Heb.net, which has provided broadband to many Island homes over a number of years and was due to end on 31st March 2020 has had a last minute reprieve. Customers have been trying to find replacement internet services since the shutdown was announced. With help from HIE and mobile providers it is believed that many have found new providers but with the current crisis meaning people are reliant on broadband services for family contact and for information HIE have asked Scot.net who host the service to retain Heb.net for a further month.
Commenting Angus B MacNeil MP for Na H-Eileanan an Iar said
“This is a welcome decision and for those who have not yet found a new provider this will be a lifeline during this crisis. It is up to individuals to contact Heb.net through their own account page to ask for the service to be maintained, it will not automatically carry on. If you have not found a new provider contact Heb.net as soon as you can to ensure your service continues.
“I had written to Paul Wheelhouse MP Minister for Energy, Connectivity and the Islands to ask for an extension and am pleased that this is now happening. HIE are to be commended for this turnaround and for all the work they have done in helping people move to other providers.
“Given the current uncertainties it is good to note that there may be further extensions if needed. This will also be a chance to determine what continued demand exists for this service.”
Na h-Eileanan an Iar SNP MP Angus MacNeil has welcomed the announcement by the Scottish Government to provide vital support to the fishing industry with an initial package of more than £5 million to assist businesses during the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak.
The collapse of export and hospitality markets for Scottish seafood has left island crews facing very difficult times.
Mr MacNeil said: “An initial payment of 50% of two months’ average earnings will be made to owners of all full time Scottish registered fishing vessels of 12 metres length and under, many of whom operate in our island communities.
“I welcome this vital support and am also pleased that support is due to be developed for the onshore processing industry which is also widely affected due to the loss of trade and markets.
“I am pleased that there are plans to do more on this matter and particularly to try and create alternative markets.
“We can all assist with this by buying Scottish seafood and indeed buying locally for many essential things.
“Local businesses are already hugely supporting our communities by changing the way they operate and also offering delivery services.
“Working together we can get through this challenging period and I would urge everyone to buy locally when you can.”
Essence of Harris and Isle of Harris Distillery combine to help public facing workers.
Angus MacNeil MP has said today that Social Distancing and handwashing remain key elements in the battle against the corona virus in the Western Isles as elsewhere.
Essence of Harris contacted Mr MacNeil to tell him of their plans to provide an alcohol hand sanitiser which would be made available to public facing Western Isles workers. Isle of Harris distillery have provided alcohol to enable Essence of Harris to switch production to provide supplies of a hand sanitizer to those in the Islands who need it most.
Mr MacNeil said
“Both companies are to be commended for this further example of the community working together to enable everyone to follow the guidelines about hand washing and social distancing. This Hand Gel will be available to public facing workers whether in shops, care settings or other places where it is needed.
“It is pleasing to see churches, tourist outlets and other businesses closing or changing how they work to encourage social distancing at great cost to their businesses but for the benefit of us all.
Some cafes, pubs and clubs have stayed open but please stay away from crowded places. In public places be sure you stay at least 2 metres away from others and don’t go in if they are busy. We do not want to look back in three weeks and wish we had done more. In reality this is not holiday time and if you have come back to the islands from the cities best to stay at home for at least a week and distance yourself.
Social distancing can have a big impact on the spread of the virus and we must all look after each other by following the guidelines.”
Na h-Eileanan an Iar SNP MP Angus B MacNeil has welcomed the announcement that schools across Scotland will be closed from the end of this week.
Commenting Angus MacNeil said:
“This situation is absolutely unparalleled in our lifetimes and beyond. It is the right thing to do to close the schools and reduce the number of avenues the virus can take to spread between people. It is right that church services and any large gatherings are suspended to help reduce the spread of the virus.
“From information we have, we are on a trajectory roughly as steep as the Spanish trajectory. We are six days behind Spain at the moment and about 15 days behind Italy. Therefore, it is right that action is taken to prevent the spread of the virus.
Meanwhile, many people are rightly very anxious about making ends meet and the UK government must ensure that they provide the social safety nets that are available in other countries. An emergency guaranteed income should be involved, and this time people should be bailed out and not the banks.
“Government should be testing more, if the UK was testing to the level of Iceland or the Faroe Islands, we would have a better picture of what is going on and we would probably be more aware of where the clusters of Coronavirus are now. Unfortunately, the UK is doing a lot of this blindfolded, against World Health Organisation advice and Scotland is caught in that web too.”
