Address to P&R

The five balanced budgets we have set have seen us allocate over half a billion pounds to deliver Comhairle services with a focus on our elderly population and our young people.

This has not always been easy for us with some £25m of savings to find across the term. However, through good planning and management, along with the strategic use of balances we have found over 85% of this without affecting services. Our FTE employee numbers have gone from 1906 in March 2010 to 1613 in December 2016 – a reduction of 293.

In leaving sufficient balances for a further year I believe we are giving the next Comhairle the best possible opportunity to plan for the further challenges that lie ahead.

Despite our revenue pressures we have delivered a capital programme that we have grown from an initial £42m to over £100m.
During our term we have seen:
The opening of our 7th new school in North Uist
The redevelopment of Ardseileach
The opening of the Lews Castle and Museum
A continued investment in housing amounting to £3m
Over £13m of improvements in our roads and infrastructure including improvements to the Spinal route at Kyles Leverburgh, North Harris and South Uist and works at Ardveenish Harbour
Nearly £2m invested in community capital projects amounting to leverage of £1:£10
A complete refresh of our fitness equipment in our sports centres
Construction of additional landfill facilities at Bennadrove and restoration of Rueval Site; Construction and commissioning of wind turbines at Creed Business Park and incorporation into onsite facilities;
Completion of Harris Care Development project; and
Completion of coast protection schemes in South Uist and Barra: and
Completion of the Hebridean Way.”

We have made a £750,000 investment in the local fishing fleet under the Comhairle Fisheries Investment Scheme and supported 250 Business start-ups. The Outer Hebrides LEADER 2007–2013 Programme supported 111 projects ranging from new community buildings and shops to events and services that will benefit people of all ranges. We have also supported community buyouts – support helping to deliver 75% of the land mass under community ownership and £2.3m secured from Scottish Government Regeneration Capital Grant Fund.

Whilst the LEADER 2007-2013 programme allocated £3.26m to projects throughout the Outer Hebrides it also assisted to lever in over £5.5m in additional funding.

Furthermore a successful bid to the Scottish Government for the Rural Broadband Challenge Fund resulted in additional funding of over £263k being secured to assist three communities – North Harris, Tolsta and Dalmore – to introduce broadband infrastructure to the areas.

Since the programme first started in 1991 to 2013 a total of 771 projects have received LEADER funding throughout the Outer Hebrides, and this LEADER funding together with other match funding have contributed to a total programme value of £25.7m.”

The Outer Hebrides 2014-2020 LEADER and European Maritime and Fisheries Fund (EMFF) Local Development Strategy was the first to be approved in Scotland. It was allocated £3.17m LEADER funding, with £528k allocated to the EMFF programme to support the development of projects throughout the Outer Hebrides.

Since opening for applications in March 2016 the Outer Hebrides LEADER 2014-2020 Programme has approved funding to 17 projects resulting in a total commitment of over £1m LEADER funding, 43% of the Outer Hebrides total LEADER budget.
This current LEADER programme not only supports community projects but also assists businesses to develop innovative new sustainable ideas.

When we first discussed working together with Shetland and Orkney Island Councils towards common aims I certainly hadn’t anticipated that in 2017 we would have formal engagement arrangements with both Governments and be looking forward to the imminent introduction of an Islands Bill as well as working towards a Deal for the Islands and consultation on further devolution of the Crown Estate a local levels.

Taking advantage of our renewable energy resources has continued to be a challenge. We have continued to engage with Government, Regulators and transmission operators to make the case for the Western Isles Radial Connector: engaged with Government to establish a new island-specific technology category of “Remote Island Wind” alongside a differentiated island strike price; and worked closely with and resourced Community Energy Scotland to support community generators from Barra to the Butt to Barra.

We have sought to address the unacceptable levels of fuel poverty in our communities by engaging with Government and also putting in place a multi-agency Community Planning Partnership Fuel Poverty Strategy and Action Plan that takes a holistic three-strand approach that encompasses energy efficiency of buildings, household income levels and the cost of fuel. Over £12m of investment has gone into new homes through the national Home Energy Efficiency Programme. This investment, led by the Comhairle, will have positive impacts on fuel poverty levels and the quality of our housing stock.

We have delivered 150 new affordable homes in partnership with HHP. We have supported this housing programme with grant aid and have contributed land. Our input has been significant. In most cases it has made the difference between a housing development going ahead or not.

We have delivered a new 24 bed shared temporary accommodation facility at The Acres. This has transformed the Homeless service along with the additional properties we have purchased off the open market. Anyone homeless in our community should not now face long periods within unsuitable bed and breakfast accommodation. This has been a massive step forward.

