Action on access to lifeline ferry services

The Scottish Government has indicated it will take action to retain space on lifeline ferry services for short notice bookings during peak times.

In a recent discussion with Islands Minister Paul Wheelhouse MSP, Na h-Eileanan an Iar SNP MP Angus MacNeil highlighted the difficulties faced by island communities in accessing ferry services during the busy tourist season.

In a follow up letter to Mr MacNeil, Mr Wheelhouse said he was ‘keen to address this shortly through the Action Plan.’

Mr MacNeil has suggested to the Scottish Government that changes to the booking system, to release sections of deck space for booking in stages, could help to resolve the capacity issues. He added that reserving bookings just for islanders could prove difficult in practice.

He said: “I had very positive discussions with the Minister on this.

“Capacity is an issue on our ferries network and I am hopeful that the Scottish Government will introduce measures to address this soon.

“What would help to address the bottle-neck would be to have different time horizons for CalMac to book out deck space.

“When CalMac open bookings they could open it to 70% of bookings, then a month prior to travel they could release another 20% of bookings and sell the remaining 10% during the week of travel.

“This would help individuals and businesses who need to travel at short notice. The beauty of this is that it doesn’t discriminate against anyone and everyone would be free to book within these time horizons.”

In a letter to Mr MacNeil, Mr Wheelhouse said: “The problem you identify of island residents struggling to book their cars on at short notice during peak periods, often for reasons linked to an event distressing in itself such as illness or bereavement, is one that has been raised with me a number of times including at the recent Uists Ferry Summit.

“I have been particularly struck by this in discussions with island residents and their representatives and am keen to address this shortly through the Action Plan.”

He added that any demand management measures would not necessarily apply to all routes and would be considered in consultation and agreement with each community.

Doubts over Comhairle claim of £5,000 cost to repair unassessed ventilation system at Eoligarry School

Following a meeting yesterday evening with parents of pupils from Eoligarry, MP Angus MacNeil has expressed consternation at the issue surrounding the ventilation at Eoligarry School canteen.

Commenting Angus MacNeil MP said:

“After the meeting, I asked to see the famous ventilation system, it turns out to look no more than a glorified extractor fan.  The fan does work on one of the settings but the boost setting doesn’t work.  It is possible that the problem could be a switch or a fuse, meaning the cost to repair could be £5 rather than £5,000.  It seems that the Comhairle has not been to look at the ventilation system but instead has marched ahead with threatening to close the canteen, preventing children from getting food freshly cooked on the school premises.

Eoligarry canteen, has one of the highest uptakes of school dinners in the islands and parents attribute that to the skill of their long-serving and caring cook who is now threatened with redundancy.

The Comhairle need to clarify why the cost of £5000 has been attached to repairing a piece of equipment that hasn’t been assessed.  I am now writing to Bernard Chisholm, Director of Education, who disappointingly wasn’t at the meeting last night, to ask that the ventilation system be looked at to confirm when it was last serviced.

This is fast turning into a farce, the Comhairle would be wise to withdraw the threat to Eoligarry canteen.


Comhairle must retain catering provision at Eoligarry School

  • ‘Shoddy treatment’ of dinner lady with nearly 30 years service

Na h-Eileanan an Iar MP Angus MacNeil is calling on the Comhairle to abandon the sudden plans to close Eoligarry School canteen and to keep promises made to Barra parents.

He has also slammed the local authority for the ‘shoddy and awful’ treatment of the School’s Cook who raised an issue regarding ventilation in the kitchen only to told this would mean closure of the kitchen and the loss of her current job.

Eoligarry School

He said: “Parents of pupils from Eoligarry School are dismayed that since the cook registered a problem with the ventilation system in the kitchen, the approach of the Comhairle is not to sort the problem but to close the kitchen.

“It does concern me that when a Comhairle employee raises a Health & Safety concern that the problem-solving method favoured by the Comhairle is not to deal with the problem but to threaten to close her place of work.  What signal does that now send to other Comhairle employees who may want to raise H&S concerns?

“Parents were promised in November that nothing would change at the school and the Comhairle should honour that promise.”

