SNP Hammers Highlands and Islands Councils with cuts

The SNP Government has hammered Highlands and Islands councils with cuts to their budgets, putting lifeline services at risk.

New figures from the independent Scottish Parliament Information Centre (Spice) show that between 2013-14 and 2018-19, local authorities’ budgets were cut per person in real terms.

For the Western Isles Council it was £572 per person; Highland came in at £176; Moray £93; Orkney £90; Shetland £414 and Argyll and Bute £299.

Across Scotland, council budgets were slashed by £810million in real terms during the period.

Scottish Labour says the cuts have put lifeline services at risk and show the SNP has not only failed to stand up to Tory austerity, it has turbo-charged it on councils

Highland and Islands Labour MSP Rhoda Grant said:

“The SNP has hammered Highland Council with year after year of cuts. These cuts have put lifeline services like schools and social care at risk.

“More than £800million has been stripped from councils in real terms in recent years.

“Instead of using Scotland’s powers to stand up to the Tories, the SNP government has used Holyrood as a conveyer belt for cuts.

“And we know these cuts have been made amid the government sitting on almost half a billion pounds of unspent cash.

“It’s time for Finance Secretary Derek Mackay to listen to Scottish Labour and use this money to properly fund local services.–facts-and-figures-2013-14-to-2019-20



Highlands MSP asks Scottish Government to support vulnerable ferry passengers.

Highlands and Islands MSP Rhoda Grant has asked the Scottish Government to provide support for people with health concerns or mobility issues by allowing them to bring escorts on ferry trips free of charge.

Currently EU regulations stipulate that escorts can be carried free of charge if the ferry provider has requested that they are present, but Ms Grant wants the support to be offered for vulnerable passengers as standard.

Ms Grant said: “I have a number of constituents, particularly those in the islands, who are required to travel to the mainland for medical treatment which is not provided in their home area. As well as having to cope with side-effects from treatments, such as chemotherapy and operations, many of these constituents may require support for anxiety, depression or to face possible diagnoses while visiting mainland clinics.

“In addition there are a number of constituents with mobility issues, permanent and temporary, who would feel great relief at being able to travel with an escort that they trust, without having to bear the extra financial burden.

“With many NHS boards now refusing or unable to financially support escort travel I feel strongly that it would provide an invaluable service to vulnerable passengers if they were able to bring escorts with them at a reduced cost.

“I hope that the Scottish Government realise that such a move could provide significant support for some of the most vulnerable in our society at a marginal cost to them.”

MSP has praised RBS for adjustments made to mobile banking fleet

Regional Labour MSP is praising RBS for the steps they have taken to make their mobile banking fleet more suitable for those with disabilities.
The Equalities and Human Rights Commission have released to Mrs Grant what adaptations RBS have made to their mobile banking fleet for those with disabilities.
This includes wheelchair access will be included in the design of all new mobile banks and will be retrofitted into all existing mobile banks. The bank has also installed MyHailo into all vehicles. MyHailo is a key fob that people with a disability can carry and if pressed, it alerts staff within a close by organisation with a MyHailo reader that someone needs assistance. There has also been portable hearing loops installed, adjustments for those with visual impairment and in addition, a handrail is available.
Mrs Grant began investigating how suitable the mobile banking fleet was for those with disabilities back in January 2018. It was announced in December 2017, that 13 banks in the Highlands and Islands region would close.
Mrs Grant said: “After it was announced that RBS would close 13 branches in the Highlands and Islands, I began pressuring the bank to reconsider their decision. I also wrote to the Equality and Human Rights Commission asking them to investigate how suitable the mobile banking fleet was for those with disability and mobility issues.
“It’s encouraging to hear that RBS have taken the necessary steps for those who have disabilities or mobility problems. Obviously, this does not make up for closing the banks in the first place but I do believe that all banks – branches or mobile – should be accessible to all.
Mrs Grant continued: “I would encourage all other banks with mobile banking fleet to make the same necessary adjustments, if not already done so, to their vehicles.”

