I have been told no extra funding for Skye and Lochalsh out of hours health services

The new Scottish Government Health Secretary is admitting that there will be no new investment in Skye, Lochalsh and South West Ross health services when it comes to out-of-hours recommendations in the recent Sir Lewis Ritchie report.
Jeane Freeman has told me that “in the main” any investment will need to come from the budgets of NHS Highland, the Scottish Ambulance Service or NHS 24.
This has taken me aback by the frank admission, querying how improvements can be made without any extra money. I wrote to Ms Freeman asking about more resources, especially in the light of money made available for the Caithness health services redesign.
I am sure this will be a revelation for most patients on Skye who are expecting more from the Scottish Government,
I’ll be contacting constituents and the chief executives of the health authority, ambulance service and NHS 24 with copies of the letter and would like to know their reaction to this.
The message from the Government is really – we’ll make the right noises, we’ll consult the community and sign up to an independent report but don’t expect a penny more from us!
If the health authority is to get no extra money, then the Government need to answer how on earth they can maintain Portree and at the same time build a new hospital in Broadford?
The Health Secretary told me:
“This is not comparable as the Caithness budget relates to the reprovision of services across Caithness which includes the building of care hubs and the refurbishment of Caithness General Hospital and that expenditure is more comparable with the expenditure estimated for the new hospital build at Broadford.
“In the main the recommendations contained in Sir Lewis’s report are focussed on utilising existing services in a different way and these do not require significant investment.
“Where there will be investment, whether by NHS Highland, The Scottish Ambulance Service or NHS 24 in supporting the delivery of the recommendations in Sir Lewis’s report, I expect those boards to identify and account for that from within their existing allocations. Some of that expenditure may not be known as it will depend, in parts, on the discussions with the people in Skye, Lochalsh and South West Ross as they coproduce solutions with the board.”


I seek answers to current and long term plans for Stromeferry Bypass.

I am fully aware of the current works being carried out at the Stromeferry bypass and equally aware that there can be delays of up to three hours. This fact is causing a lot of frustration locally and to many, the option of a 140 mile round trip is a non starter for what is normally a 30 minute 23 mile journey.

As a result I contacted a senior official within Highland Council and was told that on Thursday 27 September, there will be a community meeting in Lochcarron Village Hall to discuss the issues and frustration with the current works. There will be a drop in session between 2pm and 5.30pm and a presentation between 6pm and 7pm. Thereafter there will be a general question time, so I would encourage as many people as possible to attend. Unfortunately I will be in the Scottish Parliament and cannot attend in person.

With regards to the long term plans, I was afraid over the months and years that I have been involved that they may have got kicked into the long grass. This appears to have been the case. It appears that Highland Council are looking at three corridors of interest. The North route, (behind the village) the South route (Glen Udalain) and the online route – basically moving the rail line out into the sea area and moving the road to where the rail line currently is situated. The latest STAG (Scottish Transport Appraisal Guidance) has been submitted to the Scottish Government seeking support from the Government with regards funding. This appraisal is now on the desk of the current Cabinet Secretary for Transport, Michael Matheson MSP.

I understand that during Highland Council’s consideration of the capital five year spending plan in the spring of this year, that no finance was set aside for a new route. However there continues to be a £1m allocated for current works.

This saga has gone on too long. In my view this route should be a trunk road as it is the gateway to the islands via Skye and South West Ross.The Stomeferry Bypass was opened in 1970 and at that time was hailed as a great achievement. However, it was built along the Moine Thrust, a geological area of shattered and fragile rock. Over the period since the road was opened there has been many landslides and near misses. It is an absolute miracle that no one has been killed over the last 48 years.

This issue has dragged on and dragged on, school children travel the route everyday, people use the route to go to work daily and it is well used by tourist and sightseers alike. It is not acceptable that the local Government and the Scottish Government have not come up with a safe alternative by now and instead choose to bicker about whose responsibility it is.

I have written to the Cabinet Secretary for Transport, Michael Matheson MSP, today and asked him to move this issue up his ‘to do list’ and bring to an end the uncertainty caused to motorists and parents of school children who use this route every day wondering if they will be struck by landslide or falling rocks.

I have  asked why it has taken so long for Paul Wheelhouse, Minister for the Islands is to address a Forum on the Western Isles Ferry provision.

I have  asked why it has taken so long for Paul Wheelhouse, Minister for the Islands is to address a Forum on the Western Isles Ferry provision.