Actions speak louder than words on ETV, says Isles SNP MP

Isles SNP MP Angus MacNeil has criticised the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) for carrying out a ‘box ticking exercise’ on future arrangements for Emergency Towing Vessels (ETV) in Scottish waters.

After years of campaigning for the reinstatement of an ETV on the West coast – for issues of safety and environmental protection –  Mr MacNeil says a meeting in Edinburgh is simply not good enough as part of a study commissioned by the MCA to look at future arrangements.

He said: “The West Coast of Scotland needs an Emergency Towing Vessel and we have been telling the MCA that for many years now. We need action on this not more words.

“If they think that Edinburgh is a good enough location for a coastal consultation for the whole of Scotland, they are wasting their money.

“I support calls from my colleague Alasdair Allan MSP calling for them to visit the Isles and discuss this extremely important issue with the communities that this directly affects.”

The MCA are carrying out a Shipping Risk and Emergency Towage Provision Study which will review the risks presented by and to shipping within the UK Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). This was previously carried out in 2008.

In 2016, a petition was launched by Stornoway SNP Councillors Gordon Murray and Rae Mackenzie calling for the reinstatement of the West Coast vessel. This was submitted to Downing Street in 2016 by Highlands and Islands MPs.

SNP success in Na h-Eileanan an Iar

Na h-Eileanan an Iar SNP MP Angus MacNeil has welcomed the historic result for the SNP in the European Parliamentary election.

The SNP took 44% of the vote across the constituency, 6% higher than the SNP national average which is itself a record result.

Mr MacNeil said Scotland and Na h-Eileanan an Iar had spoken loudly and clearly in support of Scotland remaining in the EU.

He said: “This is a great result for the SNP. The Tories and Labour have destroyed themselves on Brexit and clearly Scotland needs Independence to get out of the mess those parties have created.

“Across Europe, nations smaller than Scotland must be wondering when Scotland will take matters into our own hands for the good of jobs and communities instead of being at the mercy of events elsewhere.

“I would like to thank voters in Na h-Eileanan an Iar for turning out to vote in this important election. Your votes matter and it is pleasing to see turnout is higher than it was in the last European election five years ago.”

The SNP have taken three of the six Scottish seats in the European Parliament, winning 38 percent of the vote. One seat for the Brexit Party; one for the Conservatives and one for the Liberal Democrats with the Labour Party losing its seat.

Let the kids visit Granny, says Isles MP

  • Home Office passport failings must be resolved quickly

Na h-Eileanan an Iar MP Angus MacNeil is maintaining pressure on the Home Office to resolve a passport renewal issue for a 6-year-old island girl whose parents are EU Nationals.

Owing to Home Office issues, the 6-year-old girl is being refused a passport renewal and requires to register as a British citizen. 

Mr MacNeil said:

“The parents – one an NHS Worker, have been living and working in Scotland for 13 years and it is incredible that people paying their taxes and contributing to society are finding that they cannot travel with their children to visit granny during the school holidays in July.

“The parents have been left with no other option but to register their 6-year-old girl as a British citizen before a passport will be issued. 

“The Home Office must treat this registration as a priority and I am continuing to maintain pressure on them to sort this issue quickly and help this family visit their Granny, only the most hard-hearted would get in the way of that.”


MP invites Home Secretary to Isles to see economic emergency facing fishing industry

  • Tories must stop hammering fishing – Home Office must act or pay compensation

Isles MP Angus MacNeil has invited Home Secretary Sajid Javid MP to visit the Islands to see for himself the ‘economic emergency’ facing the fishing industry due to crew shortages.

With backing from Comhairle nan Eilean Siar and colleagues in the Scottish Government, Mr MacNeil is calling on Mr Javid to urgently intervene and to support skippers by allowing them to source non-EEA labour – as he has done for the UK horticultural industry.

Mr MacNeil said: “We must be in no doubt that we are facing an economic emergency.

“But it can be resolved quickly and easily by the Home Office if they want to support the industry.

“I am being contacted regularly by skippers who are tying up boats in the harbour because they cannot get a crew together.

“Work Visas for non-EEA workers have been given in farming, they have also been given to offshore wind construction even though they didn’t seem to want them; but fishing, that has shouted the longest and the loudest has been ignored. 

