COMMUNITY left counting the cost of the closure of its outdoor education centre has backed Grant’s bid to the Scottish Government for funding support

A COMMUNITY left counting the cost of the closure of its outdoor education centre has backed an MSP’s bid to the Scottish Government for funding support.

Ardgour Community Council told MSP Rhoda Grant the closure of the Abernethy Ardgour School of Adventure Leadership meant the loss of nine jobs and those nine families and individuals, some with school-aged children, have had to relocate from the community due to all the jobs having tied housing.

The Abernethy Trust closed the centre amid the coronavirus crisis. Residential school trips are still banned under coronavirus guidelines and there are fears many other outdoor education centres will follow suit and be forced to shut nationwide.

Mrs Grant wrote to Scotland’s Finance Secretary Kate Forbes raising concern for Ardgour’s rural community and economy and seeking emergency support.

She said: “I share the concern being expressed by the Scottish Adventure Activity Forum and other organisations for the future of this country’s outdoor education industry. I have written separately to Scotland’s Education Secretary John Swinney and Further and Higher Education Minister Richard Lochhead this week.

“However, if anyone needs a clear picture of the immediate impact an outdoor centre closure has on a community they need look no further than Ardgour. I am told the families and individuals forced to leave the village included a mix of ages and school-aged children. The lack of available housing and the current economic climate has made it incredibly difficult for these people to remain in this small rural community. I know the loss of these families across the spectrum will be significant and that’s why I am calling on the government to step in with support. The government has a duty to stop this from happening in other areas. It needs to fund the sector to safeguard other centres from closure during the pandemic.”

Kendra Turnbull of the Ardgour Community Council said the outdoor education centre also ran an outdoor instructor training program which brought around 12 adults to the area.

She said: “These temporary residents were active in the community, regularly volunteering at community events and attending the local church. Again, their loss will be felt. These examples illustrate the personal stories and wider community effect that the closure of outdoor centres will have. Real lives are being affected.”

She went on: “In the interests of all youth, and vulnerable rural families and communities in Scotland we would urge all MSPs and MPs to campaign on their behalf to secure the future of outdoor residential centres. The Scottish Government needs to review their recent decision not to invest in them.”

Mrs Grant and her Labour Highlands & Islands MSP colleague David Stewart MSP are supporting the #SaveYourOutdoorCentres campaign.

Mr Stewart has also been making representation for outdoor education centres in the constituency, namely Ardroy Outdoor Education Centre, Argyll, which serves communities in the Highlands, and Fort William’s Outward Bound Trust’s long-running Loch Eil centre.

Mr Stewart has also written repeatedly to Scottish Government ministers and has contacted the Chancellor Rishi Sunak to highlight the predicament of both centres.

“He has also to the Highland Council’s chief executive, Donna Manson, and raised the issue through the Scottish Parliament.”


MSP lodges Parliamentary Questions on air connectivity across Highlands and Islands

Highlands and Islands Labour MSP Rhoda Grant, has lodged two Parliamentary Questions on the effect of Covid-19 on the region’s aviation industry.

Mrs Grant is questioning the Scottish Government on what assessment it has made of the impact on Highlands and Islands air routes in the light of the pandemic and what it plans to do to protect the region’s connectivity.

She has also asked the Scottish Government what it plans to do in the light of Loganair suspending its Inverness/Shetland service and following the collapse of the two air routes from Wick John O’ Groats airport.

Mrs Grant’s Highlands and Islands colleague, Labour MSP David Stewart, has continued to press the Government to bring in a Public Service Obligation – a type of state aid – on the Wick routes to help the future development of the area.

“It’s vitally important the Scottish Government preserves and protects all the region’s air routes,” said Mr Grant.

“These are lifeline services and should be recognised as such. It shows the need for more Public Service Obligations to protect our routes to our islands and remote communities.”

Question S5W-32449: Rhoda Grant, Highlands and Islands, Scottish Labour, Date Lodged: 09/10/2020

To ask the Scottish Government what assessment it has made of the impact on Highlands and Islands air routes of the COVID-19 restrictions, and what action it is taking to protect the region’s aviation connectivity.

Current Status: Expected Answer date 06/11/2020

Question S5W-32450: Rhoda Grant, Highlands and Islands, Scottish Labour, Date Lodged: 09/10/2020

To ask the Scottish Government what action it is taking in response to (a) Loganair (i) suspending its Inverness-Shetland and (ii) ending its Wick-Edinburgh service and (b) Eastern Airways ending its Wick-Aberdeen service; what discussions it has had with (A) the relevant chambers of commerce and (B) other stakeholders regarding this, including whether there is a business case for a Public Service Obligation (PSO) to be considered, and by what date it expects a solution to this issue will be announced.

