THE school holidays are almost over and unfortunately we’ve not had much in the way of summer weather! The Scottish Parliament is on recess too but it’s been a really busy time in my office dealing with casework and in the constituency, getting out and about, conducting street surgeries.

I’ve also ventured further afield in my role as Shadow Minister for Children and Young People and last week had the pleasure of attending Scotland’s Young Carers Festival in West Linton, along with around 650 young carers from Fife and across Scotland.

They spoke about the everyday challenges they face, many difficult to deal with, but some of which could be easily overcome.

This is especially the case when it comes to education and I was shocked to hear some of the experiences young carers have had to endure in the classroom from both teachers and their peers.

Outside school, simply getting out and about, collecting prescriptions and shopping can be a problem. One solution supported by those I spoke to was a free bus pass. This could make all the difference and I’d like to see the Scottish Government look at introducing free bus travel for both young and adult carers.

The pressures of caring continue into adulthood, with almost a third of young adult carers dropping out of university or college courses due to their caring roles. Almost half of young adult carers leaving schools have no education, employment or training to fall back on.

All this highlights how important it is to ensure they are properly identified and supported as early as possible.

Being a carer can have a major impact on mental health and figures out this week also point to a worrying trend in respect of mental health services in Scotland.

Not only does NHS Scotland spend just 8.6 per cent of its total budget treating mental health problems, compared to the 11.9 per cent spent by the English and Welsh health services, but crucial targets are also being missed.

Only 78.9 per cent of children and young adults begin treatment within the Scottish Government’s 18-week target and a staggering 6000 child referrals are recorded as rejected every year.

This week, my Scottish Labour colleague, Dr Richard Simpson MSP, revealed that the number of children waiting more than a year for mental health treatment at the end of 2014 increased by more than 10 times in a single year.

Quite simply, the SNP Government’s failure to adequately fund mental health services in Scotland is failing vulnerable people across Scotland and while not as headline-grabbing as missed A&E targets, this mess needs sorting out fast.

I met this week with the Fife Council leadership to discuss the urgent need for new high schools to replace Woodmill and St Columba’s. This is especially pressing given the latest condition report for Woodmill which has graded the building as Category C and the continuing growth in population in the Duloch area which I believe will inevitably cause capacity issues at Woodmill.

It’s all about cash though and new schools are dependent on additional funding from the Scottish Government, which is not yet forthcoming despite a substantial underspend on their education budget. But this issue is too important to become a political football and I hope to work alongside elected representatives of all parties to make the case to the Scottish Government for the funding needed to replace Woodmill and St Columba’s and deliver the first-class facilities and environment our children deserve.

I attended South Dunfermline Gala at the weekend and would like to pay tribute to the work of everyone in West Fife who works tirelessly, throughout the year, to ensure community galas are a success and a fun day for all attending. Galas are really important to community wellbeing and it’s great to see continuing support for these events.

Finally, rising rent levels in the private sector are a growing issue in Fife and across Scotland and I am backing the Living Rent campaign, which calls for controls on the level of rent landlords can charge. Rent controls were abolished in the UK by Margaret Thatcher but are popular in other countries, including in some US cities.

The Scottish Government ultimately has the power to act and deliver a fairer deal for private renters. Indeed; everyone should have the right to an affordable home and I hope the Scottish Government will listen to these calls and take action to ensure a living rent for all.