Disappointment for Na h-Eileanan an Iar as the UK Government Levelling Up Fund proves to be a hollow promise

Na h-Eileanan an Iar SNP MP Angus MacNeil says Scotland has been utterly conned by the UK Government as Levelling Up Funding is announced today (Thursday).

Mr MacNeil has been informed by the UK Government that local applications to the Levelling Up Fund – which was marketed as the replacement to EU funding lost through Brexit – have been unsuccessful.

The applications submitted by Comhairle nan Eilean Siar were for ‘Eilean Siar Spinal Route & Connecting Infrastructure’ and the ‘Eilean Siar Cultural Heritage and Regeneration Project’. Both projects would have brought major benefits to Na h-Eileanan an Iar through transport upgrades and cultural projects.

Mr MacNeil said: “It is a huge blow for Na h-Eileanan an Iar to miss out on funding for these two projects. I know this has involved a huge amount of work from Comhairle staff.

 “Since Brexit, we have lost EU funding which contributed a lot to development over decades. EU structural funding was about £3.5m a year – Tory Brexit is short-changing the islands with less than a third of the money.

“The UK Government gave assurances that Brexit would not lead to a loss of money to rural areas.  However, now we see the magnitude of that lie with today’s announcement that the Comhairle’s bids to the Levelling Up Fund have been unsuccessful.”

Scotland’s share of the Levelling Up funding is just £177 million out of £2 billion.

Around £1.1 billion out of the £1.6 billion total levelling up funding in England has been given to areas with a Conservative MP.

Mr MacNeil he added: “People have been utterly conned by the UK Government and their Brexit. If ever there was a time for Independence, it is now.”

A major step forward to unlock islands renewables potential says Isles MP

Na h-Eileanan an Iar SNP MP Angus MacNeil says today’s announcement that approval has been granted from energy regulator Ofgem for the need to build a 1.8GW interconnector to export renewable energy from the Western Isles to the mainland grid is a major step forward.

Mr MacNeil has continually lobbied for the interconnector and today’s announcement is a long-awaited breakthrough.

Mr MacNeil said: “This has been the work of many years and is extremely welcome news for Na h-Eileanan an Iar.  

“This opens up the islands to fulfil its renewable energy potential bringing massive benefits to the islands’ economy.

“For so long we wanted Ofgem to green light a 600MW connection and they were insisting on 450WM.  Now Ofgem have green lighted a 1.8GW connector.

“Years have been lost and things could be a lot better had this been built years ago.

“As it is, construction is expected to be ongoing in 2025/26 with the project finished in 2030.”

Isles MP urges pensioners not to miss out on £324 cost-of-living grant

Na h-Eileanan an Iar SNP MP Angus MacNeil is urging all pensioners on low-incomes to make sure they’re signed up for Pension Credit to ensure they receive a special cost of living grant.

As the Tory-made cost of living crisis continues the Mr MacNeil MP has warned households could miss out on the vital payment if they don’t apply soon.

In May 2022, the UK Government originally announced a Cost-of-Living Payment to be paid to those in receipt of Pension Credit and other qualifying benefits. To be eligible for the payment, an older person must have been entitled to a Pension Credit payment (or later found to be entitled to a payment) between 26 August and 25 September. 


Applications for Pension Credit can be backdated by three months – those who begin the claiming process by Sunday 18 December and are successful can be eligible for the second Cost-of-Living Payment of £324.00. 

Applicants can begin their application 4 months before they reach pensionable age and apply anytime afterwards and can do so online, by post, or over the phone.

Commenting Mr MacNeil said: 

“As the Tory-made cost-of-living crisis continues to ravage household finances, more and more people are set to see a reduction in their living standards, particularly those on lower incomes.


“Increasing food bills, rents, mortgage payments and energy prices are all heaping on the pressure, and pensioners especially can be vulnerable this winter. 

“Pension Credit is money to which people are entitled, and I would urge all low-income pensioners to make an application today.  


“Organisations such as the Citizens Advice can assist with applications, and the extra cash can go a long way in alleviating some of the stress and worry over the colder months.” 