MSP secures council’s commitment to listen to Skye’s North Coast community amid concern over the plans for Uig harbour

RHODA Grant MSP has been assured Highland Council will listen to the views of Skye’s North Coast community before going ahead with upgrade plans for Uig Harbour.

The Highlands & Islands Labour MSP wrote to the council’s chief executive Donna Manson pressing the need for further consultation with the community after accessibility concerns were raised over the council’s plan to incorporate steps instead of a pontoon and ramp.

She said: “The council has a duty to listen to the voices in the community and I was glad to receive a letter back from the council’s head of infrastructure Colin Howell this week confirming further community consultation will be carried out.

“Hundreds of people signed an online petition amid fears this harbour scheme will discriminate against people with disabilities. And a petition has also been raised with the Scottish Government for the Public Petition Committee in which the council is engaging.

“I welcome the government’s commitment to fund this scheme but it has to be funded properly to ensure the community gets the best design possible and one that is accessible to everybody.”

The harbour is being redeveloped to accommodate the new Skye triangle ferry when it comes into service. 

However, the harbour development has been postponed.

Mrs Grant learned last month the scheme is on hold after tenders exceeded the funding allocation from the Scottish Government’s transport unit, Transport Scotland.

Mrs Grant said: “I wrote to the local authority and to the Scottish Government’s transport secretary Michael Matheson raising questions about this.

“Mr Howell replied this week saying the delay is unlikely to be prolonged. He said the scheme’s procurement strategy had to be reviewed because the project was unattractive to all but one bidder. 

“However, Mr Howell is confident a revised strategy will be agreed in the near future with Transport Scotland which he says can be re-advertised to interested contractors so tenders can be invited.”


Grant raises concern for mental health of university students banned from leaving their dorms – and calls for vigilance

Rhoda Grant MSP is raising her concerns with Scottish Government’s ministers for the mental health of students following today’s ban on socialising with anyone outside of their halls of residence or accommodation to prevent the spread of Covid-19.

The Labour member for Highlands & Islands said she wants reassurances from the government that it will encourage universities and all those involved in supporting students through this period, to utilise all support available for students who are struggling to cope mentally with social isolation.

And she has also urged all those working and supporting young people to flag up any concerns they have about a young person saying, “better to act unnecessarily than not to act at all”.

It comes after today’s Scottish Government announcement banning students from going to pubs, parties or restaurants in a bid to stem a spate of coronavirus outbreaks.

Mrs Grant said: “All steps have to be taken to stop the spread of this virus, but it will be totally unacceptable to just leave students without support. This situation is going to have a pretty catastrophic impact on young people’s mental health. We hope it’s not just their physical health but their mental health that is being looked after and that all the support available is drawn upon for them and their families.”

She went on: “In normal circumstances, students are going to university and they’re homesick, but they at least have the Freshers Week of fun and distraction. Now they’re left with just homesickness and isolation. There’s a lot of young folk breaking their hearts and parents are probably breaking their hearts too because their young ones have flown the nest. To worry that your child, because that’s what they are, is alone and scared and homesick must be so hard to bear. It’s not only the children’s mental health that will be suffering, this must be having an impact on the parents as well.

“I’m raising this with Health Secretary Jeane Freeman and John Swinney, Education Secretary. I want everyone to be aware of these young student’s mental health and I would call on all those involved in their support right now to use all the avenues of support that is available for them. Better to act unnecessarily than not to act at all.”

MSP Rhoda Grant raises concern and anger over missing care home notes

MSP Rhoda Grant raised concerns this week after it emerged patient records vanished from a care home which is facing legal action over claims it failed to protect vulnerable residents from coronavirus.

The Highlands & Islands Labour MSP has written to Police Scotland and to The Care Inspectorate after Skye’s Home Farm Care Home owner, HC-One, issued a written apology to her constituent Mandie Harris saying her late husband’s care notes could not be located “despite a thorough search of the premises”.

Mrs Grant said: “Record keeping is of paramount importance for residents and families at all care homes and this is an appalling failure which has denied a family their right to know what happened to their dying loved-one while they were not able to be at his side. It’s devastating for this family. This has to be looked into.”