Whilst I welcome the news that Paul Wheelhouse will eventually address questions on this severe issue, I am perplexed as to why he did not address it during his recent visit and indeed why Alasdair Allan, at that point, to bring it to his attention. This is not a new problem.

This visit comes on the back of the sustained pressure from many stakeholder groups including Outer Hebrides Tourism, CNES, the Business community, Islanders and Scottish Labour. Only last week I challenged the Minister to be transparent on the funding fiasco surrounding the MV Loch Seaforth.

We have been fighting for action to address the severe capacity restrictions which damages the fabric of ordinary life for Islanders whilst losing the fragile economies millions of pounds each year through the thwarting of tourism initiatives.

The resilience of the fleet is simply non-existent and we have seen services removed and disrupted at short notice.

To simply claim that there has been investment in the past does not hold water given that recent new ferries have seen severe delays in delivery and extortionate amounts being spent on ports to accommodate these new designs, not to mention the £53 Million being spent to in effect hire the Loch Seaforth from Lloyd’s bank for eight years.

Every time a new ferry is commissioned it results in millions of pounds being spent having to accommodate the design of the boats.

Against all opinion and advise SNP Ministers decided on a single large ferry for the Stornoway route rather than 2 smaller ferries which would have fitted the existing port facilities and provided resilience to other routes during planned maintenance. Surely if the advice had been heeded we would not find ourselves in this Perfect Storm.

Rhoda Grant MSP has laid several amendments in her name to the Planning Bill

I have laid several amendments in her name to the Planning Bill at the Scottish Parliament.  These amendments are designed to ensure that planning legislations looks at repopulation.  Many parts of the Highlands and Islands have become depopulated and this trend looks likely to continue.  These include amendments to facilitate repopulation and resettlement objectives are taken into account by Ministers.  Subsequent amendments require the mapping of ‘no longer inhabited human settlements.

In the past, some of the planning legislation and land use policies have actually had a negative effect on rural parts of the country, often leading to depopulation making it harder for areas to sustain themselves.  It is vitally important that this new Bill is amended to ensure they offer solutions towards the profound challenges we face in the Highlands and Islands.

Our rural areas provide huge benefits for Scotland, places the people of Scotland love to visit because it is beautiful.  That is to be celebrated and visitors are very welcome.  But as well as having countryside and ‘wild’ places for people to visit, we also want people to visit living places, vibrant communities with distinct culture and traditions.  We must ensure those communities are protected, to retain and restore population – it is people that are the lifeblood of the Highlands and Islands.

My amendments hopefully go some way to ensure that the new Planning Bill facilitates rural repopulation with sustainable economic and environmental development.  Hopefully, we can work towards protecting our rural areas for the future.

Highlands and Islands MSP tackles Transport Scotland Chief Executive about Tain junction

I have written to Transport Scotland’s Chief Executive asking what action it will be taking to allay the community’s safety concerns about two Tain junctions.

I was contacted by constituents who told her that ‘nearly every week’ an incident happens’ on A9 at Tain at the Asda and Lidl junctions.

It has been highlighted recent publicity about 11 accidents at the Tain Asda junction, recently labelled the worst A9 hotspot.

I have asked Transport chief Roy Brannen about progress with traffic studies at these junctions and when those findings will be published. And, what action is Transport Scotland taking to increase safety measures at these junctions.

From what I’ve been told the community are anxious to avoid a serious accident or a fatality at these junctions and the statistics certainly prove that they have got a very good point.

We will soon be coming into the winter months when driving conditions are more perilous, so it would be good to know what the transport agency proposes to make these junctions safer.



Highlands and Islands MSPs push for more protection for Wick flights

My Labour colleague David Stewart and I are supporting constituents who want to see Wick air routes ring-fenced and protected for the future.

We represent the Highland Islands, have been contacted by local people calling for a Public Service Obligation (PSO) on Caithness air services because they argue the region has been failed by not having good transport links.

A PSO, under EU transport law, is a permitted state aid which maintains scheduled air services on routes vital for the economic development of the region they serve.

Mr Stewart contacted Transport Secretary, Michael Matheson, after a recent visit to Caithness where the need for a PSO was raised by constituents particularly concerned about the future of the Wick-Edinburgh route. Mrs Grant has been contacted by a business also worried about fragile air links.

Caithness Chamber of Commerce argued last month that a PSO route to Wick would put Caithness and Sutherland on an equal footing with many remote and rural communities elsewhere in Scotland well-served by air routes.

