Coalfields Regeneration Trust

– in the Scottish Parliament on 10 December 2015.

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Photo of Elaine Smith Elaine Smith Labour

The next item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S4M-14721, in the name of Christine Grahame, on the continuing success of the Coalfields Regeneration Trust. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament celebrates and commends the successes of the Coalfields Regeneration Trust (CRT), which is dedicated to improving the quality of life in Scotland’s former mining communities, including those in Midlothian, by encouraging small voluntary charitable and other organisations to expand their scope, build new partnerships and tackle more ambitious projects; understands that this is achieved by working in the heart and soul of coalfield communities, delivering on the Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act 2015, land reform, the Regeneration Strategy and social justice by investing resources, expertise and knowledge to ensure that local people are able to fulfil their potential, developing projects from the bottom up with involvement from the community; notes that this also includes the Participatory Budget Fund, a small fund offering small grants to groups and projects; congratulates the CRT on this work, which includes awards in Gorebridge ranging from over £3,000 to Midlothian Scout Group to £500 to Gorebridge Arts Collective, and wishes the trust well in its continuing work.

Photo of Christine Grahame Christine Grahame Scottish National Party

I thank all who supported the motion, the members who have stayed behind to take part in the debate and people in the public gallery from the Coalfields Regeneration Trust.

Photo of Neil Findlay Neil Findlay Labour

On a point of order, Presiding Officer. My understanding is that there are people outside the public gallery waiting to come in for the debate. Would it be in order for us to delay slightly to allow some of those people to come in?

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

Ms Grahame, do you want to comment?

Photo of Christine Grahame Christine Grahame Scottish National Party

Yes. I am grateful to the member for that. I am in the same position as him, in that I also have people who are coming into the public gallery. When people are filtering out, it sometimes means that those who wish to hear a members’ business debate cannot get in. I am very grateful for that point of order.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

Yes, it can be difficult when people are leaving the public gallery and other people are trying to come in at what is one of our busiest times. I will suspend the meeting for a few minutes.

12:34 Meeting suspended.

12:36 On resuming—

I should say to members that when a number of visitors are coming to the chamber for a debate, if the parliamentary authorities are alerted they can make arrangements for specific people to get in in different ways.

I call Christine Grahame.

Photo of Christine Grahame Christine Grahame Scottish National Party

Thank you, Presiding Officer. I will rewind.

I thank everyone who supported the motion, the members who have stayed to take part in the debate and the people in the gallery from the Coalfields Regeneration Trust, in particular Pauline Douglas, who has been of great help to me.

I could not have predicted that, decades on from the early death of my Welsh maternal grandfather, a man I never knew, who died in his 40s from injuries sustained down the pits in Derbyshire, I would be privileged to represent three former mining communities.

My grandfather’s early death left a large family as orphans, including my late mother, who was sent to an orphanage at first, separated from a brother whom she loved dearly, and then to the care of elder sisters. My mother’s was one of the many families that suffered from the hardships and hazards of the pits. Such suffering continued through the decades, sadly, but from it grew individual resilience and a community spirit that is undaunted by adversity.

Penicuik came into my constituency in 2007, followed in 2011 by Gorebridge and Newtongrange. Newtongrange is the home of the national mining museum of Scotland, formerly the Lady Victoria colliery, which dates from the 19th century and ceased production in 1981.

In Newtongrange, the conveyor that carried the mined coal crosses high above the A7, and the symbolic wheel, which lowered the miners’ cages, dominates Main Street. There are orderly rows of miners’ cottages from First Street to Tenth Street, and the streets have coal lanes for ease of delivery of the miners’ allocation of coal into their yards. The fingerprints of the Nitten folk’s mining past are on every corner of the community, right down to the Dean Tavern, which was a Gothenburg tavern.

In Gorebridge the initial industry was gunpowder production, but mining took over with the sinking of the Emily and Gore pits in 1847. Just as in Newtongrange, the run of the streets in the old part of Gorebridge is an indelible mark of that industrial past.

Penicuik suffered the tragic Mauricewood pit disaster. On 5 September 1889, a fire in the mine led to the loss of 63 lives—77 men were underground at the time. Today, the Shottstown miners’ welfare club in Penicuik is another marker of that past mining life.

I am giving members this potted history because, just as the landscape, streets and houses are a visible reminder of the mining past, the spirit of the mining communities is in people’s DNA. The communities all have their brass or silver bands, their gala days, their welfare clubs and a proud and protective sense of community. Nowadays, that spirit is also evident in the community development trusts and other voluntary organisations. If members were wondering, that is where the Coalfields Regeneration Trust comes in. Funded by the Scottish Government, its purpose is to improve the quality of life for people in Britain’s former coalfield communities. It takes the role of a sort of beneficial Goliath, helping the Davids of this world by encouraging small voluntary, charitable and other organisations in the coalfield communities to expand their scope, build new partnerships and tackle more ambitious projects.

