To read my speech click here
To read my speech click here
Labour Highlands and Islands Regional MSP, Rhoda Grant yesterday (4th March 2019) visited the scenic Highland Farm Café in Dingwall to meet some of the Apprentices during Skills Development Scotland’s Apprenticeship Week 2019.
Scottish Apprenticeship Week highlights the benefits apprenticeships bring to individuals, businesses and the economy. This year’s theme is “Skills for the Future”, which is to recognise the importance of investing in the workforce while also celebrating the achievements of individual apprentices.
Mrs Grant met Mairi and Graeme who are two Apprentices currently hired by Highland Farm Café under an apprenticeship.
“It’s wonderful to celebrate this week and to remind individuals that there are different options for your chosen career”, said Rhoda Grant
She continued “Some people just cannot sit in a classroom full-time and need that practical experience thus an apprenticeship would be ideal.”
“I’m delighted to support this week and I applaud businesses such as Highland Farm Café who take part in these schemes.“
Highlands & Islands Regional MSP, Rhoda Grant, has strived for many years to persuade the local Authority and the Government to expedite improvements to either the existing Stromeferry Bypass or to build another road. Her driver was always to make the route safer for all road users, particularly the children who travel the route twice a day from and to Lochcarron and the surrounding area. However, after meeting face to face with the Cabinet Secretary for Transport, Michael Matheson she was left feeling very disappointed.
Rhoda said ” I asked for this meeting at the end of last year, as the whole issue of the Stromeferry bypass keeps getting kicked into the long grass and it is an issue that has gone on now for nearly forty years. I doubt very much whether there would be this dragging of feet if the route passed a more urban area down in the central belt.
” The fact of the matter is a simple one to understand. Highland Council have responsibility for this route currently, as it is part of the massive 7000km of road that they have to look after. The Council like all others in Scotland have had to face making drastic cuts thanks to the cuts in funding received from the Government after their budget pact with their bedfellows the Greens. Highland Council cannot afford the funding for the options proposed to address the Stromeferry bypass problem, which amount to somewhere between £70 million and £120million. So they and indeed I, have for some time been asking for Government assistance. I have suggested on more than one occasion that the Government should take over responsibility for this road given it is the gateway to Southwest Ross and the Uists. Highland Council for their part have asked for extra funding because of the geographic nature of the vast area of roads and infrastructure that they have to cover.
” The Government have consistently knocked back all proposals and suggestions.
” Yesterday, I met with Michael Matheson, the Cabinet Secretary for Transport and to be frank, I was less than impressed. Put simply, the Cabinet Secretary has absolutely no intention of the Government or Transport Scotland adopting this route as a trunk road and I got the distinct impression that he was washing his hands of any responsibility stating repeatedly to me that this was an issue for Highland Council and they had to deal with it, despite me emphasising that lives were at risk.
Rhoda Grant concluded “This whole matter is frustrating. Those in authority keep passing the buck and all the time the people who use this route have to do so knowing it is not safe. What will happen before action to be taken and how long will this issue be allowed to drag on.
I was delighted to be out in the field with Openreach engineers on Friday to see the progress being made on high-speed broadband in Highlands and Islands.
Good connectivity is absolutely vital for a strong local economy and, with around 14 per cent of Highland households still only able to get a broadband speed of less than 10Mbps, I’m determined to make sure that progress continues at pace.
Highlands & Islands Regional MSP, Rhoda Grant, who wrote to the Department of Digital Culture Media and Sport condemning the proposal to do away with the free TV licence concession for those over 75,has received a response from Margot James MP the Minister for Digital and Creative Industries.
” I am advised by Margot James, that her Department are continuing with this concession until June 2020 at which point the responsibility passes over to the BBC” said Rhoda Grant.
” The BBC currently are consulting on this issue and they are not going to make a decision until June 2019″.
