NORTH MSP Rhoda Grant has called on the Scottish Government to approve plans for a freeport which could return the Cromarty Firth to its “glory days”

NORTH MSP Rhoda Grant has called on the Scottish Government to approve plans for a freeport which could return the Cromarty Firth to its “glory days”.

At the close of a Ministerial Statement which announced the Scottish Government was giving the green light to freeports, the Highlands & Islands Labour MSP asked ministers to approve a forthcoming bid from the Port of Cromarty Firth.

She said: “The Cabinet Secretary may be aware of a bid from ports in the Cromarty and Moray Firths, which include 12 stakeholders. They promise high wage, high quality jobs creating a renewable energy hub that would benefit the whole of Scotland.

“Will the Scottish Government favour such bids that would deliver high value jobs and growth to Scotland as well as tackle climate change, over locations which primarily import goods and are typically dependant on low wage economies?”

Ivan McKee, Minister for Trade, Innovation and Public Finance, responded, saying that was “very much the criteria” the government would be favouring as part of selection process.

He said: “The model, as a green port model, will attract investment and business and grow exactly those green jobs and those good jobs and will make use of Scotland’s tremendous assets and technology and in the skills that we have in renewable energy”.

Afterwards, Rhoda said: “The Port of Cromarty Firth’s proposal offers the chance to take the Firth back to its glory days. It will be a massive boost to the area. I am aware specific concerns have been raised about numerous aspect including marine protection and statutory employment rights and protections. Scottish Labour has sought reassurances that there will be no reductions in current protections and the Government has given a series of commitments on which they will be firmly held.”

Grant presses First Minister on vaccine roll out in Mull

The First Minister was challenged in the Scottish Parliament’s chamber today on her government’s Covid vaccine roll-out on the Isle of Mull.

Highlands & Islands Labour MSP Rhoda Grant said residents needed reassured they would not be last in line.

At First Minister’s Questions, Rhoda said: “I have been contacted by a Mull resident who told me the slow vaccine roll out was causing fear and alarm across the island. He said he was told the vaccine would not arrive on the island until the beginning of February, by which time, as the First Minister clearly stated today, all over-80s elsewhere will have had their jabs. Furthermore, the Cabinet Secretary for Health reassured the Parliament that there would be no postcode lottery with the vaccine – especially in rural areas where there has been inadequate testing. Can the First Minister therefore reassure people over 80 in Mull that they too will have their vaccine by the first week in February.”

The First Minister was unable to do so.

She confirmed that the first week in February was the target date set for all over 80s to be vaccinated with the first dose. And she gave a commitment to look into the situation on Mull and said she would come back to Rhoda as soon as possible.

Speaking afterwards, Rhoda said: “I am really concerned about the issue on Mull. The BMA this morning was still reporting the patchy distribution of vaccines. The stocks are available for this age group, we are being told there are 400,000 doses available in Scotland, and that the GPs are in place to do it. The First Minister needs to be all over this and get in there and remove whatever is stemming the flow. As has always been the case during this pandemic, the lives of our most vulnerable are in the Scottish Government’s hands. They mustn’t let people down now.”

Earlier today, NHS Highland’s Chief Executive Pam Dudek told a virtual meeting of the Scottish Parliament’s Health and Sport Committee that her health board had asked the Scottish Government for some “flexibility in how we would deal with our islands and very remote areas”.

She went on: “We asked if we could take a bundle approach and that was so that we could be more efficient and effective in the delivery of this vaccination programme as well as ensuring that small communities are protected because obviously on the islands it is very tricky in terms of the evacuation of patients.

Mrs Dudek said that “flexibility” had been granted but the board still needed to “set out for each scenario what it is that we will be doing”.

She said both Argyll and Bute and Highland Councils would be supplying cleaning, stewarding and other staff to help with the vaccine roll out.

She added; “Looking at the numbers of people that we have to vaccinate and where we need to be by the 6th of February, we feel fairly confident in our delivery of that. We have had modelling done locally, we know what our numbers are, and when you break that up across GP practices it is a more manageable figure.”

Director of Health and Public Policy Tim Allison told the virtual meeting that so far, an estimated 18,000 people had been vaccinated across the NHS Highland area.

Mr Allison said: “The progress has been variable across the whole area but overall I believe that we are making good progress.”

He estimated that about a third of all over-80s had been vaccinated, and that in two out of three of NHS Highland’s localities – Argyll & Bute and North and West Highland, all care home staff and residents have also been vaccinated.

He added: “We are still working on the South and Mid Highland area and will have completed this by the end of the week.”