Grass roots is where the trust starts working and where it belongs: at the heart and soul of coalfield communities, delivering on the Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act 2015, land reform, the regeneration strategy and social justice. It ensures that local people in those communities can fulfil their potential. Funding for programmes is done from the bottom up, with involvement from the community that the trust aims to serve. It helps communities get done the things that they want to be done.

A particular aspect of the coalfields community futures programme is the participatory budget fund—that is a mouthful—which is an important but small fund that offers small grants to groups and projects in each area. Community representatives are on the steering group and it is they who decide who receives awards and how much they receive. It kick starts the implementation of each plan, with priority given to those who contribute to the actions that are identified in each plan. That is real grass roots in action.

The coalfields community futures programme is an approach to local community planning and sustainable community development that aims to encourage active citizenship and build local democracy. It enables communities to devise a community action plan that makes a case for the things that communities think are important and want to make happen.

Alongside the action planning process, the trust offers each community a participatory budget fund of £20,000, which gives the community a chance to vote on its priorities for funding and make relevant decisions.

I have some examples of what has been achieved through the Coalfields Regeneration Trust. Gorebridge primary school parent teacher association got £688 for an anti dog-fouling campaign, and Gorebridge community development trust got £4,469 for its history archive. Previous awards in Newtongrange have ranged from £5,000 for the pipe band to £10,000 for refurbishment of the silver band’s hall. The largest amount, £56,500, went to Midlothian Women’s Aid for the refurbishment of its refuge. Those examples give a taste of the range of projects and the funding involved.

While it is about money—and what is not?—it is not just about money; it is also about building community confidence and recognising the cohesion and pride in identity, and the mining community’s strength and resilience, which remain indefatigable over the generations. It takes that pride in community and the future and turns it into action and practical successes.

I commend the Scottish Government for continuing to fund the Coalfields Regeneration Trust and the valuable community work that it does. It delivers £1.81 for every £1 it receives, almost doubling what that money can do. Most of all, I commend the Coalfields Regeneration Trust for the practical and effective work that it delivers, which is visible throughout the mining communities.

Photo of David Torrance David Torrance Scottish National Party

I thank Christine Grahame for bringing the motion to Parliament.

Since its inception in 1999, the Coalfields Regeneration Trust has become an important and essential programme for Scottish communities. Christine Grahame rightly points out in her motion that the Coalfields Regeneration Trust is so effective because it invests “resources, expertise, and knowledge” in

“the heart and soul of coalfield communities”.

The Coalfields Regeneration Trust is a truly holistic organisation that supports a wide array of services in communities that are based around the former mining industry. Often, it has done so by empowering existing local organisations. To name just a few examples, targeted communities have seen 4,337 new jobs, 2,899 bettered community facilities, 1,170 new social enterprises and more than 200,000 opportunities for children to participate in healthy lifestyle activities. That success shows that the trust creates an invaluable framework of support for former mining communities throughout Scotland.

I particularly welcome the work of the trust because it has had a positive impact in my constituency of Kirkcaldy. As colleagues will be aware, mining has been a central part of the history of Kirkcaldy and the surrounding area; not least in the case of the miners’ strike in the 1980s, mining has fundamentally affected the local economy and community life. That is why the Coalfields Regeneration Trust is so valuable.

In its many years of existence, the trust has funded projects as varied as the Day Centres Service, which provides activities for the elderly in our community; the Fishbowl Nursery, which works to give our youngest community members a good social and educational foundation; and Frontline Fife Homelessness Services, which not only provides temporary accommodation for homeless members of the community but advises students and other community members on how to find and finance homes.

Although many organisations in my constituency have benefited from the Coalfields Regeneration Trust, I would like to focus on one in particular, the Linton Lane Centre in Kirkcaldy. The Linton Lane Centre does it all—among other programmes, it runs children’s dance programmes, day care services, child health drop-in hours, family support groups and smoking cessation meetings, and it provides local recreational teams and societies with a place to meet. Through its varied initiatives and its engagement with many community members, the Linton Lane Centre is truly a wide-reaching organisation.

Although the centre receives funds from Fife Council, like so many other organisations it needs supplementary funding to keep it running. The centre receives donations from other places, but its incredible success in the past few years has very much depended on the refurbishment of its facilities, which are central to its programming—refurbishments that were made possible by the grant that it received from the Coalfields Regeneration Trust. Now, four years later, the centre is still thriving, thanks to the trust.

The Linton Lane Centre is an excellent example of the Coalfield Regeneration Trust’s efforts. However, there is still more that needs to be done. The centre for regional economic and social research at Sheffield Hallam University reports that Britain’s coalfield communities still face many obstacles, including fewer jobs, lower business formation rates, higher unemployment rates, poorer health, more people on welfare and a struggling community sector. While the projects that the trust has already funded have had a positive impact on thousands of people, many people living in former mining communities need more help.

