MSP asks Scottish Government if it has contacted EU over Skye and Lochalsh micro abattoir

The Scottish Government is being challenged as to what action it has taken to help the establishment of the Skye and Lochalsh Micro Abattoir Project.
I have submitted a Parliamentary Question asking the Government if it has applied to the EU for a derogation from State Aid rules regarding support for the Skye and Lochalsh Micro Abattoir Project and, if so, what the outcome was.

I took action after the project’s board pointed out that Scottish Government had advised total public sector funding is being restricted to a maximum of 40% of the total costs due to this funding being classed as State Aid.
Classification of public funding as State Aid, along with limiting total public funding to 40%, restricts the projects ability to access a number of funding streams such as Lottery and LEADER.

I want to know if the Government has contacted the EU to argue that any public funding support towards the project should not constitute State Aid as the scheme is being developed purely as a local service within a defined local area and as such will only have a local impact.

The board has made a good point in that the abattoir will not attract customers from other Member States and will therefore not affect competition and trade between Member States,

I would hope the Scottish Government would have put that argument to the EU to help this very enthusiastic project team.

The community has done so much to try to get this off the ground and has strong local support. Now it’s up to the Government to give it the extra helping hand it needs.

There has been much publicity over the last week about the barbaric practice of live export of animals and I see this type of scheme as countering that and helping the economic, social and environmental security of the region in both the agricultural and food supply and service industries.

 

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 raises a cup to help people with cancer live life as fully as they can  

I joined MSP’s from across the Scottish Parliament to raise a cup to the World’s Biggest Coffee Morning.

Putting politics aside I joined Janice Preston, Macmillan Head of Services in Scotland for the charity’s flagship fundraising campaign which aims to raise millions to help people with cancer live life as fully as they can.

Last year thousands of people across the UK took part in a Coffee Morning event, raising around £27m for Macmillan. This year the total raised by Coffee Morning since it began in 1991 will pass the £200m mark. The official day for World’s Biggest Coffee Morning is Friday 28th September but you can hold your own event at a time to suit you.

It couldn’t be more simple to get involved – all you need to do is get together with family, friends or colleagues over coffee and cake. You can register now for your free fundraising pack via the website – www.macmillan.org.uk/coffee – or find a Coffee Morning near you to get involved in.

Help people with cancer live life as fully as they can and find a Macmillan Coffee Morning in your community to attend this September. www.macmillan.org.uk/coffee

 Everyone knows someone who has or has had cancer and Macmillan do a wonderful job. I would encourage as many people as possible to help raise millions by taking part in the World’s Biggest Coffee Morning.

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.

 

Supporting a petition for out of range braodband

I am supporting a petition to the Scottish Parliament calling for the Scottish Government to make it an immediate priority to ensure that all rural areas currently out of range of local broadband internet coverage are provided with a reliable superfast broadband internet service suitable for twenty-first century communication within the shortest possible timeframe.
The petition has been submitted on behalf of Laid Grazings and Community Committee. Its purpose is to prioritise broadband installation for Laid and all rural areas who do not have broadband at present, at the earliest opportunity. Petitioner, Hugh MacLellan, states that it’s been submitted in the interests of growth in the Scottish economy as a whole, and with a view to boosting business opportunities and employment throughout Scotland.
The Scottish Government’s Reaching 100% Broadband programme commits to delivering 100% superfast broadband coverage across Scotland by the year 2021. However the community in Laid believe this needs to happen sooner as many homes and businesses in the area currently remain at an economic disadvantage due to the lack of access to superfast broadband. The petition states that “the present situation is adversely affecting Scotland’s rural economy and employment possibilities, and change and progress in this matter are urgently required.”
The village of Laid in North West Sutherland, like many rural areas, does not have broadband. A fibre optic cable laid three years ago runs through the village but petitioners state there are no plans at present to install an exchange system to enable the houses in the village to receive broadband. The NC 500 tourist route also runs through the village and petitioners say tourists are not prepared to stay in B&Bs as there is no acceptable broadband.
After a local petition signed by residents of Laid and visitors who stayed in the area gained 750 signatures over summer 2017, the community decided to take their case to Parliament. They want to see broadband established not only in the village of Laid but in many other rural areas who are in a similar position.
Having campaigned for over a decade to have broadband services improved throughout the Highlands and Islands, I welcome the Laid community’s drive and determination to seek improvement for their area.
Like them, I believe many other rural areas will welcome the intention of this petition and I would encourage people from far and wide to support it.
Mrs Grant continued “The Scottish Government has finally accepted that broadband is no longer just a nice thing to have, but is a necessity in today’s digital world, so let’s see them move a bit quicker to support our rural areas.

NHS Grampian Announcement regarding ANP course

I welcome the news that NHS Grampian have announced that applications for a new fast track Advanced Nurse Practitioner (ANP) course, the first in Scotland, will open this week.
The bespoke course, which will be delivered by Robert Gordon University and the newly established Advanced Care Academy, will offer 20 places to nurses, with around half of the posts in the first intake being planned for Dr Gray’s.
This is a positive move by NHS Grampian in bolstering their multidisciplinary workforce across the region, but more importantly at Dr Gray’s hospital, Elgin, where staff shortages in various Departments has been a very real issue. To see that at least half of the first intake of 20 ANP’s will go to Dr Gray’s will make a huge difference.
However, we need to be clear that while Advanced Nurse Practitioners have a vital role to play, they are not a replacement for Doctors and we need to see greater recruitment and training of them as well.
If this drive provides more sustainability to local services I would hope that other health boards look at this initiative.

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.”