UK Government contact Ofgem after MP’s push for interconnector

Senior Government officials have relayed concerns raised by Isles MP Angus MacNeil to the energy regulator Ofgem ahead of the final decision on the Western Isles interconnector.

Mr MacNeil is calling on Ofgem to do what is best for the environment, the consumer and the economy and approve the Needs Case for the construction of a 600MW link to the islands.

This comes after Ofgem said they were minded to favour a 450MW option despite revealing in a letter to Mr MacNeil that the 600MW option would cost the consumer just 4p extra per year.

Mr MacNeil said: “The UK Government have set an ambitious target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to almost zero by 2050 and releasing the full renewables potential of the Hebrides by constructing an adequate link will help towards that aim.

“I raised this with Business Secretary Greg Clark MP in Parliament recently who said he would ensure this was brought up with Ofgem. This week I received a letter from the Minister for Energy and Clean Growth, Chris Skidmore MP to confirm that this had been done. I hope Ofgem will listen and make the right decision later this summer.”

The letter from Mr Skidmore stated: “Clearly any decision on the Western Isles transmission link is important to you and your community and senior officials in my Department have made Ofgem fully aware of your concerns.”

Mr MacNeil has campaigned for the 600MW option to be taken forward for many years as have colleagues in the Scottish Government and Comhairle nan Eilean Siar.

He has repeatedly raised this directly with Ofgem and the UK Government.

600MW option would cost consumers just 4p more per year compared to the 450MW option.

Further Frustration for Island ferry passengers

Angus MacNeil MP calls on Calmac to save island Weddingmv-isle-of-lewis-castlebay-2

Angus MacNeil MP has again been in touch with Calmac this morning regarding the unacceptable situation of the cancellation of all sailings between Oban and Castlebay on Friday and Saturday due to a technical fault with the MV Isle of Lewis.

Angus MacNeil said “It came to our attention late last night that the   Friday and Saturday sailings between Oban and Castlebay were to be cancelled in their entirety leaving Barra with no connections.

There is a big wedding on the Island this weekend so clearly this situation is not acceptable. It is very important that the MV Isle of Mull can serve Barra on Friday to get the wedding party and band to the island.  There are a lot of people coming to the wedding over and above the normal and very important tourist and business connections at this particularly busy time of year.

The best solution would be to deploy the MV Isle of Mull on the Barra run, and I know that Calmac are actively working on this and are looking for crew to enable this to happen. So I would appeal to all involved at Calmac to do their best to get a sailing from Oban to Castlebay today.

For Saturday, deploying the MV Lord of the Isles to run to Barra during the day has also been suggested locally as another possible solution.  This makes sense as sailing to Islands must be prioritised rather than sailing to ports that can be and are connected by road.

Calmac are working to resolve this issue but Island frustration is evidently huge given the time of year and the various pressures that people are feeling. Particularly for those involved in the Island wedding time is critical.”

 

 

Isles MP calls on Deputy Prime Minster to announce Islands Deal

Na h-Eileanan an Iar SNP Angus MacNeil MP extends a welcome to Deputy Prime Minister David Lidington MP for his visit to the Hebrides today and expresses a hope that he will finally announce an Islands Deal – as he did for Moray today.

Mr MacNeil said:

“I welcome Mr Lidington’s visit to the islands.  I know he has announced a deal for Moray and I hope that during his visit today he will make an announcement on the Islands Deal.

“A lot of people have been working very hard on ensuring continued progress with the Islands Deal and now with this visit from the Deputy Prime Minister, David Lidington, surely he will be using his visit to the islands to deliver the Islands Deal.”

ENDS

MP calls for action on crew crisis during Maritime Safety Week

Maritime Safety Week is an ideal time for the UK Government to finally act on the crew shortage crisis facing the West Coast fishing fleet which is a key safety issue, said Na h-Eileanan an Iar SNP MP Angus MacNeil.

At a roundtable parliamentary meeting with Maritime Minister Nusrat Ghani MP last week (July 3), Mr MacNeil said ensuring access to a skilled crew was paramount to safety at sea and urged the UK Government to allow skippers to recruit crew from outside the European Economic Area (EEA) as they did in the past.

Currently many boats are tied up due to a lack of suitable crew meaning loss of earnings and a knock on effect on local economies.

Mr MacNeil said: “The additional funding and safety equipment for the fishing industry announced by the Minister at the meeting is very welcome and will help to save lives at sea.