The coalfields community challenge is one example of how the trust is attempting to expand its reach and help more people. The challenge allows sports groups in coalfield communities to propose projects that will increase physical activity levels in those communities. One of the challenge’s criteria is that the project must engage with those who are currently inactive. While the challenge is a closely targeted competition that focuses on one issue that is important to the communities and to Scotland as a whole, it has the potential to engage and help even more people throughout Scotland. One organisation in my constituency, the Methilhill Community Children’s Initiative, was successful in receiving funding from the trust. The MCCI runs various activities for children and their families, including gardening classes and a children’s newspaper. The trust awarded MCCI £2,900, which will enable it to build a hub for indoor activities that will include changing facilities and storage space.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

Mr Torrance, could you draw to a close, please? We are tight for time.

Photo of David Torrance David Torrance Scottish National Party

It is clear that the Coalfields Regeneration Trust not only aims to assist the Scottish communities that need that assistance most but makes an active contribution. I truly support Christine Grahame’s sentiment that the trust must be applauded and receive continued support for its efforts.

Photo of Cara Hilton Cara Hilton Labour

I thank Christine Grahame for securing the debate and welcome the delegation from the Coalfields Regeneration Trust—many from my constituency.

It may be 30 years since our coal industry was deliberately destroyed by Thatcher and her Tory Government, but the legacy of poverty, deprivation, unemployment and ill health continues to live on in our communities—communities that will never forget the devastation caused by Thatcher and her attack on the National Union of Mineworkers.

Sadly, the deprivation gap between coalfield and non-coalfield areas is getting worse. In Fife, one third of our coalfield communities fall within the 20 per cent most deprived areas. The impact of that is felt every day by the children who live in poverty and the families who are forced into food banks, and through the lack of jobs and opportunities and the ill health that literally cuts life short.

I echo the comments that have already been made about the fantastic work of the Coalfields Regeneration Trust in supporting our communities. It assists people into work, equipping them with skills, qualifications and opportunities. It also supports fantastic projects such as West Fife Enterprises in my constituency, which since 2000 has received £400,000 in funding from the CRT to renovate the Forthview training centre and run employability programmes. During the past 15 years, the CRT has approved more than 1,000 grants across Fife, totalling more than £5 million—an investment that has made a real difference in rebuilding communities and in empowering people in the communities that I represent.

In Oakley, the CRT funds a youth drama group, a homework club, a summer play scheme, a parent and toddler group and a heritage group. In Kincardine, it is supporting the community association to start up a women’s group, a forest kindergarten and a breakfast club. It also supports Tulliallan guides, café connect and Tulliallan bowling club. In Saline and Steelend, it supports an information and access initiative; in High Valleyfield, it is funding a new kitchen at the sports and recreation club; and in Culross, it is supporting the Scottish Mining Convalescent Trust to buy a minibus and build a new accommodation wing.

However, it is not just about funding; as Christine Grahame has already alluded to, it is also about building capacity through the excellent coalfields community futures programme. That involves local people setting out their own vision, agreeing on the issues that matter in their community and setting their own priorities for action.

In West Fife, the futures programme has been delivered successfully in Kincardine, Oakley and Comrie and has now kicked off in High Valleyfield and Low Valleyfield.

I make particular mention of Kincardine, where 550 people attended the community futures event. One of the top priorities that they identified was the reopening of Kincardine train station to provide residents, commuters and visitors with quick and sustainable connections to Stirling and Edinburgh.

Given the transport chaos that is being experienced by Kincardine residents right now, with road closures having a hugely detrimental impact on local residents and on local businesses such as the Baking Room, it is time for Network Rail, the Scottish Government and Fife Council to look into the issue as a matter of urgency to see what support they can give to get that plan moving.

Despite all the CRT’s excellent work, there are challenges ahead, and there is a lot more to be done to achieve the CRT’s vision of communities that are

“sustainable, prosperous, viable and cohesive without support”.

It is therefore vital that the CRT receives continued—indeed, much-increased—financial support from the Scottish Government to allow it to continue to play a key role in revitalising our communities.

I would also like to see more action from the Scottish Government to support West Fife Enterprise, which is currently struggling due to delays in funding being released from Europe. I hope that the minister will agree to assist with that issue.

I conclude by wishing the Coalfields Regeneration Trust continued success in supporting, regenerating and empowering our communities. I know that the work that it does makes a real difference, day in and day out, in the communities that I represent.

However, I also ask—at the risk of being controversial—the Scottish Government to extend its support to our coalfield communities to address another lasting legacy. I ask it to act to deliver justice for mineworkers by agreeing to hold a full, independent public inquiry into the policing of the miners’ strike—as is being pursued by my colleague Neil Findlay—to review the wrongful convictions of nearly 500 Scottish miners, including many of my constituents, and to finally tackle that miscarriage of justice. We have the powers in the Scottish Parliament to right those wrongs, and we should use them to ensure justice for the miners, their families and our coalfield communities.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

Due to the number of members who still wish to speak in the debate, I am minded to accept from Christine Grahame a motion without notice, under rule 8.14.3, to extend the debate by up to 30 minutes.

Motion moved,

That, under Rule 8.14.3, the debate be extended by up to 30 minutes.—[Christine Grahame.]

