MacNeil comments on Gove’s Island Forum

MacNeil comments on Gove’s Island Forum

It’s cash that is required not forums, says Na h-Eileanan an Iar SNP MP, Angus MacNeil, in response to Michael Gove’s proposal to have an Islands Forum.

Mr MacNeil has today received a letter from Michael Gove MP, Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities with information on the Islands Forum which will be used to discuss specific elements of the Levelling Up agenda.

Commenting Mr MacNeil said:

“Mr Gove is introducing an Islands Forum at a time when his Levelling Up Fund is delivering less than a third per year of what the European Rural Development Fund used to deliver.

“Before forums, we need the cash.  Levelling Up is clearly not doing what it should be doing, therefore, restore the money so any talking committee can have power.”

ENDS

Isles MP and Harris Councillor meet with Highland Council Leader over lengthy closure of Uig Harbour

Na h-Eileanan an Iar SNP MP Angus MacNeil and Harris Councillor Grant Fulton met with Leader of Highland Council, Raymond Bremner, on Friday to raise concerns about the lengthy closure of Uig Harbour.

Also at the meeting were Highland Council engineers to hear the concerns of the community and businesses about the impact of this closure.

Mr MacNeil said: “Work is already underway and money has already been committed to the project which leaves a difficult situation as the harbour will be unavailable for ferry use for a long time.

“It is quite staggering to hear how far down the line this project is with so much money already committed. The difficulty is that this is an already expensive project and delays make it even more so, that much was very apparent to myself and Cllr Fulton.

 “I do feel that there are other ways this project could have been done, perhaps building a new harbour around the current one, to the north and east of it might have been a solution. However, the project that is being undertaken has not left much room to manoeuvre at this stage. One of the issues which became apparent was that for floodworks or tramworks in Edinburgh a decade ago, there was room for compensation, for business loss. Perhaps the law should be changed in Scotland that harbour works that lead to business loss should result in compensation. 

“At this stage, there is no ideal situation for the six months of loss of Uig Harbour. It just goes to show the difficulties we have in all aspects of ferry connection and travel particularly as demand has grown in the last number of years.”

Cllr Grant Fulton said: “It was a constructive meeting with the Highland Council and various options were discussed regarding Uig and other alternative transport options. Further discussions are required with Transport Scotland and CMAL.”

Isles MP pleased Transport Minister is open to considering ferry booking-window options

Na h-Eileanan an Iar SNP MP Angus MacNeil has welcomed confirmation from the Transport Minister that the introduction of booking-windows will be considered on the Calmac network.

After months of pressure from Mr MacNeil on Calmac and the Scottish Government to act on this proposal, the Transport Minister has stated in a letter to him this week that she is open to considering options.

She accepted that the current policy of ‘first come, first served’ offers much more opportunity for those who are able to book further in advance.

In a letter to Mr MacNeil she stated: “The current booking policy of “first come, first served” clearly offers more opportunity for those who are able to book further in advance. I am open to considering options on this in the future and my officials are actively engaging with CFL, who are exploring potential options and impacts of booking windows.”

Ms Gilruth stated that the intention was to include a review of booking policy in the upcoming Islands Connectivity Plan, which will be subject to an Island Communities Impact Assessment.

Mr MacNeil said: “I am very glad to have confirmation from the Transport Minister that consideration will be given to introducing booking windows.

“I have suggested that, regardless of where people come from, there be a staggered release of space on car decks. 70% in the beginning, then 20% the month before and the last 10% in the week before the sailing. This gives different types of travellers, regardless of where people live, the ability to make these bookings. It gives businesses and people who need to travel at short notice or attend hospital, the hope of being able to travel.

“We cannot have a situation where the winter weather is blocking island travel and the success of summer island tourism is also blocking island travel. Given the rising demand over the last couple of years, the only way to achieve this is to introduce booking-windows.”

MacNeil slams Chancellor’s inaction on Rural Fuel Rebate

Cost of living not on Chancellor’s radar says Isles MP

Na h-Eileanan an Iar SNP MP Angus MacNeil has reacted with dismay that the Chancellor has no plans to increase the Rural Fuel Rebate.

Mr MacNeil wrote to Chancellor Rishi Sunak in March calling for an increase to the Rural Fuel Rebate and the response received from Helen Whately, Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury confirms that there are no plans to change the Rural Fuel Rebate.

The Rural Fuel Rebate was introduced in 2012 after many years of heavy lobbying by Mr MacNeil and others to take 5p off a litre of fuel in island and other rural locations.

