Equalising electricity prices

I was at a conference on Fuel Poverty in the Western Isles on Tuesday where I said that The UK Government’s consultation on equalising electricity prices was welcome but that it should be speedily carried out and not be allowed to be kicked into the long grass. 

I also made the point that SSE could remove the 2p per unit surcharge on electricity prices in the north of Scotland at a stroke if they so wished. The representative from SSE said if they did that OFGEM would be down on them like a ton of bricks. The only trouble with this is that OFGEM have already indicated that they would be quite happy for SSE to proceed in this way..

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UK Government Agree Principle of ‘Island Proofing’

The interests of island areas will feature in UK legislation following agreement by the UK Government to the principle of ‘Island proofing’.

This is a very welcome outcome and something that we have been working for through the Our Islands Our Future campaign.  Too often legislation has been brought in which penalises island communities or does not take the specific needs of Islands into account. The electricity transmission charging system is an example – where island areas are deemed to be not part of the national grid and so face unacceptably high charges for the export of electricity. Hopefully this kind of discrimination can now be prevented by examining the consequences for island areas at an early stage of legislation. This is an important and historic move forward for Island areas.

The Island Leaders also pressed the UK Government to deliver on the Smith Commission recommendation to devolve the management and revenues of the Crown Estate to coastal communities. The importance that it be both management and revenue coming to the Islands was again recognised and agreed by all round the table.

I will keep you updated of progress.

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Commission on Local Tax Reform

I have recently become a member of the Commission on Local Tax Reform.

This work will be happening over the next 6-8 months and as it develops will be to looking to consult and take views across communities on this very important subject.

If you have an interest in this issue, you can view the website at localtaxcommission.scot or follow the twitter account @localtaxscot

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Comhairle Honoured for Procurement at National GO Awards 2015/16

The Comhairle was awarded the Procurement Team of the Year Award for Local Government and Consortia, at the National GO Awards held in Manchester last night.

Hosted by BiP Solutions Ltd, for the past 15 years the National GO Awards have been the benchmark by which excellence and progress in public sector procurement and commissioning has been measured.

All this year’s entries were recently reviewed by a panel of 12 judges, made up of experts in UK procurement and commissioning, including Sally Collier, Chief Executive Officer, at the Crown Commercial Service; Simon Hill, Managing Director at YPO; and Peter Smith, Managing Editor at Spend Matters Europe.

I am delighted that the Comhairle’s work in procurement has been recognised at a national level. We spent £19.6m locally in the last financial year which was 44% of the overall total.  This was an increase of 8% on the previous year and demonstrates our continued commitment to do all we can to support our local suppliers and improve competitiveness in a challenging procurement environment. The Comhairle also made procurement savings of £866k in 2013/14.

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Deadline for Comments on Health and Social Care Integration Scheme

A new document that details the proposed partnership agreement between NHS Western Isles and Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, for health and social care integration, is still available for comment, until tomorrow (Friday).

The Integration Scheme has been approved for consultation by the Health Board and Comhairle and has been available throughout February at:  www.hsci-wi.org.uk together with a feedback form (can be completed online or downloaded), Frequently Asked Questions, example videos on the benefits of integrating services, and information on services that are to be delegated to a new Integration Joint Board.

The consultation period will close tomorrow (27th February 2015).

Once the consultation has finished, NHS Western Isles and Comhairle nan Eilean Siar will be asked to approve the Integration Scheme before it is submitted to the Scottish Government.  The deadline for submission of the Scheme is 1st April 2015.

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The need for a West Coast based ETV

We are again pursuing the case for an Emergency Towing Vessel (ETV) to be based in the West of Scotland, after a large cargo ship that ran aground near Ardnamurchan Point in the west Highlands earlier this week. The Kingdom of Fife tug arrived on the scene after travelling north from the Clyde whilst the Orkney based ETV, the Heracles, was also deployed but took 24 hours to arrive on the scene.

This is another occasion when, thankfully, there were no injuries but which could have been a vastly different story. The removal of the ETV from Western waters has increased the risk to mariners and to the environment. We call on the UK Government to reassess and find a long term solution to this crucial issue.

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OIOF COSLA Presentation

Last Thursday morning I had the privilege of taking part in a presentation at the COSLA Excellence Awards alongside Gary Robinson, Leader of Shetland Islands Council and three young people from the Western Isles, Shetland and Orkney. The Our Islands Our future campaign has been shortlisted for the Local Matters category and we were asked to explain a little about what we have done – the past – and what we want to do – the future. The three young people, Annabel Maclennan (Western Isles), Kaylee Mouat (Shetland) and Aidan Moodie (Orkney) represented the future aspect of the presentation, giving a vision of what they hope to see in our islands in the coming years and how OIOF will help us reach that vision.

I would like to convey my sincere thanks to all three of them, who were not only a credit to their respective islands, but also a credit to their generation and conducted themselves in a confident and professional manner. Who knows, maybe one of them could be a future Prime Minister or First Minister!

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Severe Weather – Thank you to workers, emergency services and volunteers

On behalf of the Comhairle I would like to sincerely thank all the workers, emergency services and volunteers for all their efforts and dedication in keeping our communities safe throughout the most recent period of severe weather. The weather made things particularly difficult for home carers, as well as those working outdoors to restore power to homes and to repair damage to buildings but the resilience shown is testament to how our island communities pull together to mitigate the impacts of severe weather.

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Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas! Comhairle nan Eilean Siar wishes the community of the Western Isles a very Merry Christmas and a happy, healthy and prosperous New Year.

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OIOF Success at Scottish Public Service Awards

On Friday evening the Leaders and Chief Executives of Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, Orkney Islands Council and Shetland Islands Council, representing the Our Islands: Our Future campaign, were announced as the winners of the Leadership category at the Scottish Public Service Awards which took place at the Scottish Parliament.

When we launched the campaign in June 2013, our main priorities were to address a range of common issues through the opportunity presented by the independence referendum. The campaign gained significant commitment from both the Scottish Government and UK Government and I firmly believe that through this initiative we put our islands in the best possible position regardless of what the outcome of the referendum would be.

This award recognises the united commitment of elected members and employees in the three Councils to what has already been achieved, and the work required to deliver greater local autonomy and a more balanced relationship between local and national governments, based on increased knowledge of island needs and opportunities. For us, it was very important to highlight the fact that the needs and status of island areas are different and need to be clearly recognised in the new era for Scotland – one size does not fit all. I am delighted that through this joint working since the launch of the project back in June 2013, we have demonstrated what a cohesive and innovative approach can achieve in bringing real benefits on issues which are of importance to our communities.

The work continues, however, and we are, and will be, in discussions with both the UK and Scottish Governments to try and get the best deal possible for our islands.

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