Isles MP commends Prospect union for easing industrial action due to the election

Na h-Eileanan an Iar SNP MP Angus MacNeil has praised Prospect union for easing industrial action this week to enable ballot boxes to be moved between islands after the polling stations have closed on Thursday.

Mr MacNeil said: “Prospect and Air Traffic Control members in both Benbecula and Stornoway, and other places, are very justified in trying to protect their jobs and making sure jobs are not taken from these fragile communities to be bizarrely put into a central location in Inverness at a far greater cost.

“We would hope that, once elected, the new Scottish Government would be understanding to the needs of the islands and make sure that we don’t lose these jobs in our communities.

“They need to get a grip of the wayward elements within HIAL who have been disregarding island legislation and the good of island communities in their attempt to spend even more public money – a sum of £2m each and every year –  because they refuse to entertain the prospect of doing what they say they need to do, locally.

If they costed this, they would find it would save them and the public purse a lot more money and wouldn’t be damaging our island communities.

“I hope any new or continuing Transport Minister will be up to the game of catching HIAL and protecting the communities.”

MacNeil and Murray astonished at “jaw-dropping” Transport Scotland HIAL letter 

Na h-Eileanan an Iar SNP MP Angus MacNeil & Western Isles SNP Council Group Leader, Gordon Murray, has expressed astonishment at the fact that not all options have been considered and costed for HIAL managing air traffic control at island airports. Especially against a background where political parties have policies, schemes and ideas to maintain the population in Scotland’s vulnerable communities. HIAL seem hell bent on not just taking some jobs out of these communities, but just about the best paid jobs out of these communities.

The revelation came in a letter from Transport Scotland after Mr MacNeil had queried better value for money options that would deliver what HIAL claimed they need to deliver.  These options could prevent relocating jobs and uprooting families to Inverness but maintaining island communities in line with government policy and with better value for money for the public purse. Astonishingly HIAL did not calculate the costs for these options.

Commenting Angus MacNeil MP said:

“At a time when public budgets are pressed like never before, to get a letter from Transport Scotland reiterating that the ATMS project is not a cost saving exercise is frankly jaw-dropping. 

“The letter states “The ATMS project is not a cost saving exercise” and further states that “Costings were not calculated for all options.” This much I know to be true as there are two cheaper options than empire building in Inverness and if HIAL manage to hoodwink Scottish Government Ministers, then each and every year £2 million will be needlessly wasted from the Scottish Government’s budget and jobs will be removed from the islands, cancelling out any other government spend to further help people remain in our island communities. 

“Between the Scottish Government and Audit Scotland, somebody has to rapidly get a grip about what is going on and remove the uncertainty that is hanging over too many islanders jobs at the moment. The hoodwinking of the Government must end.” 

Commenting SNP Council Leader, Cllr Gordon Murray, said: 

“HIAL need to review their decision in terms of the huge impact this will have on the islands – the people of these islands are ambitious and are our greatest resource, it’s time public agencies such as HIAL acknowledged this. 

“By retaining these jobs on the islands, HIAL will be making an investment with far-reaching positive consequences for communities than if it were to continue its plans. HIAL need to be a part of the transformational change these islands need and this is their opportunity.”   

ENDS

MP reiterates his repeated calls for the use of MV Pentalina

Na h-Eileanan an Iar SNP MP Angus MacNeil has repeated his numerous calls for MV Pentalina to be used on West coast routes.

Mr MacNeil has pressed many times over the last three months for the vessel to be trialled, prior to the current difficulties with MV Loch Seaforth.

He is also questioning the role of Caledonian Maritime Assets Limited (CMAL), a wholly owned public corporation of the Scottish Government, which owns the ferries, ports, harbours and infrastructure for the ferry services on the west coast.

Mr MacNeil said: “Quite clearly the MV Pentalina is now a boat that will have to become a feature on the West coast as I have been saying for quite a number of months now, and calling for a trial even before the latest difficulties with the MV Loch Seaforth.

“In my dealings around the ferry issues, I really have to question what the point is of CMAL other than to complicate and to put in an extra layer that is definitely not required. I don’t think it was ever required and it certainly isn’t required now. The Scottish Government should look to save money and abolish CMAL perhaps. This money could be used for the outright purchase of MV Pentalina.”

Mr MacNeil has written several times to Transport Scotland on the potential use of MV Pentalina and has been in correspondence with Calmac on this matter as well as regular dialogue with local businesses and constituents who have raised concerns directly with him.

