Isles MP MacNeil writes to Comhairle on education jobs

Na h-Eileanan an Iar SNP MP Angus Brendan MacNeil is writing to Comhairle nan Eilean Siar about concerns from secondary teaching staff that the Comhairle is trying to impose more online remote teaching by introducing uniform timetables for s5/6 pupils across the islands whilst calling some teaching jobs in secondary schools ‘unviable’.

Commenting Angus MacNeil said:

“I find it quite concerning that the council are trying to put a strait jacket on schools by trying to make them all have the same timetable.  This does not enable flexibility or the idiosyncratic needs in each school. If there was much merit in this proposal it would be adopted across Scotland but quite clearly everyone knows that different schools have different needs with different pupils and different demands.

“Therefore,  logically the Comhairle shouldn’t be doing this. I am looking for clarity as to what I am hearing being described as ‘unviable’ teaching posts which sounds like cover for trying to take jobs from very rural communities.  No teaching job is unviable,  if a teacher is required, a teacher is required, and it should be a physical teacher, not one teaching via a computer.

“It also seems quite foolhardy for one of the smallest education authorities to go banding around the world ‘unviable’, lest they be merged with one of the larger mainland education authorities. So, I look forward to some clarity from the council on their proposals, especially as there is talk of local strike action from EIS at which apparently would be a first across Scotland, and certainly not what we want to see or become known for in our islands.”

Isles MP calls for action to improve inter-island patient travel arrangements

Na h-Eileanan an Iar SNP MP Angus MacNeil is calling for joint working to radically improve patient travel arrangements between the islands.

Mr MacNeil has been contacted by Barra’s main care provider, Cobhair Bharraigh, who have informed him of a patient’s 41 hour return journey to an appointment in Stornoway which took 10 minutes, versus the 28 hours it might take to travel to and from Glasgow.

Mr MacNeil is calling on NHS Western Isles, Comhairle nan Eilean Siar and the Scottish Government to improve the travel arrangements for patients between Barra, Uist and Stornoway, to allow patients to get to hospital appointments in a timely and decent manner.

Mr MacNeil: “Over the last number of years we’ve seen a degradation in the transport system in the Hebrides meaning it is now easier to go to Edinburgh or London or even Brussels faster than it is to go from one end of the Hebrides to the other.

“At the moment, people have unacceptably long journeys, of ferries, overnight stays and then a flight to get to Stornoway, then all day to wait to get a flight back with the hope it is not delayed so there is another overnight stay before getting home.

“For now, the fastest way to get to Stornoway from Barra is via Glasgow. Unfortunately, the difficulty there is that Loganair have been selling PSO seats to day-trippers which fills up the planes. Therefore, action has to be taken, either flying via Glasgow to get to Stornoway or instead using Glasgow hospitals to avoid the difficult journeys patients have had as highlighted by Barra’s Care organisation in a letter to members of parliament, the Comhairle and NHS Western Isles.”

MP demands urgent action from Home Office on Passport applications

Na h-Eileanan an Iar SNP MP Angus MacNeil has written to the UK Home Office calling for urgent action to resolve passport application delays.

Mr MacNeil has been contacted by constituents who have been waiting beyond the advised 10-week period to receive their new passports.

He said: “I have written to the Home Office to stress the need to urgently improve the system to process people’s passport applications in a timely manner.

“People are unable to get through to the Passport Office on the phone and are left in limbo as to whether they will be able to travel.

“Delays in processing applications leads to unnecessary stress and anxiety to those planning long awaited travel.”

Isles MP delighted to meet with Ukrainian family

Na h-Eileanan an Iar SNP MP, Angus MacNeil has today met with a family who fled war-torn Ukraine to come to the Isle of Lewis. 

Derek and Nataliya Macleod from the West Side of Lewis contacted Mr MacNeil for help in arranging for family to get out of Ukraine following Russia’s invasion.

Mr MacNeil and constituency office staff had weeks of frantic dealings with the Home Office, who bizarrely insist that people who have been caught up in the conflict must go through the visa application process before coming to Scotland.  After many weeks and angry exchanges with the Home Office they are finally safe with family on Lewis.

Commenting Angus MacNeil MP said:

“Derek and Nataliya Macleod were anxiously trying to get their family out of Ukraine to come and live with them in their home on the West Side of Lewis.