We have resettled six Syrian refugee families under a UK programme. I would like to thank our community for the kindness that they have shown to our new residents.

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Apprenticeships are Changing

As part of the annual Skills Development Scotland (SDS) Scottish Apprenticeship Week, Comhairle nan Eilean Siar has been holding a series of events to demonstrate how apprenticeships work for businesses, individuals and the economy. There is commitment to supporting more Modern Apprenticeships as well as the introduction of Foundation and Graduate Level Apprenticeships. One of the aims is to encourage employers to take on apprentices.

The week is also about showcasing the successes of apprentices who have chosen to get a job, get paid and get qualified to develop their careers.

Employers, school pupils, colleges and training providers as well as interested members of the public were all invited to participate in the events.

Drop-in sessions for the exchange of ideas and information were held throughout this week at e-Sgoil.

This project has tested new ground for Modern Apprentice delivery and we are proud to be involved. A great example of its success is that two island women became the first to achieve Modern Apprenticeship accreditation as Harris Tweed weavers, a milestone for both the industry and the national Modern Apprentice programme which has never previously accredited an individual in self-employment.

Jacqueline Craig and Anne Marie Henderson received their certificates from Cllr Alasdair Macleod at an event held as part of Scottish Apprenticeship Week.  The Modern Apprenticeships were delivered as part of a wider project to support the Harris Tweed industry.  Community trusts Horshader Community Development and Tolsta Community Development Ltd. utilised revenue from their renewable energy assets to purchase double-width looms with a view to creating locally based, flexible employment opportunities.  The new looms were ordered directly from engineering firm Griffiths Textile Machinery Ltd and then leased to individuals living within the trusts catchment areas.

 

 

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Ardseileach Centre

We were very pleased that The First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon MSP, took the opportunity to visit the new Ardseileach Centre in Stornoway, during her recent visit to Lewis. Ardseileach provides residential accommodation to disabled adults, through a series of independent living units clustered around a core residential facility.

The First Minister remarked that facilities like the Ardseileach Centre provide a vital service in rural locations like Lewis as they enable adults with disabilities to live independently in their community.

The First Minister was also interested in how disabled people are supported to live independently, exercising choice and control over their lives.

The core residential facility at Ardseileach was opened a number of months ago, with the supported living units due to come on stream within the next few weeks. The new facility was built following a multi-million investment by Comhairle nan Eilean Siar and provides a sustainable service model capable of meeting the needs of service users for years to come.

 

 

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Syrian Families

I am please to be able to say that 6 Syrian families are now staying safely within our community and whilst the number may be small, our Community Planning Partners are doing what we can to support the UK Government funded programme of re-settlement. The UK programme was set up in response to the human tragedy that we have all witnessed unfolding in Syria and I know that our community will welcome the new families with the same support shown to the earlier Syrian families who have been with us for 7 months.

More volunteers from the Lewis area are now sought to support the families with a range of aspects of day-to-day life. Any volunteer will be supported with appropriate training and guidance and reasonable out of pocket expenses will be covered.

The Comhairle is also keen to hear from any Arabic speakers who may be able to donate some time. To sign up, please visit the front page of the Comhairle nan Eilean Siar website in the ‘Features’ section to view the role description and volunteering guidelines:
http://www.cne-siar.gov.uk/cxdir/externalstrategy/communityplanning/helprefugees.asp

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Budget Reality for Local Government

#Budget Reality for Local Government

For information please find below a link to a COSLA briefing on the proposed draft local government settlement.  I hope this briefing will help to give you an accurate picture of what is being proposed.

https://t.co/X8CbiXlGXu

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Befriending Lewis

A huge congratulations to Befriending Lewis who have scooped £150,000 worth of Big Lottery funding through the Improving Lives Fund. This is very welcome news for the group, which provides a way for people to have more social contact through matching them with a suitable befriender. The results of befriending can be very significant and often provides people with a new direction in life, opens up a range of activities and leads to increased self-esteem and self-confidence. We wish the group the very best in the coming years as they carry out this commendable and worthwhile work in our communities.

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Development of Renewables in the Islands

I had a good discussion with our MSP Alasdair Allan and Paul Wheelhouse MSP, the Minister for Business, Innovation and Energy on the development of renewables in the islands. Paul expressed his agreement with the Comhairle’s position on renewable energy and the Interconnector. That is, that we need the large scale windfarm projects to make the Interconnector viable.

Paul also agreed to write to the UK Energy Minister Greg Clark asking him to reconvene the Islands/UK Government/Scottish Government Energy Working Group to discuss the issues surrounding the development of renewables in the Islands, including the Interconnector.

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Population Seminar

We are hosting an important population seminar next week on Monday 7th and Tuesday 8th November.

