Health Secretary passes the buck on loopholes in Covid home testing kits

Highlands and Islands Labour MSP, Rhoda Grant, is “exasperated” by a reply from the Scottish Government’s Health Secretary, Jeane Freeman, on problems with people accessing the pick-up of Covid home testing kits.

Mrs Grant wrote to Ms Freeman after Skye resident and self-employed carpenter Daniel Barratt, from Ord, found no courier service came to pick up his home test, and he then had difficulty accessing grants to self-isolate.

Mr Barratt contacted Mrs Grant over the festive break detailing his conversations with the Covid home testing helpline and with those running Track and Trace and operating crisis funding. Since then another Skye constituent has contacted the MSP with a similar experience on a home testing kit not be picked up.

Ms Freeman says that NHS Highland is supporting courier collections for home test kits.

However, the Health Secretary added: “It appears that there may have been some initial problems with staff on the helpline not being aware of the correct procedure. This has been raised with DHSC as a training issue.”

The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) is the run by the UK Government and the majority of the tests administered in Scotland are through the UK Government’s testing network through its UK portal.

“What is exasperating about the Health Secretary’s reply is that, yes she has raised it with the UK Government department which is good news, but then we are left hanging,” said Mrs Grant.

“Surely, she must know if that training issue has been picked up and remedied? If not, then we really need to have some joined up thinking here.”

Mrs Grant is still waiting on a response from NHS Highland about the operation of its courier service which is supposed to fill the gaps left by the lack of Royal Mail priority boxes* in remote and rural areas of the Highlands.

“Maybe that will shed more light,” added Mrs Grant.

Just before Christmas Ms Freeman issued a letter to all MSPs heralding the fact that Scottish Government and UK Government officials were working closely together and had improved the home test kit provision for rural areas.

“The experience of constituents means I remain unconvinced that the Scottish and UK Governments are sorting out 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 rapid spread of a new variant, testing and track and trace are vital to protect local communities.”

*Priority mail boxes – the Royal Mail pick up home testing tests for laboratory testing from these boxes in more urban areas. People can check the availability by using their postcode.








Grant backs call for ringfencing on Covid funding to be removed

Highlands and Islands Labour MSP, Rhoda Grant, asked the Deputy First Minister, John Swinney, if the Scottish Government will remove ringfencing from all Covid support funding and allow local authorities to deal with the differing needs of their own areas.

The MSP put her question to Mr Swinney after today’s (26/01/2021) virtual Ministerial Statement on Covid-19.

Mrs Grant said “After Covid business support funds are announced there is a delay while the Scottish Government issue the criteria for each fund to Councils. This builds in delays and, because these monies are ringfenced, also makes it difficult for Councils to meet the specific need in their own area. While there is discretionary funding available this is small in comparison. Will he consider removing the ringfence from all Covid business support funding and allow Councils to deal with the differing needs of their own communities?”

In response, the Deputy First Minister said he understands the difficulty here but “… the government is often encouraged to put in place specific funds for specific sectors to provide assurance to individual sectors that there is financial support available to them. He continued “There is a need to reflect both the general levels of business support and the specific funds that are available for individual sectors to try to make sure we are meeting the needs of everybody in these circumstances.

The Minister continued “We move at pace with local authorities to agree the eligibility criteria to ensure we can distribute money as quickly as possible and that is very much the thinking that goes into the approach behind the various schemes that we have in place for local authority distribution.”

Rhoda Grant said afterwards “Local authorities know their areas and needs better than central government. I am receiving calls and e-mails from business owners who are fighting for their survival complaining that they aren’t eligible for funding for a variety of different reasons.

“Having put these concerns to Highland Council, it then transpired that the hands of local authorities are tied as they are waiting for information from the Scottish Government on the eligibility criteria for many of the funding streams and this is having a knock-on delay in getting funding out to the businesses who so desperately need it.

Mrs Grant continued “It makes sense to me to have the ringfencing removed and I was happy to back Highland Council’s call on this. I am disappointed by the Scottish Government’s inflexibility here and would dispute the Minister’s statement that they move at pace to agree the criteria with local authorities. The constituents who have been contacting me would dispute this too, they are the people at the coalface who are telling me of the precarious situation their businesses are in.

She concluded “It is a dire situation and a little bit more leeway from the government could have allowed a lot of business owners to sleep a bit sounder in their beds, instead, their fear for their staff and their businesses rumbles on.”

MSP questions ‘unsavoury’ insurance practice

Highlands and Islands Labour MSP, Rhoda Grant, has contacted the Association of British Insurers after being made aware of what she describes as ‘a deeply unsavoury situation’ whereby a commercial landlord has been contacted by his insurance broker regarding his premises being unoccupied due to the Covid-19 restrictions in place.

Typically, most insurance policies only provide unoccupied property cover for a limited period, usually 30 to 60 days. During the first national lockdown last year most insurers granted extensions to these periods, however the MSP has been advised that many insurers are not providing such extensions this time around and are asking to be notified of premises becoming unoccupied.

