Being accessible to constituents is an important part of any elected representatives’ role. I was delighted, therefore, after several months of planning and organising, to be able to open my permanent Constituency Office on the 19th of November.
The office is situated at 85, Main Street, Rutherglen and my staff are available to discuss issues with constituents, Monday to Thursday, from 10am to 12 noon and from 2pm to 4pm. Out with these hours’ constituents can call 0141 561 5131 for an appointment at a convenient time.
This is in addition to my usual surgeries across the Constituency on the third and fourth Fridays’ of the month.
I am also happy for groups and organisations to contact me at any time about issues or services they have concerns about.
Last week I was made aware of one such issue which, potentially, could affect scores of people in the constituency who may have signed up to solar panel installation deals in the past few years, with a Cambuslang based company called HELMS.
HELMS had been selling home energy improvement packages, including solar panels, to households right across the UK under the umbrella of the UK Governments’ Green Deal initiative. In September 2015 they were fined £200,000 by the Information Commissioner for making nuisance calls, and subsequently ceased trading in April of this year.
Despite assurances that they would not be paying any more for their electricity than they had been before they signed up to these deals, or the promise that they would get the benefit of selling excess electricity into the national grid, many customers have seen their bills increase at an alarming rate.
I was pleased to attend a meeting on this issue in Blantyre, which was organised by local councillors. Nearly thirty people from this area alone informed us of their experiences with HELMS. Some have found themselves thousands of pounds in debt and, due to the long term nature of some of these deals, are finding it is affecting the value of their property and even the ability to sell their homes.
The local Citizens Advice Bureau were able to update the meeting on the level of similar cases they are dealing with in other areas.
There are potential trading standards and mis-selling aspects of this situation cut across both devolved and reserved areas. The elected representatives present agreed that it is important we have a coordinated approach across the constituency.
Local councillors and I will be meeting with the Citizens Advice Bureau to discuss the best way we can support individuals affected by issues arising from Solar Panels and energy saving adaptations.
I will also be working closely with my colleague, Margaret Ferrier MP, to pursue the issues at UK level.
From speaking with my MSP colleagues, it is clear that this is an issue which is affecting people across many areas of Scotland.
If you, or any neighbours, family or friends, have also been affected, in any part of the Constituency, please ask them to contact my office so we can keep them informed of future meetings and any developments.