Isles MP says the case for Covid-19 testing of returning offshore workers grows in light of Aberdeen outbreak

The need for Covid-19 testing to be extended to returning offshore workers grows this week says Isles MP Angus MacNeil given the outbreak in Aberdeen City which is a key travel point for workers returning home to the islands.

Currently workers are routinely tested on their way out to work but not before their return.

Last month Mr MacNeil asked Secretary of State Matt Hancock what the UK Government could do to close the gap of testing workers, given that 80 per cent of Covid-19 cases are asymptomatic. He received a positive response that the UK Government would be willing to work with counterparts in the Scottish Government to test the hypothesis of Covid-19 positives coming off rigs. 

Mr MacNeil has written again to Scottish Minister for Health Jeanne Freeman MSP for further clarity on how the Scottish Government will take this further forward asking for specific detail on how this could be done without workers having to travel to testing centres before travelling home.

His suggestion is that test kits are used on rigs prior to workers departing.

He said: “Going to the North Sea, the best practice seems to be testing before people go on rigs but of course any tests can have people incubating and therefore testing negative for Covid-19.

“Surely the tests that are done going on the rigs should be followed up with tests going off the rig. If tests going off the rig are not needed, why are tests going on the rigs needed? Surely the commercial interest of the rigs isn’t paramount over community health and safety of the various communities the workers go back to?

“The Scottish and UK Governments really need to get a grip of this glaring hole in the Covid testing situation because of the diverse communities people come from to go together on an oil rig for a couple of weeks and then back home again. The cases in Aberdeen add to fears I have about the incompleteness of the testing approach at the moment.”

The outbreak in Aberdeen has led to 54 new positive cases and 191 contacts have been traced through test and trace systems.

Retain Air Traffic Control jobs in the islands, says Isles MP

Isles SNP MP Angus MacNeil is backing calls by Prospect union for air traffic control jobs to be retained in the islands.

He warns that centralising all services to Inverness with none in any of the island locations means Highlands and Islands Airports Ltd (HIAL) would in reality be ‘Inverness Airport groups’.

Prospect said this week that the loss of Air Traffic Control in island locations was the loss of jobs worth £1.5 million annually with a cumulative figure of £15m over ten years.

HIAL seeks to use a video feed and computer technology at Inverness to replace skilled air traffic controllers at Stornoway and Benbecula and other airports.

Mr MacNeil says no other autonomous island groups in the world would consider this option and suggests the possibility of centralising in the islands should be considered.

He said: “I back Prospect on this, these jobs are very important to the islands.  Any Scottish Government efforts in the islands will look lame after hollowing out such jobs and Government ministers need to get a grip and oversight of this damaging folly.

“As a thought experiment, imagine that a situation was going to come about where all the air traffic control jobs were to be moved out of Scotland to be put in some other country?  We’d soon see the folly of such action.

“There are no autonomous island groups in the world that would consider this happening to them, certainly not in the Channel Islands, the Isle of Man or the Faroe Islands, why is it happening to us and Orkney and Shetland?

“If they do want to centralise air traffic control, don’t centralise it around HIAL headquarters in Inverness, they should centralise in Benbecula or Stornoway or some other island, but actually  we need the jobs to be in all the islands.

“Perhaps it is really time that the Scottish Government looked at breaking up HIAL who are no longer the Islands airports groups but the Inverness Airport’s groups.”

Island Deal is good news, says Isles MP Angus MacNeil, but must be kept in context

Isles SNP MP Angus MacNeil welcomes the announcement from the UK Government of the Islands Growth Deal but says caution is needed as this does not dispel all the financial difficulties still facing the island economy.

An Islands Growth Deal of £50m has been announced by the UK Government after several years of negotiation and persistence by island politicians.

The £50m sum allocated by the UK Government will be match-funded by the Scottish Government. The Islands Deal is the latest in a series of growth deals awarded to cities and regions across Scotland and will benefit Na h-Eileanan an Iar, Orkney and Shetland.