Rhoda Grant concluded ” As I highlighted in my letter to the Department it is essential that those over 75 have this concession as for many the TV is the only company that they have and is the only means of communication and learning available to them. To have to pay the annual licence fee would further impact on the majority who are living on the bread line anyway. Margot James MP, advises that the Government expect the BBC to honour it’s commitment and will continue to provide this valued concession to those over 75. That said one thing is for sure, the Government will no longer fund it which would mean drastic cuts to the BBC services to enable them to continue the scheme.
Delighted today to have lodged the motion below recognising the endeavours of Scott Mackenzie who won UK Gamekeeper of the Year at the 2019 British Shooting Awards in Birmingham.
Motion Number: S5M-15951
Lodged By: Rhoda Grant
Date Lodged: 21/02/2019
Title: Scott Mackenzie, Best Gamekeeper in the UK
That the Parliament congratulates Scott Mackenzie, who is based at the Fearann Eilean Iarmain Estate on Skye, on being named Best Gamekeeper in the UK at the 2019 Great British Shooting Awards in Birmingham; acknowledges Scott’s commitment and dedication to the land and the environment and his work to ensure the best possible visitor experience for estate visitors; notes his work, and that of the estate, in managing the environment through long-term conservation programmes; acknowledges his key roles in deer management and in being custodian of an iconic landscape and culture, which he helps protect and sustain by working with other estate employees and residents in supporting crofting, farming activities and wildlife, and wishes Scott all the best with his endeavours.
Thurso’s Community Fridge project is receiving the backing of Labour MSP Rhoda Grant who says it’s a ‘cracking’ community scheme.
Mrs Grant, who represents the Highlands and Islands, found out more about the project from Joan Lawrie, of Thurso’s Community Development Trust, when she was in Caithness last week.
The scheme aims to set up a communal fridge in Thurso town centre, open from 8am to 8pm, and available for anyone to take what they need from it.
“This is a great idea which will not only tackle food waste but will also tackle food poverty in the area,” said Mrs Grant.
“Everyone be able to look in and see what’s available in the fridge and take their pick, but it will definitely fill the gap for people who find themselves short of food at a certain time.
“For instance, many families may find the pinch near to pay day or are between jobs and needing a helping hand for a few meals. Also, keen growers may have surpluses from their own gardens at certain times of year and would only be too pleased to donate produce to the fridge.
“I’m a real supporter of this ‘sharing and caring’ initiative and congratulate all the volunteers behind it. I hope to see the result when it is launched later this year.”
Mrs Grant ask to meet Ms Lawrie who explained the thinking behind the project which is also being backed by local supermarkets and smaller food businesses.
The Fridge will fulfil food hygiene regulations with a band of volunteers to run it. When it comes to food waste, the group plans to record how much food is being saved from going to the landfill site. Volunteers also stress that it is in no way stepping on the toes of the Food Bank which does sterling work in Caithness.
Ms Lawrie, a project officer for the trust said: “Since learning about the Community Fridge Network and hearing that 32 Communities across the UK have been able to establish a Community Fridge we have really wanted to bring this to Thurso.
“Not only will the fridge combat food waste and educate regarding waste in our community it will also help those most in need without anyone feeling stigmatised. We’re currently running a Crowdfunder to help with the costs of establishing the fridge which is only £110 away from target. ”
• The organisation is looking for donations for the project at:
LEGAL AID CUTS SET TO HIT THE POOREST THE HARDEST
A range of anti-poverty services delivered by Citizens Advice Scotland are under threat thanks to proposed cuts in the Scottish budget.
A potential cut from the Scottish Legal Aid Board of £626,717 will threaten a range of services such as debt and welfare advice.
These cuts which would have a direct impact on the loss of at least 25 staff positions in 15 CABs.
The cut will effect services at Inverness, Lochaber, Skye&Lochalsh, Penicuik, Dalkeith, Central Borders, Peebles, East Dunbartonshire, Fife, Airdrie, Motherwell and Wishaw, West Lothian, Glasgow North West, Argyll and Bute.