She added: “Police requested a copy of patient records as part of their investigation into the Covid-19 related deaths at Home Farm and these were provided to them. They need to know that this has happened and Mrs Harris needs to know that the police has the same notes that she has been given. I am writing to Police Scotland to raise my concern and to have this ascertained, and I am also raised the same request and concern with the Care Inspectorate and with NHS Highland. It is unbelievable that these notes have gone missing, if indeed they have even ever existed.”

Mrs Harris’s husband Colin passed away at the facility on May 6, days after he tested positive for Covid-19.

Covid-19 restrictions meant she could not visit him.

But following his death she requested a copy of his care notes. She wanted to know what happened, “for reassurance and closure”.

She said HC-One eventually replied weeks later, after the MSP had intervened to chase up her request.

Their letter said there was a gap in Mr Harris’s care log. It said staff could only find care plans and other daily records up to March 28. Nothing except “a small amount of documentation” was available after that.

Mrs Harris said the admission left her “angry and heartbroken”. She has notified the police.

“All I got from HC-One were 33 pages of A4 paper with not a lot of writing on any of them,” she said.

“Colin was a resident there for four years and that’s all they have. It’s a disgrace.”

Mrs Harris said had hoped that the care log would have given her some reassurance that her husband’s care plan had been followed in the days and hours before he died.

According to official figures, nine other residents died in quick succession after testing positive for Covid-19 around the same time that he died.

Thirty residents and 29 staff tested positive.

Mrs Harris said: “From my own reading of the Care Inspectorate’s reports from that time, it was pretty chaotic in that home when Colin and the others tested positive for Covid. The inspectors noted that care staff were being redeployed and there was no proper handover. Redeployed staff were telling inspectors it was difficult to provide safe care due to a lack of information about people’s care needs. They were raising serious concerns about the quality of people’s care. I needed to know Colin’s care had been carried out in a dignified way. I needed to know his care plan was being looked at and followed. I needed reassurance, maybe closure. But now I find out that the home doesn’t have any care records for him for the whole of April. It makes me feel angry and heartbroken. Were these notes destroyed, and if so, why? Maybe they never existed.

“How can I be reassured that his care plan was followed if no-one was even looking at his notes or making fresh entries? I understand it must have pandemonium in that care home with all those residents dying so quickly one after the other. It must have been really hard, but that doesn’t excuse poor management, poor care.”

Home Farm has been subject to court proceedings over care failings and the future of the home has been under review for several months.

The Care Inspectorate is no longer pursuing the cancellation of the service’s registration through the courts and NHS Highland has signed an initial agreement with HC-One regarding the purchase of the Portree facility.

Families of residents who died at Home Farm are set to bring court action against HC-One.

Mental health in Caithness



Highlands and Islands Labour MSP, Rhoda Grant, has found that people with complex mental health problems who need psychology services can sometimes wait nearly two years for appointments.

Mrs Grant asked NHS Highland about the situation for adult mental health services in Caithness after constituents contacted her with concerns and following a meeting with representatives from Caithness health campaigners CHAT.

For psychology services, which are based in Inverness, a person must have an identifiable moderate to severe mental disorder that cannot solely be managed by primary care.

NHS Highland has revealed that there were 36 people needing a face to face appointment for this service, and the longest wait was 681 days, nearly two years. For ‘Near Me’ appointments, which are carried out by video link, eight people were on the list with the longest wait 435 days, just over one year and for telephone appointments there were 10 people with the longest wait 693 days, again nearly two years.

“These are people with some of the more complex cases many with a history of trauma, and to wait that long is just wholly unacceptable,” said Mrs Grant.

“I know that there are staff shortages in mental health, but the Scottish Government has to get a grip on this, especially for those patients in areas like Caithness where they are doubly disadvantaged because the service is centralised to Inverness with long travelling times.

“I worry that people’s conditions will deteriorate with such a long wait, putting more pressure on them and their families.”

The FOI did highlight some areas where patients were seen more quickly, in the community mental health teams. For instance, for dementia routine referrals were seen within two to four weeks or urgent referrals within 48 hours.

However, Mrs Grant also discovered that the psychiatry out-patients service, being delivered from Inverness, had about a six month wait for new referrals.

But NHS Highland added: “However, due to psychiatry shortage there are some who have waited for significantly longer than six months. A locum psychiatrist has been appointed and will be with the team based in Caithness from mid-July 2020.”

The MSP said: “It is a bleak picture for those presenting with mental health conditions and I’m sorry to say that the situation with Covid-19 has exacerbated the problem.”

She is now writing to Health Secretary, Jeane Freeman, with the information and asking what action the Scottish Government is going to take to train more mental health specialists and cut waiting lists.