MSP seeks update on A9 safety review

Highlands and Islands Labour MSP, Rhoda Grant, has asked Transport Scotland for an update on the safety study being undertaken on the A9 between North Kessock and Tore.

The MSP has been raising safety concerns with the Scottish Government since she was contacted by worried constituents who travel the area regularly and last year pressed for the electronic warning signage at the notorious Munlochy junction to be repaired. The signage was repaired in the summer of last year but Mrs Grant has been advised that the signage is now lying idle again.

Rhoda Grant said “Transport Scotland were reviewing the feedback and evidence from the consultation undertaken in the area between North Kessock and Tore and a Case for Change report was due to be submitted to the agency by 30 November.

“Previous feedback provided by local constituents resulted in the electronic warning signage at the Munlochy junction being brought back into operation last summer and I have contacted Transport Scotland again today to ask why the signage is no longer in use.

“With traffic levels rising again, and the stretch between Tore and North Kessock being the main route into Inverness from the west and the north highlands, it is imperative that we make this stretch of road as safe as it can possibly be and I have therefore asked for an update on the electronic signage at the Munlochy junction and an update on the safety study on the route in general.” concluded Mrs Grant.

New 50mph speed limit now up and running on Tain bypass

Highlands and Islands Labour MSP Rhoda Grant has now heard from constituents that the 50mph speed limit is up and running on the A9 Tain bypass.

Before Christmas, Transport Scotland confirmed it would be in force by January 15.

“I do hope that this and other measures under review by the transport agency will make the area safer,” said Mrs Grant.

“It has certainly been highlighted by the community as a hot spot for accidents and injuries.”

Mrs Grant was initially contacted two years ago by constituents who told her that ‘nearly every week’ an incident happens around the Asda and Lidl junctions. At the time it was highlighted that 11 accidents had taken place around the Tain junctions, labelling it the worst A9 hotspot.

Transport Scotland is looking into other safety measures including the community’s call to have roundabouts at the junctions.

Grant calls on government to provide financial support to forgotten sectors hanging on by their fingernails for help

MSP Rhoda Grant has called for the Scottish Government to extend its business support schemes to industries including the dry cleaning sector which are struggling during the pandemic and do not qualify for government support. 

The Highlands & Islands Labour MSP spoke in Holyrood today asking Ministers to step in with a support package.

Speaking afterwards, Mrs Grant said “Dry cleaners are hardly alone in struggling during this time. But they are deemed essential by this government and told they can remain open and therefore ineligible for any grants or help, except furlough, all their main customers – hotels, offices, pubs and restaurants, b&bs, barbers and hairdressers – have been told they have to close. So demand has fallen for their services right now as there is no need for formal dress wear, or laundry.

“One dry cleaning firm, Copperfields Cleaners on Greig Street, Inverness, has told me they are struggling massively due to the impact of Covid 19, and feel the industry is being let down by government.

“Director David Macmillan said the few customers he still has work from, such as funeral directors and fuel delivery drivers, are nowhere near enough to cover the costs of staying open.

“This industry really needs support right now. It must be infuriating for dry cleaning firms to see businesses close and gain eligibility for grants and schemes while they are ignored. Most are holding on by their fingernails for help. The government must step in.”



Still a question mark over access to Covid home testing kits in Highlands and Islands

Highlands and Islands Labour MSP, Rhoda Grant, who previously highlighted post-code lottery problems with access to Covid home-testing kits for rural areas, has raised a Skye case with the First Minister.

A  constituent found difficulty getting his test picked-up and then found more problems with trying to access crisis funding to self-isolate.

“Just before Christmas, MSPs received an email from the Health Secretary which gave the impression the Covid home testing kit system had been reviewed and improved, which was good news indeed,” said Mrs Grant.

“However,  this recent case has highlighted a number of loopholes, especially when it comes to a courier system which is supposed to fill the gaps in provision.

“Moreover, there also appears to be a lack of connection with track and trace which could deprive people of crisis funding to self-isolate.

“I remain unconvinced that the Scottish and UK Governments have sorted the home testing system to benefit those in more remote areas, many of whom would not be able to go to a testing centre many miles away.

“With the current increase in Covid cases and the rapid spread of a new variant, testing and track and trace are vital to protect local communities.”

In more urban areas the Royal Mail pick up home testing kits from priority Royal Mail post boxes for laboratory testing. Mrs Grant has been sent a link to the Royal Mail’s priority post boxes which are dedicated to pick up Covid home testing kits.

She added: “You can access this to check if one of these mail boxes are in your area. (make sure you select the priority mail box option or you’ll get all the ordinary post boxes in your area). I’m still investigating if the system.”