Angus MacNeil has today repeated the call for the trial of the MV Pentalina given the news that the MV Loch Seaforth is suspended until at least the end of April.
Na h-Eileanan an Iar SNP MP Angus MacNeil said:
“Given the breakdown of the MV Loch Seaforth and the challenges we will again face on the west coast of Scotland on the CalMac ferry routes it is imperative that the MV Pentalina is tested and trialled to see if it is a viable ferry for use on the routes.
“We would be in a hugely dire situation now if another ferry broke down. The current situation is bad enough but to know there is a ferry sitting idly by is frustrating. Between the Government, Transport Scotland and CMAL the decision has not been made to trial the MV Pentalina to see what it can do, it is very frustrating indeed.
“Now is the time for action. I would call on the Transport Minister, Michael Matheson, to urgently intervene to make sure that the Pentalina is brought into the equation.”
Angus MacNeil, SNP MP for Na-Eileanan an Iar has written an urgent letter to the UK Government regarding the decision to withdraw from membership of the European Geostationary Navigation Overlay Service (EGNOS) – an outcome of Brexit which may impact island air services.
Mr MacNeil says the decision to withdraw from the EGNOS satellite system at the end of June, due to the UK’s departure from the EU, is a hugely retrograde step and will impact directly on the dependability of air services to the islands.
It would also leave the UK as the only G20 country without any satellite-based aviation navigation capability.
Mr MacNeil has had contact with Loganair who have deep concerns about the impact of this decision on service reliability and safety.
In a letter to Kwasi Kwarteng, Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, Mr MacNeil stated his support for the UK to retain membership to ensure that airports in Na h-Eileanan an Iar, and elsewhere, can continue to operate.
He said: “The airports in my constituency provide a vital service bringing mail and cargo to the islands as well as facilitating transportation of patients for medical emergencies and appointments as well as facilitating search and rescue operations. During the pandemic, the service provided by our airports was critical in transporting Covid-19 patients and tests.”
He continued stating that Loganair had shared with him their concerns about safety on lifeline services without membership of EGNOS, outlining that precision satellite-based navigation allows them to operate safely in weather conditions where traditional ground-based navigational aids do not.
He said: “This is incredibly worrying, especially as Loganair have developed satellite-based navigation capability using the Twin Otter planes into Barra Airport, as well as other airports in Scotland, and have re-equipped aircraft and retrained pilots.
“The decision to leave EGNOS means that the UK will be the only G20 country without any satellite-based aviation navigation capability. This would be a hugely retrograde step which could result in cancellation of these lifeline services.”
MV Pentalina should be trialled for use now rather than waiting to be possible relief in the winter period, says Na h-Eileanan an Iar SNP MP Angus MacNeil.
Mr MacNeil has been in constant contact with Transport Scotland and Caledonian MacBrayne suggesting the use of the MV Pentalina to ease the strain on the ageing and limited fleet serving the Western Isles.
In response to his correspondence, Transport Scotland has now agreed to ask CalMac to look specifically at the feasibility of using this vessel on the Clyde and Hebrides Ferry Service network.
CalMac, in correspondence with Mr MacNeil, say they are currently undertaking the 2021/22 overhaul programme including the use of relief vessels with the aim of resolving some of the weather reliability concerns across the most exposed routes.
They say that the deployment of MV Pentalina for short term relief for Winter 2021/22 as well as 2022/23 will be discussed if operational challenges can be overcome.
The broader review for Winter 2022/23 will commence afterwards.
Mr MacNeil said: “It is good that Transport Scotland are moving to this position where MV Pentalina is being discussed and looked at.
“I think we now just need to know which ports it can go in and out of, which are the ports where there are little bits of learning to be done.
“It is best for this to be done in a non-pressurised situation. Maybe a trial soon for a week or two down the West Coast of Scotland visiting various ports might be useful and instructive.”
The Boots store in Stornoway is to introduce instore PCR testing from April. By doing testing in the morning and using the Royal Mail 24-hour delivery service they will be able to get samples to the laboratory within the required period for a 48-hour response.
In addition, the store will also be receiving one of the new instore testing devices in the first week of April. This machine undertakes rapid antigen testing and can give results within minutes for customers.
This follows representations that Na h-Eileanan an Iar SNP MSP Alasdair Allan and MP Angus MacNeil have made to health retailers to address the lack of private testing in the islands.
Angus MacNeil MP commented:
“I was delighted to hear from Boots today that they will be introducing PCR testing in Stornoway from April. This is something which I had been discussing with them for some time.
“I worked with local offshore workers to provide Boots with a long list of firms who employ workers from the islands and they are now looking to engage with those firms regarding the new instore testing devices.
