MP speaks directly to Defence Secretary on Linda Norgrove Foundation workers in Afghanistan

Angus MacNeil MP for Na h-Eileanan an Iar spoke directly with Secretary of State for Defence Ben Wallace MP yesterday (Wednesday) regarding the plight of Linda Norgrove Foundation staff who are currently still in Afghanistan.

Mr MacNeil has been in regular contact with the Norgrove family who live on the Isle of Lewis and are currently trying to secure safe evacuation of their two employees and one family connected with them, including a husband and a baby.

The current situation is that Mr MacNeil has relayed all details directly to the Defence Minister in a meeting and all details have also been sent to the Home Office.

The situation at Kabul Airport and also on travel on the roads remains extremely precarious.

Mr MacNeil said: “I have relayed the details of the Linda Norgrove Foundation staff directly to the Secretary of State for Defence. This is an extremely volatile situation that is changing rapidly.”

The charity Nowzad, which has membership locally, have also called on Mr MacNeil for assistance in ensuring workers can safely leave Afghanistan. Visas have now been secured and a cargo plane is on standby, yet there are now difficulties arising in getting to the airport. This situation is rapidly changing and Mr MacNeil had contacted the Home Office and has now be redirected to the Ministry of Defence.

Isles MP welcomes Transport Minister’s timely visit to the islands

Isles MP Angus MacNeil welcomes Transport Minister Graham Dey as he visits the islands this week and hopes he will engage closely on the key transport problems facing the islands at this time.

  • The loss of HIAL Air Traffic Control jobs in the islands
  • Ferry construction and the current booking system

Speaking ahead of Mr Dey’s arrival, Mr MacNeil said: “It is good that the Minister is coming to visit the islands as he gets to know this part of Scotland.

“Obviously the number one issue of the moment for many is the likelihood of the Government losing £2m each and every year from HIAL moving jobs to Inverness.

“Hopefully the new agreement with the SNP and the Greens gives the space for the Government to reassess whether needlessly wasting £2m each and every year and removing about £1m in wages from the island economies from the Hebrides to Shetland, is the best value for money.

“This is also a time when we need to be pressing on with ferry construction and look to yards that can do this.

“It is also an opportunity for the Minister to hear about booking windows, or indeed to look at devolving power over when parts of the car deck are released on ferry bookings to the islands.

“We should release about 70% in the beginning, about 20% a month before a sailing, a further 8-9% about a week before the sailing and then on the last day the final 1 or 2%.  This would give the variety of travellers – whether leisure, business or emergency – the possibility of moving backwards and forwards.

“I hope the Minister is in a listening mode and also the Scottish Government is in a mode to devolve things such as booking windows to island councils, who could set the structures in conjunction with Calmac as to how we could better use the ferries so that everyone has access and no one is resented for booking early on for a justifiable holiday.”

Isles MP strives to secure safe passage for charity workers leaving Afghanistan

Na h-Eileanan an Iar MP Angus MacNeil has been in constant contact with the Home Office over the last week regarding the evacuation of charity workers – who are associated with his constituency – from Afghanistan.

The Linda Norgrove Foundation, run by John and Lorna Norgrove who live on the Isle of Lewis, is currently trying to secure the safe evacuation of their two employees and one family connected with them, including a husband and a baby.

The current situation is that all details have been relayed to the Home Office by multiple emails, phone calls, and various other channels; and it is now a waiting game to see if evacuation can be secured.

The charity Nowzad, which has membership locally, have also called on Mr MacNeil for assistance in ensuring workers can safely leave Afghanistan. Visas have now been secured and a cargo plane is on standby, yet there are now issues arising with the Ministry of Defence (MoD) allowing flight entry.

Mr MacNeil said: “It is important that the Linda Norgrove Foundation get their two employees and the one family connected with them – a husband and a baby – out of Afghanistan.

“They have helped with the aims of the Foundation and the UK Government will, I hope, be cognisant of that.

“Certainly, it’s a stress for the Foundation and for the rest of us trying to get the UK Government to move people in this chaos.  It still isn’t clear whether it’s an aircraft issue or a bureaucratic issue or simply the terrible attitude that the UK Government has towards migrants and that is the root of the problem.

“Regardless, this should be about people’s lives and these people should be assisted in getting out of Afghanistan.”

Mr MacNeil has already added his name to a cross-party letter to the Home Secretary, Priti Patel, urging the UK Government to play its full part in providing a compassionate and responsible response to those seeking safety from Afghanistan. Mr MacNeil is pleased to hear that Comhairle nan Eilean Siar is involved in the scheme to provide refuge for families from Afghanistan and may welcome some families in the future.

Mr MacNeil has been contacted by a large number of constituents expressing huge concerns for the people of Afghanistan and also for British nationals and their families working in Afghanistan as the Taliban takeover continues and will continue to relay those specific concerns to the UK Government.

