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South Scotland MSP Colin Smyth has described Education Secretary John Swinney’s u-turn in parliament yesterday (Tuesday), on a return to full-time schooling from August, as a ‘victory for parents’ but warned questions remain over the details of the Government’s plans.

The Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills addressed the Scottish Parliament yesterday afternoon, announcing that the Scottish Government is now working towards, and planning for, pupils to return to classes full-time after the school summer holidays with no social distancing.

Until now Mr Swinney had said just half of pupils would attend school at any one time in a ‘blended learning’ model which would have meant pupils in class for between one and three days a week with social distancing of two metres. Just 10 days ago he said the ‘blended learning’ model could last for an entire year but now says it is unlikely to be used at all.

Councils have been working round the clock to prepare extra school transport, re-arrange classrooms for social distancing, plan additional cleaning, draw up new timetables for each pupil and prepare learning materials including for home learning. With just a couple of days until the school holidays, councils will now need to develop plans for a return to full-time education.


Colin Smyth said: “This U-turn by the Government is a victory for parent power and will be greeted with a sigh of relief by many people who have been deeply worried by the Government’s handling of their children’s education. 

“But the news that the return to school will be based not on new resources for extra teachers and classroom space but on scrapping social distancing for pupils will have many asking why John Swinney claimed days ago scientific evidence suggested we could need such distancing in schools for a year but now says we don’t need it at all. 

“The last minute rushed announcement just days before school holidays start gives teachers no time to re-write plans and many questions remain unanswered. 

“There is no government funding for councils to meet the massive extra cleaning bills they face or how extra transport will be provided for those who use service buses to get to school, as these buses will still have social distancing which limits numbers. 

“There remain no plans for a proper transition for P1 and S1 pupils or how extra support will be provided for pupils to help them catch up from weeks of lost work. Crucially the Government is silent on what protective measures and testing will be carried out to keep teachers and other staff safe.

“The Covid-19 pandemic is first and foremost a health crisis, that developed into an economic one and now the Government’s shambolic handling has turned it into an education crisis.”


Commenting on the update on the easing of restrictions by the First Minister in the Scottish Parliament today (24 June 2020) South Scotland MSP Colin Smyth said: 


“Any further lifting of lockdown measures is welcome but we must not forget that this terrible virus is still out there, and we must take precautions to keep ourselves and our communities safe. 

“People need to continue to act responsibly, use common sense and remember that this pandemic has killed many people in our region and ultimately saving lives is the most important consideration in everything we do. 

“The decision to maintain the two-metre rule Scotland, while it is being eased in England, will heap pressure on local businesses in the south of Scotland, who have really suffered during the months of lockdown. 

“More retail just a few miles away in England have re-opened, and pubs and hotels will soon open south of the border. In England they will follow the ‘one metre plus’ rule for social distancing, while those in Scotland remain closed and when they do open they will have to follow two metre social distancing. 

“As a result, many local businesses in the south of Scotland will be concerned at the impact of a loss of trade to the North of England. I hope that when further advice is published on social distancing on 2 July that we will safely be able to move to a lower level, which would really help local shops and other businesses in our area.”


South Scotland MSP Emma Harper has raised the issue of workforce safety in Scottish meat processing facilities with the First Minister during chamber question time. This follows incidents where a number of processing plants in England and Wales have had to close due to large numbers of their workforce being diagnosed with COVID-19 in recent days and weeks.

Ms Harper - who has been championing local food production and supply chains - asked the First Minister what guidance has been given to meat processing facilities across Scotland, to ensure optimal health and safety of the workforce given the spread of COVID-19 in other parts of the UK.

In response, the First Minister provided assurances that Food Standards Scotland (FSS) have delivered comprehensive advice, and that the agency has a physical presence, at all of Scotland’s 25 slaughter houses.

Additionally, The First Minister reinforced that FSS are also working closely with all meat processing facilities and butchers to ensure that physical distancing, disinfection and enhanced cleanliness routines are in place and that physical distancing marshals are present to ensure staff and others are supported so that adherence to the guidance and rules can be met.