ENDS

MacNeil optimistic about off-grid fuel payment for ALL households in Na h-Eileanan an Iar

Following conversations with Graham Stuart MP, Minister of State for Climate and Energy at the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS), Isles MP Angus MacNeil says he remains optimistic that all households in Na h-Eileanan an Iar will receive the £200 Alternative Fuel Payment. This payment is to support households that use alternative fuels, such as heating oil, liquefied petroleum gas (LPG), coal, or biomass.

The UK government announced that eligible households would receive the £200 Alternative Fuel Payment but that all households in Northern Ireland would receive it due to the prevalence of alternative fuel usage. 

Mr MacNeil highlighted that the use of alternative fuels is a lot higher in Na h-Eileanan an Iar than in Northern Ireland and that in the spirit of fairness, all households in Na h-Eileanan an Iar should also receive this support.

Commenting Mr MacNeil said:

“I have been campaigning on this for a while now and have raised this with the Prime Minister a few weeks ago in Parliament, since it became clear that all households in Northern Ireland will receive £200 Alternative Fuel Payment.

“We know that fuel is more expensive, fuel poverty is higher and 88% of households in the Hebrides are off-grid and use alternative fuels compared to 76% in Northern Ireland.

“Nothing is guaranteed yet, but I remain optimistic, after speaking twice with BEIS Minister Graham Stuart, that if all households in Northern Ireland are getting £200 then all households in Na h-Eileanan an Iar will get this money too.  I have made the case, the Minister, to his credit, seems to be very fair and clearly understands the issue and the geographically distinct reality of the islands, so now it is a case of waiting for full confirmation that this will happen.”

New figures show DWP sanctions are hitting some island families hard

 Na h-Eileanan an Iar SNP MP Angus MacNeil has warned that the UK Government is forcing struggling families into destitution.

 Figures, obtained from the DWP, revealed the amount clawed back from struggling households by the Department for Work and Pensions through their benefits sanctions regime.

In August 2022 alone, the DWP took £2.3 million away from claimants in Scotland, with £2000 taken from households in the islands at an average of £223 per month for every sanctioned household.

Angus MacNeil MP said the approach highlighted the UK government’s cruelty, warning UK social security policy undermined the positive work carried out by the Scottish Government to tackle poverty and assist households through the Tory-made cost of living crisis.

Commenting, Mr MacNeil said:

“The Tories are taking an average of £223 per month from struggling households in Na h-Eileanan an Iar during a cost-of-living crisis – a damning statement on how little the Tories care about the struggles of ordinary people.

“These figures show the devastating impact of the Tory government’s existing regime on people’s ability to feed themselves and fend off destitution.

“The cruelty of the DWP under this Tory government is on full show, hammering and leaving households destitute through a cost-of-living crisis with unnecessary sanctions.

“In Scotland we’ve taken a much different, more progressive approach, opposing Westminster austerity by uprating benefits in line with inflation and increasing the Scottish Child Payment – work the Tories would do well to learn from.

“The sad reality is though that all that work remains at risk and is ever-undermined while we remain attached to the broken Westminster system at the mercy of the callous Conservative Party – demonstrating once again why households desperately need independence.”

ENDS

It was great to visit the Harland and Wolff Arnish fabrication yard recently and meet with Albert Allan, General Manager, and staff. 

There are currently 100 working in the yard (with plans to increase staffing in the future) –  it was especially good to hear that 15 apprentices are employed there.

Isles MP questions Prime Minister on support for all households in Na h-Eileanan an Iar 

Isles MP Angus MacNeil demanded comparable support for all island households at Prime Minister’s Questions at Westminster today. 

Mr MacNeil grilled Prime Minister Rishi Sunak on the inequality of additional support being provided for all households in Northern Ireland, but not to all households in Na h-Eileanan an Iar which has a higher reliance on off-grid heating and a higher level of fuel poverty. 

Mr MacNeil said: “Inequality costs and in France middle earners earn 20 per cent more than in the UK, low earners 25 per cent more. 

“This inequality is why the cost of living and the cost of energy hits people more in the UK and that’s why I am in favour of independence – to choose a better path. 

“Meantime, in my constituency there are both more off-grid customers and a higher rate of fuel poverty than in Northern Ireland. 

“I asked the Prime Minister to do the right thing and extend the £200 payment to all households in my constituency, a geographically distinct constituency, the Hebrides, on the basis of fairness. 

“The PM gave an answer of utter waffle pleasing no one and confusing everyone.” 

