NHS Pay Deal 2024-25

Our NHS would be nothing without the skill, service and sacrifice of our staff. They are the backbone of our NHS and they worked tirelessly to protect and care for us during the pandemic. It’s outrageous that Neil Gray has refused to sit down with trade unions and agree a pay deal for NHS workers.

For too long NHS staff have been taken for granted, with the SNP Government overlooking warnings of staff shortages and burnout. We will never be able to restore services and successfully tackle the backlogs without caring for those who care for us.

Scottish Labour are committed to ensuring that our NHS staff are valued by resolving pay disputes with a fair pay deal whilst improving working conditions and growing our workforce. This SNP Government has failed miserably when it comes to NHS workforce planning, and the current challenges facing the NHS demonstrates this only too clearly.

Scottish Labour calls on Neil Gray to sit down with trade unions and agree a new pay deal that values staff.

Grant says A9 delays should have been made public in 2018

Highlands and Islands Labour MSP, Rhoda Grant, says the Scottish Government should have been more open with the people of the Highlands and Islands in 2018. They should have advised that the dualling of the A9 between Perth and Inverness was unlikely to be complete by 2025.

The former First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, giving evidence to the Scottish Parliament’s Citizen Participation and Public Petitions Committee this morning (29.05.2024) acknowledged that her Government should have been more open with the public in 2018 when private Government paperwork suggested there could be a problem.

She apologised for not dualling the A9 and acknowledged the people of the Highlands have a right to be aggrieved, not just about the target not being met but also due to the serious safety concerns.

She trotted out the usual defences of Brexit and Covid (forgetting to mention the war in Ukraine) as reasons for the project slipping by at least a decade.

Rhoda Grant said “Nicola Sturgeon and successive Transport Ministers should have been more open and transparent with the public but they carried on for a further 4 or 5 years misleading people to believe that the A9 would be complete by 2025, even when it was very obvious that this timetable would not be met.

“With industry raising their concerns in 2018 over the 2025 deadline, they should have taken action. Had they effectively addressed it then, we would be much further forward in dualling the A9 than we are today.”

Ms Sturgeon advised that under the Scottish Public Centre Finance manual consideration of private finance options in projects of this nature is required. She advised that in 2014 the NPD (Non-Profit Distributing) model of funding was effectively not available to them as it was reclassified as public, not private, and confirmed that the Government was at that time having to consider a different potential private finance route should that have been something that the Government decided to do. She said there was no obvious alternative during that period and it’s taken until very recently to settle on the current MIM that the present Cabinet Secretary has since announced.

MSP pushes for more safety work on A9 north

Highlands and Islands Labour MSP, Rhoda Grant, wants to see more safety work carried out on the A9 north of Inverness.

The call comes after Mrs Grant tabled questions in the Scottish Parliament asking when routine maintenance of white lineage and bollards was last carried out at each junction on the A9 between Inverness and Thurso and when the next routine maintenance is scheduled to be carried out at each of the junctions.

Rhoda Grant said “Sadly the A9 is renowned throughout the country for the number of fatalities and serious accidents that take place on the road each year. While much of the focus is on the A9 south, the road north from Inverness must not be forgotten by the Scottish Government.

The MSP, who has campaigned to have improvements introduced at the Munlochy junction, the Tore roundabout and the Aldi and Lidl junctions at Tain continued “While the answers I received look quite constructive at first glance, in reality, they detail only three projects earmarked to be carried out on the A9 north in the next two years.

Mrs Grant continued “Every death on this road is a tragedy which wrecks the lives of the families and communities whose loved ones are involved.

“While the road fundamentally requires millions of pounds of investment, it is within the gift of the Scottish Government to ensure the funding is provided to carry out routine maintenance at the junctions along the A9.

She concluded “I know from my inbox the strength of feeling there is about the level of investment needed on both local authority and trunk roads in the Highlands and I will continue to press the Scottish Government to provide adequate ringfenced funding to Highland Council and to Transport Scotland to allow them to adequately upkeep the road network in the north and introduce safety measures where needed.”

Closure of VisitScotland icentres

Highlands and Islands Labour MSP, Rhoda Grant, has called on VisitScotland to reconsider its decision to close their information centres throughout Scotland. The MSP has already contacted the Minister with responsibility for the issue, but she has now also contacted VisitScotland directly in light of information on visitor numbers using the Kirkwall centre being uncovered via a Freedom of Information (FOI) request.

The FOI request submitted by The Orkney News reveals that the use of the Kirkwall visitor centre has in fact increased and is used by both visitors and locals which is contrary to VisitScotland’s assertion that demand for information centres has reduced as people move online to book their holidays.

