Allan and MacNeil take part in Uig triangle meeting

Na h-Eileanan an Iar SNP MP Angus MacNeil and MSP Alasdair Allan earlier today met with Minister for Transport, Jenny Gilruth MSP, along with CalMac, CMAL, Comhairle nan Eilean Siar and representatives of the Ferries Community Board to raise their concern about the present disruption to the routes served by MV Hebrides.

On Tuesday, a fault with MV Hebrides’ CO2 firefighting system caused her withdrawal from her routes to Harris and North Uist. Sailings on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday were cancelled, with MV Isle of Mull repositioning today to operate services between Uig, Tarbert and Lochmaddy from Friday 5 August.

It is currently anticipated that MV Hebrides will be back in service on Sunday 7 August.

Commenting, Angus MacNeil MP said:

“Clearly, at a time when the islands are making money in the summer with the ferries, this is a terrible time for them to breakdown. RET was set up to increase the economic activity on the islands, when the boats are not sailing, the effects are acutely felt. I think everyone is gobsmacked that the same system affects the same boat in a matter of days.

“We can all feel the frustration of the effects of ferries breaking down.

“I am encouraged that the Scottish Government are trying to source an extra vessel that can be on standby when a vessel breaks down which many of us have urged them to do.”

Commenting, Alasdair Allan MSP said:

“I am grateful to the Minister for organising today’s meeting and for the update on the situation.

“I made clear the overwhelming sense of frustration of affected communities. I appreciate the uniqueness of the situation CalMac faces in having a firefighting system repaired and cleared by the MCA, only to see the same issue reoccur days later. However, that’s of no solace to the communities that have seen their vessel taken out of service for the fifth time this year. It’s ultimately islanders and island businesses and that pay the price of these large scale disruptions.

“The Minister agreed to look at whether a compensation scheme can be created from the financial penalties Transport Scotland receives from CalMac as a result of sailings which do not go ahead. I was also pleased to hear the Scottish Government’s recognition of the need for the Uig Triangle to be served by two vessels to ensure adequate resilience.

”However, the meeting left CalMac and Transport Scotland in no doubt that the current situation is unendurable.”

UK FUEL PRICE CUT ONE OF THE LOWEST IN EUROPE

According to research from the motoring group the RAC, the UK government has given some of the least generous support in Europe and Isles MP, Angus MacNeil is once again urging the UK Government to take action.

Germany has taken the equivalent of 25p a litre in tax off per litre of petrol, Italy 21p, Portugal 16p, and both Ireland and the Netherlands had cut duty by nearly 15p.

In March, Mr MacNeil had written to the then UK Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, to increase the Rural Fuel Rebate from 5p a litre to 10p a litre, however this request was woefully brushed aside.  The Rural Fuel Rebate was introduced in 2012 after many years of heavy lobbying by Mr MacNeil and others.

Commenting Mr MacNeil said:

“The cost-of-living crisis continues to hurt families and businesses and this research from the RAC shows the pitiful response from the UK Government.

“As the Tories continue with infighting, people are struggling to make ends meet.

“Scotland could do so much better, the UK continues to harm Scotland and only independence can bring about change that we see in other independent European countries.”

ENDS

Visa delay for NHS worker ‘totally unacceptable’ says Isles MP 

Na h-Eileanan an Iar SNP MP Angus MacNeil has expressed extreme frustration at Home Office delays in processing Visa applications which leads to stress and uncertainty for applicants. 

Mr MacNeil has been contacted by an island resident, who is employed by the NHS, and who applied for a Visa more than 5 months ago. Despite numerous attempts to move it forward, the case remains in limbo due to ongoing ‘technical issues’ in the system. 

Mr MacNeil said: “The ongoing delays are completely unacceptable and are causing immense stress to people. The Home Office are giving no clear indication of when things will progress.  It is especially bad that the legion of Home Office debacles is now affecting the NHS in Scotland.  

 “One of the excuses floating around from the Home Office is that they spent so much manpower on Ukrainian Visas that they are behind in other work.  However, if the Secretary of State, Priti Patel, had not been obstinate on the needless work forUkrainian Visas, the knock-on situations might not be as bad.  Remember the rest of Europe was sensible about Ukrainian refugees and visas, it was only the UK who demanded paperwork.   

“The Home Office apologised for the delay in this case and stated that they hoped to resolve this matter as soon as possible. I have remained in contact with the Home Office pressing the urgency of this application and it is unbelievable that they have again today stated that the technical issue has still not been resolved and are unable to give any indication of when it will be resolved. 

“I will continue to press the Home Office. It is bad enough that people’s holidays are being affected by their leadership but when it spreads to possibly affecting our health services, urgent changes are needed.” 

Angus Brendan MacNeil MP welcomes Co-op’s plan to tackle inequality and promote opportunity across Scotland

Angus Brendan MacNeil MP has welcomed a plan set out by the Co-op to create new opportunities and tackle inequalities across Scotland.

The Co-op has been working with the Purpose Coalition, founded by former Education Secretary Justine Greening, to produce their own Levelling Up Action Plan. The plan puts the work of the Co-op under a microscope, and makes independent and challenging recommendations on where the organisation can go further.

Recommendations include a new Co-op scheme to make it easier for new recruits to move from education to employment through targeted work experience placements, covering costs for work experience, and targeted mentoring and training. The organisation will also become a gold standard for pay gap tracking, introducing it across socio-economic, ethnicity, gender and disability reporting

In Na h-Eileanan an Iar, there are two Co-op food stores, and two Co-op Funeralcare Homes. In 2021 the Co-op’s Local Community Fund provided more than £20m of funding to a range of community organisations. In Na h-Eileanan an Iar, £76,779.40 in funding was received by local groups including Western Isles Community Care Forum, Barra Lifeboat Station and Tagsa Uibhist Horticulture Project.