Motion agreed to.

Photo of Elizabeth Smith Elizabeth Smith Conservative

I congratulate Christine Grahame on what was a very eloquent and informative opening speech.

To pick up on one thing that Christine Grahame mentioned, I think that it is the fostering of projects and local partnerships—that fusion of expertise and guidance with local research—that is so important. It is a potent combination that can deliver well-targeted results for so many of the communities. We have heard some examples of that. That focus on localism also has lessons for policy in other areas.

My area of Mid Scotland and Fife is home to a number of coalfield communities including those in Fife, in Stirling and in Alloa, where the Coalfields Regeneration Trust has its Scottish head office. It is very important to Clackmannanshire because the regeneration of former coalfield communities is key to building stronger, safer and more prosperous communities, often in areas where they had tremendous difficulties in the past.

There can be any number of challenges facing coalfield communities, as Christine Grahame indicated. The Coalfields Regeneration Trust is therefore completely right, in my opinion, to recognise that the best people to come up with innovative and well-targeted solutions are the locals themselves, because a one-size-fits-all approach is simply not appropriate. However, that does not mean that there is not a national balance to be had. The Coalfields Regeneration Trust is a fine example of how to get that balance right when it comes to the huge amount of local potential in Scotland that is now being harnessed nationally.

I very much welcome the coalfields community investment programme, which supports lots of activities that are delivered by community and voluntary organisations working in Scotland’s coalfield communities. That investment can be capital or revenue awards, which range from around £500 to a maximum of £10,000 and are obviously extremely important. I know that a number of organisations in my constituency have benefited recently in that regard, including many community groups, which will help their development in the Kelty area and in Kirkcaldy.

I know that we are short of time, Deputy Presiding Officer, so I will finish by adding my congratulations to the Coalfields Regeneration Trust. I think that it does fantastic work, and I am delighted to take part in this debate.

Photo of Alex Rowley Alex Rowley Labour

I had the chairman of the Coalfields Regeneration Trust, Councillor Bob Young from Fife, on the phone to me this morning asking me to thank Christine Grahame for securing the debate.

I certainly have been a big supporter of the Coalfields Regeneration Trust over many years. I attended an event in connection with the CRT in Kelty recently at which a number of groups got awards for local funds; it was a really positive evening. Crucially, whether it is in Cowdenbeath, Kelty, Benarty or Cardenden, the Coalfields Regeneration Trust is working to develop local community plans in my constituency.

One of the questions arising from the Community Empowerment (Scotland) Bill was about the capacity of communities with higher levels of deprivation to drive forward that empowerment agenda. The role of the Coalfields Regeneration Trust has changed over the years and it is playing a key role in my constituency now in capacity building, which is something that the Government has accepted that we need to do. From that point of view, I think that there is a bigger role for the Coalfields Regeneration Trust going forward.

We can take a nostalgic view of coalfield communities. I am a miner’s son who comes from a mining community and I am very proud of that. However, the fact is that in the coalfield communities we have third and fourth-generation deprivation, inequality and poverty, so the scars of the mining industry in terms of poverty and deprivation are still very much in existence in coalfield communities across Fife and other parts of Scotland. As I continually argue in this place, we need a programme that focuses on having an anti-poverty strategy that runs through all levels of government.

If we want to know where the deprivation and poverty is, we can go to communities in the former industrial areas and coalfield areas across Scotland, and find there very high levels of poverty and deprivation. If we want to be serious about tackling that through an anti-poverty strategy, part of it must be about having organisations on the ground that will build capacity for communities through the type of work that was talked about earlier by the member for Kirkcaldy—he seems not to be here now—and others. The Linton Lane Centre and similar innovative projects will help people, and we need to use them to move forward.

I noticed this morning that the RSPB has put out a briefing that highlights the aftermath of opencast coal mining. In Fife and East Ayrshire in particular, there are still environmental scars from the disaster that unfolded through opencast coal mining. We need a bigger debate somewhere else on that, but it is certainly worth while mentioning today, because the affected communities will be left with those environmental scars unless we do something about it.

I congratulate Christine Grahame on securing the debate. I say to the minister that although it is legitimate to ask whether there is still a need for the Coalfields Regeneration Trust, the answer is, “Absolutely,” albeit that its role is changing. We need an anti-poverty strategy and we need to tackle deprivation and poverty in the former coalfield communities, and the Coalfields Regeneration Trust has a key role to play in building capacity to do that.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

Before we move on, I advise the Parliament that the member for Kirkcaldy sought my permission to leave the chamber for urgent personal reasons. I would like to put that on the record.

Photo of Adam Ingram Adam Ingram Scottish National Party

I congratulate Christine Grahame on securing the debate. As she rightly pointed out, the Coalfields Regeneration Trust has been making an invaluable contribution—

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

Mr Ingram, will you turn your microphone round slightly? We are having some difficulty in hearing you.

Photo of Adam Ingram Adam Ingram Scottish National Party

Okay. Sorry. Oh—that is better. [Laughter.]