The FOI established that in 2022 the Kirkwall centre was used by 73,182 people to book tickets or to shop. In 2023, the number of people who used the centre was 122,304 – an increase of 67%. It is understood that figure does not include those who dropped in to ask for help or assistance. Sales last year in the Kirkwall centre are also reported to have risen to £155,640 with ShopLocal sales being £27,568.

Rhoda Grant said “The FOI has established that the number of people who used the centre in Kirkwall in 2023 had increased by 67% on the 2022 figures, with sales in 2023 also reported to have increased on the previous year, some of this being ShopLocal sales.”

An Island Communities Impact Assessment (ICIA) is required under the Islands (Scotland) Act 2018 when developing, revising and delivering any policy, strategy, service or legislation that could have a significantly different effect on island communities. The Scottish Government guidance stresses the importance of consultation and robust community engagement so that islanders are given a platform to voice their opinions, concerns and suggestions. It also addresses the need to consult island communities in order for a Relevant Authority to comply with the Section 7 duty.

Mrs Grant continued “I believe what VisitScotland conducted in Kirkwall however was an Island Communities Screening Assessment which states that “ .. at a strategic level, management is confident that this strategic change does not significantly differently impact island communities.”

“I would argue that the loss of jobs in these centres, together with the loss of tacit knowledge of the area, will significantly impact on the areas concerned.

“Furthermore, given that VisitScotland is partially funded by the Scottish Government, I would suggest it would be prudent for them to follow the Government guidance in this situation and conduct Island Communities Impact Assessments for the islands affected.”

The MSP awaits a reply from the Minister but in the meantime she has asked VisitScotland how many jobs are being impacted in each of the centres and what the “various options” for employment will be for staff in island centres.

She continued “I don’t think anyone would disagree that the shift in booking holidays has moved online but these figures show that the centres are still very much needed not only for tourists who need help and advice while they are actually in Scotland but for use by local residents too.

“The tourism and hospitality sector has been one of the hardest hit from the pandemic and we need to be bolstering these businesses at this time, not cutting jobs and services to the millions of people who visit Scotland annually.”

Grant agrees A9 excuses are “pathetic”

Highland and Islands Labour MSP, Rhoda Grant, says the former First Minister, Alex Salmond, is correct in labelling the excuses given by the Scottish Government for the delay in dualling the A9 between Inverness and Perth as “pathetic”.

Commenting on the former First Minister’s appearance in front of the Scottish Parliament’s Citizens Participation and Public Petitions Committee this morning (08.05.2024) Rhoda Grant said “The people of the Highlands and Islands have been badly let down by this SNP Government.

“I don’t readily agree with much that Alex Salmond says but on this I do agree. Using the war in Ukraine, Brexit, and inflation as excuses is not only pathetic but it is utterly shameful.

“Had the work been carried out with the 2025 goal as a clear target contacts would have already been issued, land would have been purchased and designs would have been signed off long before any of these issues had an impact.”

As First Minister, Mr Salmond publicly committed to dualling the road when the Scottish Cabinet met in Inverness in August 2008 and claims he was never advised there were problems with the cost or the 2025 timescale before he left office in 2014.

Having spoken about the number of fatalities on the road, approaching 350 over the last 40 years or so, the former First Minister said he endorsed the evidence previously given by Alex Neil who was the Cabinet Secretary for Infrastructure and Capital Investment, who was appointed to drive the project forward.

He also stated that the £3bn estimated for the dualling of the A9 amounted to only half of the capital budget for one year and as the project was scheduled to be completed over 14 years there was “No question it was affordable at that stage.”

A freedom of Information request gleaned that the Scottish Cabinet knew from 2018 that the deadline of 2025 was unachievable but failed to announce this until 2023 after being pressed for a meeting by Mrs Grant.

Energy Infrastructure Plans across the Highland & Island Region

I appreciate that many residents feel very strongly opposed to power lines, turbines and other infrastructure plans that are currently underway across the Highland and Island region. I have received and read through a significant number of emails from constituents and community groups who have put forward their objections. I want to thank those that took the time to contact me and appreciate the strength of feeling on the matter.

A consistent objection is the lack of engagement and communication with the local community. Consultation and plans on projects – including its location, size, physical, environmental, economic and social impact – must all have local residents at its heart, and this must be built into every stage of the decision-making process. We can all agree on the importance of moving towards net zero, but this cannot come at the expense of local communities. I have been clear that any economic and community benefits of a project must be clearly communicated to residents and this commitment must be long-term to provide assurances to residents and businesses. In terms of granting permission for projects, the planning process is in the hands of Highland Council and the Scottish Government and as such, MSPs have no locus in what is a legal process.