Mr MacNeil says the deal is positive but is not likely to fill the gap left as an impact of leaving the EU.

He said: “While we welcome the money we should also be aware that for context, it is about £2.2m coming in to each island group on average per year for each of the 15 years.

“It is a small part of each council budget in the single digit percentages around the 2 to 3 per cent  but still it should provide a focus to do particular jobs which have been earmarked in our communities.

“We would hope that the money is transformative and if more is required that the Government who control the purse strings will not be found wanting when more resources are needed.”

‘Close the gap’ on testing mariners and offshore workers, says Isles MP

Isles MP Angus MacNeil is calling for Covid testing to be extended to include workers coming off ships and oil rigs.

Currently workers are routinely tested going out but are not tested on the return.

Mr MacNeil asked Secretary of State Matt Hancock what the UK Government could do to close this gap, given that 80 per cent of Covid cases are asymptomatic. He received a positive response that the UK Government would be willing to work with counterparts in the Scottish Government to test the hypothesis of Covid positives coming off rigs. 

He will now write to Scottish Minister for Health Jeanne Freeman MSP to take this further forward.

Mr MacNeil said: “This is now between Jeanne Freeman and Matt Hancock to take this forward together to work out the testing of people coming off oil rigs. Is it a Scottish or UK Gov responsibility or both? Also it could be interesting from the point of view of the virus, as everyone who goes on the rig should be negative when going on and if anyone emerges positive then it raises interesting questions which may aid the understanding of the virus.

He added: “One serious gap for many communities and workers returning from work as merchant mariners or oil rig workers, people are routinely tested going on to oil rigs but routinely are not tested coming off.

“I know of some oil rig workers who have tested positive, having taken tests for various reasons when they’ve come off. Therefore I asked if he would commit that returning mariners and especially those coming off oil rigs, are tested because we know there is a danger and a gap we’ve left open that unchecked people may be unwitting asymptomatic coronavirus carriers  I simply asked him to look into closing that gap.

“Matt Hancock responded at the despatch box indicating that he would look into working with his opposite number in the Scottish Government to test the hypothesis I proposed.”

Isles MP comments on UK Chancellor’s Summer Statement

Commenting on the Chancellor’s Summer Statement, Angus MacNeil SNP MP for Na h-Eileanan an Iar said:

“The Chancellor yesterday announced a range of measures in his statement to support the economic recovery, however, none of these go far enough. The Scottish Government called for an £80Bn stimulus package which has been ignored and the Chancellor’s statement falls short of what is required to support our economy.

“In May, I called on the UK Treasury to take account of the health policies of the devolved nations when considering the furlough scheme, the Chancellor’s decision to end this scheme will be devastating for many.  It is essential that the Treasury supports business as the financial impact of this pandemic will be felt for a long time.

“On Tuesday, I participated in a cross-party online meeting of the ExcludedUK All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) to stand up for the 3 million people in the UK who are being excluded from receiving financial support from the Treasury. It is good to see that over a quarter of MPs in the House of Commons, from all parties support this campaign. Therefore, it is shameful that today the Chancellor made no announcement on extending the duration of The Self-Employment Income Support Scheme (SEISS) or to extend support to the millions of people who are currently excluded from receiving any financial support.

“A VAT cut from 20% to 5% for tourism is good news and something I have long campaigned for, but six-months is not long enough as this will end mid-winter when tourism is generally quiet.

“Scotland should not be at the mercy of the Tories economic policies.  It is only with independence that Scotland will be able to make its own financial decisions.”

ENDS

Isles MP requests SSE release Seagreen plans for offshore wind farm

Angus Brendan MacNeil SNP MP has written to the Managing Director of SSE Renewables to share their plans for an offshore wind farm off the Fife Coast through their subsidiary Seagreen Ltd. 