Na h-Eileanan an Iar SNP MP Angus MacNeil says urgent action is needed to support the west coast of Scotland’s fishing industry.
Mr MacNeil submitted a parliamentary question to the UK Government’s Secretary of State for the Home Department, Priti Patel last month asking what plans she has to enable non-European Economic Area (EEA) fishermen to gain employment on fishing boats on the west of Scotland.
Currently skippers, including those in the islands, are struggling to recruit crews and need, like in Ireland, non-EEA fisherman.
Mr MacNeil said the response to his question from Kevin Foster, Parliamentary Under Secretary for the Home Department, was ‘disappointing’ and ‘vague’ and he will continue to press the UK Government to set a date for when non-EEA fishermen will be permitted to join crews.
The response stated: “From 1 January 2021, we will introduce the UK’s points-based system.
“The future points-based immigration system will prioritise attracting the high-skilled workers we need to contribute to our economy, our communities and our public services.”
Mr MacNeil said: “This response from the UK Government is very disappointing and vague and displays little understanding of the current situation facing our fishing industry.
“Boats are being tied up due to lack of crews. This is damaging for skippers, the processing sector and our economy.
“I will continue to pressure the Home Office on this issue.”
Isles MP, Angus Brendan MacNeil is encouraging constituents to check their washing machine models following Whirlpool’s recall programme at the end of last year.
In December, Whirlpool alerted customers to a safety risk concerning certain models of Hotpoint and Indesit washing machines and Mr MacNeil has recently been approached by Whirlpool to assist in raising awareness of this recall.
Owners of Hotpoint and Indesit washing machines purchased since 2014 are asked to contact Whirlpool immediately to check if their washing machine is one of the models affected.
Reports that Rishi Sunak, Chancellor of the Exchequer is planning to scrap the lower rate of fuel duty on red diesel in next week’s Budget will be another financial blow to crofters, fishermen and industries says Isles MP, Angus Brendan MacNeil.
It is suggested that the Chancellor is planning to end the 11.1p/litre duty rate and charge users the full 57.7p/litre fuel tax at next week’s Budget.
Commenting Angus MacNeil MP said:
“I am writing to the Chancellor, Rishi Sunak and the Secretary of State for Scotland, Alister Jack to underline the huge importance of this potential decision.
“Scrapping the lower rate of fuel duty will devastate marine and agricultural economies. It will effectively double fuel prices for fishing boats, lobster boats, prawn boats and will leave processing jobs in a precarious situation. As for crofting and farming, these are industries that cannot absorb such increases and this type of economic shock will put many out of business.
“There are many other users of red diesel who will be utterly gobsmacked if the Chancellor brings in this change. I can only hope that this is alarmist talk because with everything else that is happening this year with the economic environment, a price increase of this magnitude cannot be absorbed and should not even be considered by the Westminster Government.”
Na h-Eileanan an Iar SNP MP Angus MacNeil is calling on the UK Government to extend the exemption of Air Passenger Duty (APD) to incoming flights to the islands.
Currently island communities are exempt from APD for flights from island airports to mainland Scotland but this does not include flights to the islands.
In a letter to Chancellor of the Exchequer, RT Hon Rishi Sunak MP ahead of the March 2020 budget, Mr MacNeil said the majority of passengers on flights to the islands are island-based and flights to the islands are the return leg of the journey.
Mr MacNeil said: “It is clear that it is accepted that the essential air services connecting the UK’s most remote communities are worthy of support, given that the exemption already applies for the outward journey, it is therefore a logical conclusion that such flights should be fully exempt from APD rather than only one half of the journey.”
The cost of extending the current exemption to incoming flights to the Highlands and Islands is estimated to be £3.25 million per year (250,000 return journeys x £13 tax).
In Wales this principle has already been accepted where passengers prior to December 2018 had to pay tolls to leave Wales but not to enter. This has now been abolished but continues in application of APD in Scotland.
An exemption for island air services is also consistent with environment objectives as air travel generates lower carbon emissions per passenger than ferry travel.
Full tax exemption for travel to the islands would also be consistent with policies in other countries such as France where flights to Corisca and overseas territories are exempt from the new air travel tax. In the Netherlands too, a new tax from 2021 will also exclude taxation on flights to overseas territories.