As I was saying, the CRT has been making an invaluable contribution to economic development and wellbeing in former coalfield communities for many years now. In my constituency of Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley, some 138 funding awards have been made to 101 local organisations, totalling some £2.4 million since 2000. It is fair to say that the trust has been the leading regeneration organisation that is dedicated to improving the quality of life in former mining areas, which, as others have said, have been blighted for decades by deprivation, ill-health and unemployment.

It should be recognised that many of the communities in my constituency came into existence, grew and declined in direct relation to the fortunes of the coal industry. Even today, as Alex Rowley mentioned, the apparent demise of the opencast coal industry is visiting more misery on communities that have never been able to attract new industry to replace their former levels of economic activity.

In that context, it is hard to overstate the work of the trust, which aims to empower coalfield communities to help themselves. It delivers services that help people to gain skills, achieve qualifications, find work, set up and grow new businesses and become more active in their communities. In recent years, as Alex Rowley also said, the focus has been on building community capacity and asset building, to use the jargon.

I would like to highlight two examples of that work in my constituency. First, the Dalmellington action plan for 2012 to 2017, which was funded by the trust’s community futures programme, defined the priorities and projects that the community would pursue over that five-year period after an extensive process of community engagement. Many significant improvements have resulted, from town centre building frontages to woodland paths, from increased police presence to annual litter campaigns, from upgraded youth and leisure facilities to business start-up support, and from new signage to tourism development support. Some £240,000 of external funding has been leveraged in, on top of the original £150,000 from the trust, to implement a programme that is carrying the community forward with a renewed confidence.

My second example is Netherthird Community Action Training, which is a social enterprise that provides training and employment opportunities in gardening and outdoor maintenance for young people across Cumnock and district. It was established in 2012 following its success in being the coalfields community challenge winner in 2011 and receiving a financial award of £50,000 from the Coalfields Regeneration Trust to kick-start the social enterprise.

Last year, the Minister for Housing and Welfare, Margaret Burgess, and I had the pleasure of visiting Netherthird community garden to meet Jamie Campbell, the young entrepreneur who is responsible, and to see Netherthird Community Action Training in action.

Suffice it to say that I am grateful for the Coalfields Regeneration Trust’s activities in Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley and I commend its work to the Parliament.

Photo of Neil Findlay Neil Findlay Labour

I apologise, Presiding Officer; I have to leave after I have spoken, to meet a constituent.

I pay tribute to the CRT and its employees and trustees, particularly my good friend Nicky Wilson, and Joe Thomas, who is a former trustee and an ex-colleague of mine.

The CRT was established by the Labour Government to look at and address the deep-seated issues in the former mining communities. That happened after intense lobbying by mining MPs such as Dennis Skinner, Mick Clapham, Eric Clarke and others, who saw first hand the lasting and devastating impact of pit closures on their communities and the people who live there. I have seen that impact for my entire working life. Throughout that time, in my community I have observed the fall-out of the closure of Polkemmet colliery and, down the road a bit, British Leyland.

I have been involved in many projects that have attempted to rebuild communities and put in infrastructure and services to support the people in them. The CRT has been involved in many of those projects. The pitstop at Loganlea is attached to Loganlea Miners’ Welfare Society and Social Club and is a fantastic resource for the village. The West Calder Community Development Trust is a recent development that is doing terrific work, as is the Stoneyburn and Bents future vision group. The Blackburn, Seafield & District Credit Union has benefited greatly from CRT support and now operates across the area. In Fauldhouse, the Fauldhouse Community Development Trust hub project and the miners welfare club have benefited greatly from CRT support. All those groups are fantastic and do much-needed work, and there are many more. Similar work goes on elsewhere, as members have said. Christine Grahame mentioned Gorebridge and Newtongrange, and work also goes on in areas such as Danderhall and Dalkeith.

We do not have the 26 per cent unemployment rate that we had when the pits closed—thank God for that—but the reality is that those communities are still suffering badly. They have higher rates of employment, low levels of business start-ups, low pay, job insecurity, high claimant rates and financial deprivation. Those communities may have financial deprivation, but they also have humanity, decency and dignity. Whatever happens this week, when the final deep mine in Scotland closes—I give great thanks to Liz Smith’s party for its historic role in that—the people will not die, even though the industry has gone. We must support the people in those communities.

We need the work of the CRT and others who work in partnership with it to continue. We need to keep funding those projects. The reality is—I cannot take part in the debate without raising this—that the CRT’s funding has been hammered over the past decade. It received £1.8 million from the Scottish Government in 2007. In 2013, it received £422,000. Forgetting about inflation, that was a 75 per cent cash cut in its budget, and it would be remiss of us not to mention that. The CRT’s work is fantastic. Think how much more work it could do, Presiding Officer, in your constituency of Coatbridge and the constituencies represented by all the members here, if the funding went back to what it was before.

In my constituency, we need much more of the type of community development work that the CRT and others are involved in. I just wish that the Government would put its heart into it.

