.

On 28 February the Scottish Government removed the legal requirement to show covid passports, but gave the green light to businesses and venues to operate unregulated voluntary schemes. 

Alex Cole-Hamilton challenged both the First Minister and Deputy First Minister to repeal the domestic scheme entirely and shut down this part of the app.

Responding to a parliamentary question, Deputy First Minister John Swinney today said that “Given the change in guidance on 18 April on asymptomatic testing and the ceasing of the universal testing offer as set out in the Test and Protect Transition Plan, it would no longer be appropriate for Covid Status Certification to be used domestically. We have therefore removed the guidance for customers and businesses on domestic certification from the Scottish Government website and the domestic function of the Covid Status app will be switched off shortly at a date to be agreed in line with the rest of the UK.” 

Alex Cole-Hamilton commented:

“Liberal Democrats were the only party to consistently oppose Covid passports from the very start because they don’t keep people safe. Everyone knew you could have a vaccine passport but still have Covid.

“After the legal requirements were switched off SNP/Green ministers spent weeks encouraging the operation of unregulated Covid passport schemes. It needed the Scottish Liberal Democrats to stand against this.

“This faulty scheme should never have begun, let alone run for six months at a cost of £30,000 a day. The SNP/Green Government should commit today to not bring it back. We can’t afford for them to switch it back on the next time they need to pretend they have a situation under control.”


Lib Dems to push vote on cost of living rescue package

Scottish Liberal Democrats will use their opposition debate this week to force a vote on measures to tackle the cost of living crisis.

The party have set out a motion arguing that that both the Scottish and UK Governments must immediately do much more to tackle the worst cost of living crisis for generations, criticising the current limited proposals put in place to tackle the crisis and calling for a series of measures to help households.

The party is calling for the UK Government to:

  • cut VAT to 17.5%, a change worth £600 to the average household,
  • reverse the national insurance rise,
  • deliver a doubling and expansion of the Winter Fuel Payment and Warm Home Discount,
  • introduce a Robin Hood tax on the energy companies making super profits from the current crisis.

The party is calling for the Scottish Government to use its wholly devolved powers to:

  • reverse the recent 3.8% rail fare hike and instead expand the system of railcards so that everyone is eligible to get the benefit of rail discounts of at least a third off,
  • increase the value of disability benefits,
  • announce protection for households experiencing council tax rises due to the Scottish Government’s cuts to council budgets,
  • activate an emergency nationwide home insulation programme with reports provided monthly to Parliament.

Commenting on the proposals, Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Alex Cole-Hamilton said:

“Scotland is facing the biggest fall in living standards since the fifties.

“The current proposals set out by the Conservatives and the SNP do not go close to far enough. Both parties are taking people for granted, hiking national insurance, council tax and your train fares at the worst possible moment.

“Scottish Liberal Democrats have a clear plan of action to cut bills for you and your family.

“After everything we have been through Scotland needs new hope. You will only find that hope with the Scottish Liberal Democrats.”


Lib Dem research reveals 670% increase in people making their own way to hospital

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader and health spokesperson Alex Cole-Hamilton MSP has today urged the Health Secretary to “step up his game” and help restore the public faith in the ambulance service, as Scottish Liberal Democrat research unveiled that in the last five years emergency service calls cancelled due to patients making their own way to hospital have increased by almost 700%. 

Data obtained from the Scottish Ambulance Service via Freedom of Information shows that in 2021/22 5,796 calls relating to non-attended incidents were classified as “cancelled” due to patients choosing to make their own way to hospitals up from just 753 occasions in 2016/17, a rise of 670%. 

For attended incidents, the number of calls stopped due to patients choosing to make their own way to hospitals rose from 405 in 2016/17 to 2,330 in 2021/22, a rise of 475%. 

Calls to clinical support desks show similar figures, with calls relating to non-attended incidents rising from 2,215 in 2016/17 to 6,924 in 2021/22 and calls relating to attended incidents rising from 34 in 2016/17 to 113 in 2021/22. 

Commenting on the figures, Mr Cole-Hamilton said:  

People want to know that when they call the emergency services there is an ambulance available should they or their family need it. 

“These figures suggest that more and more people may be having to take themselves to the hospital because emergency care simply isn’t there. 

“While we can only hope those thousands of patients had only very minor injuries that required very little assistance, we do not know if the choice to make their own way to the hospital was merely a preference or a necessity.  

“If thousands of people are having to take a taxi to the A&E rather than wait at home in pain for an ambulance that may or may not come then that is an indictment of the SNP’s handling of emergency care. 