Commenting, Ms Harper said:

“I am pleased to have had the opportunity to raise Scotland’s world renowned meat and food supply sector with the First Minister and to be provided with assurances that the Scottish Government is continuing to do all it can to work with the meat and food processing sector to ensure that the recommended standards are maintained, and that safety measures are in place to ensure that the risk of the spread of COVID-19 amongst the workforce remains as low as possible.

“In response to my question which asked the First Minister what guidance the Scottish Government has provided to meat processing facilities, which also outlined that a number of processing plants across the UK have now closed because of large number of their workforce being diagnosed with COVID-19, the First Minister stated that Food Standard’s Scotland now have a physical attendance in Scotland’s 25 slaughter houses. The First Minister also affirmed that the Scottish Government – through Food Standard’s Scotland – is working closely with butchers and other meat and food processing facilities in order to ensure appropriate and enhanced social distancing, disinfection and cleanliness routines. This also includes the use of social distancing marshals to ensure compliance with the restrictions and guidance.

“I welcome all the steps the Scottish Government are taking to ensure the workforce is protected in these difficult and very challenging times, and that all steps are in place to ensure that the risk of the spread of COVID-19 at processing facilities, and indeed any other workplace, remains as low as possible.”


South Scotland MSP Emma Harper has written to BT to ask the company if it is planning to extend its new scheme that currently provides six months of free internet access to school age young people in England to Scotland.

The scheme, which the South Scotland MSP has welcomed, will undoubtably have a positive impact on helping those from lower income households or those from households without internet – which can be for a range of different reasons – access education at home during what is a particularly challenging time for many.

Ms Harper has also laid a motion before the Scottish Parliament which calls on BT to provide information on whether they intend to roll out a scheme where Scottish school age young people are given access to 6 months of free BT internet – a move which she has said provides equity of education across the UK.


Commenting, Ms Harper said:

“I understand that in England an agreement was reached with the Department for Education to provide 6 moths of free internet to young people, who will be given a voucher code which will give them unlimited access to filtered internet services – providing educational resources and access to school email servers. I note that this scheme is to help all families who require it – particularly those from lower income households.


“While I welcome this scheme for England and agree that it will undoubtedly help young people who may be struggling with their education during what is a challenging time for many, I am concerned that a similar scheme is not yet available to young people across Scotland. Indeed, I have been contacted by several constituents across Dumfries and Galloway who do not currently have access to the internet in their homes, and who are struggling with educating their children at home as a result.


“Given this, I would be grateful to hear whether BT have any plans to extend such a scheme in Scotland and whether BT are in discussions with the Scottish Government about such a scheme. This would help many young people both across Dumfries and Galloway, and indeed Scotland.


“I look forward to hearing back from BT on this issue soon, and I remind constituents that I and my team are here to help, should anyone be looking for any advice and support.”

Driver training backlog raised at Holyrood and Westminster

Calls for driving lessons and tests to resume as soon as possible in rural areas like Dumfries and Galloway have been taken to the top.

Concerns about a backlog in learning driving skills and gaining licences because of Covid-19 restrictions have been raised at Westminster and Holyrood.



Dumfriesshire MP David Mundell and constituency MSP Oliver Mundell have raised the issue on behalf of local driving instructors at ministerial level.

The driver training industry is concerned that there is little sign of a lifting in restrictions, despite approaches to the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency.


In a letter to UK Transport Secretary Grant Shapps, David Mundell outlined the impact the paralysis was having in his large rural constituency.

He stated in such country area vehicles were a necessity, not a luxury as was the ability to drive.

In some cases, Mr Mundell pointed out, his constituents were being hindered in gaining work and accessing services.

He said: "I ask you to consider special provisions for driving tests and lessons to restart in rural areas as soon as possible, subject to reasonable precautions."

Mr Mundell added that such steps could help open up the economy and help revive communities.



Meanwhile, at the Scottish Parliament, Dumfriesshire MSP Oliver Mundell asked the Scottish Transport Secretary Michael Matheson when he expected driving lessons to resume.

The Minister replied that driving tests had been ceased across the UK until further notice, with the exception of emergency tests for critical workers, but the issue was being kept constantly under review.

Mr Matheson said: "This will be in line with maintaining physical distancing and suppressing the spread of the coronavirus."

He added: "The timing of the resumption of driving tests is reserved to the UK Government, but any resumption of tests would have to be in line with the Scottish route map out of lockdown."