Mr MacNeil has also written to the Home Secretary and the Foreign Office specifically on the issues raised with him by constituents.

Isles MP urges UK Gov to play its part in support for the people of Afghanistan

Na h-Eileanan an Iar SNP MP Angus MacNeil has today (Tuesday) added his name to a cross-party letter to the Home Secretary, Priti Patel, urging the UK Government to play its full part in providing a compassionate and responsible response to those seeking safety from Afghanistan.

Mr MacNeil has been contacted by a large number of constituents expressing huge concerns for the people of Afghanistan and also for British nationals and their families working in Afghanistan as the Taliban takeover continues.

Mr MacNeil has also written to the Home Secretary and the Foreign Office specifically on the issues raised with him by constituents.

He stressed that the UK must do all it can to support the people of Afghanistan.

He said: “If military intervention is required, it should be done under the UN banner or a coalition of nations including those in that area. It should not be just Western intervention again.

“We’ve got a serious responsibility towards refugees, to those from Afghanistan and those that are here just now seeking asylum.  We should be preparing for more refugees and also see if we can help Afghans displaced into other countries because of this.

“We also have to learn lessons from exactly what has happened here.  The intervention 20 years ago was without any great plan and this withdrawal is also without any great plan.

“This is a rapidly changing situation and we have to make sure that Afghans are being supported as best we can.”

New benefit is open for applications from island residents

Na h-Eileanan an Iar SNP MP Angus MacNeil is highlighting the launch of a new benefit which is now open for applications from island residents as part of a pilot scheme started by the Scottish Government.

Applicants in Na h-Eileanan an Iar who are looking after a child or young person with mobility or care needs as a result of a disability, or who has a terminal illness, should apply to Social Security Scotland for Child Disability Payment, rather than to the UK Government’s Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) for Disability Living Allowance for Children.

The pilot will be followed by a full national roll-out across Scotland later this year.

This is the first application-based disability benefit to be introduced by the Scottish Government. 

Children and young people who currently receive Disability Living Allowance for children from the Department for Work and Pensions do not need to apply for Child Disability Payment. The transfer of Disability Living Allowance for cases will take place this Autumn. This will include moving the case from the Department for Work and Pensions to Social Security Scotland and replacing the Disability Living Allowance for children award with Child Disability Payment. Clients who have their benefits transferred will receive the same rates and components of Child Disability Payment they received in Disability Living Allowance and will be paid on the same schedule. 

For more information, contact Social Security Scotland by phone on 0800 182 2222 or visit mygov.scot

Isles MP writes to First Minister and National Clinical Director to assist with Ferry Capacity

Na h-Eileanan an Iar SNP MP Angus MacNeil has written to Nicola Sturgeon, First Minister and Jason Leitch, National Clinical Director to urgently look at increasing the percentage of passengers who can travel on CalMac Ferries.

It is expected that all physical distancing requirements will be removed on 9th August and Mr MacNeil is again calling on the Scottish Government to increase capacity prior to this date to help ease the pressure on island ferries.

Commenting Mr MacNeil said:

“Due to Covid restrictions, ferry capacity is a major problem on all islands and we urgently need an increase on the amount of people that can travel.  The problem is exacerbated on the Lewis service at the moment due to the fact that the MV Arrow has broken down and also with HIAL strike action coming this week due to the removal of important island jobs to Inverness.

“The demand on travel is so high compared to the artificially low 35% threshold.  Given that expectations are that 100% capacity will be reinstated on 9th August, if capacity was increased to 70% or 75% this week it would greatly help the difficulties in all islands on the west coast.

“We need to have governance close at hand and responsive this summer and I hope the First Minister and the National Clinical Director are alive to the issues on the west coast.”

ENDS

MP responds on Ferry Capacity

Angus MacNeil MP is urging the Scottish Government to react more quickly given the constraints on ferries. 

This follows receipt of a letter from Transport Minister, Graeme Dey MSP which states that the Scottish Government are not contemplating looking at ferry capacity until 9th August.

Commenting Mr MacNeil said:

“I know there is a lot of frustration and difficulty for people trying to get a booking on ferries.  This is the peak summer season and by 9th August the demand will have eased.  I would therefore urge the Scottish Government to look at the range of factors and to review ferry capacity restrictions with their civil servants to see if an earlier change is possible. It would be silly to reach August and say things could have changed 3 weeks ago but that the Government didn’t get round to checking in the intervening period.  We are at the crunch point right now.

“At present trans-minch ferries are running at an average of 35% capacity, CalMac tell me. I’m not suggesting the 100% that is being hinted for the 9th of August but meantime somewhere sensibly in between so islanders can at least come and go.