Mrs Grant asked the health authority for the current mental health vacancies in Caithness but has gone back to officials for clarification on this part of the FOI as it appeared unclear due to the way the answer was presented.

“What is clear though is that there are big gaps in the service in Caithness due to job vacancies which is what I was hearing from the community,” she added.

Mrs Grant also asked Highland Council about the situation with mental health services for children in Caithness.

The council gave a run-down of what had been done during Covid-19. Included was the role of two educational psychologists one covering Wick and one Thurso, as well some of Sutherland, who were working from home, but having virtual consultations, attending meetings, direct work with children and families was continuing with the same frequency as they were before lockdown.

Schools had maintained contact with all pupils over the lockdown and now pupils are back, they have continued to maintain that contact and support. Key supports being offered in these few weeks back have been around emotional health and wellbeing. There was also a helpline called ‘Just Ask’, that operates on a Tuesday and Thursday afternoon and parents or professionals can call and speak with a practitioner.


To read the FOI response in full, please click here


MSP raises fabrication work for the Seagreen offshore wind farm project at Topical Questions

The news that none of the fabrication work for the Seagreen offshore wind farm project has been awarded to BiFab has brought an angry response from Highlands and Islands Labour MSP, Rhoda Grant.

During topical questions in Holyrood today (Tuesday), Mrs Grant asked the Cabinet Secretary for Economy, Fair Work and Culture, Fiona Hyslop, if the Crown Estate would guarantee that their first round of Scotwind leases would ensure that there was local content in these projects and that they would adopt fair work practices.

Rhoda Grant said “Too often we see work going to overseas yards that undercut us by using low wage economies to compete. When companies are making money out of Scotland’s natural resources, we should ensure that that work is carried out by people paid and protected in the same way as they would be in Scotland.

“Furthermore, given these are our natural resources our communities should also benefit from the economic boost of these jobs. Workers in Lewis and Fife should be employed making the turbines required for the Seagreen wind farm.

Mrs Grant continued “I also asked the Cabinet Secretary if the Scottish Government would look at the historical practice of bidders for Scotwind leases. It would be simply wrong for companies who overlooked the Scottish workforce in the past to get these contracts on the promise of doing better in the future.”

The Cabinet Secretary asked that Mrs Grant writes to her on the detail and she would respond.

MSP pressures Government to find a solution to the Rest and Be Thankful.

Highlands and Islands Labour MSP Rhoda Grant is seeking a meeting with Cabinet Secretary for Transport, Michael Matheson, to find out the proposed “solutions” to stop the numerous A83 closures at the Rest and Be Thankful.


The local MSP believes that several options are being considered by the Scottish Government to solve the ongoing issues with the Rest and Be Thankful, and she has written to both the Cabinet Secretary for Transport and Transport Scotland seeking a meeting to find out exactly what options are being realistically considered.


In addition, Mrs Grant has submitted a PQ to the Scottish Government on this issue in the hope to find out how much these closures are costing the Scottish Government every year.  


Currently, the A83 at the Rest and Be Thankful is closed for repair works after a large landslide with cars being diverted to The Old Military Road which is a single-track road using a convoy system. However, this is set to change on Wednesday (23rd September) weather permitting.  The Rest and Be Thankful has had three serious landslides in 2020 alone.


Rhoda Grant said: “This issue has plagued Argyll and Bute communities for far too long and it is high time that a permanent solution was found and put into action.


“The Scottish Government have committed to consulting on a solution to this which is encouraging however, it is late in the day.  With an election looming it is unlikely that a solution will be agreed before that happens.”


Mrs Grant continued: “the wheels need to start turning as it’s a miracle that no one has been hurt in these landslides. I will continue to pressure the Scottish Government to meet me and to put these options out for consultation as soon as possible.”


MSP sticks up for the Applecross sign

Highlands and Islands Labour MSP, Rhoda Grant, has asked Highland Council about the delay in installing new signs at the bottom of one of the region’s most scenic and challenging roads.

The signs, at Tornapress, the start of the Bealach na Ba to Applecross, are obliterated with stickers put up by tourists who have used the route.

However, the community wants the information signs replaced as one warns that the road is not suitable for some vehicles, due to the 1 in 5 gradient and the number of hair pin bends. The second sign also points out the longer, low level route, around the coast road, which could be better for some larger and longer vehicles.

“On any day I have seen campervans struggling to get up the route and know that there are many break-downs due to engines over-heating and even brakes giving out,” explained Mrs Grant.

“I also know, for instance, that local lorry drivers are confident in using the road, but I think some tourists are unaware just how challenging a drive it can be until the point of no return.