No referendum under the Scotland Act, says Supreme Court 

The Scottish Government cannot hold an independence referendum without UK Government’s consent, the Supreme Court has ruled. 

Speaking outside the Supreme Court in London after the judgement this morning, Na h-Eileanan an Iar SNP MP Angus MacNeil said the way forward for Scotland is now clear and using elections is the only option. 

Mr MacNeil said: “Plan A is dead, so Plan B is the only way forward. 

“The debate now hinges on which election and when. I have been at the Supreme Court this morning to hear the judgement that while a referendum wouldn’t end the UK legally, judges thought that in the politics of this situation that it likely would, and therefore they decided that the Scottish Government couldn’t hold a referendum on Scotland’s independence.  

“Scotland is effectively a hostage in the UK under that ruling. However, we can use elections and when the people speak at a ballot box, if they choose independence, this will be recognised internationally.  The only option going forward is to use elections and the debate is which election. 

“Personally, I favour calling a Holyrood election to move Scotland on, away from two years of Tory austerity and difficulty that is inevitably coming up.” 

Attached is an image of Angus MacNeil MP outside the Supreme Court this morning

MacNeil – Chancellor must give all islanders £200 for fuel like Northern Ireland

Isles SNP MP Angus MacNeil is writing to the Chancellor demanding that all constituents in Na h-Eileanan an Iar receive the £200 additional support payment for households who are off-grid, as is the case in Northern Ireland. 

The Chancellor announced on Thursday that in recognition of the prevalence of alternative fuel usage in Northern Ireland, every household will receive the £200 payment, and on this basis, Mr MacNeil is calling for this to be applied to Na h-Eileanan an Iar where there are 12% more people using fuel such as heating oil than there are in Northern Ireland.

Currently, only eligible households in Scotland will receive the £200 payment and Mr MacNeil will continue to put pressure on the UK government to extend support to all households. 

Commenting Mr MacNeil said:

“If the Chancellor can decide to pay all fuel customers in Northern Ireland, a population of 1.8m people, the £200 off-grid additional support, then in the interests of fairness and equality not to mention his rhetoric on the “Union” then this must be applied to the people of Na h-Eileanan an Iar.

“This is particularly so as it was quite clear that the UK Government is struggling to work out when the money will be paid out.  When I challenged the Chancellor on Thursday, he simply couldn’t answer the question.  Therefore, the decision made for Northern Ireland fuel customers has to be made for Na h-Eileanan an Iar customers also.

“I will be writing to the Chancellor in these terms.  The fuel poverty in the constituency should mean that any Chancellor who claims to be compassionate will respond positively to this request.  Any other response from him other than to pay the £200 across the constituency will make his rhetoric seem very hollow indeed.”

Isles MP delighted to attend a reception to welcome Bakkafrost Scotland’s well boat

Na h-Eileanan an Iar SNP MP, Angus B MacNeil was delighted to speak at a reception in Stornoway yesterday to welcome 87-metre Ronja Star, the largest well boat fish farming vessel in Scottish aquaculture.

Commenting Angus MacNeil MP said:

“It was fantastic to be able to attend this event and to receive a tour of the new well boat the Ronja Star and it is good to see Bakkafrost doing so well in the Western Isles, by being the company chartering this boat from Norway. 

“The Ronja Star is a very impressive well boat with a hull built in Turkey then fitted out in Norway. It cleans the lice from the salmon by using freshwater by having desalination facilities on board.  Salmon, of course, can cope with fresh or salt water but the lice can’t cope with freshwater, therefore lice are removed not only off the surface but any that may be in or around the gills which are vital to the health of the fish, and a better process all round than using chemicals.

“The facilities on board are excellent and the crew have access to a gym and sauna.

“I was first met with Bakkafrost in 2013 when I visited their headquarters in Runavik in the Faroe Islands, back then I had no idea that Bakkafrost would eventually end up owning the Scottish Salmon Company.

“It is quite astonishing to see what Bakkafrost are achieving now and the investments that they are making in Scotland, such as this new well boat that they are chartering from Norwegian well boat operator, Solvtrans. 

“They are producing their premium products in our islands and their methods of production are improving all the time with technology.  They are a very important employer in our community, and it is good to see that it is all going in the right direction.”

ENDS