Commenting Mr MacNeil said:

“It is in the public interest to know what promises were made by Seagreen Ltd to the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy that Seagreen would achieve as part of a successful bid for taxpayer funded Contracts for Difference (CfD). 

“It is only right that we know which parts of the contract SSE plan to place in Scotland, particularly at this difficult time economically. There are shovel ready projects and yards waiting to build wind farm jackets which would employ people in Arnish on Lewis and in Fife. We can’t have this work going overseas in the United Arab Emirates or China, when it is funded by Scottish taxpayers.

“It is important that SSE fully communicate their intentions on this so that they can be held accountable. They are a green energy company but is this only a veneer if they are acting unethically and ignoring the communities around them.” 

ENDS

Isles MP calls on UK Energy Minister to release offshore wind farm documents

Islands MP to ask UK Energy Minister to release the Seagreen Offshore Wind Farm Supply Chain Plan document from Seagreen Ltd, a subsidiary of Scottish and Southern Energy for their offshore wind farm off the Fife coast.

Na h-Eileanan an Iar SNP MP Angus MacNeil has been alerted to the fact that Scottish and Southern Energy through their subsidiary Seagreen may not be living up to promises made to get Contracts for Difference (CfD) when seeking UK government assistance for their offshore wind farm off the Fife coast. As a result Mr MacNeil is urgently writing to the Energy Minister, Kwasi Kwarteng, to ask if he will release the supply chain documents forthwith.

Commenting Mr MacNeil said:

“I am hoping to help the Energy Minister ensure promises are kept. It’s vitally important, time is of the essence, this report should be in the public domain to see what promises were made by Scottish and Southern Energy, when they were in the competition for the contracts for difference, to the UK government.

“Particularly prescient at this time, that there are shovel ready projects and yards waiting to build wind farm jackets which would employ people in Arnish on Lewis and in Fife. We can’t have this work going to yards in the United Arab Emirates with questionable work practices or indeed Chinese yards which are massively state subsidised, when all this is based on promises made by companies in Scotland to get tax payers money.

“It is therefore vitally important that the supply chain documents are provided so we can see what promises were made and so we can hold companies accountable to those promises. There is little kudos in producing green energy in a highly unethical manner and ignoring the communities on the door steps as you do this in the pursuit of a very naked profit while giving yourself the veneer of being green.”

ENDS

Background: In Seagreen’s 2018 Optimised Application they estimated a £79m GVA economic impact in Scotland for work on the foundations in the CAPEX phase, chapter 15 https://www.seagreenwindenergy.com/optimised-application-2018-document

Isles MP & MSP remember 51st Highland Division at St Valery 80 years on

The Gaelic inscription on the 51st Memorial, "La a 'Blair s'math n Cairdean (Friends are good on the day of battle)."
Gaelic inscription on the 51st Highland Division.
P. Ferguson Image: http://thepipesofwar.com/production-blog/?p=3827

Angus MacNeil MP and Alasdair Allan MSP for Na h-Eileanan an Iar have both laid motions, respectively, to the House of Commons and Scottish Parliament this week to remember the 80th anniversary on June 12th 1940 of the capture of 10,000 men of the 51st Highland Division taken prisoner near St Valery en Caux, 6 days after the Dunkirk evacuations. The 51st Highland Division were attached to French defence forces, facing the onslaught of the invading Germans.

Commenting Angus MacNeil said: 

“It is important that we remember those who tragically lost their lives when they were forced to surrender, after they had been left behind following Dunkirk, as they were fighting with the French at the time in defending the retreat from the Somme. Later, in 1941, 134 of the 219 returned escapees to Britain were from the 51st Highland Division, of this three men were Ballachullish who used Gaelic to confuse the Germans to convince them that they were from a part of the Soviet Union.

“The bravery and heroism of the soldiers is most notably captured in the memorial in St Valery en Caux “La a bhlair is math na cairdean” – “On the day of battle it is good to have friends/relations”. 

