Derek McKim

Sad news at the end of last week with the passing away of Derek McKim, formerly Head of External Strategy for the Comhairle.

Derek had joined the Comhairle in 1975 and didn’t retire until the end of 2010 so he was one of the longest ever serving officers of the Comhairle. He did sterling work for the Comhairle and the Western Isles, particularly in his role as the lead officer for European matters. He helped to bring millions of pounds of Objective One, and other funding, into the Islands.

Personally I found Derek a very knowledgeable and able officer who was good to work with and, on a more personal level, enjoyable company. I am sad he is no longer with us and my thoughts are with his family and friends.

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Building Skills Grant – 2014/15

The Comhairle has once again been able to allocate funding during financial year 2014/15 to support Apprenticeship training within the construction industry in the Western Isles. 

The amount of funding support paid to employers will depend on the number of eligible applications received.  Initial payments, paid on evidence of training having commenced will be on a first come first serve basis.  A decision on the final amount of funding allocated will be made on the closing date of Friday 22 August 2014. 

For further details and an application form, please contact Finlay Maciver, Accredited Training and Skills, St. Lennan’s Youth Services Centre, 22– 24 Point Street, Stornoway, HS1 2XF. Telephone: 01851 822715. e-mail – fmaciver@cne-siar.gov.uk

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Castle Grounds Regeneration Project – Drop-in Day

A Drop-in Day on Saturday 19th April in the Woodlands Centre, Stornoway, is the latest stage in the development of restoration and improvement proposals for the Lews Castle Grounds.

Draft proposals will be displayed on the upper floor of the Woodlands Centre and the event will include short presentations on the project and guided walks around the project area.  There will also be an update on progress with the Lews Castle Museum and Archive project, currently under construction and scheduled to open in the summer of 2015.

The event will also be an opportunity for members of the public, whether regular users of the Castle Grounds or visitors to the island, to make their views known and offer suggestions and ideas on the developing proposals.

Please drop in anytime between 10.30am and 4.30pm. 

If you would to get involved as a volunteer please contact: Tina MacLean: tina.maclean@cne-siar.gov.uk   Volunteers are needed for a range of tasks over the next few weeks, including Visitor Surveys and a Spring Clean campaign.

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Youth Worker of the Year (part-time) Award 2014 – Katie Denehy

I’d like to congratulate Katie Denehy who was presented with the award for Youth Worker of the Year (part-time) at last week’s  National Youth Worker of the Year Awards. Katie supports the local Youth Council and her many other achievements include working with the Barra Youth Café, Primary Youth Club and supporting young people through their Youth Achievement and Volunteer Awards. I am sure that Castlebay School and the surrounding community are very proud of Katie and what she has achieved for the young people in the area.

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The Castle Development

There has been a lot of misleading information circulated regarding the Castle development but the proposal will most certainly contain a 4/ 5 star hotel development. Within that there will be the ability to create apartments on occasions such as weddings which would be particularly suitable for families. Other top hotels in Scotland offer such flexibility. The maximum number of apartments that would be in operation at any one time would be nine. Given the investment required from the operator plus ongoing lease commitments there would indeed be the need to charge a premium rent.

Finally, just to clarify, no decision has been made at this stage.

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Frequency of Sailings on the Stornoway to Ullapool Route

The issue of the frequency of sailings on the Stornoway to Ullapool route will be put onto the agenda of the next meeting of the Ferry Users’ Group on the 11th March in Stornoway.

I am aware of the concern amongst hauliers and the public at the number of cancellations there have been recently and now the loss, once again, of the Isle of Lewis, having just returned to service. I have asked that we discuss this with representatives of Caledonian MacBrayne at the next meeting of the Ferry Users’ Group which is meeting in Stornoway next month. We also wish to raise the issue of capacity on future services and timetabling of the new  service. It is important for the public and businesses that we have maximum flexibility available through the new timetable but also adequate back up in the event of vessel failure.

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Momentum Gathers for Western Isles Interconnector

After the Energy summit meeting held in Stornoway yesterday and the Steering Group meeting held this morning, I fully believe that momentum is now developing to get an interconnector established for the Western Isles.

The Summit, organised by the Scottish Government, brought together parties including the Department of Economy and Climate Change, electricity regulator OFGEM, National Grid, Renewable Developers, the Crown Estate, the Green Investment Bank and SHE-Transmission.

This is a an extremely complex process but I think that there is now more clarity amongst the interested parties in the stages that we still have to go through to get the interconnector in place, though it is clearly taking longer than anyone anticipated. We impressed upon SHE-Transmission the need to submit the needs case to OFGEM so that they can approve the go ahead for the interconnector. I would have liked to see a clearer commitment from SHE-Transmission as to when that will happen and then we need OFGEM to consider the needs case prudently but with minimum delay.  However, everyone is now clear that the next move is up to SHE-Transmission and is agreed that this should happen as early as possible to facilitate the infrastructure that will be required to export renewable energy generated in the Islands and realise the potential that will bring to the economy of the islands.

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BBC Radio 2 Young Folk Award winners

I would like to congratulate the BBC Radio 2 Young Folk Award winners, The Mischa Macpherson Trio, consisting of Mischa, Conal McDonagh on pipes and whistles and Innes White on guitar.

This is a fantastic achievement by a very talented group of young musicians, all with Western Isles connections, and I congratulate them on behalf of the Comhairle. This is a prestigious award and it brings great credit to the group themselves and their musical and cultural heritage that they have achieved this success.

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Comhairle Budget

Last week the Comhairle set the budget for the new financial year. This was largely agreed last year and the service reductions and redesigns brought forward this year are not additional but part of that overall package. Whilst this has been extremely challenging and is only likely to continue in the years ahead, we have managed to protect services for the most vulnerable and continue to support the economy. We have also done this without job losses as far as possible.

The Comhairle continues to charge the lowest Council Tax in Scotland at £1024 for a Band D property

The financial package sees the retention of itinerant teachers for P4-P7 pupils in art, music and P.E. despite the financial pressures imposed by reduced funding from central government.

The Comhairle also put funding into trade union representation. 

The Comhairle recognises the importance of jobs and we continue to support the local economy through initiaitves such as the Inter-islands Business Development scheme and the Fisheries Support scheme. I am pleased that the vast majority of the budget was supported by all members..  

 Over £70m in capital works is being invested over the next five years. This will include road, pavement and bridge improvements throughout the Western Isles, the development of Lews Castle and Museum nan Eilean, coast protection at Balivanich, new care and respite facilities to replace Ardseileach, the harbour development at Ardveenish in Barra, school improvements across the Islands and a new school in North Uist.

 The Comhairle anticipates needing to make further savings in future years. This could be in the region of £9m over the next three years and will involve equally difficult choices.

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Best in Europe!

Great news today that Trip Advisor, the international travel site, has officially acknowledged Lewis and Harris as the best island in Europe.

A recent survey showed that in the period between October 2012 to September 2013 218,000 people have visited our islands with 48% of them returning to the islands having previously enjoyed holidays in the Outer Hebrides. Our stunning beaches, our rich natural heritage, our archaeology (the list is endless) all attract people to the island.

Ranking Lewis and Harris at no. 1, placed us ahead of islands in Italy and Greece, and confirmed that Lewis and Harris is the most popular island destination in Europe.

Of course , we knew all this already.

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