“This is very positive news and will overcome one of the challenges which has faced those in employment away from their island homes during the pandemic.”
Alasdair Allan MSP commented:
“This is really good news from Boots and I am grateful for them in taking the islands situation into account in their rollout of testing stations.
“As the pandemic has gone on and countries have introduced testing requirements at their borders this has presented real problems for those who work abroad or at sea.
“I hope that this new facility in the Stornoway store will help ensure that those islanders working away will be able to spend more time with their loved ones when on leave.”
Commenting on the escalation of Air Traffic Control Industrial Action, Na h-Eileanan an Iar SNP MP Angus MacNeil said:
“These strikes should not be happening, HIAL have got to change their view.
“The idea that you take jobs out of islands and put them into cities, out of the most fragile and into the most prosperous is completely wrong. That an arm of the Scottish Government is doing this is doubly wrong.
“This proposal should be abandoned now, and people can go back to living their lives normally without threats from having to relocate from fragile island communities to the big cities of Scotland.”
Na h-Eileanan an Iar SNP MP Angus MacNeil asks Transport Scotland to think again about trialling MV Pentalina on the West Coast.
In response to his letter of February 22nd to Transport Minister Michael Matheson – which was responded to by Transport Scotland – it was stated that there were no immediate plans to charter an additional vessel but that the matter would be kept under review.
Mr MacNeil said: “It is time for Transport Scotland to think again and to trial MV Pentalina in the ports and crossings on the West Coast.
“We know there are huge pressures on the ferries on the West Coast given the debacle around the yard on the Clyde.
“Meantime, the most pressing issue is to get the MV Pentalina trialled on the West Coast and the sooner this happens the better.
“Calmac would, I think, like to use the MV Pentalina but they’ve got many layers of bureaucracy to get through, not least CMAL and Transport Scotland.
“Perhaps the MV Pentalina should be officially requested by CalMac for trial and see where that takes us.”
Na h-Eileanan an Iar SNP MP Angus MacNeil is calling on constituents to check if they are eligible for Pension Credit and not to miss out on a vital financial boost.
Mr MacNeil is supporting the campaign by the charity Independent Age calling on the UK Government to create an action plan to increase the uptake of Pension Credit.
He said: “I would urge constituents to check whether they are eligible for Pension Credit because statistics show that many who are eligible are not claiming it.
“Only 63% of those eligible are currently claiming it so please ensure you do not miss out on support which is available to you.”
Pension Credit, a benefit designed to keep the least well-off pensioners out of poverty, is currently being received by just six in 10 (63%) of those who should be receiving it.
New research from the Centre for Research in Social Policy at Loughborough University, commissioned and published by Independent Age, has found that the low take-up is creating significant knock-on effects for the NHS and social care, costing taxpayers an estimated £4 billion per year.
This bill to the taxpayer is significantly higher than the annual cost of giving pensioners up to £1.8 billion to which they are entitled but are not receiving.
Those missing out on Pension Credit are also more likely to need social care – whether residential or home-based – which incurs additional costs to the state of between £66 million and £189 million per year.
The report concluded that if Pension Credit take-up was lifted from 61% to 100%, then almost 450,000 pensioners could be lifted out of poverty, reducing pensioner poverty to its lowest ever level, and resulting in substantial savings to the NHS and social care systems over the long term.
Independent Age is calling for the Government to put in place an ambitious, publicly available action plan detailing how it will work to increase the uptake of Pension Credit over the next five years.
Na h-Eileanan an Iar SNP MP Angus MacNeil has welcomed yet another nail in the coffin to HIAL’s ill-thought, island-damaging plans for empire building at Inverness Airport. HIAL’s plans which would cost the public purse £2.5 million extra, each and every year, are now seen for the ill-conceived, ill-thought through concepts they always were.
Mr MacNeil, who has just written to Audit Scotland to look into this huge potential waste of public money, advises HIAL to confine this nonsense to the dustbin now and for government to get a grip over the wayward waste of public money which has cost us £6.5 million to get to the point of understanding that removing jobs from islands and harming communities is not the way for a Scottish Government agency to go.
Commenting Mr MacNeil said:
“Currently our airports provide excellent local jobs with no issues of staff retention, particularly when local staff are recruited, in both Stornoway and Benbecula. The money that HIAL have wasted so far could have upgraded all our airports and secured these jobs with a lot less ongoing cost to the public purse.
“Islands will be particularly impacted with a loss of high quality jobs in the community if the high cost alternative of centralising in Inverness were to go ahead. Our fragile islands will lose population, this is surely not something that Scottish Government Ministers will sit back and let happen, playing Pontus Pilate is not a responsible option where fragile communities are concerned. Currently our airlines, our ferry companies, our crofting commission, even the board of the Gaelic language are headquartered off the islands, and so much more besides. Regardless of politics everyone needs to rally around and lend support to the issue for keeping these jobs on the islands.