The local MP attended an event in the House of Commons to mark the launch of the report, and to meet with Co-op members who are working to deliver help and support to those in need. Attendees included volunteers who run Community Fridges with help and support from the Co-op, redistributing food which would otherwise go to waste, alongside other good causes supported by the Co-op.

Angus Brendan MacNeil MP, Member of Parliament for Na h-Eileanan an Iar said “Equality is the founding value of the Co-op. I am delighted to welcome this plan set out by the Co-op to tackle inequality and promote opportunity – as we recover from the legacy of COVID-19 and face the challenge of the rising cost of living, that has never been more important.”

Founded in 1844, the Co-op is one of the oldest of three million cooperative organisations worldwide. With more than 4.2 million active members, it has a presence in almost every local community. With 2p in every £1 of member spending going towards good causes, the Co-op was the truly first purpose-led organisation. It champions a better way of doing business for individuals and communities through its products and services which aim to create value in its broadest sense.

Shirine Khoury-Haq, Co-op Group CEO said: “It is vital that business and government work in partnership to unlock the talent that exists everywhere. We must ensure everyone, whatever their background, has the opportunity to succeed in a way that is right for them. I’m delighted

that the impact the Co-op is already having in communities has been recognised in this report but we also know there is much more the Co-op, and other businesses, should do.

I want the Co-op to be part of a movement for change and a catalyst for that change. That’s why we’re delighted to be working with This is Purpose, to lead by example and show how purpose-led businesses can pave the way. I’m pleased to announce that the Co-op will join the new ‘Equality of Opportunity Coalition’ and we’ve already started work to explore what we can do to promote socio-economic diversity within the Co-op. We commit to share our insight and next steps in early 2023.”

Rt Hon Justine Greening, Chair of the Purpose Coalition said: “The Co-op is at the heart of local communities, and its deep knowledge of those it serves means they can truly help promote opportunity and tackle inequality. Our report sets out how the organisation can go even further to help tackle the challenges facing people today.”

Delay with interconnector disappointing, says Isles MP

Na h-Eileanan an Iar SNP MP, Angus MacNeil has today spoken with SSEN’s Head of Corporate Affairs Transmission, Greg Clarke, to raise concerns about delays with the construction of the interconnector.  This follows the publication of the ‘Pathway to 2030’ which confirms the requirement for a new 1.8GW HVDC link from the Western Isles.  As a result, the 600MW cable has been overtaken by events.

SSEN has said that the link now required from a National Grid strategy paper will be a 1.8GW link.  As a result, Ofgem will not sign off a 600MW cable when a 3 times bigger cable but at only twice the cost, has become the political wish to meet climate targets sufficient to accommodate all known onshore and offshore wind in and around the Western Isles.   This will replace the previous proposals for a 600MW HVDC link. 

SSEN have told Mr MacNeil that they will now explore opportunities to accelerate investment for this new link in advance of its current 2030 delivery date.

Commenting Angus MacNeil MP said:

“I have spoken with SSEN who tell me that the link is going to be three times larger than was originally envisaged between Arnish and the mainland.  The cable will be around 1.8GW of carrying capacity as opposed to 600MW and the cost will be about 1.2bn, although the cable is 3 times bigger, it is only double the cost.  The downside is that it may well have a three-year delay.  However, SSEN assure me that they are going to try to push this date back to get nearer to 2027 when it was originally envisaged to build the interconnector between Lewis and the mainland.

“This is all part of the UK Government’s reinforcement which is required to meet targets for 2030 and net zero in the National Grid’s support of ‘Pathway to 2030’.

“SSEN tell me that they are confident that Ofgem will approve this 1.8GW cable despite the difficulties earlier with the 600MW cable because the political situation and the case around this has changed.  SSEN also tell me that if they went ahead with the 600MW cable for 2027, Ofgem simply wouldn’t sign it off now and it would be inevitably delayed.  They feel that the best approach is to go with the 1.8GW, which is what the UK Government now suddenly want, and to try and push that forward using some of the work they have done in preparing for a 600MW cable.

“Ultimately, SSEN say there could be a delay with the cable, but it will be a far better product.

“Furthermore, on the connection charges which are excessively high to the North of Scotland (about 13 times what you would pay from the European Union into the UK grid)  there is a working group in Ofgem looking at this and separately will continue to pursue this to help the case for energy production and not excessive charging hitting the North of Scotland.

“Finally, I would be happier if there wasn’t a further delay.”

ENDS

Isles MP welcomes positive steps towards IndyRef2

Na h-Eileanan an Iar SNP MP Angus MacNeil has warmly welcomed the statement from First Minister Nicola Sturgeon yesterday proposing a Referendum on Scottish Independence in October 2023.

The First Minister says there is an “indisputable” mandate for another vote after a majority of independence-supporting MSPs were returned in last year’s Holyrood elections.

Nicola Sturgeon has proposed October 19, 2023, as the date for the referendum and has confirmed this would use the same question as in 2014 – Should Scotland be an independent country?

Commenting Mr MacNeil said: “Scotland has a fantastic chance now to leave the madhouse that is Boris’s UK. Things are getting worse for Brexit UK all the time and when we compare Scotland with comparative countries, we see that these independent comparative countries have greater fairness; greater social mobility; less gaps between rich and poor; and generally, a better standard of living for their citizens. In Scotland we are no worse than these countries and in fact we have a lot of natural resources physical and of course in the minds of our people as one of the most educated populations in Europe.

“We have nothing to fear but fear itself and anybody making a rational decision would make the decision for independence. It is time to act rationally for yourselves, your communities and for your descendants.”

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