Test and Trace is key weapon in fight against spread in Isles communities

Test and trace remains the key weapon in the fight against the spread of Covid-19 in our communities, says Isles MP Angus Macneil and urges any constituent with symptoms to book a test.

With 17 confirmed cases in South Uist and Eriskay, Mr MacNeil has written to NHS Western Isles Chief Executive Gordon Jamieson and Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport Jeanne Freeman seeking detail on the testing programme and in particular the possibility of asymptomatic testing.

Currently 60 to 80 per cent of Covid carriers are asymptomatic and can unknowingly spread the virus.

Mr MacNeil welcomed the increase in testing figures in Na h-Eileanan an Iar which currently stands at 2886 but stressed that even those who return a negative test should ensure they proceed with isolation.

He drew attention to the successful programme of testing, quarantining and testing asymptomatics in the Faroe Islands where the virus has been repressed.

He said: “The Faroe Islands have twice beaten a Coronavirus outbreak through an aggressive programme of testing, quarantining and testing asymptomatics.

“I would suggest a similar level of testing around South Uist and Eriskay, not letting the 60-80 percent who will be asymptomatic carry on their business.

“If people suspect they have even the slightest symptoms, in smell or taste, to book a test because ultimately testing and finding the virus is the way we beat the virus.”

Mr MacNeil added that thoughts of all the communities of Na h-Eileanan an Iar are with those in South Uist and Eriskay affected by this outbreak. enum”:

Angus MacNeil MP writes to UK Government on Arnish Contracts

SNP MP Angus MacNeil, Na h-Eileanan an Iar has written to the Minister at Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS), Rt Hon Kwasi Kwarteng MP asking that procurement plans that the company SSE gave when securing the Contracts for Difference (CfD) to build an offshore windfarm be made public and enforced by the UK Government. The UK Government must release all of SSEs supply chain plans unredacted. We must know what SSE promised to get this contract for difference. Mr MacNeil has previously written to BEIS and tabled questions highlighting the need for Scottish yards to benefit from orders for developments in Scottish waters.

Angus MacNeil said

“It seems that when companies are looking for CfD contracts they put in a procurement plan to the UK Government, who are in charge of the process, to show how they will be bringing some spend to the area or to parts of the UK. It seems in this case that the Seagreen/SSE procurement plan, I have been told in the background, may well have been a work of fiction.

“In the first instance the UK Government should make this public- the UK gov must release all of SSEs supply chain plans unredacted. We must know what SSE promised to get this contract for difference.  

“Secondly they should be insisting that these jobs are in places like Arnish in Lewis and Methil in Fife and not off to the shoddy work practices of the UAE and the cheap labour of China who will be reliant on the UK Government subsidies while our yards are empty.

“I welcome the formation of Action for Arnish and assure them that just as I have in the past, I will continue to work with all who have the best interests of the yard and the workforce at heart.

“The UK Government cannot walk by on the other side and wash its hands. It is central to what is going on here and if it’s not going to play its role as referee then the likes of Seagreen /SSE will take the opportunity to be cowboys, unfortunately. This is not a time for them to be cowboys and is not a time for UK Government to play Pontius Pilate.

 “This contract must be looked at again or else the CfD’s removed from Seagreen by the UK Government.”  

Angus MacNeil said

“It seems that when companies are looking for CfD contracts they put in a procurement plan to the UK Government, who are in charge of the process, to show how they will be bringing some spend to the area or to parts of the UK. It seems in this case that the Seagreen/SSE procurement plan, I have been told in the background, may well have been a work of fiction.

“In the first instance the UK Government should make this public- the UK gov must release all of SSEs supply chain plans unredacted. We must know what SSE promised to get this contract for difference.  

“Secondly they should be insisting that these jobs are in places like Arnish in Lewis and Methil in Fife and not off to the shoddy work practices of the UAE and the cheap labour of China who will be reliant on the UK Government subsidies while our yards are empty.

“I welcome the formation of Action for Arnish and assure them that just as I have in the past, I will continue to work with all who have the best interests of the yard and the workforce at heart.