“The grim policies of the UK Government insisting upon visa applications which involved an immense amount of paperwork and added enormous stress to what was already a traumatic time.  This was in stark contrast to EU countries which showed compassion and waived the need for visas.

“This has probably been one of the most challenging cases I have dealt with and I can only begin to imagine how stressful a time this was for Derek, Nataliya and family.  Nataliya told me that she lost kilograms in weight and didn’t sleep well for weeks because of the extra stress to get them to safety.

“Today I was very pleased to meet with the family.  As MP for the islands, I conveyed my delight and that of everyone who has spoken about it, that the family have made their way to safety.  There was a funny moment, when one thought my face was familiar, later she realised that she had seen me asking questions in the House of Commons for Ukrainian people to come to Scotland, which she said she had seen broadcast on Ukrainian TV before she left.

“It was a moving and happy moment when the youngest of the family, 6-year-old Nataliia gave me a poster she had made as a thank you which I will put on the wall in my office.

Commenting Derek Macleod said:

“I would just like to say, on behalf of myself and my wife’s Ukrainian family, the biggest thank you to Angus MacNeil MP and Constituency Office staff, we are so grateful for their help to get to the island safely.

“The Home Office said that there was a visa application centre in Warsaw that we could walk into and do the biometrics and application but that wasn’t quite true and we were going to have to wait till the 22nd to be seen. Then we were told we could go to Ireland to do biometrics there, however Dublin was very busy as it was St Patrick’s Day and the rugby was on, making finding a hotel an issue. 

“It turned out that the UK Visa Centre in Dublin were unable to take our biometrics and we had to apply again for the 4th time in order to just register the passports on the application, luckily most of this work was done in Angus MacNeil’s Constituency Office in Stornoway which helped a lot.

“The hoops we had to jump through was very expensive, in travel and hotels, and it was traumatic for our whole party.

“I truly hope I never have to go through that ever again. It took me over 2 weeks to get a proper sleep.  I was imagining vivid scenes of possible deportation and disappointment, I was terrified of failing these people and having to say I’m sorry, I lied to you when I said I was taking you to safety. 

“We had to go through 4 different countries over 4 days and take disappointment after disappointment to get them finally here, God only knows how we got here. My mother is the greatest person in the world in my book, and knowing she was praying for me every minute of the day, kept me thinking we were going to be okay.

“When you are in a situation where everything goes wrong, but somehow you managed to get through it even shocking yourself that you managed to get them here. It was like that but on steroids.

“We are now sitting in the sun breathing Hebridean air celebrating May Holiday together.  Life for them is truly better and we say thank you, thank you, thank you.”

ENDS

Levies on cancelled ferry bookings are not the answer, says Isles MP

Na h-Eileanan an Iar SNP MP Angus MacNeil is calling on CalMac to rethink plans to introduce levies on cancelled ferry bookings.

CalMac are considering introducing levies on booking cancellations which could mean deduction of 100% of the total vehicle fare if cancelled less than 24 hours in advance.

The level of deduction would reduce if cancelled with a longer time scale.

Mr MacNeil does not think levies are the answer at a time of increased household costs and at a time when the ferry network is regularly unreliable.

The impact of levies on constituents who are employed offshore and often must change travel plans at short notice should also be considered.

Mr MacNeil has urged CalMac to abandon this idea: “I have many concerns about this. Plans change for a myriad of reasons – such as one CalMac boat being late for another, even a flat tyre or a flat battery in a car – adding red tape hassle is the last thing we need.

“I do not believe that people should have to absorb these additional costs if they need to cancel a booking and particularly at a time when the cost of living is increasing.  I highlighted the impact this would have on oil workers suggesting that oil workers are considered under exemptions. 

“I have further pointed out to CalMac that if they do this, then customers should also be reimbursed if a sailing is cancelled as we cannot have the company using its power against the passenger.  However, the extra hassle, work and resources for passengers and the company, makes all this a bad idea.

“There are far better ways of achieving demand management and I have again called on CalMac to look into introducing booking windows which could be done in such a way that 70% of the car deck would be released up to a month in advance, 20% up to a week in advance and the last 10% released on the week of sailing.  There is no need for a new contract to bring in this change either, in my view it could be done tomorrow.

“I understand from CalMac that the exemption list is examples and that they are going to speak to the community groups to discuss these proposals.  My short message to them is to save the hassle and scrap the idea.”