Photo of Colin Beattie Colin Beattie Scottish National Party

I thank Christine Grahame for instigating the debate and allowing the important work of the Coalfields Regeneration Trust to be highlighted in Parliament. It must be clear to members from what they have heard that the trust provides invaluable aid to parts of our constituencies that are most in need of help and rejuvenation.

My relationship with the trust dates back to 2007, when I was first elected as a councillor in Midlothian. At the time, I was keenly aware that the decline of the coal industry had taken its toll across the Lothians. The trust’s 2013 report, “Analysis of Coalfield Area Deprivation in Scotland”, confirmed that.

In the six years between my becoming a councillor and the publication of the report, the Lothians coalfields reported the highest increase in the most deprived areas in a group that included Ayrshire, central Scotland and Fife, and Lanarkshire. Twenty-one per cent of the Lothians’ data zones ranked in the worst 20 per cent of data zones in Scotland, which was five percentage points higher than in 2006. That is obviously a major concern, especially in this age of austerity, but funded by the Scottish Government, the Coalfields Regeneration Trust is providing badly needed help and funding to many organisations to help and encourage communities to come out of the decline from the ground up.

I have visited and worked with many of the groups that have received such help, and could speak at length advocating the work that they do for their communities. I mention, for example, Mayfield and Easthouses Development Trust, the Mayfield and Easthouses Youth 2000 Project, the Midlothian Association of Play, Bonnyrigg old folks club and the Cousland Village Hall Association, which are just some of the local charities that have received help and funding from the trust for a wide range of projects. I have seen at first hand how communities have benefited from that funding and the results of the trust’s support.

One of the trust’s more recent initiatives is a dragon’s den, which gives sports clubs and organisations that are based in Scotland’s coalfield areas the opportunity to pitch for funding from a range of dragons including Nicky Wilson, the National Union of Mineworkers president, and Jim Leishman, who is an honorary director of Dunfermline Athletic Football Club. In fact, the next den is being held tomorrow in Alloa, and I am sure that Parliament passes its best wishes to all the participating groups—mind you, I am not sure that I would want to be in their shoes.

As a specific instance of CRT’s broad approach and responsiveness, some of my fellow MSPs and people in the gallery might know that I am a director of Midlothian business launch pad, which aims to provide support and assistance to young people who want to start their own businesses. I recently met Pauline Douglas and Alex Downie of the Coalfields Regeneration Trust—

Photo of Christine Grahame Christine Grahame Scottish National Party

I am glad that Colin Beattie has got Pauline Douglas’s name correct. I think that I called her Carol. I must have Christmas on the brain. I just want to apologise for miscalling her.

Photo of Colin Beattie Colin Beattie Scottish National Party

Ah, Borderers. [Laughter.]

As I was saying, I recently had an extremely fruitful meeting with Pauline Douglas and Alex Downie of the Coalfields Regeneration Trust to discuss the possibilities of partnering together to raise awareness of the Midlothian business launch pad and to expand participation. It has been clear to me for some time now that although the launch pad can provide all the facilities required for any prospective business we can do better in making ourselves more widely known to our potential audience; the trust’s representatives grasped that straight away and proposed several initial ways of providing positive engagement. We will meet again in the new year, and it is very much my hope that we can expand our reach to young people who have a great business idea but who lack the support to take it forward. There is no doubt that the trust’s reach into the heart of our coalfield communities allows it to speak to many constituents who might not otherwise be heard.

It is clear to me—and, I hope, to all members in the chamber—that the Coalfields Regeneration Trust provides vital support for our communities. In enabling local people to come together to decide ways forward for their areas, the trust is without doubt targeting its help at where it is most needed. I take this opportunity to thank the trust for everything that it has done in Midlothian North and Musselburgh to date, and I look forward to its helping in other similar regions in Scotland, and to working with it in the years to come.

Photo of Claire Baker Claire Baker Labour

I congratulate Christine Grahame on securing the debate.

The Coalfields Regeneration Trust is situated in Alloa in my region, and I know how much excellent work it has done over the past 15 years. I grew up in Kelty, which is a coalfields village in which much of the community was employed by the National Coal Board either directly in the mines or, as my dad was, in the workshops in Cowdenbeath. It was an industry in which people’s livelihoods became a political battleground, and its running down devastated many communities across my region.

The identities of the villages were determined by their mines and the employment that they provided; there was high employment and a civic society that was supported by the mining families. Indeed, last week, I held an event in Lochgelly miners institute to recognise Jennie Lee MP, and I chose that venue not only because of its historical relevance to the area but because it shows how that legacy can be relevant to the present day.

The Coalfields Regeneration Trust was established 15 years ago to focus on regenerating former mining communities. Some people might think that the mining industry declined many years ago and that times have moved on, and that there is therefore no need for such a trust. However, 30 years after the decline of the coal industry, there is a continuing legacy of poverty and deprivation—a set of circumstances that have in recent years been added to by further pressure. There are still worse levels of deprivation in coalfield communities than in other areas, and the trust reports that Fife has—by some margin—the largest and most pronounced concentration of coalfield deprivation in Scotland. That is one of the reasons why I welcomed the fairer Fife commission report that was published in Fife last week; the trust must be one of the key delivery partners.