“The Royal College of Emergency Medicine has suggested that waits for emergency care may have led to hundreds of unnecessary deaths. 

“The Health Secretary must step up his game and provide new funds. The SNP should focus their energy and resources on helping the ambulance service provide the best possible service rather than another divisive referendum.

"Every Scottish Liberal Democrat councillor elected on May 5th will be another voice standing up for local communities and the health services that they rely on."


Time for both PM and Chancellor to go

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Alex Cole-Hamilton has filed a motion in the Scottish Parliament calling on the Prime Minister and Chancellor of the Exchequer to resign immediately.

Speaking about the motion, Mr Cole-Hamilton said:

“The British public have made tremendous sacrifices over the past two years. They are looking on in abject horror at a Prime Minister and Chancellor who broke the rules that they themselves made and then lied about it for months. It is time for them both to go.

“I know that many Conservative voters, councillors and parliamentarians are horrified at how their party’s leadership has behaved. I urge them to speak out and send a message before the smell of this scandal comes to taint them too.

“If Boris Johnson gets away with breaking the rules it will become harder to hold those in power to account across the UK. The catastrophic mismanagement of Ferguson Marine should have led to Scottish ministers resigning yet Boris Johnson offers them a perfect opportunity to point at Westminster and wriggle off the hook. He is lowering the tone of politics everywhere.”


Cole-Hamilton goes after rural voters in wake of Tory chaos

As he visited Strathtay in Perth & Kinross, Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Alex Cole-Hamilton has said that his party can speak for rural Scotland and urged voters to back Scottish Liberal Democrats. 

Campaigning alongside Clare Mclaren, the party’s agriculture spokesperson, Mr Cole-Hamilton highlighted policies such as: 

  • Encouraging rural colleges to become enterprise hubs, meeting local skills needs and supporting innovative new businesses.
  • Tackling the chronically poor condition of local roads.
  • Helping communities get the most of the Rural and Island Housing Fund secured by Scottish Liberal Democrats and, once it fulfils its potential, seek its extension. 
  • Campaigning for rural communities to have enhanced consultation rights and consideration, similar to the Islands Act, to ensure the unique challenges they face are addressed.
  • Support stronger local health services so that people can get the care they need closer to home.
  • Securing the connections to superfast broadband which communities need to work, learn and thrive with plans for community connection managers who will broker bespoke solutions for communities, particularly in remoter and island areas that have been left out of the main central government programmes.

Mr Cole-Hamilton said: 

“On my tour around the country, I keep meeting former Conservative voters who are absolutely scunnered at the way the Prime Minister has behaved. They played their part and kept each other safe, while he partied in Downing Street. They work hard and pay their taxes while the Chancellor does nothing to help people with the cost-of-living crisis. 

“I want Scottish Liberal Democrats to be the voice of rural Scotland. Our councillors are hardworking local champions who will stand up their communities and send a message that voters are demanding better than Tory sleaze and SNP incompetence. 

“We have a positive plan to support rural communities and ensure that every corner of Scotland can flourish. That’s why voters should back Scottish Liberal Democrat candidates on 5th May.” 

Clare Mclaren said: 

“With my years of experience in agriculture and rural industries, I will be helping the party to develop a new policy agenda for remote and rural communities. 

“From encouraging rural colleges to meet local skills needs, to tackling the chronically poor condition of local roads and securing access to the superfast broadband which communities need to thrive, Scottish Liberal Democrat councillors can deliver for rural Scotland.” 


Cole-Hamilton prioritises Cost of Living Rescue Package at council manifesto launch

Launching the party’s manifesto ahead of the local government elections on 5 May, Scottish Liberal Democrats have today set out plans that would see every household benefit from a Cost of Living Rescue Package that will provide new hope to everyone worried about the crisis.

The Scottish Liberal Democrat Cost of Living Rescue Package would see: 

  • A VAT cut worth £600 to the average household
  • A Robin Hood Tax on the energy companies making super profits from the cost of living crisis
  • An emergency nationwide home insulation programme
  • Doubling and expanding the Winter Fuel Payment and Warm Home Discount
  • The reversal of the SNP/Green rail fare hike and introduction of railcard discounts for everyone to knock at least a third off fares

The party’s plans also include: 

  • Stopping the takeover of social care by the same SNP ministers who put covid-positive into care homes, instead moving immediately to strike a transformative pay deal for staff and establishing new national standards for care users.
  • New health staff in every GP practice to boost early diagnosis and bring down waits for help across the country.
  • The rollout of hundreds more counsellors in schools and ramping up of training so every workplace can get the benefit of a mental health first aider
  • Long Covid clinics in every region and in-home nurse support for sufferers.
  • A comprehensive new education recovery plan because parents and teachers are struggling to see any difference in what’s on offer in our schools
  • Tackle the chronically poor condition of local roads to make them safer for walking, wheeling, cycling and driving.
  • The protection of council budgets after repeated cuts at the hands of SNP/Green deals which have taken a toll on everything from schools to street cleaning.

