Anger at Crofting Bill being shelved

Highlands and Islands Labour MSP, Rhoda Grant, has said it is ‘shocking’ that, despite several assurances to the contrary, the Scottish Government has abandoned plans for crofting reform to be introduced in this session of the Parliament.

Rhoda Grant said “The Cabinet Secretary, Fergus Ewing, gave a statement to Parliament last month (10 September) advising that “Members could be assured that his officials continue to work on reform of crofting legislation” and now, just a few weeks later, he advises that work on the Crofting Bill will be suspended ‘for the foreseeable future’.”

The Cabinet Secretary was challenged last month by Labour’s Rural Economy spokesperson, Colin Smyth, who stated that

“Two years ago, the programme for Government stated: “We will … consult on and develop proposals to reform crofting law”.

“A year ago, the programme for Government stated: “We will take forward work on a Crofting Bill and publish a national development plan for crofting”.

“Just six months ago, at the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee, the Cabinet Secretary said: “I committed to seeking to introduce a crofting bill in sufficient time for it to be passed before the end of the session. That commitment remains.”— [Official Report, Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee, 24 April 2019; c 7.]

Mrs Grant said, “So many times we have heard Fergus Ewing extol the worth of crofting in the cultural heritage of Scotland.  He’s also stated that crofting continues to contribute to the sustainability of remote and rural communities and that that is partly as a result of the support and attention that the Scottish Government and its predecessors have provided in the past and are providing now.”

“Even his own SNP colleague, Alasdair Allan, said last month that he was disappointed to hear about the timetabling problems relating to a crofting bill.

“Fergus Ewing was happy to take the praise for the value that crofting contributes to the sustainability of remote and rural areas yet just weeks later, his officials get pulled away to deal with Brexit, leaving these vulnerable communities high and dry, ignoring the needs of crofters.

Mrs Grant concluded “The SNP used their last majority to force through damaging legislation and now won’t take the time needed to sort it.  I would think crofters the length and breadth of the Highlands and Islands will be feeling very let down by Mr Ewing and and his SNP colleagues as they turn their backs on the needs of this industry.”

MSP outraged at Uist dental revamp

Highlands and Islands Labour MSP, Rhoda Grant, has today said she is outraged to hear that new plans for an upgraded dental suite at Uist and Barra hospital have been unveiled despite the fierce prolonged opposition locally.  After almost three years of objection to the proposal, NHS Western Isles and the Comhairle announced last month, that they intend to press ahead with closing the dental practices at Lochmaddy and Liniclate (with Lochboisdale having already been closed) and centralise dental services in Benbecula.

Mrs Grant’s plea for a meeting with the former Cabinet Secretary for Health, Shona Robison, was ignored and last month she contacted the new Cabinet Secretary, Jeane Freeman, asking her to launch an enquiry into this decision as a matter of urgency.

Rhoda Grant said “The level of opposition to this plan has been staggering from the start yet NHS Western Isles and the Comhairle are battling on with their plans to centralise dentistry services in Benbecula, leaving some patients facing a 60 mile round trip to access an NHS dentist.

“The Uist LPG made it clear to the Integration Joint Board (IJB) in November 2016, that after a comprehensive options appraisal exercise, there was strong backing for the retention of the three site provision, as existed at that time.  This was reinforced by the Association of Community Councils, by a stakeholder event held in Lochboisdale, and by all local elected members serving at that time.  Concerns from dental professionals have also been raised, and it would appear, ignored.

Mrs Grant concluded “Tooth infection can have untold effects on many other parts of the body if infection is not detected early enough.  We need to encourage people to go for regular check-ups, not take dental services out of their communities which leaves access to dentists very hard for people who may have mobility issues, or do not own a car to travel these distances.

“I am contacting the Cabinet Secretary again to ask that these plans be stopped until the Scottish Government carries out a full enquiry into this appalling decision.”

North last in line for R100 contract

Highlands and Islands Labour MSP, Rhoda Grant, has expressed disappointment at the North of Scotland coming last in the delivery of the R100 contracts.

Responding to a government initiated question, the Minister for Energy, Connectivity and the Islands, Paul Wheelhouse, advised that Procurement for R100 has been split into three lots – North, Central and South – with funding allocated to each. The Minister advised that BT plc were the only bidder for the Central and South lots, and that, subject to due diligence and governance, the Scottish Government intends to proceed to contract with BT as soon as possible.

The Minister however also advised that more than one bid was received for the North and they will announce a preferred bidder in due course.

Rhoda Grant said “It is disappointing as the North arguably requires investment in connectivity before the central belt does. The market provides competitive broadband in the central belt however the same cannot be said in the North where we have some of the lowest broadband connections in the country.

Mrs Grant concluded “I will continue to press the Minister to proceed with awarding the North contract as soon as is practicably possible.”

 

Police Scotland advises MSP on action to tackle rural business crimes

The police have told an MSP they are continuing to investigate crimes targeting rural businesses and are “concerned at the increase in dishonesties in a concentrated area of the Highlands”.