Highlands & Islands Regional MSP, Rhoda Grant said “These cuts are as a direct result of the of the SNP and Greens budget deal and hits the poorest families and the poorest individuals hardest. How can this be right. The CAB provide an important and crucial service to the community and the loss of 25 experienced staff to this service is just not acceptable and must be reversed before stage 3 of the budget.
Labour MSP Rhoda Grant is warning train passengers not to expect a two hour and 45 minute journey time on the Highland Main Line anytime soon.
Scottish Government Transport Minister, Michael Matheson, has stated the quicker journey time is now ‘a long-term aspiration’ despite a commitment made by Alex Salmond, the then First Minister, in August 2008, to reduce train journey times between Inverness and Edinburgh to at least two hours 45 minutes by 2012.
“That promise has disappeared down the track, like many given by this Government,” explained Mrs Grant, who represents the Highlands and Islands.
“The fact that the Transport Secretary hasn’t given a possible date to achieve that past commitment is very concerning. Yet again our region is being placed at the bottom of the pile when it comes to being top of the list of improvements to our rail service.
“Last year campaigners stressed that there was just a paltry few minutes saved on journey time, which is just woeful. There is no doubt the rail system should be nationalised, but in the meantime the Scottish Government needs to live up to their previous promises.”
In reply to a Parliamentary Question, Mr Matheson told Mrs Grant: “The long term aspiration remains to deliver a fastest journey time of 2 hours 45 minutes between Inverness and the Central Belt.”
He said the Highland Main Line Rail Improvement project would be completed in phases between 2014 and 2025. In 2012 services increased from 9 to 11 trains per day in each direction, reducing journey times by an average of 6 minutes at a cost of £1.2 million.
He added phase two will see a £57 million investment providing an hourly service between Perth and Inverness, delivery of a reduction in average journey times by around 10 minutes and more efficient freight operations.
Mrs Grant added: “Until we get more investment in services and infrastructure people will still take to the roads instead of the train and adding to that decision are recent train cancellations. Increase in ticket prices and carriage over-crowding. We deserve better.”
1 February 2019 (Holding Reply Issued 29 January 2019)
Index Heading: Transport Scotland
Rhoda Grant (Highlands and Islands) (Scottish Labour): To ask the Scottish Government what action it has taken to fulfil the commitment that was made by the then First Minister in August 2008, following a Cabinet meeting in Inverness, to reduce train journey times between Inverness and Edinburgh to at least two hours 45 minutes, and an average of three hours, with the aim of making “railway travel to the heart of the Highlands, in terms of time, competitive with roads… by a mixture of projects, including line improvement, additional passing loops, double-tracking and signalling upgrades”; what improvements projects were introduced, broken down by what progress has been made with each, and, in light of the comment that “the timescale for implementation is 2011-12”, for what reason the target date was not met, and by what date this level of service will be operational.
Michael Matheson: The Scottish Government’s Infrastructure Investment Plan, published in 2011, stated that the Highland Main Line Rail Improvement project would be completed in phases between 2014 and 2025.
Phase one was delivered as planned in December 2012, increasing services from 9 to 11 trains per day in each direction, and reducing journey times by an average of 6 minutes at a cost of £1.2 million.
Phase two, which is currently scheduled to be completed in December 2019, will see a £57 million investment providing an hourly service between Perth and Inverness, delivery of a reduction in average journey times by around 10 minutes and more efficient freight operations. A fleet of refurbished High Speed Trains is planned to be used for this new timetable offering customers greater comfort and more capacity. We are engaged with local communities regarding calling points with the aim of providing calls at stations which represent maximum benefit for users of the service. The new timetable will also include improvements to the first and last trains. Overall, these plans will provide passengers with better connectivity with the Central Belt and Inverness whilst boosting the economic growth for the whole of Scotland.
The long term aspiration remains to deliver a fastest journey time of 2 hours 45 minutes between Inverness and the Central Belt.