I support Neil Findlay’s earlier comments about the declining budget of the CRT. With a fairly modest income of £24 million, the trust has supported an employability agenda and has focused on people’s health and wellbeing, offering targeted grassroots support for communities and their families. Pauline Douglas and her team are approachable, positive and really understand the communities that they work in. Theirs is the only organisation that has an exclusive focus on coalfields communities, and it is more than just a funder, as it works in partnership with people and builds capacity in communities.

The briefing from the trust highlights so many positive examples of the work that it does that it is hard to choose which to highlight. I particularly liked the wheels to work project, which is a simple project that leases mopeds and scooters to young people in rural Fife who have difficulty getting to work, training or education. It provides a simple solution to the problem, but it is one that also develops self-respect and motivation because there is a specific long-term aim, such as gaining a driving licence, and there is also the option of buying the vehicle at the end of the loan period. It is a clever little scheme that reflects the ethos of the trust: finding solutions, empowering people to change their lives and giving confidence and responsibility.

I spoke to the trust recently at my party conference. I was due to speak on a panel for the Electoral Reform Society on participative democracy, and fortuitously spoke to people from the trust beforehand. They told me about their coalfields capacity-building programme, which works to build community engagement, enthusiasm, partnership working and community ownership of communities’ future. We talked in particular about the coalfields community action plan, which engages communities in community action planning, and, as Christine Grahame mentioned, there is a small participatory budget fund, which offers grants to groups and projects that take action based on the plan. The trust recently ran that process in Methil and had a really positive level of community engagement.

Communities that live with poverty often feel remote from decision making, or feel as if their votes at the ballot box do not change their lives or communities much. Projects such as those that are run by the CRT give communities power, control and participation in decision making, and bring people together to improve their community. For every £1 that is invested though participatory budgeting, an additional £5 of external funding has been secured. Involvement in the process has been high; there has been real enthusiasm from communities.

Scotland needs a healthy and engaged democracy, so I commend the Coalfields Regeneration Trust for taking that approach, and for all the work that it does across our coalfield communities in Mid Scotland and Fife.

Photo of John Wilson John Wilson Independent

I congratulate Christine Grahame on securing the debate. I also pay tribute to a late member of Parliament, Helen Eadie, who initiated a number of debates on the Coalfields Regeneration Trust because of the issues that we have always known about. Neil Findlay hit the nail on the head when he said that the debates always seem to focus on funding, and do not just congratulate the trust on the work that it has been doing in communities across Scotland.

I draw members’ attention to my entry in the register of members’ interests. The reasons for that will become apparent in two minutes.

The work of the Coalfields Regeneration Trust has been important, vital and essential for many communities across Scotland—former mining communities that were left in a bad situation when the industry was killed off, and they found themselves in deep depression, as well as deprivation. What led to establishment of the CRT in 1999 was identification of the problems that were facing communities across Scotland that had been left without support or structures.

In the time that it has been in existence, the trust has done a lot of work. I can speak from practical experience of seeing the work that has been done in Coatbridge and Chryston—your constituency, Presiding Officer—which I know well. I have seen work that has been done in Bedlay in Annathill; Auchengeich in Moodiesburn; and Cardowan in Stepps—although I should apologise to the people of Cardowan for saying that it is in Stepps.

The work that is being done in Moodiesburn reflects the work that other members have mentioned in reference to the community capacity-building programme. Three or four years ago, the Coalfields Regeneration Trust went into Moodiesburn, worked with the community there and developed a community plan. It surveyed the community and identified what its priorities were—not the priorities of the council or the Government—and put those in a document that was presented to the local authority, telling it what the people wanted to see happening in their community.

Last Saturday, while many members might have been out shopping in the wind and rain, I was participating in an event in my village of Glenboig. We had a Santa’s grotto and, while we were switching on the Christmas lights, the members of the community who are involved in the capacity building in Glenboig decided to survey the residents of Glenboig on how to use the £20,000 that has been granted to the community, and what groups should be prioritised to receive that funding. The group that has been established to look at that decided to consult the wider community on that.

About three weeks ago, I also received through the door a survey form from the local community development trust, asking what the issues are for Glenboig. The forms also formed part of Saturday afternoon’s consultation. People were asked, “Do you agree that these are the priorities for our communities?” and, “Do you agree that this is what should be taken forward?” Alex Rowley rightly made the point that this is about community capacity building from the grass roots up; it is not about organisations that are formed externally. The Coalfields Regeneration Trust has merely facilitated the communities’ coming together to identify their own issues.