“If HIAL don’t drop these plans, Audit Scotland needs to investigate at least two alternatives that are cheaper than HIAL’s pet project and which would keep jobs on the islands. However, hopefully these plans will be consigned to the dustbin of history and our communities can breathe a sigh of relief, with the government saving many millions annually in the process.”
Angus MacNeil, SNP MP for Na h-Eileanan an Iar, has written to Scottish Government Finance Secretary Kate Forbes and the Auditor General for Scotland, Mr Stephen Boyle, to look into the proposals from HIAL for remote air traffic control, centralising in Inverness, which will be extremely damaging for a number of quality island jobs and far more costly for the public purse.
Commenting Mr MacNeil said:
“I am very concerned about the process which HIAL are undertaking, as are a number of others in the Highlands and Islands. Essentially their proposals will cost far more for the public purse and importantly remove quality jobs in our island communities, namely Benbecula and Lewis.
“At the moment HIAL are presenting three sets of figures, showing their current operations at Benbecula & Stornoway, as well as Dundee, Kirkwall, Wick and Sumburgh. The first sets of figures show that they currently spend £3.89 million running these airports with 65 employees in total. Instead they have a pet project of centralising in Inverness which would cost £6.18 million and require 96 employees. To make this extravagance look palatable, HIAL present another set of figures, talking of an upgrade to each of the individual airports which would require 135 employees and cost £8.5 million across the network.
“However, what they are not including in their figures would be the costs of a local surveillance alternative, using the same technology as they will have to install for their remote towers operation, which air traffic controllers say could be done with the same 65 employees and comparatively minimal extra revenue costs of £600,000 more annually, spread across all the airports. Even when the trade union Prospect has inflated the amount of jobs required in the islands with 91 being employed, the cost would still be less than the remote towers operation while still keeping island jobs.
“Obviously if you only selectively compare you will find yourself quite easily able to reach conclusions that you wanted to reach in the first place, even if it means costing the Scottish Government £2.3 million extra for each and every year going forward.
“HIAL seem to have a bee in their bonnet about removing jobs from the islands and as a result I have contacted both Audit Scotland and the Finance Secretary to urgently oversee just what is going on here. Certainly consideration of the damage for island communities has not been a factor, the overriding point is that the public purse loses out.
“Only this week I received a response from the UK Government stating that they had no plans to legislate for controlled airspace, which torpedoes a lot of HIAL’s arguments for spending the millions extra.
“Finally, from a Freedom of Information request earlier this month it seems HIAL have already spent £6.5 million on this project and it seems to be the all too common urge to throw good money after bad. It is time to stop and remove the cloud and job insecurity hanging over too many people in our communities.”
Na h-Eileanan an Iar SNP MP Angus MacNeil has said that Rishi Sunak’s Tory budget is a missed opportunity which will leave many people disappointed and definitely doesn’t address the damage of Brexit, far less to deal with Covid properly.
Commenting Mr MacNeil said:
“This again was a budget for big business, wheeler dealers and people who believe Covid will be history by the summer. In Scotland we are a country of medium sized businesses, honest traders and people who accept the reality of Covid which means this budget did little for us in Scotland. We also know that the worst affected part of Europe by the Tories crazy Brexit idea is the Highlands and Islands of Scotland. The budget definitely did nothing for that.
“One thing the budget does show is that Governments such as the UK Government, who print their own currency, can and will print that currency and shake what is called the magic money tree. This only underlines the wasted decade of Tory austerity when so much could have been done.
“The budget sadly gives nothing new to the NHS or the education system. For as long as Scotland remains devolved it is not going to see the funds to help these essential public services as a result. As in devolution, Scotland’s spending is a consequence of the choices of Westminster. Fortunately for the likes of Portugal, Ireland, or Norway their spending choices are not dictated to by their immediate neighbours.
“On Universal Credit, money that is the most recycled in the economy, it is already at a very low base compared to countries like Ireland, which is why footballers like Marcus Rashford become politically involved in trying to prevent malnutrition in children in a western country. The £20 uplift is indeed meagre, and it is very miserly to only say it is for 6 months.
“Sadly, the UK government could not match the Scottish government which has already gone much further in support for businesses and households, with 100% rates relief, Council Tax frozen and a 5-year capital investment plan.
“The only way for Scotland to get what it votes for is to firstly vote for independence. If we continue like this, we will just end up training yet another generation that what we have to cope with is extremist economics from the Tory party in bad times and in good.”