By Islay McColl
Jackie Baillie has slammed the SNP for failing to keep their promise to provide all pupils in West Dunbartonshire, Helensburgh and Lomond with laptops or tablets as it emerged local councils have only been able to purchase new devices for 15 percent of pupils.
During the 2021 Holyrood election campaign, the SNP claimed they would deliver “into the hands of every school child in Scotland a laptop, Chromebook or tablet to use in school and at home”.
But 18 months on, just a fraction of new devices have been able to be purchased by West Dunbartonshire and Argyll and Bute Councils with Scottish Government funding.
Just 2084 have been bought in West Dunbartonshire representing only 17 percent of the 12,330 school roll. Meanwhile, in Argyll and Bute, covering Helensburgh and Lomond, only 1356 have been purchased. This represents just 13 percent of the 10,068 school roll.
Both authorities however advise that there are more devices available but these are not the new devices as promised by the SNP.
John Swinney likened the pledge on new devices to teachers “in his day” handing jotters to pupils.
John Swinney and Jackie Baillie, who hit out at SNP’s broken promises.
Jackie Baillie said: “Children are being failed by this SNP Government and this is the latest promise which has been broken. Their record on education is shocking and is leaving our young people to struggle, with worse outcomes for those in deprived areas compared to those in more affluent regions.
“I am seriously disappointed that only 15 percent of children across the two councils in my constituency have been given a new device. These figures lay bare that the Scottish Government made empty promises that they didn’t mean to keep during their Scottish Parliament campaign in 2021.
“These devices would have helped level the playing field for young people who have been adversely affected by school closures and disruption to learning through the pandemic but instead just a fraction of them have received the new devices they were promised.
“The Cabinet Secretary for Education, and indeed the Deputy First Minister who was so keen to talk up this pledge when it was made, need to draw up an action plan to ensure these devices are rolled out across the board. With the current situation, they risk some of the young people who would have been helped most, leaving education by the time we see this promise come true – if we ever do.”
Meanwhile, Jackie Baillie has urged students to seek out financial help during the cost of living crisis in order to prevent them being pushed into hardship.
The MSP was recently contacted by a constituent concerned that students could struggle as they aren’t eligible for the £150 cost of living award being issued by the Scottish Government through council tax bills.
Ms Baillie has stressed that students should not be disadvantaged and is keen to ensure they know where to turn for support.
Students can apply to the Fuel Insecurity Fund with £10 million having been allocated for people struggling with their energy bills. It is delivered through third sector partner organisations, particularly the Fuel Bank Foundation and Advice Direct Scotland with more information at https://www.fuelbankfoundation.org/ and https://homeheatingadvice.scot/how-to-apply-for-funding/
It includes provision for households on any tariff type and using any type of fuel.
Ms Baillie said: “It is a really worrying time for students as they return to their flats and halls of residence ready to begin their new year at college and university.
“The UK and Scottish governments have done little to ease the burden of high fuel costs this winter on those who are on fixed or minimal incomes, like students who are focusing on their studies.
“I would urge any students in my constituency who are concerned about paying their bills to consider the Fuel Insecurity Fund. There is also help through Discretionary Funds available directly from colleges and universities which students should not hesitate to apply for.”
And on the health front, Jackie Baillie has sought reassurance that elderly, vulnerable people will not be sent Covid vaccination appointments dozens of miles from their home ahead of the roll-out of the winter booster programme.
Last winter, lengthy queues formed at vaccination clinics in Alexandria and Dumbarton as pensioners were double booked for their slots with limited numbers of vaccination stations being set up.
Meanwhile, those in Helensburgh and Lomond were given appointments which would have meant a 130-mile trip, some of which would have been by boat.
The MSP raised the issue of vaccinations with the Cabinet Secretary for Health earlier this month and is keen to ensure that the winter programme goes smoothly.
She also urged more emphasis to be placed on antiviral medication being made available to all those on the former shielding list. And she urged the Cabinet Secretary to push for the availability of prophylactics. These important drugs can be used to prevent people from catching Covid in the first place with some immunosuppressed patients exhibiting a weak immune response to vaccinations.
Jackie Baillie said: “I am desperately keen to ensure that the chaos that ensued last winter and indeed in spring when people in their 80s were being given appointments dozens of miles away is avoided at all costs.
“Unfortunately lessons weren’t learned from the previous winter and my office was inundated with calls from pensioners in March who had been called for their boosters, worried they would have to make the lengthy trip. It was unacceptable and it cannot happen again. I have written to Argyll and Bute Health and Social Care Partnership to make this plain.
“In West Dunbartonshire, patients were left to wait for up to two hours in the cold and rain for appointments with slots double-booked. I would encourage people to take up the vaccination which is still the best way of ensuring people don’t fall seriously ill.
“I will continue to stress to the Scottish Government the importance of prophylactics and antivirals in people who were on the shielding list in March 2020 and who continue to live in fear of catching Covid. This is essential if all of society is to recover from the pandemic.”