“It does seem strange that planes can fly as full as they ever were, but ferry capacity is restricted.  This is leading to huge difficulties on the islands, we have been at level zero for a long time now.  I am writing back to the Transport Minister on these terms as I know that CalMac are prepared to implement increased capacity sooner than 9th August if Government guidance allows.”

ENDS

Isles MP urges Scottish Government to increase ferry capacity

As Scotland moves to Level zero on July 19, and physical distance requirements will reduce from 2m to 1m in indoor public places, Isles MP Angus B MacNeil is calling for urgent changes to be made to increase ferry capacity.

Commenting Mr MacNeil said:

“Our ferries are a lifeline service and steps must be taken now to increase capacity.

“Surely, as physical distancing requirements are being reduced on  July 19, this will allow CalMac to increase capacity on our ferries.

“I am today contacting Health Secretary Humza Yousaf MSP, Jason Leitch, National Clinical Director and Transport Scotland to urgently address this situation.

Isles MP speaks at Westminster Fisheries Debate

Na h-Eileanan an Iar SNP MP Angus B MacNeil yesterday participated in a Westminster cross-party debate on the impact that the EU exit deal is having on the fishing industry.

Commenting Angus MacNeil MP said:

“The difficulties faced by the Scottish fishing industry because of the Brexit deal continue to hit our fishing industry and I was glad to have had the opportunity to participate in this debate.

“I highlighted the deal Norway currently has, a deal which has a detrimental impact on the fishing industry. The UK government has given the Norwegians the greater part of our market overnight and achieved nothing in return for fishermen.

“I also highlighted the delay with the £100 million scheme that was promised by the UK Government in January, nearly seven months later, fishermen are still waiting. The UK Government needs to move quickly and deliver on their promise to help our fishing industry which is caught up in bureaucracy as a result of the Brexit deal.

“Prior to Brexit, three-quarters of Scottish fishermen’s exports went to the European Union, but there has been an almost exponential rise in costs. As an example, Barratlantic, a local fish factory in my constituency, tell me that where a delivery note used to suffice, it now needs a catch certificate, packing lists and commodity codes, scientific names on consignments, a commercial invoice and an import and export declaration form, a staggering eight pieces of paper before it starts exporting. In addition, this fish factory pays the French Government VAT at 5.5%, and it also needs a health certificate.

“Export costs to get a product to the continent has trebled from 32p per kilo to around £1 a kilo. Whereas consignments could be sent in three to four pallets, they now have to be sent in pallet loads of 10 to make matters viable and economical, this affects the bottom line of many businesses.

“The Government really have to look quickly at ways of streamlining exports and along with Luke Pollard MP and Alistair Carmichael MP, I have been in touch with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs on several occasions to try to get these matters streamlined so that multiple data entries and paperwork are not required. Some things could and should be digitised to enable the transfer of data from one place to the other without the onerous time.”

ENDS

Scalpay back online after community call in MP for help

Residents on Scalpay are back online after nearly two months of service disruption.

Scalpay Community Council contacted Angus MacNeil MP to alert him to the disruption faced by around 20 households who were affected by an ongoing broadband problem.

The disruption to service was causing problems for those working from home due to Covid-19 restrictions and for local businesses.

Kenny Macleod, Secretary of Scalpay Community Council, and one of those affected, said: “After weeks of being given different stories and being told it was fixed, we got in touch with our MP, Mr MacNeil, and are very grateful for his intervention which has undoubtedly speeded up the resolution of our problems.  If he hadn’t intervened and got the engineers onto the ferry, we would probably still be waiting for it to be fixed. 

“We are all hugely dependant on a good, reliable internet connection and not having it for so long caused lots of problems. Hopefully now these are resolved.”

Mr MacNeil had contacted Openreach to try to push forward a solution and was very pleased when it was confirmed to him that a team was set to travel to the island imminently to work on this issue.

Openreach then contacted Mr MacNeil for assistance due to the difficulties they were facing in securing a ferry booking to the island and Mr MacNeil then contacted Calmac to stress the urgency of the situation and a ferry booking was made.

A team carried out works and although not all issues have been overcome, households have now been reconnected.

The engineers replaced the dishes on the 18Ghz radio link at both ends, but they are still waiting on parts for the 32g link which need to be replaced.

Additional works are due to be carried out to increase speeds when parts arrive, however Openreach state there are no live faults in this area and services are now operating as normal.

Openreach are also looking at providing additional weatherproofing to try and stop the problems occurring again.

Mr MacNeil said: “I am very pleased that I was able to assist the community on Scalpay in moving towards a resolution to this problem which was causing disruption to everyday life and was understandably frustrating for residents.

“I cannot fix all problems which constituents raise with me, but I would encourage people to get in touch and I will do all I can to assist.”