I could go on, but I will end by making the plea—as have other members—that the minister give us, in his summing-up speech, a guarantee that funding for the Coalfields Regeneration Trust will continue. Not only that, but can the minister guarantee that we will see an increase in that funding, to allow the Coalfields Regeneration Trust not only to continue the work that it has been doing but to enhance what it does in many communities throughout Scotland, so that we can all get the benefit of understanding what community empowerment from the grass roots up is about?

Photo of Marco Biagi Marco Biagi Scottish National Party

Whenever we have debates about anything that is connected to Scotland’s traditional industries, whether it is steelworking, shipbuilding—which is what the Scottish side of my family was involved in—or coal mining, there is a real poignancy and sense of identity running to the heart of the issues that we are talking about. It must be accepted that that is, in part, a result of the shared suffering from the legacies of Governments past. Looking to the future, I commend the Coalfields Regeneration Trust for the sense of mission that comes from that identity, which is a real mission to improve the quality of life of the people who live in Scotland’s former mining communities.

Since 1999, the Scottish Government has been the sole funder of the Coalfields Regeneration Trust’s activities in Scotland, which demonstrates the cross-party commitment that exists to regeneration of our coalfield communities, in contrast to the United Kingdom Government’s decision to end its funding of CRT England last year. Our continued support for the work of the trust in delivering community-led regeneration activities delivers benefits to some of the most disadvantaged communities in Scotland. Our vision is a Scotland in which our most disadvantaged communities are supported and are in the driving seat of the efforts to solve problems that they know all too well because they are the people who live with them every day.

The Scottish Government’s regeneration strategy and programme for government highlight the importance of community-led efforts and community empowerment. Our fairer Scotland programme to develop a social justice action plan shows the importance that we attach to direct public involvement in decision making and building strategies. We recognise that community anchor organisations, in particular, can drive change across everything—local environmental issues, local economic growth, unemployment, and the arts and cultural activity. Crucially, they deliver what local people know will make a difference.

In 2015-16, we substantially expanded resources to support community-led activity across Scotland. By investing £20 million through our empowering communities fund, we are funding action, including by the CRT, to tackle poverty and inequality in Scottish society.

The trust has invested more than £21 million in the Scottish coalfields to create jobs, help people into work, support new businesses and social enterprises, encourage healthier lifestyles and help groups at the heart of their communities to become successful and self-sustaining. Anything that members can name, it has done. Over the past two years, we have provided funding of £1.5 million to the CRT to help it to deliver its programmes in coalfield communities.

We continue to learn from the trust and from other organisations that support community-led regeneration—the initiatives that work best at local level. I want to draw attention to one such initiative that has been highlighted: the coalfields community futures programme. It targets ex-mining communities that are suffering multiple problems but have not previously benefited from funding from the trust or other grant makers. The programme works at very local level—it works with residents and local groups to identify the community priorities by delivering a community action plan, using the residents as researchers.

By making use of a small fund and, crucially, by using participatory budgeting, residents make decisions on improvements in their communities. Capacity building is needed and provided by the trust, which develops new community skills that will, we hope, lead to the establishment of community anchor organisations that provide a focus for on-going activity. I saw the model just last month in Prestonpans; I cannot commend it highly enough.

It is not enough to do things to communities that we believe are needed—we must have faith in the spirit of communities and empower them to do the things that they know are needed. The Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act 2015 is important in that regard, and will help to support more initiatives such as the Coalfields Regeneration Trust. The 2015 act can and must provide new vigour if it is to work; it must provide new life and new routes for communities to take to ensure that their ambitions can be realised.

Participatory budgeting—or PB—like that which is done by the CRT, is a massive opportunity to ensure that decisions are better made not just because they are being made by people at the front line, but because people feel ownership of them. I totally agree with Claire Baker that communities must be re-engaged to participate in decision making of all kinds. That is about community empowerment putting its money where its mouth is.

I am an ardent supporter of PB and the Scottish Government is supporting—and stepping up—efforts to build capacity and understanding of PB across the country. I recommend the website to anyone who is interested in that work.

Last month in Prestonpans town hall, I met so many people who were enthusiastically casting a vote for their favourite projects—local residents were securing funding directly. It is not only about days like that, but about the work, the ideas and the connections that the process generates, and how it brings individuals and groups together and the positive energy that that creates.

The Scottish Government will continue to support community-led regeneration in our coalfield communities. I repeat that the CRT’s work has many aspects, which I hope others will look to and emulate. Looking to the future, we will keep working with the CRT to help it to develop further and enable it to build its strong profile in ex-coalfield communities. The trust’s staff in Scotland are working with Scottish Government staff on how initiatives such as participatory budgeting can be rolled out more widely alongside—here is the jargon—outcomes-based monitoring and community-led regeneration. We need all that to help to reverse the decline that our former coalfield communities have experienced, and to find ways to bring communities forward and up.

I add my thanks to the Coalfields Regeneration Trust for all its amazing work in our former coalfield communities. That vital work makes a difference, because it is embedded in the priorities of the communities. It is a model example of community empowerment and the CRT is to be congratulated and, to be frank, learned from.

13:29 Meeting suspended.

14:30 On resuming—