Isles MP supports last minute strive to retain Universal Credit uplift

Na h-Eileanan an Iar SNP MP Angus MacNeil this week backed a Parliamentary Motion to cancel the £20 a week cut to Universal Credit – a change that will directly affect more than 1500 island residents.

In an Opposition Day debate in the Houses of Parliament, Mr MacNeil voted along with his SNP colleagues and other parties, while Conservative members abstained.

The results of the vote are non-binding and so the UK Government will now proceed to end the £20 a week uplift which has been a lifeline to 400 families with over 700 children in the Western Isles during the pandemic.

Mr MacNeil has written to the Chancellor the Exchequer Rishi Sunak urging a rethink and is due to meet with Western Isles Citizens Advice Service (WICAS) later this month to discuss this situation further.

He stated: “It is disappointing that although the motion to prevent the end of the Universal Credit uplift was backed, it will not prevent the UK Government from going ahead with the cut.

“Ending the uplift will effectively mean a pay cut for low paid workers and some of the poorest families and vulnerable children are about to have household income slashed.

“I will continue to press the UK Government to rethink and make the uplift permanent to prevent more families being plunged into poverty.”

MacNeil responds to positive signals from HIAL and Prospect

With news breaking that HIAL and Prospect are seemingly reaching a position of agreement, although quite what the detail is, the mood music seems positive from all sides.

Na h-Eileanan an Iar MP Angus B MacNeil commented:

“For the first time in a very long time, it is good to see some positive news emerging over the issue of the ATMS project and the retention of island jobs. We can only hope that this ultimately means the Government gets to save £2 million each and every year and that jobs remain within Scotland’s island groups; vital, important and well paid jobs.

“It is great to see HIAL and Prospect coming together to work for the good of the area and try to find a common position. This is definitely a move in the right direction and people are now cautiously optimistic that the right outcome will happen, namely the retention of these jobs in our islands.”

MP urges UK Government to retain Universal Credit uplift

Na h-Eileanan an Iar SNP MP Angus MacNeil is appealing to the UK Government to retain the £20 a week uplift to Universal Credit.

The plan remains to end this uplift which has been a lifeline to more than 1,500 people in the Western Isles who have been claiming Universal Credit throughout the pandemic.

Figures from Child Poverty Action Scotland (CPAG) state that the total figure includes more than 400 families and over 700 children.

Mr MacNeil is due to meet with Western Isles Citizens Advice Service (WICAS) later this month to discuss this situation further.

In a letter to the Chancellor of the Exchequer Riki Sunak MP, Mr MacNeil said: “This uplift has been a lifeline for millions of families including many of my constituents in Na h-Eileanan an Iar.

“Ending the uplift will effectively mean a pay cut for low paid workers and some of the poorest families and vulnerable children are about to have household income slashed.

“On behalf of my constituents, I am urging the UK Government to maintain the uplift to Universal Credit and ensure that families on legacy benefits are no longer excluded. By making the uplift permanent, we could prevent many people from being plunged into poverty.”

The SNP have repeatedly called on the UK to make the uplift to Universal Credit and Working Tax Credits permanent and to extend an equivalent uplift to people claiming legacy benefits such as Employment and Support Allowance and Jobseekers Allowance.

The UK Government confirmed the uplift to Universal Credit will be withdrawn at the end of September, just as the furlough scheme ends, and the OBR expects UK unemployment levels to peak.

Pause now and rethink on Barra Hub, says Isles MP

The proposed Barra & Vatersay Community Campus project has been put into further question. An update from Comhairle nan Eilean Siar highlights the difficulties the project now faces, with it being reassessed to look at options to make the delivery affordable.

Commenting Angus MacNeil MP said:

“It is very concerning to hear the Comhairle talk of the risks to the project arising from challenges with the impact of COVID-19 restrictions, along with the effects of Brexit.

“The availability and cost of key construction materials and concerns over the availability of supply chain subcontractors mean that there is a significant increase in costs, and they are looking at how they can prune the project.  The current proposal to demolish the school before any construction cannot now be allowed to happen, particularly considering the risks of pandemic flareups and further time delays.

“Perhaps this is an opportunity to take stock and have real community engagement.  We saw over the summer with the popular online petitions from young locals, Eoghan Macleod and Aaron MacArthur that a lot of people have many reservations about this project.

“I think even the Scottish Government must be having questions over this project as it is now almost four months since I wrote to John Swinney MSP, Deputy First Minister on this matter and I have yet to receive a response.  Such is the difficulty of the proposals. 