Rhoda Grant MSP Member for: Highlands and Islands
Party: Scottish Labour 26 April 2017 . Pic – Andrew Cowan/Scottish Parliament

Labour MSP: still questions to answer on transport of pregnant women from Caithness

An MSP is renewing her call for a full risk assessment to be carried out on the methods of transporting pregnant women to hospital from Caithness to Inverness after receiving an edited version of an investigation into the birth of twin babies, born 50 miles apart.

In February, Rhoda Grant, who represents the Highlands and Islands, asked the First Minister why the air ambulance was not initially called when a Caithness mother went into labour at 30 weeks with twins.

Mrs Grant has now received of ‘precis’ of a report into a Significant Adverse Event Review of the case from the new NHS Highland Chief Executive, Iain Stewart.

In his letter, Mr Stewart says: “It is important to point out that the air ambulance helicopter is a highly unsuitable environment for the delivery of a baby.”

Mrs Grant says: “His answer begs the question – what is a suitable environment for pregnant women to be airlifted to hospital in an emergency and why was the helicopter called twice in this case if it was so unsuitable?

“Also, Mr Stewart’s letter only has a passing reference to Specialist Transport and Retrieval (SCOTSTAR), a national service that provides safe transfer for some of the sickest patients within NHS Scotland. The clinical teams are called in to transport patients, from babies through to children and adults by road and air. The expert teams include doctors, nurses and paramedics.

“Why was SCOTSTAR not called in? There are many questions unanswered in this edited version of the review and, while I see the need for patient confidentiality, it does not give me confidence that a similar incident will not happen again. There must be a full risk assessment carried out on what transport can be used and when and what craft is suitable for airlift in emergencies with pregnant women.”

Mr Stewart stresses that the care teams involved in the birth “behaved appropriately and professionally and that the proper procedures were followed in the best interests of the mother and her babies”.

Mrs Grant said: “I must congratulate all the staff working on the front-line in this case. They had a difficult job and did their very best for the mother and her babies.”

Previously, at First Minister’s Questions, Mrs Grant told Nicola Sturgeon the woman had bravely shared her experience of giving birth under the current maternity provisions in Caithness.

After going to Caithness General Hospital, the mother was informed that she would have to go to Inverness by road ambulance, over a 100 miles away and two and half hour drive

Mrs Grant told the First Minister: “Half way into that journey they had to stop at a community hospital at Golspie when the first twin was born breech.

“The air ambulance was then tasked but because it would take two hours to arrive the first twin would be sent by road to Inverness.

“The helicopter could not land, another air ambulance was tasked but this would take too long therefore a second ambulance resumed the journey to Inverness where the second twin was born.

“Thankfully after prolonged stay in hospital all are now doing well.

“However, it begs the question why was the air ambulance or emergency retrieval team not tasked initially airlifting the mum from Caithness.

“Will the First Minister investigate this and will she make sure that the air ambulance treats situations like this as a priority?”

Nicola Sturgeon promised to investigate and conveyed her good wishes to the family. She said she could not answer immediately as to why the air ambulance was not initially tasked, and did not have information in the chamber, and but she asked the Health Secretary, Jeane Freeman, to look into this.


Note for editors: Posting on Caithness Health Action Team’s Facebook site:

Caithness Health Action Team – CHAT

14 February at 21:30 ·

What’s it going to take for NHS Highland to change things? Where is this going to end?