“The UK Government cannot walk by on the other side and wash its hands. It is central to what is going on here and if it’s not going to play its role as referee then the likes of Seagreen /SSE will take the opportunity to be cowboys, unfortunately. This is not a time for them to be cowboys and is not a time for UK Government to play Pontius Pilate.

 “This contract must be looked at again or else the CfD’s removed from Seagreen by the UK Government.”  

MP pushes for progress on substation upgrades as direct power supplies to Outer Hebrides

Na h-Eileanan an Iar SNP MP Angus MacNeil is pushing for progress in the renewal and upgrade programme for substations directly supplying power to the Outer Hebrides.

Mr MacNeil had discussions with energy supplier Scottish and Southern Energy (SSE) who have strong concerns that works to upgrade and renew substations at Broadford on the Isle of Skye and Quoich have been halted.

SSE outlined that the current substations were reaching the end of life and a lack of progress could lead to future problems as the only way of feeding the Outer Hebrides is through the Fort Augustus line which spurs though Skye and then on to the island groups.

In a letter to Ofgem, Mr MacNeil said: “These are substations that SSE are worried are at the end of their life and if they are not in use, the consequences for those of us at the end of the line would be difficult indeed.

“The only feed to the Outer Hebrides is from the Fort Augustus line passing through Skye which then spurs on to the island groups in the Outer Hebrides, one north to Lewis and Harris and one south to Uist and Barra.

“It is concerning that a risk which would certainly not be accepted in other industries such as aviation seems to be accepted within the energy networks.

“Further I would like to query concerns about the equipment at Sloy hydro power station.  The equipment and transformers there are reaching the end of their lives and if there was ever a black-start issue and Sloy being used to start up Peterhead, to have the possibility of those two being out at the same time seems an unnaturally high risk to take.”

Ofgem have acknowledged the letter from Mr MacNeil and he awaits a response.

Isles MP questions Secretary of State on food standards in future trade deal

There must be no compromise on food standards in any future trade deal with the EU, stated Isles SNP MP Angus MacNeil as he questioned the Secretary of State for International Trade in Parliament yesterday (Thursday).

Angus MacNeil MP asked Rt Hon Elizabeth Truss for clarification on an issue which is causing anxiety within the farming and crofting industry, escalated further by misrepresentation of the position of the National Farmers’ Union by the Scottish Tory Leader Douglas Ross.

Mr MacNeil said: “We are either facing a hard deal Brexit or a no deal Brexit and as result food and farming are taking on really greater importance.

“It’s an issue which has caused near meltdown for the new and already failing Tory leader in Scotland with the National Farmers’ Union giving them the yellow card for misleading and leaving farmers fuming.

“So I wonder will the Secretary of State take this opportunity to ease farmer’s anger and consumer’s anxiety and state categorically that there will be no trading of food standards or compromise of the high food’s standards that now go on supermarket shelves for any trade deal whatsoever.”

Rt Hon Truss replied: “I can absolutely give the Hon Gen that assurance and I would point out that NFU Scotland sit as part of our Trade and Agriculture Commission looking at future trade policy.”

Speaking afterwards Mr MacNeil said: “Brexit is of course a big threat to crofting, to markets and for crofters’ livestock.

“Another threat of course is the arrival on our shelves of food that doesn’t meet current standards and undercuts the high quality meats and other products and replaces our agricultural products with products that have been raised with growth hormones or greater use of antibiotics or a number of other practices in milk and elsewhere that we are not currently tolerating.

“As we strive for high quality in our food, the UK Government might be tempted to give this away such is the weakened position of their hand post Brexit in trade negotiations.”

https://parliamentlive.tv/Download/Index/41980722-5466-4fb7-bf0d-5cf5b4646e35

MP welcomes new treatment for CF patients

Na h-Eileanan an Iar MP Angus MacNeil has welcomed the approval of a new triple therapy treatment for cystic fibrosis patients.

Following an agreement between the Scottish Government, NHS Scotland and Vertix Pharmaceuticals, the drug Kaftrio will be made available for Cystic Fibrosis patients.

Kaftrio is a medicine that tackles the underlying causes of the disease by helping the lungs work more effectively.