“Up to now expenditure on this project has been on pen and paperwork, no costs have been incurred on demolition or construction.  Now that this project is being reassessed perhaps it is time for the Comhairle and others to go back to the drawing board and have proper community engagement rather than imposition – by fully and properly involving the people, particularly as St Brendan’s Care Home/Hospital has been a pressing need for years now.  The wrong project could be millions of pounds of damaging wrongness.”

ENDS

Isles MP welcomes islands reconnection to mainland electricity network

Na h-Eileanan an Iar MP Angus MacNeil has welcomed the completion of the project to replace the subsea electricity cable between Skye and Harris.

The £28 million project has now reconnected Lewis and Harris to the mainland electricity network.

For the last 10 months, Lewis and Harris have been relying entirely on the Power Stations in Stornoway and local wind farms have been unable to export energy.

Angus MacNeil MP said: “I would like to commend the SSEN teams for completing this large-scale, complex project on time and ensuring that the islands are reconnected to the mainland electricity network.

“I would also like to commend the teams at Battery Point and Arnish Power Stations which have been at full-duty operation to maintain a safe, secure and reliable supply of electricity to keep our island homes and businesses connected.

“I am also pleased to hear that plans are moving forward on strategic subsea investment projects in the islands including an upgrade to the circuit between Skye and Uist, and also the proposed 600MW HVDC transmission link to the islands.”

MP speaks directly to Defence Secretary on Linda Norgrove Foundation workers in Afghanistan

Angus MacNeil MP for Na h-Eileanan an Iar spoke directly with Secretary of State for Defence Ben Wallace MP yesterday (Wednesday) regarding the plight of Linda Norgrove Foundation staff who are currently still in Afghanistan.

Mr MacNeil has been in regular contact with the Norgrove family who live on the Isle of Lewis and are currently trying to secure safe evacuation of their two employees and one family connected with them, including a husband and a baby.

The current situation is that Mr MacNeil has relayed all details directly to the Defence Minister in a meeting and all details have also been sent to the Home Office.

The situation at Kabul Airport and also on travel on the roads remains extremely precarious.

Mr MacNeil said: “I have relayed the details of the Linda Norgrove Foundation staff directly to the Secretary of State for Defence. This is an extremely volatile situation that is changing rapidly.”

The charity Nowzad, which has membership locally, have also called on Mr MacNeil for assistance in ensuring workers can safely leave Afghanistan. Visas have now been secured and a cargo plane is on standby, yet there are now difficulties arising in getting to the airport. This situation is rapidly changing and Mr MacNeil had contacted the Home Office and has now be redirected to the Ministry of Defence.

Isles MP welcomes Transport Minister’s timely visit to the islands

Isles MP Angus MacNeil welcomes Transport Minister Graham Dey as he visits the islands this week and hopes he will engage closely on the key transport problems facing the islands at this time.

  • The loss of HIAL Air Traffic Control jobs in the islands
  • Ferry construction and the current booking system

Speaking ahead of Mr Dey’s arrival, Mr MacNeil said: “It is good that the Minister is coming to visit the islands as he gets to know this part of Scotland.

“Obviously the number one issue of the moment for many is the likelihood of the Government losing £2m each and every year from HIAL moving jobs to Inverness.

“Hopefully the new agreement with the SNP and the Greens gives the space for the Government to reassess whether needlessly wasting £2m each and every year and removing about £1m in wages from the island economies from the Hebrides to Shetland, is the best value for money.

“This is also a time when we need to be pressing on with ferry construction and look to yards that can do this.

“It is also an opportunity for the Minister to hear about booking windows, or indeed to look at devolving power over when parts of the car deck are released on ferry bookings to the islands.

“We should release about 70% in the beginning, about 20% a month before a sailing, a further 8-9% about a week before the sailing and then on the last day the final 1 or 2%.  This would give the variety of travellers – whether leisure, business or emergency – the possibility of moving backwards and forwards.

“I hope the Minister is in a listening mode and also the Scottish Government is in a mode to devolve things such as booking windows to island councils, who could set the structures in conjunction with Calmac as to how we could better use the ferries so that everyone has access and no one is resented for booking early on for a justifiable holiday.”

Isles MP strives to secure safe passage for charity workers leaving Afghanistan

Na h-Eileanan an Iar MP Angus MacNeil has been in constant contact with the Home Office over the last week regarding the evacuation of charity workers – who are associated with his constituency – from Afghanistan.