While at my work in November 2018 my waters broke and I started labour. I never expected labour as I was only 30 weeks pregnant with my twins. A few hours later we made our way through to Caithness General Hospital. I was taken good care of by the midwives in Wick while they decided on what to do next.
I was in Wick for a couple of hours and was informed I would have to go to Inverness by ambulance. I was put in the ambulance with two midwives. The ambulance crew took an incubator as well. There was no panic and everyone seemed very calm. My partner followed in the car.
We made our way to Inverness. Contractions came stronger and closer so the midwife checked me to which they weren’t concerned. About 10/15mins later I had an urge to push. We stopped outside Golspie for the midwives to do a second check. It was decided we must stop at Golspie hospital. The midwives informed my partner and we made our way into Golspie.
Minutes later we arrived and I was wheeled into a very small room with a number of staff inside. Shortly after arrival about 10.30pm twin 1 was born breech. He was being looked after by doctors and nurses very soon after birth.
Thankfully twin 2 was in no rush to appear.
A TV with a video link to Inverness was wheeled into the room with a number of staff on the screen. They used this link to consult with Inverness to decide on what to do next.
I was informed a helicopter was being sent out but wouldn’t be arriving till sometime later. So they sent up two nurses and a doctor by police car from Inverness to look after twin one.
We were told that a helicopter was coming but then it couldn’t land due to frost on the propellers so it had to go back down the line. They would have been able to send another helicopter but this would have been many hours later.
There was a lot of confusion, questions and lack of decisions being made on what was the best option going forward. It was eventually decided we should make our way to Inverness by ambulance.
About 2am we left for Inverness by convoy, 2 ambulances, one with me and two midwives and other with twin one and two nurses, a police car and two other cars with Drs and my partner.
When we arrived in Inverness to our surprise the Inverness midwives took over and the Wick midwives involvement was finished.
I was induced and twin 2 was born head down. He was taken to SCBU along with his brother.
We spent 6 weeks in Inverness until the twins grew strong enough. I was provided with accommodation for the full 6 weeks.
We now have many appointments in Raigmore due to no-one being able to do checks up here. Why is this?
I am expected to drive two newborns to Inverness for an appointment lasting a couple of minutes.

We all have nothing but the greatest of praise for all staff involved but often think what if something went wrong while on the A9 or even in Golspie hospital.
All parties involved did the best they could with the situation. They made us feel very comfortable and safe in their hands.

My delivery should never have happened the way it did. It could had gone so wrong.
We would like to know,
Why weren’t we flown to Inverness?
Why could specialists not come up to Wick?
Why are Wick and Golspie staff expected to work like that?
Golspie wasn’t prepared for such an emergency but they did what they could and they did amazing. This shouldn’t be the case.
We know of another birth which took place in Golspie in 2017 and wonder if anything has been learned or changed from that.
We dread to think what could have happened if the road was closed by an accident or bad weather.
There is an investigation into our incident but we are unsure if the results will be made public.

Procurement timeline extended for broadband – longer waiting time for some areas

Responding to a Scottish Government announcement that the procurement timeline for the Reaching 100% Broadband programme will be extended, Scottish Labour Rural Economy Spokesperson Rhoda Grant said:

“Many of these delays have been avoidable. The Scottish Government have had ample time to plan, but have sat on their hands and blamed the UK Government – so with the addition of these delays, many people across the country are likely to be left behind for too long.

“I hope that the announcement from Ofcom that everyone will have a legal right to a decent connection from March 2020 is adding much needed extra pressure onto the Government.

“In remote rural areas, digital connectivity is vital to a decent quality of life.  Any delay to providing superfast broadband to 100% of the population means leaving people behind.  The Scottish Government should stop hiding behind the detail and come clean.”

For information:

Government Initiated Question:

7 June 2019

Index Heading: Organisational Development and Operations

Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (Scottish National Party): To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on the procurement for the Reaching 100% programme.


Paul Wheelhouse: We are determined that R100 programme delivers the best possible value and benefit for Scotland and have designed a procurement process to achieve this. Key to doing so is to ensure a highly competitive process that results in the £600 million funding for this programme delivering on our commitment to provide access to superfast broadband to every home and business in Scotland.

The procurement has therefore been structured, following internal and external advice and statutory and regulatory requirements, with defined dialogue cycles and submission dates. An Invitation to Participate in Dialogue was issued last Spring which resulted in four bidders being short-listed. Following the initial round of dialogue, a request for an extension of six weeks was granted to enable bidders to prepare initial submissions. Subsequently, a complaint was lodged, by one of the bidders, with the National Competency Centre, (managed by the UK Government as State Aid leads) citing a breach of the Code of Conduct by another bidder. This was resolved satisfactorily but resulted in a necessary pause in the procurement with a corresponding six week delay.

Ahead of the next key milestone we were required to provide a revised intervention area (listing all eligible premises). This update was necessary to allow the final stages of dialogue to be based on the most up-to-date picture, taking into consideration commercial coverage plans and changes to planned Digital Scotland Superfast Broadband (DSSB) deployment. Additional premises were added back into the R100 intervention area, in part due to direction from UK Ministers that future Gainshare activity be focused on full fibre solutions. This resulted in greater than expected changes across the country; and bidders requested extensions to enable them to remain in the process and provide competitive bids. We considered these requests carefully and balanced the wish to adhere to our timetable against the risks associated with not allowing bidders more time and our determination to provide the best possible outcome for Scotland.