Mr MacNeil said the availability of this drug was potentially transformational for cystic fibrosis patients.

He highlighted the charity The Leanne Fund which started in his constituency and offers support to those with Cystic Fibrosis and their families across the Highlands, Islands, Grampian and Tayside.

“This is extremely welcome news for those who live with Cystic Fibrosis and their families. This will benefit the majority of all CF patients and is a significant step forward. Patients in Scotland will be among the first in Europe to benefit and lead longer, healthier lives.

“The work of The Leanne Fund in my constituency and beyond is incredible and I’m sure this positive news will be warmly welcomed.”

It is estimated that around 800 people with cystic fibrosis in Scotland should be suitable for treatment with the range of medicines that are now available.

Isles MP says the case for Covid-19 testing of returning offshore workers grows in light of Aberdeen outbreak

The need for Covid-19 testing to be extended to returning offshore workers grows this week says Isles MP Angus MacNeil given the outbreak in Aberdeen City which is a key travel point for workers returning home to the islands.

Currently workers are routinely tested on their way out to work but not before their return.

Last month Mr MacNeil asked Secretary of State Matt Hancock what the UK Government could do to close the gap of testing workers, given that 80 per cent of Covid-19 cases are asymptomatic. He received a positive response that the UK Government would be willing to work with counterparts in the Scottish Government to test the hypothesis of Covid-19 positives coming off rigs. 

Mr MacNeil has written again to Scottish Minister for Health Jeanne Freeman MSP for further clarity on how the Scottish Government will take this further forward asking for specific detail on how this could be done without workers having to travel to testing centres before travelling home.

His suggestion is that test kits are used on rigs prior to workers departing.

He said: “Going to the North Sea, the best practice seems to be testing before people go on rigs but of course any tests can have people incubating and therefore testing negative for Covid-19.

“Surely the tests that are done going on the rigs should be followed up with tests going off the rig. If tests going off the rig are not needed, why are tests going on the rigs needed? Surely the commercial interest of the rigs isn’t paramount over community health and safety of the various communities the workers go back to?

“The Scottish and UK Governments really need to get a grip of this glaring hole in the Covid testing situation because of the diverse communities people come from to go together on an oil rig for a couple of weeks and then back home again. The cases in Aberdeen add to fears I have about the incompleteness of the testing approach at the moment.”

The outbreak in Aberdeen has led to 54 new positive cases and 191 contacts have been traced through test and trace systems.

Retain Air Traffic Control jobs in the islands, says Isles MP

Isles SNP MP Angus MacNeil is backing calls by Prospect union for air traffic control jobs to be retained in the islands.

He warns that centralising all services to Inverness with none in any of the island locations means Highlands and Islands Airports Ltd (HIAL) would in reality be ‘Inverness Airport groups’.

Prospect said this week that the loss of Air Traffic Control in island locations was the loss of jobs worth £1.5 million annually with a cumulative figure of £15m over ten years.

HIAL seeks to use a video feed and computer technology at Inverness to replace skilled air traffic controllers at Stornoway and Benbecula and other airports.

Mr MacNeil says no other autonomous island groups in the world would consider this option and suggests the possibility of centralising in the islands should be considered.

He said: “I back Prospect on this, these jobs are very important to the islands.  Any Scottish Government efforts in the islands will look lame after hollowing out such jobs and Government ministers need to get a grip and oversight of this damaging folly.

“As a thought experiment, imagine that a situation was going to come about where all the air traffic control jobs were to be moved out of Scotland to be put in some other country?  We’d soon see the folly of such action.

“There are no autonomous island groups in the world that would consider this happening to them, certainly not in the Channel Islands, the Isle of Man or the Faroe Islands, why is it happening to us and Orkney and Shetland?

“If they do want to centralise air traffic control, don’t centralise it around HIAL headquarters in Inverness, they should centralise in Benbecula or Stornoway or some other island, but actually  we need the jobs to be in all the islands.

“Perhaps it is really time that the Scottish Government looked at breaking up HIAL who are no longer the Islands airports groups but the Inverness Airport’s groups.”