“Having access to trained skilled crew is also paramount to the safe operations of any vessel.

“Crew shortages have meant remaining crews may have to work longer hours to keep vessels profitable. Preventing skippers from accessing non EU Nationals creates a disadvantage compared to more offshore vessels.

“The UK Government can do something about this quite easily as they have done for the horticulture sector by allowing non-EEA labour as part of a pilot scheme.

“There is a united voice on this from the Scottish Government, Comhairle nan Eilean Siar and the Western Isles Fisherman’s Association and it is about time that the UK Government listened.

“Maritime Safety Week would be the ideal time to finally do something about the crew shortage crisis.”

The Maritime Minister announced an additional £700,000 for training and safety equipment on fishing boats.

This is on top of an existing £250,000 pot, which is matched by the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund.

The Department for Transport will also work with Seafish Industry Authority to deliver more than 500 personal floatation devices fitted with locator beacons, worth a total of £250,000, to help find people who have fallen overboard – the most common reason for fatalities at sea.

Last year there were six fishing fatalities, either through people falling overboard or due to issues affecting the stability of vessels.

Isles MP meets with Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s husband

Isles MP Angus Brendan MacNeil this afternoon met with Richard Ratcliffe, husband of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe who is currently imprisoned in Iran.  In 2016, Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe was wrongfully imprisoned in Iran for five years after being convicted of spying, which she denies. 

Commenting Angus MacNeil said:

“’This is a heart-breaking situation, many of us will have seen the news reports about the imprisonment of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe.  Nazanin is on hunger strike in an Iranian prison and her husband Richard is supporting her by also going without food outside the Iranian Embassy in London.

“I have been contacted by many constituents who are seeking justice for Nazanin and I was today able to meet with Richard outside the Iranian Embassy in London and pass on my constituent’s messages of support.

ENDS.

Flexibility required to assist slaughterhouse

Isles MP Angus Brendan MacNeil is calling on the Scottish Government to ease the regulatory burden imposed on small scale slaughterhouses.

Mr MacNeil has been contacted by the owner of Lochmaddy Slaughterhouse, Mr Roddy John Morrison, who is overwhelmed at the level of regulations imposed on his business, which he is considering closing.

Commenting Angus MacNeil said:

“Unless a solution can be found, this small slaughterhouse is at risk of closure on 1st July due to the high volume of inspections, audits and paperwork required. Lochmaddy Slaughterhouse is valuable to the crofting community and it is extremely concerning that this facility may close.

“Of course, we all appreciate the need for checks in order to ensure food safety but there must be a level of flexibility for small businesses. 

“We cannot be left in the situation of not having a slaughterhouse in Uist and I am calling on the Scottish Government to assist and find a workable solution.”

ENDS

Changes to booking systems would improve access to lifeline services, says Isles MP

Na h-Eileanan an Iar MP Angus MacNeil has written to Transport Minister Michael Matheson MSP asking him to act and bring changes to the booking system to address capacity issues on air services – as his colleague Islands Minister Paul Wheelhouse MSP has indicated he will do for ferries.

Mr MacNeil has suggested the introduction of different time windows to the booking system of lifeline air and ferry services which would allow a percentage of seats/deckspace to be retained for booking within a shorter window of 2-4 weeks during peak times.  Mr Wheelhouse has already confirmed in a letter to Mr MacNeil that he will look at options for addressing shorter notice bookings on the ferries.

There is now only one day in June and four days in July when flights are available from Glasgow to Barra. Barra to Glasgow has minimal availability for the rest of June and August seats are also filling up fast in both directions.

Mr MacNeil said: “The response from Mr Matheson in a letter to me on May 15th regarding the lifeline Barra air service was that we are locked into this pattern of effectively no summer access at short notice for businesses, locals and the bereaved until 2023 because the contract has gone out to tender.

“This is not realistic for any island and the community of Barra is clearly going to be adversely affected if this continues.

“I am proposing a solution and I am pleased that Paul Wheelhouse has already stated in a letter to me that he will act on addressing the issue of access to ferries at short notice which is needed in Stornoway, Tarbert, Lochmaddy, Lochboisdale and Castlebay.

“We also need an active response on the air service, not a passive one, and I hope Mr Matheson will respond positively to this plan of action.

“If the train service between Edinburgh and Glasgow was booked up months in advance as the flight is from Barra to Glasgow, and as are some ferry services, I’m sure the Scottish Government would face strong calls to do something about it and would indeed respond.”