We have therefore provided the bidders with the extension sought, giving them more time to remodel their solutions. This will see the procurement timeline extended, with the appointment of a preferred bidder or bidders anticipated by the end of September 2019 with contract signature by the end of the year.

MSP welcomes broadband move but disappointed it can’t be accessed now

A Highlands and Islands Labour MSP says the Applecross community should be allowed to connect into new superfast broadband sooner rather than later.

The link is now in place, installed by energy giant SSE as part of a project to supply the nearby Navy base at Sand Bay.

However, residents cannot get immediate access and will have to wait until one of three bidders wins the broadband contract under the Scottish Government’s R100 scheme.

MSP Rhoda Grant has this week written to SSE to ask if it or the MOD can grant access sooner.

“I can’t see any reason why the area’s community company can’t get inked into this, in the interim. That would really help people until one of the R100 contractors takes over,” said Mrs Grant.

“While I welcome the move to establish this scheme, it is disappointing that the small community of 200 cannot getting going with better broadband right away.

“It is well known that Applecross and surrounding areas suffer from some of the lowest broadband speeds in the country with some people have no internet connection, so this project was such a good idea for the community.

“However, it’s fair to say, with the tourist season about to take off, the community is now frustrated at having to wait to see the benefit.”

Last year, the nearby British Underwater Test and Evaluation Centre needed fibre optic cabling to the range terminal control building at Sand. This brought disruption to the area when it was under construction and the MOD agreed that the community could receive a broadband benefit from the link. SSE Enterprise Telecoms installed the cabling.

Following contact from concerned residents that they would not be allowed benefit from the new broadband line, Mrs Grant last year convened a meeting in the Scottish Parliament between SSE and the Applecross Community Company’s Development Officer to help broker a solution. She also wrote to the Ministry of Defence.


Western Isles and patient escorts – travel scheme should be reintroduce

Following the announcement that Health Secretary, Jeane Freeman, has ordered NHS Western Isles to set up a working group on funding for patient escorts, Highlands and Islands Labour MSP, Rhoda Grant, said that the region’s travel scheme should be reintroduced to solve the problem.

“While I welcome the working group being set up, this problem was caused by the Scottish Government no longer meeting travel costs over and above the NHS Budget, while at the same time cutting budgets,” she said.

“This has meant that NHS boards look to making savings and sadly this has had a terrible effect on patients travelling for treatment. Many are very worried about what lies ahead and may be travelling to receive a diagnosis.

“Doctors often tell patients to take someone with them in order that they can better recall what they are being told.

“This comes at a price for island patients and needs to be addressed.  The working group needs to find a solution, but I also think the Cabinet Secretary should reintroduce and fund the Highlands and Islands travel scheme and that would solve the problem.”

Ms Freeman told Mrs Grant she has asked that the working group have patient group representatives. Ms Freeman also wants to group to report back to her by mid-July.

Mrs Grant previously took up concerns from constituents and the Western Isles Cancer Care Initiative.

The cancer care group is pressing for automatic entitlement to an escort for anyone attending a mainland appointment for a life changing diagnosis, also for any patient going to a mainland appointment for their initial treatment plan and that specialist nurses involved directly with a patient’s care (Macmillan, MS, Dementia) should be able to recommend approval of escorts whilst patients are in their care, rather than being referred through the medical director.

Please support Mary Ramsay’s petition

Happy to support Inverness campaigner Mary Ramsay who has lodged this petition. Mary has been a stalwart – raising awareness of essential tremor and highlighting the need for a focus ultrasound scanner to be based in Scotland for treating people who have this condition.
Please click here to support and share


sheep farming debate – 14.05.19

On Tuesday, I spoke at the Sheep Farming Debate with the view that a new subsidy regime must be in place as soon as possible.
You can see my question to the Minister of Rural Affairs and Natural Enviroment and her answer below.