Commenting Mr MacNeil said:

“As inflation hits 9.1%, the highest and fastest rate in 40 years, people are struggling to make ends meet as the cost of living continues to rise.  I had asked the Chancellor to increase the Rural Fuel Rebate from 5p a litre to 10p a litre, this request has been woefully brushed aside.

“In the UK we have a weak exchange rate which is increasing the cost of living.  It is worth noting that in the summer of 2008, the oil price was much higher in dollar terms than it is now but because the pound has fallen by 40% against the dollar, the price at the fuel pumps is approximately 50% higher than it was 15 years ago.

“Rather than taking action to help families, the Tories choose to make the rich richer.

“Scotland is an energy-rich country but sadly being in the UK we are not getting the benefits of our vast resources.  The UK is hampering and harming Scotland and only with independence can we get out of this mess.”

ENDS

There is a better way and Scotland cannot hesitate this time, says Isles MP

Na h-Eileanan an Iar SNP MP Angus MacNeil says there should be a Scottish independence referendum in the next year.

Speaking after First Minister Nicola Sturgeon’s launch of a fresh independence campaign today, Mr MacNeil said:

“Many people have told me that if it was known in 2014 of the Boris/ Brexit/ Westminster debacles that were to come, Scotland would have voted for independence and been in a much better situation now.

“Meanwhile we have the cost-of-living crisis, a clueless Chancellor and the money that was printed by the Bank of England to help the economy ending up in the hands of the already super-rich, making inequality worse.”

He continued: “We should, in the next year, have a referendum that will mean Scotland can choose and change its own government when Scotland chooses. This rather than having a Boris Johnson-type whom Scotland didn’t vote for or his Tory policies which are largely ignoring poverty or the increasing costs of living and even sending poor unfortunate refugees to Rwanda.

“There is a better way and Scotland cannot hesitate this time.  Similar and smaller neighbours in Denmark, Norway, Iceland, and Ireland prove we would have a better country if we were independent like them.   All there is to fear is fear itself, and of course the stream of negative scare stories in some daily newspapers – which I hope people are wise enough to see through.

“Had we chosen independence in 2014 we certainly wouldn’t be thinking of going back now – we would have instead felt very lucky we were clear of the ongoing Westminster debacles.”

The Scottish Government has today published its opening documents in support of independence.

The document titled ‘Independence in the Modern World; Wealthier, Happier, Fairer: Why Not Scotland?’ is the first of a series of documents due to be published.

Clarity must be provided on £400 energy bill grant eligibility, says Isles MP

Na h-Eileanan an Iar SNP MP Angus MacNeil has written to the Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak calling for clarity on how the £400 Energy Bills Grant will work, particularly for off-grid households.

Many island residents use heating oil and propane gas to heat their homes.

Mr MacNeil submitted a Written Question on this topic prior to the announcement of the grant. He has now written to the Chancellor for clarification on how constituents will receive this payment.

Mr MacNeil stated: “In response to this announcement from the Chancellor, I received a lot of queries from constituents who are frustrated by the lack of clarity provided by the UK Government.

“I have asked for detail on how this will work for those with off-grid oil and propane gas central heating.

“Everyone is feeling the acute impact of rising energy costs, regardless of how they access their energy, and it is only right and fair that all households are provided with this much needed support.”

Historic Environment Scotland must live up to their responsibilities on Kisimul Castle

Na h-Eileanan an Iar SNP MP, Angus Brendan MacNeil has called on Alex Paterson, Chief Executive of Historic Environment Scotland to come to Barra to explain to the community why their stewardship of Kisimul Castle has left the Castle closed this summer.

Kisimul Castle is the most historic Castle in the Hebrides and has been a popular visitor attraction for years.

Commenting, Mr MacNeil said:

“Historic Environment Scotland is not living up to their promises on Kisimul Castle.  The community feels let down and is quite angry at Historic Environment Scotland’s attitude toward Kisimul Castle.

“People travel from all over the world to see Kisimul Castle which is reputed to be almost 1,000 years old.  A Castle that is set in the sea with a freshwater well and is of historic importance to the Isle of Barra, the Clan MacNeil, and the wider Hebrides.

“Historic Environment Scotland is not working to keep the Castle as they should have when they leased the Castle from the late MacNeil of Barra for £1 a year and a bottle of whisky.  We expect so much better from Historic Environment Scotland and I feel that they can’t run away from the community.  They must come to Barra and discuss with people what their plans are.”

ENDS

 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.”