Reaching out to people at surgeries

John Lamont at St Abbs
John Lamont at St Abbs

MSP John Lamont held his 1,000th advice surgery recently in Foulden, and he’s never short of constituents either needing help of wanting to disucss a varity of issues.

“When I first started doing surgeries in 2007 I did wonder how many people would come because people use email, the phone etc nowadays but actually the number of people has increased and more are coming,” said John.

“I don’t know whether it’s peculiar to the Borders that people like the physical presence.

“More often people come because they don’t know where else to turn. People have told others that I have been able to help them in the past and more and more people come to me because they have heard about my willingness to help.”

The variety of issues Berwickshire people want to talk to John about is “something quite remarkable”, and he acknowledges how important they are to his constituents.

John deals with whatever constituents bring to him, whether its a council matter, UK Government or Scottish Parliament issues.

“The view I take is that if someone is coming to me I’ll do my best for them.

Although a Member of the Scottish Parliament, when it comes to UK matters he has found that he gets the same level of response from UK Ministers “as if I was and MP”.

“We can help people exactly as a Member of Parliament.

“I can get extremely local issues such as pot holes to personal life issues where people need help or the chair of a community council asking for help on behalf of the community.

“Clearly you get more national issues and Acts of Parliament. The named person was a recent one. There was a lot of concern from parents about it and what effect it would have on their family life.

“In the Borders, given the type of area, the sense of community is so important and the strength of family is very important to many people and the thought of outside interference with that touched a nerve.

“Brexit has resulted in lots of people corresponding with me - people from both sides have come to be because of concerns. It isn’t just the result but the consequences of the position of Scotland within the UK and the possibility of a second independence referedum.”

However, John believes that Nicola Sturgeon is moving away from that, certainly in the near future, and now that the UK Government has steadied itself with Therese May as leader he believes that much of the uncertaintly that was concerning so many people as been resolved and they are beginning to feel more positive about how the UK’s exit from the European Union will be handled.

On a more local level a complaint John often hears is that Berwickshire feels neglected by the council compared to other parts of the Borders.

“I do get that general feeling, through the discussions I have, that things such as pot holes, investment in town centres and other initiatives need looked at in Berwickshire.

“Berwickshire is unique because of its strong ties to Berwick and East Lothian - it’s a unique part of the Borders.

“Cross border issues continue - health care for people living in Paxton and Hutton who have had difficulty using health services south of the border which are much nearer to them. Health boards need to make their books balance and having patients cared for over the border is something they try to avoid which means people travelling to the Borders General Hospital rather than just a few miles down the road to Berwick.

“The other issue coming up more and more is broadband connectivity.

“I see it as being the same as having mains gas, electricity and water - it’s an essential that people should expect to have.

“The pressure on the Government, council and BT is going to get greater becasue more people are opting to work from home or are moving to the Borders from other parts of the country which have good braodband speeds.

“Despite all the money being spent, the technology is advancing so quickly its only getting us up to where others were five years ago.

“The other issue in Berwickshire is new housing being built closer to the exchange which means it reduces service to people further away, the diminishing level of services for people further out is because of the way the service works. That’s going to continue to be one of the biggest issues that people bring to me.”