“A gripping account of events at St Valery, capture and captivity is given in the book by Donald John MacDonald of South Uist “Fo Sgail a Swastika” (Under the Shadow of the Swastika) and I would recommend it for anyone interested in further reading about the 51st Highland Division.”

Commenting Alasdair Allan said:

“While the anniversary of the evacuation of Allied soldiers from the beaches of Dunkirk draws significant national attention, what happened to members of the British Expeditionary Force who were left behind in France is less well known. 

“The soldiers of the 51st Highland Division, made up of men from the Western Isles, North and West Coast of Scotland, were charged with the task of recapturing a strategic position on the Somme after the rest of the Allied Forces had been evacuated. Under heavy bombardment, outflanked and greatly outnumbered by Rommel’s 7th Panzers, the 51st fought a retreat to the coastal town of St Valery where, when all hopes of evacuation faded, they were forced to surrender.

“Their story deserves much greater prominence. On the 80th anniversary of their capture, it is important that we remember the courage of 51st Highland Division, the sacrifice of the fallen, and the suffering endured by captured soldiers who would spend the next five years as prisoners of war.”

ENDS 

The full text of the motion in the House of Commons can be found here: https://edm.parliament.uk/early-day-motion/57083/80th-anniversary-of-51st-highland-division-at-st-valery 

The full text of the motion in the Scottish Parliament can be found here: https://www.parliament.scot/parliamentarybusiness/28877.aspx?SearchType=Advance&ReferenceNumbers=S5M-22025&ResultsPerPage=10

MacNeil calls for testing for returning seafarers and oil workers

Na h-Eileanan an Iar MP Angus Brendan MacNeil calls on NHS Western Isles to offer testing for Covid-19 to all returning seafarers and oil workers when they return from their period at sea.

Commenting Angus MacNeil said:

“I have emailed the Chief Executive of NHS Western Isles, Gordon Jamieson and Chairman Ian Burgess to ask them to use their available capacity to offer tests to oil workers and seafarers as standard on their return to the islands. 

“It would seem a sensible and responsible approach to make sure that no asymptomatic carriers are coming in. From soundings with oil workers and seafarers, as well as their families, there is great support for this. It would provide, not least, peace of mind but to ensure Covid-19 is kept at bay in our communities. We can clearly see what has happened in other countries nearby, to our north west with Faroes and Iceland where they have greater testing and greater success against Covid-19. 

“At the moment we have an opportunity to do likewise and to keep on top of this to be well prepared in case any second wave returns. I hope NHS Western Isles takes the opportunity to offer this, I am sure it would be welcomed by many of those returning home after working away for a period of weeks.”

ENDS

Isles MP issues reminder of Trace and Protect telephone number in Western Isles

Angus MacNeil MP is today reminding constituents of the new Test and Protect system which went live in the Western Isles last week. Anyone over the age of five who displays symptoms of coronavirus can now get tested by contacting a local telephone number and attending an appointment in Stornoway, Balivanich or Castlebay.

Mr MacNeil said

‘It is important in this phase of the pandemic, as lockdown is gradually eased, that anyone who thinks they may have symptoms of coronavirus comes forward for testing.

Anyone in the Western Isles with a new persistent cough, high temperature or loss or change in sense of smell or taste should phone 01851 601 151 to arrange a test. An online booking form is also available at: https://www.coronavirus.wi.nhs.scot/?page_id=2195)

‘This is particularly important for those who have recently travelled from their work as seamen, in the oil and gas industry or have been off the island for any other essential reason. Do not ignore symptoms which could put yourself, your family and other islanders at risk, also as many people are asymptomatic it could be argued that getting tested for even the slightest symptoms is a social good to family and community especially as there is testing capacity available.

‘Maintaining social distancing, washing hands and staying at home as much as possible are all important ways to prevent the spread of the virus.  If you have symptoms immediately self-isolating with your household and arranging a test is the best way of protecting everyone at this time.

ENDS