In response to his correspondence, Transport Scotland have now asked Calmac to include the use of MV Pentalina in the dry dock review and in response to further correspondence from Mr MacNeil, Calmac have said the vessel may be deployed as short term relief in the winter.

MacNeil renews call for trial of MV Pentalina

Angus MacNeil has today repeated the call for the trial of the MV Pentalina given the news that the MV Loch Seaforth is suspended until at least the end of April.

Na h-Eileanan an Iar SNP MP Angus MacNeil said:

“Given the breakdown of the MV Loch Seaforth and the challenges we will again face on the west coast of Scotland on the CalMac ferry routes it is imperative that the MV Pentalina is tested and trialled to see if it is a viable ferry for use on the routes.

“We would be in a hugely dire situation now if another ferry broke down. The current situation is bad enough but to know there is a ferry sitting idly by is frustrating. Between the Government, Transport Scotland and CMAL the decision has not been made to trial the MV Pentalina to see what it can do, it is very frustrating indeed.

“Now is the time for action. I would call on the Transport Minister, Michael Matheson, to urgently intervene to make sure that the Pentalina is brought into the equation.”

ENDS

MP urges UK Gov to retain EGNOS membership to protect island air services

Angus MacNeil, SNP MP for Na-Eileanan an Iar has written an urgent letter to the UK Government regarding the decision to withdraw from membership of the European Geostationary Navigation Overlay Service (EGNOS) – an outcome of Brexit which may impact island air services.

Mr MacNeil says the decision to withdraw from the EGNOS satellite system at the end of June, due to the UK’s departure from the EU, is a hugely retrograde step and will impact directly on the dependability of air services to the islands.

It would also leave the UK as the only G20 country without any satellite-based aviation navigation capability.

Mr MacNeil has had contact with Loganair who have deep concerns about the impact of this decision on service reliability and safety.

In a letter to Kwasi Kwarteng, Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, Mr MacNeil stated his support for the UK to retain membership to ensure that airports in Na h-Eileanan an Iar, and elsewhere, can continue to operate.

He said: “The airports in my constituency provide a vital service bringing mail and cargo to the islands as well as facilitating transportation of patients for medical emergencies and appointments as well as facilitating search and rescue operations. During the pandemic, the service provided by our airports was critical in transporting Covid-19 patients and tests.”

He continued stating that Loganair had shared with him their concerns about safety on lifeline services without membership of EGNOS, outlining that precision satellite-based navigation allows them to operate safely in weather conditions where traditional ground-based navigational aids do not.

He said: “This is incredibly worrying, especially as Loganair have developed satellite-based navigation capability using the Twin Otter planes into Barra Airport, as well as other airports in Scotland, and have re-equipped aircraft and retrained pilots.

“The decision to leave EGNOS means that the UK will be the only G20 country without any satellite-based aviation navigation capability. This would be a hugely retrograde step which could result in cancellation of these lifeline services.”

MV Pentalina should be trialled now says Isles MP

MV Pentalina should be trialled for use now rather than waiting to be possible relief in the winter period, says Na h-Eileanan an Iar SNP MP Angus MacNeil.

Mr MacNeil has been in constant contact with Transport Scotland and Caledonian MacBrayne suggesting the use of the MV Pentalina to ease the strain on the ageing and limited fleet serving the Western Isles.

In response to his correspondence, Transport Scotland has now agreed to ask CalMac to look specifically at the feasibility of using this vessel on the Clyde and Hebrides Ferry Service network.

CalMac, in correspondence with Mr MacNeil, say they are currently undertaking the 2021/22 overhaul programme including the use of relief vessels with the aim of resolving some of the weather reliability concerns across the most exposed routes.

They say that the deployment of MV Pentalina for short term relief for Winter 2021/22 as well as 2022/23 will be discussed if operational challenges can be overcome.

The broader review for Winter 2022/23 will commence afterwards.

Mr MacNeil said: “It is good that Transport Scotland are moving to this position where MV Pentalina is being discussed and looked at.

“I think we now just need to know which ports it can go in and out of, which are the ports where there are little bits of learning to be done.

“It is best for this to be done in a non-pressurised situation. Maybe a trial soon for a week or two down the West Coast of Scotland visiting various ports might be useful and instructive.”

ISLANDS MP AND MSP WELCOME PRIVATE PCR AND ANTIGEN TESTING IN STORNOWAY STORE

The Boots store in Stornoway is to introduce instore PCR testing from April. By doing testing in the morning and using the Royal Mail 24-hour delivery service they will be able to get samples to the laboratory within the required period for a 48-hour response. 