“Any economic damage the Home Office causes to fishing boats, fish processing and communities should result in the UK Government paying compensation if they will not lift the pen and sort this issue now. 

“If Sajid Javid wants to be Prime Minster he must show he can lead and take the correct decisions. 

“I have spoken to seven Immigration Ministers on this issue over the past few years and enough is enough.”

Roddie Mackay, Leader of Comhairle nan Eilean Siar said: “For us in the Western Isles, these are vital jobs in small, economically fragile communities.

“To have fishing curtailed will do untold, and potentially irreversible damage, and it is vital that we get a speedy and positive decision from the UK government.

“A political fix is required and is do-able so we urge the Home Secretary to protect a key industry which is crucial across our in country and particularly in these islands.”

Photo by Angela Quail.

MP urges parents to have children vaccinated against serious diseases

Na h-Eileanan an Iar MP Angus MacNeil is urging island parents to ensure their children receive lifesaving vaccinations.

Vaccinations such as the MMR are the biggest health successes of the last century and are the only way to protect your child against some serious diseases.

Mr MacNeil asked NHS Western Isles for statistics on the uptake of the MMR vaccine locally with reports of reduced uptake worldwide.

He said: “I was pleased to hear from NHS Western Isles that uptake of the MMR first dose in the Western Isles is back above the target of 95% despite a drop in uptake in 2017.

“Overall 98.1% of Western Isles children have received at least one MMR vaccination by the age of 6, compared to 96.3% for Scotland.

“The development of effective vaccines has led to a huge decrease in childhood deaths and I would urge parents to help maintain high levels of uptake by ensuring children receive the vaccine.”

When your child is immunised they’re helping to protect the health of the whole community.

When enough people are immunised against an infection, it’s more difficult for it to be spread to those who are not immunised. This is called ‘herd immunity’ or ‘population protection’.

This is important because children with some severe medical conditions and allergies can’t have certain vaccines.

MP notes 75th anniversary of Catalina air crash

Na h-Eileanan an Iar MP Angus MacNeil has tabled an Early Day Motion in the House of Commons to mark the 75th anniversary of the Catalina Air crash on Vatersay.

The RAF plane crashed at Heisheaval Beag on Vatersay on the night of May 12th 1944 with the loss of three lives.

The plane took off from Oban for a training exercise with nine crew on board and were due to fly over the nearby point of Barra Head.

The wreckage of the plane remains scattered at the site and a memorial stands to those who died and survived the accident.

Mr MacNeil’s EDM is entitled ‘Remembering the Catalina 75th Anniversary’ and reads:

“That this House notes the 75th anniversary of The Catalina aircraft tragedy of 12 May 1944 which set off from Oban on a training exercise set for Barra Head but tragically crashed near the summit of Heisheaval Beag on the Island of Vatersay; remembers the bravery and sacrifice of the Catalina crews which hunted U-boats off the coast to save the lives of merchant seamen bringing food to nations under rations; marks the anniversary of the deaths of Flight Sergeant David Clyne, Sergeant Fred Basset and rigger Sergeant Patrick Hines; recalls the courage of the other six crew members on board who survived while sadly losing their colleagues; and also notes in civilian life Dennistoun born Flight Sergeant David Clyne had a successful football career by playing for Queens Park FC and being twice capped at Scottish amateur level.”

Isles MP quizzes Environment Secretary on Interconnector

Speaking in today’s Climate Change debate in the House of Commons, Na h-Eileanan an Iar SNP MP Angus MacNeil asked Environment Secretary Michael Gove MP to push Ofgem to approve a 600MW interconnector for the Western Isles.

Mr MacNeil said: “A major help in reducing the UK’s Carbon footprint is the inclusion of a 600MW interconnector to the mainland – from the best wind resource in Europe.

“At the moment Ofgem are talking about a 450MW link, for just 4p more for the billpayer, we could do a lot more.

“Will he stamp on Ofgem and when they talk about concerns for the consumer, will they talk about concerns for the consumer’s environment and not a tawdry 4p on people’s bill.”

Mr Gove said it was a ‘fair point well made’ although adding it was a decision for Ofgem.

Mr MacNeil was contacted by many constituents asking him to take part in today’s Opposition Day Climate Change debate.