sheep farming debate – 14.05.19

On Tuesday, I spoke at the Sheep Farming Debate with the view that a new subsidy regime must be in place as soon as possible.
You can see my question to the Minister of Rural Affairs and Natural Enviroment and her answer below.

Public Advice Surgery

I’m holding a Public Advice Surgery in Stornoway on the 25th January 2019 between 3pm-4pm. If you have any concerns you would like to raise with me, please come along.

In the Chamber: Life Sciences Sector – 9th January 2019

Life Sciences Sector
Debate in the Scottish Parliament
9 January 2019
The debate has highlighted the potential of the life sciences sector, in which Scotland is a world leader.
As Richard Leonard said, this morning we visited the Roslin institute, which is a world leader in agriculture, aquaculture and animal health.
Not only is it a world leader in those areas, it spends time inspiring young people and encouraging businesses to grow in its area of expertise.
Iain Gray spoke about the contribution that the life sciences sector makes to the Scottish economy, as a £5.2 billion sector that employs 40,000 people.
With the right strategy, we could grow that by Scottish companies bringing research and development to market.
We need to do more to encourage that and create the conditions for it to happen—it will not happen by accident and we need a strategy to do it.
To grow the sector, we need to start by inspiring a new generation of scientists and removing the barriers that hold them back. Ruth Maguire talked about having different routes into the sector from colleges and schools.
We need to encourage more girls to study STEM subjects, too.
I first visited the Roslin institute some years ago when it was awarded the Athena SWAN award that recognised its commitment to women’s career development, which again came across strongly during this morning’s visit.
Today, we also saw the institute’s commitment to young people, as it has well-equipped labs for visits from schools—not only Scottish schools, but schools from across Europe and the rest of the world—whetting the interest of young people in STEM subjects.
Dean Lockhart and Iain Gray mentioned an issue for encouraging young people into STEM subjects, which is the lack of STEM subject teachers. Young people cannot be enthused if we do not have the teachers in place to achieve that.
As mentioned in the debate, we need science teachers, lab technicians and computer science teachers if we are to encourage young people to get involved in STEM.
Richard Leonard said that Scottish Labour would set up strategic sectoral forums covering strategically important sectors, which would of course include life sciences.
The forums would bring together employers, the Government, the public sector, trade unions and other stakeholders.
They could work together to improve productivity in the sector and ensure that we invest, are competitive and deliver the right skills for the industry.
The forums would feed into an industrial strategy that recognised the worth of life sciences to the Scottish economy and brought developments to market, keeping the benefit in Scotland.
Iain Gray talked about collaboration and how it is not working properly in Scotland.
That would also be a job for the strategic sectoral forums, or for the life sciences Scotland group, which surely has a role in bringing together what is good in Scotland and making sure that people work together.
Our amendment talks about trade union involvement.
The people who staff life sciences industries and businesses need to be involved in driving the sector forward, because they have the knowledge to do that.
Richard Leonard made the point that some businesses do not have a good record of trade union recognition.
We need to change that and make sure that public funding for research and development and for contracts addresses the issue, driving up standards and trade union involvement by using the tools that are at our disposal.
Shona Robison spoke about NHS Tayside’s work with the University of Dundee, and I will mention a part of that.
A constituent of mine has been campaigning for magnetic resonance-guided focused ultrasound, which those organisations are working together to try to bring to Scotland.
I have been in contact with the Scottish Government and I hope that the minister will look at the matter again, because it has seemed unable to help.
That technology would be a huge step forward for Scotland; the only place where it is available is London, and it is important that we bring it to Scotland.
We have to work with other parts of the UK, as Dean Lockhart said. It is clear that UK-wide funding and collaboration are very important in the sector, but we also have to make sure that we do not fall behind.
We need to continue to work together to be a world leader in life sciences.
This morning, the Roslin institute spoke about a lot of its funding coming from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, which is a UK-wide organisation that the institute works closely with, as it does with other institutes throughout the UK.
The Roslin institute sees that partnership as incredibly important to its future.
Iain Gray spoke about research and investment and how we should look for the cures for such things as MS and MND, and I sincerely hope that we will continue to aspire to do that.
Life sciences are an important part of our economy and we need to develop the sector and capitalise on research and development to ensure that Scottish companies are at the forefront of bringing that innovation to market.
If the Scottish Government were to develop an industrial strategy, surely life sciences would be at the very heart of it, allowing those opportunities and that growth to happen in our country and in our industry.

When will the Berridale Braes scheme get started?