In his reply to the us, Mr Matheson highlighted Wick’s two scheduled air services, Wick-Edinburgh and Wick-Aberdeen, and said that “given the commercial nature of the current air services serving multiple destinations, it is not possible to impose a PSO on an air service from Wick at present”.

Mr Matheson added: “Should both current services cease we would consider the use of a PSO.”

Mr Stewart stressed that the travelling time from Edinburgh was at least five and a half hours by car and eight hours by public transport, weather conditions permitting.

“The Scottish Government’s reply is disappointing,” said Mr Stewart.

“I’ve been told about the deep concern in Caithness about the future viability of Wick’s air routes and it would be a great pity if we had to wait for a complete failure of the service before the Scottish Government take action.

“I will be raising this in the Scottish Parliament as Convener of the Cross-Party Group on Aviation.”

Businesses were already challenged by being in a remote, rural area and maintaining of air links were vital for development and jobs.

Many jobs hang in the balance which are connected to a good air service, from those at the airport itself, to Aberdeen links to the oil and gas industry, to servicing wind energy developments and so on.

Dounreay decommissioning is ongoing and relies on air transport for travelling contractors and executives. Passengers should not have to travel to Inverness to access vital air services.


Visit to GlenWyvis Distillery in Dingwall

I heard how the GlenWyvis Distillery in Dingwall is just £70,000 short of its £750,000 open share offer when she visited the company last week.
I represent Labour in the Highlands and Islands, was told how the first 100% community owned distillery is forging ahead with its gin and whisky production after being established just two years ago.
I was encouraged to visit the venture because she is also a member of the Co-operative Party.
I was very impressed by GlenWyvis not only because of its community base but also due to its efforts to bring in green policies to protect the environment and use renewable energy,
It is so encouraging to see an ambitious community co-op taking off, especially in Dingwall where the last distillery closed in 1926. There are high hopes for more jobs to be created as the business develops and I wish them every success for the future.
I was shown around the distillery by its Marketing and Tourism Strategy Officer, Michael Fraser, and Distillery Manager, Duncan Tait.


No facilities for women to serve their sentences

Highlands and Islands Labour MSP, Rhoda Grant, is frustrated to have it confirmed that there will be no facilities for women to serve their sentences in the new prison to be built in Inverness.  Highland councillors recently approved planning permission in principle for the prison to be built on a site near Inverness Retail Park with building work understood to be due to start this year.


Rhoda Grant said “The Scottish Prison Service has confirmed to me that future custodial arrangements for women from the north will remain as they are at present.  Under current plans women will continue to serve their sentences in Peterhead.


“This is unacceptable in the 21st century.  Women offenders need to be accommodated closer to home to allow loved ones, particularly children, to visit easily.  It is neither acceptable nor right that families in the north should have to travel these distances to visit.


“I appreciate the old Inverness Prison is over 100 years old but the SPS needs to move with the times and come into this century.


Mrs Grant continued “I have contacted the Cabinet Secretary for Justice, Michael Matheson, previously about this, and I have also now asked the Chief Inspector for Prisons to intervene to ensure there are facilities in the north for women to serve their sentences.”

Visit to Shopper-Aide

After carrying out a number of constituency visits to Argyll & Bute ,Highlands & Islands Regional MSP, Rhoda Grant, took the opportunity of meeting with staff from the charity, Shopper-Aide, which is located in Campbeltown.

Rhoda said:

“I believe that Shopper-Aide is a massive asset to the Kintyre area and started as a shopping service for the elderly but it has quickly expanded and now offers housekeeping services, delivery of prescriptions and the set up of clubs such as the Elderberries Club”

“I would encourage anyone over 60 to utilise this service as it really is, a wonderful organisation and I am delighted to support it in any way that I can.

“ They are currently applying for Big Lottery Funding, which if successful will allow the charity to continue to provide the valuable services that they do.

Motion lodged by Rhoda in the Scottish Parliament

Date Lodged: 30/07/2018

Title: Shopper-Aide

Motion Text:

That the Parliament acknowledges the efforts of all volunteers and staff involved in the Campbeltown-based charity, Shopper-Aide; understands that the charity provides valuable community resources designed to support older people to live independently at home; notes that, among the services provided, it shops for the older persons weekly needs, supports them with their domestic household chores and, at the same time, addresses the problem of growing isolation that comes from weakening health; understands that the charity also provides social events for the older person in the area, allowing them to meet and socialise with others; commends the endeavour and enthusiasm of all involved in this charity, and wishes it continued success going forward.

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