The party’s national priorities link up with local manifestos which are already being launched across the country. 

At the launch Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Alex Cole-Hamilton MSP said:

“We’ve hardly managed to catch our breath from the pandemic before the cost of living crisis has people worried sick. After everything we’ve been through, Scotland needs new hope. 

“Let’s lay aside talk of an independence referendum and get to grips with what matters right now. 

“From the Downing Street parties during lockdown to the ferries farce, people feel taken for granted by the Tories and SNP. At the worst possible moment they are both hiking up taxes, from national insurance to your train fares and council tax. They are exposing households when they should be insulating them.

“Instead we need a cross-government Cost of Living Rescue Package. It means the reversal of those SNP-Tory tax hikes, a cut to VAT worth £600, an emergency nationwide insulation programme to cut energy bills and a Robin Hood Tax on the super profits of those energy companies making billions from this crisis.

“Scottish Liberal Democrat councillors and candidates are local champions. You see them all year round – not just at election time. We see the best in people and want the best for them. That’s what you get when you vote for the Scottish Liberal Democrats on 5 May.”


Criminal Prime Minister needs to go now

Responding to reports that the Prime Minister and the Chancellor have received fixed penalty notices, Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Alex Cole-Hamilton said:

"Women gave birth alone and people said goodbye to loved ones on Zoom, all the while the Prime Minister and the Chancellor were partying in Downing Street.

“The police have now completely shredded Johnson’s claims that no laws were broken. He broke the rules and then lied about it. He cannot be trusted to continue as Prime Minister. Parliament should be recalled for a vote of no confidence.

"Douglas Ross needs to show some guts and some leadership and call for the criminal Prime Minister and the Chancellor to go.

"Everywhere I go across Scotland I meet former Conservative voters horrified at how Tories in positions of power have behaved. It's time for a change."


Cole-Hamilton sets out plans for power surge to councils

Speaking ahead of the launch of the Scottish Liberal Democrat local council manifesto on Wednesday morning, Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Alex Cole-Hamilton has said that his party will oppose the centralising power grabs of SNP Ministers in Holyrood and campaign to free councils to deliver for their areas, with the powers and financial levers they need.  

The manifesto will contain pledges to: 

  • Support the restoration of local control over council tax and business rates as part of a comprehensive plan to increase the proportion of funding determined and distributed locally.  
  • Oppose the SNP’s centralisation agenda, including the latest plan to take over social work, children’s services, community justice, and alcohol and drug services.  
  • Campaign for councils to receive their fair share of Scottish Government resources.
  • Work through COSLA to develop a new vision for local councils with a suite of new powers which can be used to make a real difference to people’s lives, particularly in economic strategy, energy, transport, town planning and funding for affordable housing.  
  • Promote the long-overdue replacement of the council tax.  
  • Support parity of esteem between local and central government underpinned by a fiscal framework that recognises the important work councils do.  
  • Adopt fair work principles so that councils, as leading local employers, show leadership and can attract and retain the talent needed for quality services, good governance and to guarantee value for money. 
  • Recognise that planning decisions are best tailored and decided locally, not overruled nationally. 

Mr Cole-Hamilton said: 

“Scottish Liberal Democrats want powerful and well-run local councils with a “can do, will do” attitude, committed to the delivery of excellent local services. Local Authorities have suffered serious and disproportionate cuts to their budgets at the hands of SNP-Green budget deals, reducing their capacity for innovation and dynamism and damaging their ability to support local communities. 

“Scottish Liberal Democrats want to deliver a power surge for local authorities. That means giving local communities more power over economic development, planning and transport and ending the SNP power grab that will see decisions over social work, children’s services and community justice taken by distant ministers far from the consequences of their decisions. 

“After everything we’ve been through, Scotland needs new hope right now. At the coming council elections, you’ll only find that hope with the Scottish Liberal Democrats. Our councillors and candidates are thrilled by the idea of what community can mean. We see the best in people and we want the best for them. If something isn’t working, then we try to fix it. That’s why people should vote for Liberal Democrat councillors on May 5th.”


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