MSP Rhoda Grant has asked the Scottish Government when the much-awaited £9million Berriedale Braes road improvement scheme will start after years of pushing Transport Secretaries to get moving on the project.
She has lodged a Parliamentary Question asking the Government for a start date and the available funding, saying there had been a “deathly silence” on what has happened to the scheme.
Former Transport Secretary, Derek Mackay, made it plain in a previous reply in 2016 that the Scottish Government “must await suitable funding becoming available to progress it further”.
In 2017 the then Transport Secretary, Humza Yousaf, published Made Orders for the project “as a clear commitment to deliver the scheme”.
Then in February 2018 Transport Scotland said “construction or planned improvements to the challenging hairpin bend” were expected to start this year. Four companies were invited to bid for the project.
However, in August this year the roads agency said it could not give a firm timescale for construction but suggested it could be after Easter or maybe May 2019.
“There seems to have been lots of ‘steps forward’ according to the Government but no evidence of steps on the ground,” said Mrs Grant, who represents Labour in the Highlands and Islands.
“I’m reminded of this every time I travel the A9 to Wick and Thurso.
“If this has stalled then the Government should be telling us and if not the public should be given a definite date instead of this shilly-shallying which has taken place over many years.
“Yet another winter goes by with drivers tackling this treacherous road. I’m keeping my fingers crossed there are no major accidents.”
Question S5W-20631: Rhoda Grant, Highlands and Islands, Scottish Labour, Date Lodged: 17/12/2018
To ask the Scottish Government when the funding for the Berriedale Braes road improvement scheme will become available, and by what date construction will start.

Current Status: Expected Answer date 14/01/2019

Tobie site

Highlands & Islands Regional MSP, Rhoda Grant who launched an anti-bullying signpost to support and services web site back in 2014 has intimated that the time is right to remind folk of the presence of the site with all the unfortunate rise in high profile cases recently.

Rhoda said “Bullying in all its forms is totally unacceptable and my Tobie site ( was set up to help those affected by this anti-social behaviour primarily in the workplace and to help them get support by signposting them to services,”

She added: “Within the first year (2014) we had nearly 10,000 hits on our site, which just shows the size of the problem. Since 2014 another 5,548 visitors have looked at this site which is not marketed or promoted other than through my own social media sites.

“The individual who suffers at the hands of bullies is scarred for a very long time if not for life. Sadly, this can happen at any time in a person’s life, from childhood to old age.

“Such behaviour causes mental health issues to the innocent sufferer who is subject to bouts of anxiety, depression, stress, associated illnesses and ultimately absence from school, college or work.

“Employers have a key role to play in trying to stamp out this anti-social and unacceptable behaviour and as a stepping stone in the right direction, every employer and every school or college should make sure they have an anti-bullying policy which all staff are aware of.

“ I would like to think that any acts of bullying within the workplace or elsewhere, like at school or college, will be viewed seriously and where there is evidence, the perpetrator will be subject to disciplinary process”.

“Of course it is hard to get people to talk about bullying, but I would plead with anyone who is subjected to this form of cowardly behaviour to speak to someone about it in the first place, whether that be a colleague or a Line Manager or even a parent or guardian.

“I am hopeful that my site will continue to enable sufferers to seek that right advice and guidance, point them in the right direction and hopefully see the individual being in a position to deal with the bully and break away from this unwanted and despicable behaviour. The message is clearly “you are not alone” but together we can tackle this behaviour”.

Cost of private renting soars in Highlands and Islands

The cost of private rented housing in the Highlands and Islands has soared, official statistics show.

People across Scotland are being hammered with average mean monthly rents increasing substantially over the last year in many parts of the country.

Recent figures released by the Scottish Government show huge increases across the country, including in the Highlands and Islands, over the past eight years.

• One bedroom properties in Highlands and Islands increased by 13.4% from 2010 to 2018
• Two bedroom properties by 15.8%, a 1.3% rise in 2017/2018
• Three bedroom properties by 19.3%, 2.5% rise in 2017/2018
• Four bedroom properties by 17.5%, a 6.5% rise in 2017/18

Highlands and Islands Labour MSP Rhoda Grant said it was clear that a radical change was needed to end Scotland’s housing crisis.

“I know that working people across the region are struggling to keep up with the rise in private rents and Scotland’s housing crisis is deepening with more people being made homeless,” she said.

“Almost half of all people made homeless last year due to rent arrears fell into debt with a private landlord.

“A Scottish Labour government will cap rent rises with a Mary Barbour law. We will also increase the supply of new homes by building 12,000 new homes for social-rent every year.”