The directive from government from the start of the outbreak last March has been, and continues to be, that people should work from home where possible to limit the spread of the virus.

Mrs Grant said “The broker in question advised my constituent that, now that we are in a further lockdown, it may once again be necessary for the landlord or the tenants to vacate the commercial premises or change how they are occupied.

“My constituent has been told this could have implications for his insurance as most policies only provide unoccupied property cover for a limited period, typically 30 to 60 days and he has been told to make sure he understands his insurance policy and the requirements therein with regards to changes that are made due to Covid restrictions. He has been told that if there are substantive changes to the pattern of occupancy, he should let the broker know.

She continued “It is deeply unsavoury, in my opinion, that insurance companies or brokers would seek to make capital out of this public health crisis and I have contacted the Association of British Insurers to see if they are aware of this situation and if so, if they are taking steps to stop this distasteful practice from taking place.

“Business owners are facing unprecedented challenging times as it is without having this added burden placed upon them and I would hope this would be nipped in the bud before owners are penalised in this way through no fault of their own.”

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.”

Grant seeks your first preference vote to continue the fight for the Highlands and Islands

It has been a huge privilege for me to serve the communities of the Highlands and Islands in the Scottish Parliament.

I seek your first preference vote to continue that work.

What motivates me is the creation of an equal society. When I put myself forward for election it was because I could see the inequalities in our region which lay hidden from decision-makers, not readily-recognised by the national indicators.

I have sought to make those in high authority aware of the challenges we face and I will continue to do this.

In these past few months, in addition to my ongoing campaigning for medical treatments including ground-breaking ultrasound equipment for essential tremor patients, I have been speaking out against the suspension of flights between Shetland and Inverness, taking up constituents’ fears on care home Covid-19 protocols, raising concerns over possible job losses at Inverness College and the threatened closure of its nursery, and standing up for disabled people by leading calls for Skye’s revamped Uig pier and its currently under construction Broadford Hospital to be fully-accessible.

I have been vocal in my concern for vulnerable children, leading successful calls for a return to cooked school dinners, after months of post-lockdown packed lunches.

My calls on government and councils for additional warm clothing grants were followed by funding announcements for families most in need. I have also been helping to give our young people a voice, supporting their cry for mental health support and education in their schools.

Our Islands communities are totally dependent on ferries and I have campaigned to have services improved.

I have also helped to improve safety for residents in Aviemore by pressurising the agencies for street lights to go up along for a dimly-lit but well-used shortcut.

And I have underlined the jobs impact of the hospitality and oil and gas industry crisis, shone a spotlight on the shrinking council workforce in Highland and Moray, exposed the deplorable truth around our dentistry post-Covid where only those with the money to pay privately could be seen, secured road safety improvements and funding for our print studios, called for train services to be reinstated, Covid figures to be transparent, and for our local newspapers to be given the emergency funding they need to protect jobs so they can continue stimulating debate in our communities.

I want to carry on fighting for an equal society, to continue highlighting the unfairness which this government, driven not by national or local interest, tries so hard to hide in its carefully-crafted soundbites.

I want to keep working to regain Labour’s lost efforts to hand every child the same chance at a healthy, happy life.

I want to keep campaigning for the change we so badly need to reverse depopulation and save our communities before it is too late.

I am rooted in our region. Stornoway-born, raised in Wester Ross, and I have lived all my adult life in Inverness.

I know what it means to live in a remote community.

When I was very young our family and others in the surrounding communities faced evacuation due to remoteness and the lack of public services.

When I left school there were no jobs or homes so I moved to Inverness and made my home there.

So many years later that is still the reality for our young people. I will continue to fight to allow them to decide whether to stay or leave. They should be able to access homes and jobs in their own community if that is what they want.

The government’s continuous denial of essential services means many our communities are dying due to depopulation. This is something we must reverse.

When Scottish Labour was in government, we sought to disperse civil service jobs in order that the whole country benefited from secure, reasonably paid jobs. That put money into local economies and kept families in our more remote and island communities.

Inverness, the biggest city in our region, also benefited from that policy.

With increasing centralisation and austerity our communities have suffered from job losses and centralisation.

I want to see our communities thrive; I want to see young people having real choices.

I want to see a more equal society.

While we live in the best part of Scotland, we also suffer many of the problems of depravation that scar so many lowland urban communities.

In Inverness it is stark. All babies are born in the same hospital, snuggled in the same maternity ward, yet before they have even been ever so gently strapped into their car seat, the dye is already cast.

Each wee bundle of joy can face as much as a decade of difference in its life expectancy, depending on into which neighbourhood mam and dad’s car will turn.

Happenstance. That is their fate.

Covid-19 has deepened these divisions. With those who have the least losing the most.

That is not right.

Every child must have the same life chances to live, to work, to meet their full potential.

My frustration is that in all these areas we have gone backwards since Labour left Government, the improvements we made have been lost.

We all have a job to do to reverse this decline, to build a fairer society.

I ask for your support to carry on that work.