Business Secretary to follow up MP’s concerns on interconnector

Business Secretary Greg Clark MP has agreed to look at concerns raised by Isles MP Angus MacNeil regarding the position of Ofgem on plans for an interconnector for the Hebrides.

Speaking in the House of Commons in response to today’s announcement of a new Government plan to tackle climate change, Mr MacNeil said approval of the 600MW interconnector would help to achieve the goal of cutting greenhouse gas emissions to almost zero by 2050.

Mr MacNeil said: “A practical step to help cut greenhouse gas emissions would be building a 600MW interconnector to the Hebrides, rather than a 450MW interconnector.

“Given the statement today, will he make sure that Ofgem can see the bigger picture and give the 600MW interconnector the green light.

“If Ofgem keep the current blinkered formula, it won’t be 650MW, it won’t be 450MW but will be net MW zero as a result of their policies.”

In response Mr Clark said he would follow up on Mr MacNeil’s concerns regarding Ofgem’s position.

He also recalled his visit to Stornoway during which he had had discussions with Mr MacNeil on plans to make it possible for ‘Remote islands’ to benefit from wind energy.

Earlier this year Ofgem stated their minded-to position was to favour a 450MW interconnector rather than a 600MW connection. They are currently considering a final decision on the Needs Case following a further consultation.

Angus MacNeil MP pledges support for advancing MS research

Isles MP Angus MacNeil has shown his support for investment in MS research, after visiting an exhibition by the MS Society in Parliament this week.

Representing a constituency which has one of the highest rates of MS in the world, Mr MacNeil is always keen to support the work of the MS Society.

The exhibition, ‘Multiple Sclerosis – The Research Story’, gave parliamentarians the opportunity to hear from people living with MS and leading MS researchers around the UK. It featured personal objects from the MS community, representing what it’s like to live with the condition, alongside the latest developments in cutting-edge research.

One of the personal objects included was the 1970’s putter golfer Tony Johnstone used to win the Jersey Seniors Classic in 2008. After being diagnosed with MS in 1994, the sporting hero was told he’d never compete professionally again, but advances in research have enabled him to extend his career for another decade.

Angus MacNeil MP with representatives from the MS Society.

Mr MacNeil said: “I am delighted to have attended the MS Society’s parliamentary exhibit and see first-hand how close we are to stopping MS.

“MS is an unpredictable and challenging condition, which can be painful and exhausting. I want to see investment in this area of research continue to rise so everyone living with MS has access to effective treatments.”

Over the past 20 years MS research has led to major advances, including more than a dozen licensed treatments for people with the relapsing form of MS. But more investment is needed to find more, and better, treatments for everyone – including ones that can slow or stop MS from progressing.

Dr Susan Kohlhaas, Director of Research at the MS Society, said: “We’re really grateful Angus MacNeil MP has pledged support for our work. More than 100,000 people live with MS in the UK and many are still left without treatment options that slow or stop progression.  But we are at a turning point in MS research and the UK is at the forefront of this. We are closer than ever before to having treatments for everyone with MS, and stopping MS for good.

“This exhibition shined a light on the realities of living with MS and, importantly, how we plan to stop it. We hope the stories of people living with MS will encourage parliamentarians to recognise the need for more investment in MS research, get involved, and join us in our fight to stop MS.”

The MS Society is the UK’s leading not-for-profit funder of MS research and is currently supporting over 70 active projects worth more than £20 million. To find out more about the MS Society and the vital research it is funding visit www.mssociety.org.uk

‘Shameful’ plan to scrap free TV licence for over-75s

Over 3,000 island pensioners could face an additional household bill as the BBC confirms plans to scrap free TV licences for over-75s.

Isles MP Angus MacNeil has slammed the Tories for breaking another election promise and placing an added financial burden on pensioners.

Mr MacNeil said: “There are around 3,000 island residents who are over the age of 75 – just over 10 per cent of our islands population.

“They should continue to be exempt from paying for a TV licence and any effort to remove that and impose an additional household bill on older people is shameful.

“For many people TV is just welcome entertainment, but for others it is day to day company which helps combat loneliness and isolation.

“Together with my SNP colleagues at Westminster, I will raise this issue in the House of Commons at the earliest opportunity.”

The BBC plans to scrap blanket free licences for over-75s, only households with one person who receives pension credit will still be eligible.