Highlands and Islands Labour MSP, Rhoda Grant, contacted Police Scotland following reports that criminals were singling out small businesses in the region due to the lack of facilities to bank cash.

Mrs Grant previously raised the issue in Holyrood asking what the Scottish Government was doing to support Highlands and Islands businesses experiencing losses due to cuts in rural banking services.

Iain MacLelland Operational Superintendent for the Highlands and Islands Division got back to Mrs Grant who asked about break-ins in Fort Augustus, but also about other crimes in rural locations across the Highlands, Perthshire and Tayside.

He said that one of the key messages to businesses was about not keeping cash on premises.

“These criminals have quickly realised that bank branch closures and cutbacks are having a knock-on effect on the ability of businesses to bank cash,” said Mrs Grant.

“The big banks should hang their heads in shame for pulling out of villages and towns in the region, leaving smaller shops and stores exposed to criminals who are rubbing their hands in glee at their good fortune!

“The police have promised to get back to me with some figures on how many of these crimes are being recorded which I will be interested to see.

“It’s good to see that there is crime prevention work on-going but I still think that the Scottish Government should be investigating how to help businesses especially during these difficult economic times.”

Mr MacLelland said: “With regard to your question on what action we are taking to make businesses aware of the recent break-ins, please be assured we are taking this matter very seriously.

“Like you we have been concerned at the increase in dishonesties in a concentrated area of the Highlands. We immediately put in place an action plan committing experienced investigative resources to the respective enquiries.

“Detailed work has been carried out including extensive search activity and forensic work. These enquiries remain ongoing and I am receiving regular updates on progress.”

The Operational Superintendent went on to say that having identified a crime pattern, considerable prevention work had been carried out, including repeated messaging in the media to raise awareness.

“Our preventions officers have been door stepping individual premises in the locality which has been repeatedly targeted providing practical advice on business security, CCTV and generally how to keep their premises safe,” added Mr MacLelland.

“The Preventions Officer, Community Sergeant and myself were also attending a well-represented community council meeting to discuss concerns with residents and businesses.

“Please note that one of the key messages to businesses was about not keeping cash on premises. We continue to provide support to the community and maintain patrols in the area.”

Previously Mrs Grant questioned Kate Forbes, the Minister for Public Finance and Digital Economy, at General Questions in Holyrood asking what the Scottish Government was doing to support Highlands and Islands businesses experiencing losses due to cuts in rural banking services.

MSP RHODA GRANT, ANTHONY NOLAN AND THE SCOTTISH FIRE AND RESCUE SERVICE CELEBRATE SCOTTISH LIFESAVERS ON THE STEM CELL REGISTER

To mark Blood Cancer Awareness Month this September, Rhoda Grant MSP attended a reception in Holyrood, to celebrate the number of potential stem cell donors in the Highlands and Islands on the Anthony Nolan register.

This achievement was marked by Anthony Nolan on Thursday 19 September, as part of its Communities vs Blood Cancer campaign, which shines a spotlight on vital work being done locally to ensure that every patient in need of a stem cell transplant can find a lifesaving donor.

In the Highlands and Islands 8,187 potential stem cell donors are registered with Anthony Nolan. 23% of these donors are men aged 16-30, and the average age is 33.

In total, more than 760,000 people in the UK are on the Anthony Nolan register, any of whom could be a match for someone with blood cancer and asked to donate their stem cells to give a patient a second chance of life.

Now, Mrs Grant is encouraging more people from the Highlands and Islands, particularly men aged 16-30 and people from black, Asian and ethnic minority backgrounds, to register as stem cell donors and make sure that a match is available for everyone in need of a transplant. While anyone on the register could be a match for someone with blood cancer, men aged 16-30 are most likely to be asked to donate. They provide more than 50% of donations yet make up just 18% of the register. There is also a shortage of donors from non-white and mixed-race backgrounds.

Mrs Grant also had the chance to meet with representatives of the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service (SFRS) including Ally Boyle. Ally initiated a groundbreaking partnership with Anthony Nolan in 2009, while he was Area Commander of Strathclyde Fire and Rescue, after being diagnosed with myelodysplasia (a type of blood cancer). They have recruited thousands of lifesavers to the register, predominantly through their innovative SFRS Education Programme, which sees SFRS volunteers deliver inspiring educational presentations about stem cell, blood and organ donation to 16- to 18-year-olds across Scotland.

Rhoda Grant said: “I am very proud that the Highlands and Islands has 8,187 potential donors on the register, any one of whom could offer the only chance of giving someone with blood cancer a second chance at life. Donating stem cells is straightforward but it could make an enormous difference to someone with no other chance of a cure.

“I would especially like to commend the great work of the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service in engaging local communities, particularly secondary schools across Scotland. They’ve recruited more than fifty people who have gone on to donate. Their steadfast commitment over the past ten years has had a truly lifesaving impact.”

Henny Braund, Chief Executive of Anthony Nolan, said: “In the last year 1,323 selfless people from the Highlands and Islands joined the Anthony Nolan register, each one representing hope for patients with blood cancer, and blood disorders, in need of matching stem cell donors.