Scottish Labour have met with SSEN on a number of occasions recently to make them aware of individual and group concerns about how constituents’ lives will be affected by planned projects and have echoed concerns about the consultation process. The strength of feeling on this issue has also been raised consistently in the Scottish Parliament through committee and chamber business by myself and my Labour colleagues. In addition to this, Scottish Labour will hold a roundtable discussion on grid infrastructure with supply chain developers and ScotWind next month and the concerns raised through the contact I have received will be discussed.

Through my work in Parliament and in discussions with Scottish Government and local partners, I will continue to push to ensure planning legislation is strong enough to investigate and has the capacity to consider and act upon the full range of impacts that infrastructure projects have on those living nearby.

2030 Climate Targets

Thursday 18th April 2024 will go down as the day that Scotland went from being a world leader on climate targets to being a world leader in scrapping climate targets. This is a betrayal to not only the Scottish people, but populations across the world who are already facing the severe consequences of climate change.

Scottish Labour supported the 2030 target when it was put into law and we cannot support its removal because of the incompetence of the SNP who were more interesting in headlines than maximising Scotland’s huge potential and delivering the net zero transition that is needed.

The ambitious targets set by the Scottish Parliament have not been backed up by ambitious action from Scottish Government Ministers – be they SNP or Green. The announcements made by the Scottish Government in April contained very few new actions and was simply another reminder of the slow progress that the SNP, and their previous Green partners in Government, had taken on getting to Net Zero.

My colleague Sarah Boyack MSP, who is Scottish Labour’s Shadow Cabinet Secretary for Net Zero, Energy and Just Transition is seeking urgent clarification from the Scottish Government on what will be contained in their proposed Bill and when it will come forward to Parliament.

Scottish Labour will scrutinise the proposals but we are clear that legislation could waste months, if not years, talking about process rather than focusing on making the changes across buildings, the economy, transport and energy we urgently need to reach net zero by 2045.

If elected this year a UK Labour Government would implement a Green Prosperity Plan which would establish GB Energy, a publicly owned green energy generator, invest in local power, back the green technology of the future and create thousands of jobs from plumbers and builders to technicians and engineers to get on with achieving our net zero targets.

Remember the dead – Fight for the living

It was an honour to represent the Scottish Labour Party at the Workers’ Memorial service in Inverness this afternoon.

Trade union representatives present echoed why we need to remember those who lost their lives in the workplace and keep pushing forward to ensure Health and Safety regulations are continually reviewed and acted upon.

I paid tribute to Ken MacMillan (formerly of UNISON) who, along with others, worked tirelessly to establish the memorial stone and the annual services that now take place every year at Friars Shott on the banks of the River Ness.

Cllr Bet McAllister and I laid a wreath at the memorial stone after the service.

Grantown Medical Practice

Grantown Good News Story
I was delighted to join fellow MSPs, Grantown Medical Practice staff and local campaigners yesterday to announce that the refurbishment work to the practice will continue and no longer face delay.
After a cross-party political campaign, significant local support and strength of feeling, the Scottish Government have signalled that the Grantown Medical Practice refurbishment can continue after initially pausing the construction, which is at an advanced stage. This is great news. I want to thank all of those who were involved in the campaign, as well as those who I worked alongside to push for this capital project to continue. It was reassuring that the case of Grantown, where pausing the capital project may have cost more in the long term rather than finishing as planned, signals a measured approach where capital projects can be judged on a case-by-case basis.

Right to Food (Scotland) Bill

My Private Member’s Bill: Right to food (Scotland) Bill

I am delighted to share that I have lodged my Private Member’s Bill: Right to Food (Scotland) Bill.

The Bill will incorporate the human right to food into Scots law and provide for a body to be responsible for oversight and reporting. Access to food is a human right, but it is currently being denied to too many people in Scotland.

Now more than ever, we need to make the human right to food a reality, enshrined in law. Food poverty is a chronic issue that harms so many people. At a time when the NHS is under real strain; the health, social and economic costs of poor diet is increasing meaning action is already urgent.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank all the individuals, groups and organisations that have provided valuable feedback and support throughout the consultations in putting together this proposed Bill. Your contributions were vital to help shape this legislation and I appreciate all the effort that has gone in so far. Now that I have lodged the final proposal, there is one month to secure the support of at least 18 other MSPs from two or more parties on the parliamentary bureau. During this month, the Scottish Government can also decide to step in and take on the proposed Bill. If this is taken up, the Government would then have to enact legislation on this in a set timeframe.

My Bill would ensure access to healthy, nutritious food is a human right, underpinned and reinforced by a commitment in law.  It is simply wrong that, in Scotland today, children are going hungry, and people are suffering from malnutrition.

Individuals and organisations can contact their MSPs to support the Private Member’s Bill which can be accessed on the Parliament website, here