TV Licence Concession

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.

UK Best Gamekeeper of the Year Hails from Skye

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

Motion Text:
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.

MSP backs Community Fridge project as a cracking idea

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


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.

Government has shunted reduced train journey time into the sidings: MSP

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.


Highlands & Islands MSP seeks positive outcome for Talk Talk workforce

Highlands & Islands Regional MSP Rhoda Grant,  who last week contacted the Chief Executive of HIE, Charlotte Wright, with regard to the sudden announcement of the closure of the Talk Talk facility in Stornoway with the loss of 59 jobs, has received reassurance from HIE that they are doing all they can to mitigate the job losses’

“ It transpires that this sudden announcement came out of the blue to not only the workforce at Talk Talk in Stornoway, but also to HIE and other partners” said Rhoda Grant.

“HIE representatives contacted the company and held talks, as did I, but the sad fact is that this closure decision was taken centrally and there is not any likelihood of the company changing their minds.

“HIE have held  a Partnership Action For Continuing Employment (PACE) meeting and are doing all they can to secure future employment for the staff concerned.

“I have tabled Parliamentary Questions on this issue and asked what support the Government can and are offering.

“I have also written again to HIE to ask them if they could help this skilled workforce pull together what in effect would be a company of their own, show casing their skills to other organisations in the hope that they could secure contracts themselves.

Rhoda Grant concluded “ It’s important that we try as best we can to keep these jobs on the island for a myriad of reasons not just to help the local economy and the employment status of locals, but for the longer term good and economic development of our island community.

Talk Talk closing their facility in Stornoway

Having just heard yesterday about Talk Talk closing their facility in Stornoway it seems to me that there needs to be discussions around this decision which apparently looks like it has come out of the blue and will have an adverse impact on the island, the economy and more importantly the 59 individuals that are employed by the company.
59 job losses in an island town is massive and will impact on the whole community.
My heart goes out to all these dedicated employees. The company say they are centralising and moving the jobs to Salford in Manchester with little dialogue with the workforce, trade unions or wider community.
It is my understanding that this company was financially supported by HIE, and if so, we need to know if HIE can clawback that investment.
I am writing today to HIE asking what support they gave and whether there us an opportunity to claw this back if this decision is not reversed.
I have also spoken to the company and advised them of the impact this decision will have on the local population and the wider economy. They are adamant that they will not reverse this decision but are offering their staff relocation to Salford. However, I am keen to find out if similar work can be procured for the staff involved and whether HIE have looked into that.
I will also table Parliamentary Questions asking the Scottish Government what action they are taking to support the 59 people who have lost their jobs. I have also asked when they knew of this decision and whether they had any discussions with the company in order to try and retain these jobs
59 jobs in an island community would be comparable to hundreds in an urban area and action needs to be taken to help those involved.

MSP and GP representatives meet Health Secretary over GP Contract

Two Highland GPs have joined MSP Rhoda Grant for a meeting in Holyrood with Health Secretary Jeane Freeman.

Mrs Grant, Dingwall GP Miles Mack and Inverness GP Phil Wilson, also a Professor of Primary Care and Rural Health at the University of Aberdeen, outlined their concerns for rural and remote practices under the new GP Contract.

Mrs Grant asked Ms Freeman for the face-to-face meeting and was grateful for the opportunity to outline key issues which other GPs across the Highlands and Islands had also raised with her and with her Labour colleague David Stewart.

The GPs used Caithness facts and figures to outline the problems, stressing that five of the 11 permanent GPs in the area were almost certain to retire because of age in the next five years.

In Caithness, since 2004, almost half of all permanent GPs posts have been vacated with partial replacement with short term locum provision. Three practices have ceased to be independent contractors and have been taken over by NHS Highland.

There were also general concerns about the capacity for under-graduate teaching and the effect on retention and recruitment of GPs in remote areas.

GPs have told the MSPs that the new Contract fails to recognise the unique workload in rural areas where surgeries deal with a far greater range of medical problems – including emergencies that would be dealt with in hospitals in urban areas.

“The main concern is that what’s on the table with the new Contract is an urban model and this just doesn’t suit remote and rural areas,” explained Mrs Grant, who represents the Highlands and Islands.

“GPs are worried it will cause poor continuity of care for patients and that procedures, currently performed at surgeries, are being centralised – for instance for blood tests or vaccinations. This will inevitably inconvenience patients and worsen health outcomes by raising barriers to care.

“The contract states that other health care professionals will be employed to deal with these extra tasks but with rural GP posts remaining unfilled, and shortages of nurses in many areas, how can we expect to find these extra people in our out of the way places?

“There must be flexibility for GPs to retain the old system of care. The new contract’s funding formula has been based, under this new system, on the number of appointments and does not take account of issues in rural areas such as patient and doctor travel.

“GPs in our region cannot wait for another three years to see some movement on this and I’m hopeful that the Health Secretary will find a suitable way forward.”

Prof Wilson added: “We were able to discuss some of the key issues about general practice in rural areas, particularly the loss of permanent GP posts.

“This is a central issue because losing local GPs and replacing them with a range of other practitioners is both expensive for the NHS and deeply unsatisfying for patients.

“Loss of continuity of GP care is also damaging to patients’ health: there is now good evidence that this leads to worsening mortality statistics and it may underlie some of the worrying premature death rate trends recently seen in several rural areas of Scotland.”

At the meeting Ms Freeman said she had “genuinely taken the issues seriously” and discussion would continue with colleagues. Mrs Grant was promised an update in two months.

Miles Mack who attended the meeting with Rhoda


Prof Phil Wilson who also attended the meeting