Island Deal is good news, says Isles MP Angus MacNeil, but must be kept in context

Isles SNP MP Angus MacNeil welcomes the announcement from the UK Government of the Islands Growth Deal but says caution is needed as this does not dispel all the financial difficulties still facing the island economy.

An Islands Growth Deal of £50m has been announced by the UK Government after several years of negotiation and persistence by island politicians.

The £50m sum allocated by the UK Government will be match-funded by the Scottish Government. The Islands Deal is the latest in a series of growth deals awarded to cities and regions across Scotland and will benefit Na h-Eileanan an Iar, Orkney and Shetland.

Mr MacNeil says the deal is positive but is not likely to fill the gap left as an impact of leaving the EU.

He said: “While we welcome the money we should also be aware that for context, it is about £2.2m coming in to each island group on average per year for each of the 15 years.

“It is a small part of each council budget in the single digit percentages around the 2 to 3 per cent  but still it should provide a focus to do particular jobs which have been earmarked in our communities.

“We would hope that the money is transformative and if more is required that the Government who control the purse strings will not be found wanting when more resources are needed.”

‘Close the gap’ on testing mariners and offshore workers, says Isles MP

Isles MP Angus MacNeil is calling for Covid testing to be extended to include workers coming off ships and oil rigs.

Currently workers are routinely tested going out but are not tested on the return.

Mr MacNeil asked Secretary of State Matt Hancock what the UK Government could do to close this gap, given that 80 per cent of Covid cases are asymptomatic. He received a positive response that the UK Government would be willing to work with counterparts in the Scottish Government to test the hypothesis of Covid positives coming off rigs. 

He will now write to Scottish Minister for Health Jeanne Freeman MSP to take this further forward.

Mr MacNeil said: “This is now between Jeanne Freeman and Matt Hancock to take this forward together to work out the testing of people coming off oil rigs. Is it a Scottish or UK Gov responsibility or both? Also it could be interesting from the point of view of the virus, as everyone who goes on the rig should be negative when going on and if anyone emerges positive then it raises interesting questions which may aid the understanding of the virus.

He added: “One serious gap for many communities and workers returning from work as merchant mariners or oil rig workers, people are routinely tested going on to oil rigs but routinely are not tested coming off.

“I know of some oil rig workers who have tested positive, having taken tests for various reasons when they’ve come off. Therefore I asked if he would commit that returning mariners and especially those coming off oil rigs, are tested because we know there is a danger and a gap we’ve left open that unchecked people may be unwitting asymptomatic coronavirus carriers  I simply asked him to look into closing that gap.

“Matt Hancock responded at the despatch box indicating that he would look into working with his opposite number in the Scottish Government to test the hypothesis I proposed.”

Isles MP comments on UK Chancellor’s Summer Statement

Commenting on the Chancellor’s Summer Statement, Angus MacNeil SNP MP for Na h-Eileanan an Iar said:

“The Chancellor yesterday announced a range of measures in his statement to support the economic recovery, however, none of these go far enough. The Scottish Government called for an £80Bn stimulus package which has been ignored and the Chancellor’s statement falls short of what is required to support our economy.

“In May, I called on the UK Treasury to take account of the health policies of the devolved nations when considering the furlough scheme, the Chancellor’s decision to end this scheme will be devastating for many.  It is essential that the Treasury supports business as the financial impact of this pandemic will be felt for a long time.

“On Tuesday, I participated in a cross-party online meeting of the ExcludedUK All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) to stand up for the 3 million people in the UK who are being excluded from receiving financial support from the Treasury. It is good to see that over a quarter of MPs in the House of Commons, from all parties support this campaign. Therefore, it is shameful that today the Chancellor made no announcement on extending the duration of The Self-Employment Income Support Scheme (SEISS) or to extend support to the millions of people who are currently excluded from receiving any financial support.

“A VAT cut from 20% to 5% for tourism is good news and something I have long campaigned for, but six-months is not long enough as this will end mid-winter when tourism is generally quiet.

“Scotland should not be at the mercy of the Tories economic policies.  It is only with independence that Scotland will be able to make its own financial decisions.”

ENDS