The Linda Norgrove Foundation, run by John and Lorna Norgrove who live on the Isle of Lewis, is currently trying to secure the safe evacuation of their two employees and one family connected with them, including a husband and a baby.

The current situation is that all details have been relayed to the Home Office by multiple emails, phone calls, and various other channels; and it is now a waiting game to see if evacuation can be secured.

The charity Nowzad, which has membership locally, have also called on Mr MacNeil for assistance in ensuring workers can safely leave Afghanistan. Visas have now been secured and a cargo plane is on standby, yet there are now issues arising with the Ministry of Defence (MoD) allowing flight entry.

Mr MacNeil said: “It is important that the Linda Norgrove Foundation get their two employees and the one family connected with them – a husband and a baby – out of Afghanistan.

“They have helped with the aims of the Foundation and the UK Government will, I hope, be cognisant of that.

“Certainly, it’s a stress for the Foundation and for the rest of us trying to get the UK Government to move people in this chaos.  It still isn’t clear whether it’s an aircraft issue or a bureaucratic issue or simply the terrible attitude that the UK Government has towards migrants and that is the root of the problem.

“Regardless, this should be about people’s lives and these people should be assisted in getting out of Afghanistan.”

Mr MacNeil has already added his name to a cross-party letter to the Home Secretary, Priti Patel, urging the UK Government to play its full part in providing a compassionate and responsible response to those seeking safety from Afghanistan. Mr MacNeil is pleased to hear that Comhairle nan Eilean Siar is involved in the scheme to provide refuge for families from Afghanistan and may welcome some families in the future.

Mr MacNeil has been contacted by a large number of constituents expressing huge concerns for the people of Afghanistan and also for British nationals and their families working in Afghanistan as the Taliban takeover continues and will continue to relay those specific concerns to the UK Government.

Mr MacNeil has also written to the Home Secretary and the Foreign Office specifically on the issues raised with him by constituents.

Isles MP urges UK Gov to play its part in support for the people of Afghanistan

Na h-Eileanan an Iar SNP MP Angus MacNeil has today (Tuesday) added his name to a cross-party letter to the Home Secretary, Priti Patel, urging the UK Government to play its full part in providing a compassionate and responsible response to those seeking safety from Afghanistan.

Mr MacNeil has been contacted by a large number of constituents expressing huge concerns for the people of Afghanistan and also for British nationals and their families working in Afghanistan as the Taliban takeover continues.

Mr MacNeil has also written to the Home Secretary and the Foreign Office specifically on the issues raised with him by constituents.

He stressed that the UK must do all it can to support the people of Afghanistan.

He said: “If military intervention is required, it should be done under the UN banner or a coalition of nations including those in that area. It should not be just Western intervention again.

“We’ve got a serious responsibility towards refugees, to those from Afghanistan and those that are here just now seeking asylum.  We should be preparing for more refugees and also see if we can help Afghans displaced into other countries because of this.

“We also have to learn lessons from exactly what has happened here.  The intervention 20 years ago was without any great plan and this withdrawal is also without any great plan.

“This is a rapidly changing situation and we have to make sure that Afghans are being supported as best we can.”

New benefit is open for applications from island residents

Na h-Eileanan an Iar SNP MP Angus MacNeil is highlighting the launch of a new benefit which is now open for applications from island residents as part of a pilot scheme started by the Scottish Government.

Applicants in Na h-Eileanan an Iar who are looking after a child or young person with mobility or care needs as a result of a disability, or who has a terminal illness, should apply to Social Security Scotland for Child Disability Payment, rather than to the UK Government’s Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) for Disability Living Allowance for Children.

The pilot will be followed by a full national roll-out across Scotland later this year.

This is the first application-based disability benefit to be introduced by the Scottish Government. 

Children and young people who currently receive Disability Living Allowance for children from the Department for Work and Pensions do not need to apply for Child Disability Payment. The transfer of Disability Living Allowance for cases will take place this Autumn. This will include moving the case from the Department for Work and Pensions to Social Security Scotland and replacing the Disability Living Allowance for children award with Child Disability Payment. Clients who have their benefits transferred will receive the same rates and components of Child Disability Payment they received in Disability Living Allowance and will be paid on the same schedule. 

For more information, contact Social Security Scotland by phone on 0800 182 2222 or visit mygov.scot