“This Blood Cancer Awareness Month residents can be proud of all the lifesavers in your community. To everyone from the Highlands and Islands who has taken the decision to join the register, thank you. We rely on young people aged 16-30 joining the register now to save lives in the future. Without you, there is no cure.”

For more information on Anthony Nolan visit anthonynolan.org/join.

Anthony Nolan uses its register to match potential stem cell donors to blood cancer patients in desperate need of a stem cell transplant. It also carries out vital research to make stem cell transplants more successful, and supports patients through their transplant journeys.

 

MSP says its vital that the community gets involved in project on Cairngorm

Highlands and Islands Labour MSP Rhoda Grant is backing Aviemore and Glenmore Community Trust in its bid to take on a project at Cairngorm.

Mrs Grant has been working in the background to support trust directors who want to bring about positive change but need permission to create a community proposal.

The aim is to help the operating company, CMSL, develop the hill and ensure there is some momentum as the funicular lies un-used and is likely not to be repaired until next year.

Mrs Grant has instigated meetings between HIE and trust directors, the most recent was earlier this month with Highlands and Islands Enterprise’s Interim Chief Executive, Carroll Buxton, in Aviemore.

“I’ve been impressed by the energy and commitment of the directors who really just want to get on with something positive that the community can get behind,” said Mrs Grant.

“There has been mention of a new chairlift plan, a project that the community could get behind and help implement, a chance for people to reconnect with the hill and that will resonate with the Scottish ski-ing community.

“I believe there’s no use in waiting for a Masterplan to be drawn up. Proposals could be looked at in tandem with any Masterplan.

“Movement on this would be a positive for the area and give hope for all those businesses who rely on Cairngorm for a winter tourism boost.”

Mrs Grant is hopeful that HIE and CMSL will grant permission for the trust to draw up plans and Ms Buxton has promised to raise the issue with CMSL.

Mike Gale, trust director, said: “It’s so important that we all pull together to help fix Cairngorm mountain the community is working together and ready in waiting to help, our ski area has such a huge influence on our winter business and our community’s health and well-being it’s vital we act sooner rather than later to protect such a treasured resource.

“It’s great that Rhoda has stepped up to the plate to help out and it’s action like this that’s needed from everyone involved at a political and government level.”

  • Pictured with Rhoda are directors, left Michael Dearman and right Mike Gale

MSP Rhoda Grant joins volunteers for the Great British Beach Clean

Highlands and Islands Labour MSP, Rhoda Grant MSP joined the Marine Conservation Society (MCS) and volunteers yesterday (23.09.19) to help clean the beach at Glenmorangie Distillery in Tain.

The Great British Beach Clean is the biggest annual beach clean-up and survey in the UK and is organised by the Marine Conservation Society. The event is now in its 26th year. Last year, 2,913 Scottish volunteers took part, removing an incredible 75,807 individual items of litter at 135 beach cleans along 15,680 metres of Scottish coastline.

Mrs Grant said: “We live in such a beautiful part of the world with such a wonderful variety of sea life. I think it is vital that we protect our beaches and the animals who live in our seas, lochs and firths from litter – especially from plastic waste.

“It was great to join volunteers to clean the beach at Glenmorangie. Many things were found that just do not belong on the beach such as metal and cans. I would encourage anyone when on a beach to keep an eye out and pick up anything that shouldn’t be there.”

Mrs Grant joined the citizen science project to help clear and survey the litter found on the beach at Glenmorangie. Data collected by volunteers from over 25 years of MCS-led Great British Beach Cleans has been instrumental in the introduction of Scotlands 5p single-use carrier bag charge, commitments to implement a ban on plastic stemmed cotton buds and to introduce a deposit return scheme for bottles and cans.

 

MSP supports community in call to have 40mph limit at Sconser ferry terminal

Transport Scotland is being asked to impose a 40mph speed limit on the trunk road outside the Sconser ferry terminal.

Highlands and Islands Labour MSP, Rhoda Grant, has written to the agency’s chief executive, Roy Brannen, supporting Raasay Community Council’s plea to cut the limit to make the road safer.

“Whilst it is good that Transport Scotland is going ahead with other measures at this location, I’ve been told there are frequent near misses there and a reduced limit would help,” said Mrs Grant.

“The ferry terminal is very busy, with a constant flow of traffic going past, even in the winter months, and I believe local people who say it is incredibly dangerous.

“I would hate for a serious accident to happen there.”

Raasay Community Council’s chair, Anne Gillies, added: “Those of us from Raasay who regularly turn right towards Portree from the terminal are fully aware just how nerve wracking the experience can be. The combination of hill-start and not being able to see while traffic is moving so fast is just not safe.”

Mrs Grant has been made aware of accidents on the stretch last week (ending September 20).

One appeared to involve three vehicles travelling toward Portree, which was attended by local police. A second accident is thought not to have involved police and insurance details may have been exchanged.

BEAR Scotland has written to Mrs Grant saying that improvement work has started on the A87 around the ferry terminal.

Work includes road signs and footway improvements, replacement bus shelter and pedestrian activated warning sign system.