“I don’t think anyone wants to be a kill-joy, but the pass has been extremely busy this year and reinstating the signs gives people a choice of routes.”

Mrs Grant was contacted by constituents concerned that new signs haven’t yet been installed and she has contacted Highland Council which has told her that “the sign replacement is in hand”.

She has now asked the local authority for a date when it will be erected and is still to hear back.

“It would be good if the new signs came with a coating which meant stickers could be removed easily,” Mrs Grant added.


Regional MSP Rhoda Grant calls on council to find silver lining in Scottish Government’s failed attempt to fund Uig Harbour redevelopment

Rhoda Grant is questioning the Transport Secretary Michael Matheson on the issue.

A NORTH MSP is calling on Highland Council to find a silver lining in the Scottish Government’s failure to adequately fund the Uig Harbour improvement scheme.

Highlands and Islands Labour MSP Rhoda Grant last week learned the major upgrade to accommodate the Uig triangle ferry has hit the buffers, thanks to a government funding shortfall.

Strengthening of the council-owned berth is required for the delayed replacement of MV Hebrides.

Council officials told Mrs Grant tenders for the upgrade exceeded the government’s funding allocation.

Mrs Grant has now written to the local authority’s chief executive Donna Manson expressing hope that the council can use the setback to its advantage.

She said: “I want the Council to reassure the community a silver lining lies behind this delay in that it will give its officials the opportunity to use the added time to listen to and work with the community so that changes to improve the final scheme can be made accordingly.”

Hopes were high the Uig triangle ferry would kick-start regeneration in the community and make the harbour more accessible for tourists with disabilities.

The council’s proposal to replace the existing steps sparked an outcry. The council said any scheme to replace the steps with a pontoon would occupy too much pier space as well as being unsuitable for the wave climate in the inner harbour.

However, an online petition pressing the need for a “safer” and more disabled-friendly pontoon option continues to gather support.

And it has also fuelled a petition to the Scottish Parliament’s Petitions Committee which calls on the Scottish Government to ensure that local authorities provide access for those with disabilities at public piers and harbours.

There are also calls in the community for the area occupied by the existing terminal building to be redesigned with retail and starter business units.

Mrs Grant said: “The government’s investment in the Uig Triangle ferry service, which involves a new and improved ferry vessel and major upgrade of Uig Harbour, is enormously important for the future prosperity and growth of the Western Isles. Clearly, the budget and target schedule for the programme have proved unrealistic and I am writing to the Transport Minister Michael Matheson to ask for a complete picture of what went wrong. Construction was due to begin two winters ago and here we are at a standstill with no timeline in sight. It’s back to the drawing board, a total waste of consultancy fees and we find this out the same week Highlands and Islands Enterprise makes its eyewatering announcement Covid-19 has blown a £2.9 billion hole in the Highlands and Islands economy.”



Highland Council tells Rhoda Grant MSP plans to redevelop Uig pier have been shelved due to a shortfall in Scottish Government project funding.

HIGHLAND Council has said redevelopment plans for Uig Pier have been shelved thanks to a Scottish Government funding shortfall.

The local authority said tenders returned for the project “exceeded the funding allocation from Transport Scotland”.

In a letter to MSP Rhoda Grant this week, council officials said: “Unfortunately, the tenders returned for Uig exceeded the funding allocation from Transport Scotland – and whilst we and Transport Scotland remain committed to provide enhanced facilities at Uig – construction works have been paused whilst we reconsider procurement routes and budgets. This will mean that we will not be able to progress the works and thus the outage that was planned from September of next year will now be deferred for at least 12 months.”

Strengthening of the council-owned berth is required for the delayed replacement of MV Hebrides.

Mrs Grant said while the new pier was not needed right away, this highlighted major concern over the government’s willingness to adequately fund infrastructure projects.

 She said: “The council has made it clear that the tenders are so far out they have had to pull this project for the foreseeable. The community will want to understand what has gone wrong and I am writing to the council and to the government’s Transport Secretary Michael Matheson to get some answers.

It appears the government hasn’t managed to do its sums correctly and has underfunded this scheme.”

 Mrs Grant has been in correspondence with the council and the Equality and Human Rights Commission over the suitability of the scheme for people with disabilities.

She added: “Concerns were raised that the plan to upgrade the pier does not include disabled access the water so I asked Highland Council to give me a commitment that an Equality Impact Assessment (EQIA) would be undertaken before any works went ahead. When I asked for an update this week I was surprised to be told that it had not been done and that the scheme was being shelved.”