In addition, the store will also be receiving one of the new instore testing devices in the first week of April. This machine undertakes rapid antigen testing and can give results within minutes for customers. 

This follows representations that Na h-Eileanan an Iar SNP MSP Alasdair Allan and MP Angus MacNeil have made to health retailers to address the lack of private testing in the islands. 

Angus MacNeil MP commented: 

“I was delighted to hear from Boots today that they will be introducing PCR testing in Stornoway from April. This is something which I had been discussing with them for some time. 

“I worked with local offshore workers to provide Boots with a long list of firms who employ workers from the islands and they are now looking to engage with those firms regarding the new instore testing devices. 

“This is very positive news and will overcome one of the challenges which has faced those in employment away from their island homes during the pandemic.”  

Alasdair Allan MSP commented: 

“This is really good news from Boots and I am grateful for them in taking the islands situation into account in their rollout of testing stations. 

“As the pandemic has gone on and countries have introduced testing requirements at their borders this has presented real problems for those who work abroad or at sea. 

“I hope that this new facility in the Stornoway store will help ensure that those islanders working away will be able to spend more time with their loved ones when on leave.” 

MacNeil comments on HIAL industrial action

Commenting on the escalation of Air Traffic Control Industrial Action, Na h-Eileanan an Iar SNP MP Angus MacNeil said:

“These strikes should not be happening, HIAL have got to change their view. 

“The idea that you take jobs out of islands and put them into cities, out of the most fragile and into the most prosperous is completely wrong.  That an arm of the Scottish Government is doing this is doubly wrong.

“This proposal should be abandoned now, and people can go back to living their lives normally without threats from having to relocate from fragile island communities to the big cities of Scotland.”

ENDS

Isles MP asks Transport Scotland to think again about trialling MV Pentalina for the West Coast

Na h-Eileanan an Iar SNP MP Angus MacNeil asks Transport Scotland to think again about trialling MV Pentalina on the West Coast.

In response to his letter of February 22nd to Transport Minister Michael Matheson – which was responded to by Transport Scotland – it was stated that there were no immediate plans to charter an additional vessel but that the matter would be kept under review.

Mr MacNeil said: “It is time for Transport Scotland to think again and to trial MV Pentalina in the ports and crossings on the West Coast.

“We know there are huge pressures on the ferries on the West Coast given the debacle around the yard on the Clyde.

“Meantime, the most pressing issue is to get the MV Pentalina trialled on the West Coast and the sooner this happens the better.

“Calmac would, I think, like to use the MV Pentalina but they’ve got many layers of bureaucracy to get through, not least CMAL and Transport Scotland.

“Perhaps the MV Pentalina should be officially requested by CalMac for trial and see where that takes us.”

MP urges constituents to check if they are eligible for Pension Credit

Na h-Eileanan an Iar SNP MP Angus MacNeil is calling on constituents to check if they are eligible for Pension Credit and not to miss out on a vital financial boost.

Mr MacNeil is supporting the campaign by the charity Independent Age calling on the UK Government to create an action plan to increase the uptake of Pension Credit.

He said: “I would urge constituents to check whether they are eligible for Pension Credit because statistics show that many who are eligible are not claiming it.

“Only 63% of those eligible are currently claiming it so please ensure you do not miss out on support which is available to you.”

Pension Credit, a benefit designed to keep the least well-off pensioners out of poverty, is currently being received by just six in 10 (63%) of those who should be receiving it.

New research from the Centre for Research in Social Policy at Loughborough University, commissioned and published by Independent Age, has found that the low take-up is creating significant knock-on effects for the NHS and social care, costing taxpayers an estimated £4 billion per year.

This bill to the taxpayer is significantly higher than the annual cost of giving pensioners up to £1.8 billion to which they are entitled but are not receiving. 

Those missing out on Pension Credit are also more likely to need social care – whether residential or home-based – which incurs additional costs to the state of between £66 million and £189 million per year.           

The report concluded that if Pension Credit take-up was lifted from 61% to 100%, then almost 450,000 pensioners could be lifted out of poverty, reducing pensioner poverty to its lowest ever level, and resulting in substantial savings to the NHS and social care systems over the long term.

Independent Age is calling for the Government to put in place an ambitious, publicly available action plan detailing how it will work to increase the uptake of Pension Credit over the next five years.

Claim online or call 0800 99 1234.

https://www.gov.uk/pension-credit/how-to-claim

ENDS