Population decline and related issues of demographic imbalance are amongst the most acute economic and social issues faced by the Outer Hebrides.  The Seminar is the first step towards developing a comprehensive policy framework to tackle population decline and migration issues.  The first day will consider local, national and international perspectives and hear from community planning partners on their approach and how they can contribute to developing an over-arching policy framework for population retention and growth. 

The second day will involve each of the four Community Planning Partnership Outcome Groups (Economy, Education and Skills; Health and Well-Being; Communities; Natural and Cultural Resources) and a specific Young Person’s Group, coming up with five potential actions for consideration by the Community Planning Partnership.  The focus will be on stimulating debate, discussion and generating new ideas.   

The seminar will be attended by representatives of UK and Scottish governments as well as community planning partners, sectoral business representatives, community council and other community groups from across the islands.  We will also have student representatives from the four secondary schools. 

This seminar event will be the beginning of a wider stakeholder engagement process.  Following the seminar, it is intended to hold business and community Stakeholder Engagement events in Barra, Uist, Harris, Rural Lewis and Stornoway, with a view to signing off the new framework in March/April 2017.

 

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Anonymous donation

Huge thank you to the anonymous donor of jumpers for the Syrian baby. I have passed them onto the appropriate people.

Thank you.

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Letter

A copy of a letter sent to the local papers this morning:

For 20 years now, Comhairle nan Eilean Siar has supported Renewable Energy development because of its transformational socioeconomic and carbon reduction benefits.  However, plans to exploit the islands’ considerable Renewable Energy potential have been repeatedly thwarted by the lack of an electricity export connection (an interconnector) between the islands and the National Grid.

Four things are needed before the Transmission Owner for the North of Scotland – Scottish Hydro Electric [Transmission] Limited (SHE-T) – can build this new £800m interconnector:

  • a critical mass of consented Renewable Energy generation, contracted to Grid;
  • financial underwriting of the cost of the new Radial Connector;
  • UK Government confirmation that ‘Contract for Difference’ support will be available to island generators (a ‘Contract for Difference’ is an underwritten minimum Strike Price which makes island schemes viable by supporting the extra cost of their development); and,
  • approval by the Energy Regulator, OFGEM, of the Needs Case submitted by SHE-T in respect of the interconnector.

At the moment, sufficient generating capacity is consented and contracted to Grid and the commercial developers have underwritten the cost of the interconnector through a series of very substantial securities and deposits.

To allow a Needs Case to go forward SHE-T requires significant  commitments on the underwriting of grid costs.  A SHE-T spokesman recently stated in the press: “What we need, before we are able to make any Needs Case, is a firm commitment from the developers and a commitment that they will underwrite the costs of the cable”.  To my mind that comment is critical.  Millions of pounds of underwriting will be required for the type of cable needed for the Outer Hebrides.  At this stage it is only the larger projects with (with planning and grid consents) who have been able to demonstrate the required financial commitment. These large scale projects are therefore absolutely essential to secure the interconnector.

Based on the commitment shown by commercial developers the current timetable means that the interconnector will be in place by early 2021.  There is no other process or timetable that will allow the interconnector to be put in place within that timescale; indeed there is no other process that will allow SHE-T to go forward with a Needs Case in the foreseeable future.

An announcement from the UK Government on CfD support is anticipated before the end of this year and SHE-T will then submit their Needs Case to OFGEM for approval.  Other than large-scale commercial developers there are no other projects in the islands with the necessary planning consents and grid contracts in place to allow them to compete in the CfD auction.

Community Renewable Energy schemes are vitally important to the Comhairle and, already, there is 21.5MW of community owned generation consented and contracted to Grid.  Ideally, we would like to see all island generation in community hands but the simple fact is that only the commercial generators have the resources to underwrite the cost of the interconnector.  Without this underwriting, and sufficient consented and Grid contracted generation in place to justify the new link, there would be no interconnector.  Failure of the interconnector project would seriously disadvantage our community generators since the current island Grid is at capacity and the only option for connecting future community schemes is the interconnector.

As commercial companies, developers like Lewis Wind Power obviously require a return on their investment.  The Comhairle recognises this but has negotiated a very generous additional package of benefits for the community, including the transfer of a sizeable share of the generation produced by these windfarms into direct community ownership – far in excess of the volume needed to supply island demand.  This means that ‘Hebrides Energy’, our new, not-for-profit, community owned Energy Supply Company will be able to generate and sell its own electricity to island consumers at as near cost price as the regulatory regime allows.  Other benefits will include unprecedented opportunities for the island supply chain, many new jobs, apprenticeships for our young people and revenue benefits for our communities.

Angus Campbell

Leader, Comhairle nan Eilean Siar

 

 

 

 

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