Sovereign wealth fund’s interest in inter-island tunnels is a ‘transformative step’ says Isles MP 

Inter-island fixed link tunnels could become a reality, says Isles MP Angus MacNeil after very positive discussions with a sovereign wealth fund from the Middle East. 

Mr MacNeil, who is Chair of the House of Commons International Trade Committee, met with the Mubadala group of Abu Dhabi this week, and the issue of ferry replacement inter-island tunnels was raised. 

Mr MacNeil informed the group that the Scottish Government were consulting on inter-island tunnels and received an instantly positive response. 

He said: “They mentioned they were aware there was plenty of opportunities in Scotland in offshore wind and when I told them the Scottish Government was also consulting on inter-island tunnels, they showed immediate interest. 

 “The deputy chief executive Waleed Al Mokarrab Al Muhairi said ‘that’s it, we are going to Scotland’.”

MacNeil said the project could follow the Faroese model, where ferry replacement tunnels up to 10km long linking islands are paid and financed by pension funds in Canada and sovereign wealth funds elsewhere. 

He said that as the tunnels would be a replacement for inter-island ferries, they would have fares in the way that ferries do and pointed out that the tunnels in the Faroes were already paying themselves off, with one paid off in 12 years instead of the expected 25. The Faroes are now building their fourth tunnel which is almost complete.

 He added: “The tunnels could be priced over 25 years and would be cheaper than the ferries are at the moment, plus they are available all the time regardless of the weather. 

“If there was a return on the investment, the finance would come and if the tunnels were priced over 25 years they would be cheaper than building and maintaining ferries.” 

Mr MacNeil has pressed for many years for the potential of tunnels to the islands to be looked at.  In 2019, he worked directly with Norwegian consultant Norconsult over the feasibility of the project which suggested a tunnel between Harris and Skye as the best option with a possible additional inter-island link between Harris and North Uist. 

MacNeil said tunnels were a serious option for the islands as a means of reducing reliance on the ferry network and making savings in the long term. 

Isles MP welcomes start of Scotland’s new Adult Disability benefit

Na h-Eileanan an Iar SNP MP Angus MacNeil has welcomed the start of Scotland’s new Adult Disability Payment which is being piloted in three areas including the Western Isles.

The scheme is open to applications from those aged between 16 and state pension age who are disabled, have a long-term health condition, or have a terminal illness.

This is the twelfth benefit to be introduced by the Scottish Government, with seven of these benefits being brand new forms of support that are not available elsewhere in the UK.

Mr MacNeil said: “The introduction of this benefit which will replace the system currently delivered by the UK Government’s Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).

“We know that applying for disability benefits through the DWP has often been a stressful experience. I hope that this new system will make the process much more straightforward and will remove some of the degrading examinations which were carried out previously, such as asking a person to ‘touch their toes’.

“Adult Disability Payment is there to support people to live well and provide security at the most difficult of times. I would encourage those who think they could be eligible to check and apply.”

Adult Disability Payment will be administered through Social Security Scotland and will replace Personal Independence Payment, which is currently delivered by the Department for Work and Pensions.

People with ongoing awards of Personal Independence Payment and Disability Living Allowance do not need to make an application for Adult Disability Payment. Their awards will transfer to the Scottish social security system automatically from this summer.

For details of eligibility and how to apply please visit: https://www.mygov.scot/browse/benefits/adult-disability-payment

Isles MP – Electricity Transmission charges set to Change for Green Energy

Isles MP – Electricity Transmission charges set to Change for Green Energy

Na h-Eileanan an Iar SNP MP, Angus MacNeil has met with Kwasi Kwarteng, Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) along with representatives from Scottish and Southern Energy (SSE) and Ofgem in a bid to resolve the grossly unfair transmission costs (TNUoS) in the North of Scotland.

Currently, it costs on average about 46p per megawatt hour (MWh) to transmit electricity from the European Union into the UK energy market, but the cost is £6.42 for Scotland in general and £7.36 for the north of Scotland, which is a staggering 16 times more than sending energy from Germany, France or the Netherlands into the UK market.  The UK uses an artificial method of setting charges for electricity generation on the power lines called TNUoS, (Transmission Network Use of System) to pay for the grid costs but perversely it pays out money in parts of the UK to try to generate energy where the wind doesn’t blow as well as Scotland.

Commenting Angus MacNeil MP said:

“After arranging a meeting some weeks ago with BEIS Secretary of State, Kwasi Kwarteng, to get everyone round the table, especially the UK Government and Ofgem on electricity transmission charges, I was heartened by the robust and business-like approach from Mr Kwarteng, who felt something must get done about the “TNUoS” charges, that the dilly-dallying has been going on for far too long and that things will change.  

“Clearly things have to change when the costs of transmitting a MWh is 46p from the European Union into the UK market but £6.42 for Scotland and £7.36 for the Highlands and Islands, which is bad for renewable energy production.

“Indeed, only yesterday the International Panel on Climate Change is again calling on the need for more green energy to save the planet, but the current Ofgem charging structure adds costs unnecessarily in Scotland and as a result has meant less green electricity generation – this has to change.

“Renewable projects have been hampered or stopped because of the need to pay excessive transmission charges which has stopped clean green electricity being generated, the presence of the Stornoway Trust, at the meeting helped illustrate this.  The UK Government says that it has to finance the transmission network in some way, but in some places they are giving subsidies, actually giving money away from the transmission network, to generate.  Whilst in the north and west of Scotland, where the energy wind resource is best, it is prohibitively expensive to produce energy.  

“Bizarrely the UK has created a system that favours EU generators of any type of energy, over Scottish green generators. On average it is 16 times cheaper to send electricity from the independent countries of Europe into the UK market than from the north of Scotland.  The 30-year-old TNUoS system is out of date and not fit for purpose.

“Energy could be produced in the Scottish Islands at the moment that could be equivalent to the 10% electricity that the UK is importing daily from the European Union.  Transmission charges hamper this.

“We have a chance to change things now.  We can see that being reliant on energy from elsewhere, as we are seeing at this time of war in Europe, is not the wisest of policies.  Policy change here could bring about more energy production from the abundant wind that we have in the north and west coast of Scotland.

“At a time when we need energy and there is free renewable wind energy available and if we change this bureaucracy, then we will have more clean, green energy being produced.  If the UK is going to meet the 2050 net zero targets or if Europe & the World is going to meet these targets, then the use of clean, green energy should be encouraged and not blocked by Ofgem’s TNUoS system.  This system is 30 years old, out of date and designed for the production of energy being near centres of population which was fine when coal was being burned for electricity decades ago, unfortunately for the bureaucracy of Ofgem’s TNUoS, the wind blows where it will, and that is not usually near centres of population.

“I hope that Ofgem, BEIS, SSE and myself can continue to work on this to crack this issue, so that in the end Scottish energy has the same chance of access to the UK energy market as that produced in the European Union.”

ENDS

Take a meter reading TODAY, urges Isles MP 

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Isles MP Angus MacNeil is urging households across the islands to take and submit energy meter readings TODAY ahead of the price rises from tomorrow (Friday).

At a time when household budgets are already stretched due to rising fuel costs, Mr MacNeil says constituents should log meter readings with their energy firm, either online or by phone, to ensure they are not charged for energy usage before April 1st at the new rate based on estimates.

Ofgem will raise the price cap by 54% tomorrow (Friday).

Mr MacNeil said: “If you do not do a meter reading, then your energy firm will estimate what proportion of your usage was before April 1st and what proportion of usage was after that date.  

“I would encourage all households across the Western Isles to submit readings today to ensure you get the current cheaper rates for all the energy used up till April 1st.”

Take and submit a meter reading TODAY

Isles MP pushes UK Government to act on domestic fuel prices

Na h-Eileanan an Iar SNP MP Angus MacNeil today pressed the UK Government to take immediate action to help those who are facing spiralling fuel costs, particularly those with central heating oil and other off-grid fuels.

In the House of Commons this morning, Mr MacNeil raised the issue with the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, Kwasi Kwarteng, and was offered a meeting on the specific difficulties facing island communities.

Mr MacNeil said: “I pointed out that this UK Government has borrowed and printed loads of cash that has been gathered by the already wealthy, millionaires and billionaires who have done best in the bank bailouts.

“It is about time the UK Government did something about those in fuel poverty, in particular who already find themselves nowhere near gas mains and have to use the most expensive types of fuel to heat their homes – central heating oil or stored gas or liquid gas.

“The inequality in the UK has meant that an energy spike means crisis for a lot of people.

“The Secretary of State offered to meet me on this issue and I will be taking him up on this meeting.”