Taking OIOF Forward With New Government

Along with Orkney and Shetland, we are seeking early meetings with the new Secretary of State for Scotland and other key players to discuss Our Islands Our Future (OIOF) and specifically to seek reassurances on the commitments of the previous Government on the campaign for more powers for Island areas.

Although the previous agreements took place with a Conservative/Liberal Democrat coalition government, the 3 Councils expect commitments to be honoured by the new Conservative Government.

I personally welcome the appointment of David Mundell as Secretary of State for Scotland, having worked productively with him in the past, and look forward to doing so in the future.

We did the groundwork previously with the UK Government and although there has been a change in Government we would expect them to continue along similar lines with regard to Our Islands Our Future. It is good to hear the Prime Minister say that the Smith Commission recommendations, arising from the ‘Vow’, will be honoured in full. From the Islands point of view that is important as one of the key recommendations is the transfer of revenues and management of the Crown Estate to the Scottish Government and, as agreed by Scottish Government, onwards to local coastal communities, one of the key aims of the OIOF campaign. Hopefully there may be additional powers for Scotland as argued for by the islands Councils in their submission to the Smith Commission.

The Island Councils continue to meet with the Scottish Government on a regular basis in taking forward discussions on OIOF and we hope to meet with the new Secretary of State for Scotland, as the UK Government’s representative, in the near future.

Whilst we recognise that some of the faces we will now be meeting at a UK Government level will have changed, many of the key players, including Ministers and senior civil servants, will be the same and they are well acquainted with OIOF and the wishes of Island Councils and communities.

I will keep you updated on our progress.

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Launch of Calls for Evidence

The Local Tax Commission has launched a call for Written Evidence and produced a short online survey at https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/LV6K7F6

This survey gives you the opportunity to express your views on local taxation – now and in the future. I would like to encourage as many of you as possible to compete the survey. By doing so, you can help to guide the thinking and priorities that the Commission will explore.

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Carloway Estate Buyout

I would like to congratulate the community of Carloway on what is a historic occasion for all concerned. I know that a great deal of work has been put in by the Carloway Estate Trust who have worked tirelessly to secure the funding needed. Historic structures such as the world famous Callanish Stones, which remain in the hands of Historic Scotland, and the Carloway Broch are just some of the sites which have boosted tourism in our islands and added to the local economy over the years. I wish the community, the Trust and all the residents the very best for the future and I must say that it is great to see more and more of the land being brought back to the people of our islands.

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Nepalese Earthquake Appeal

Our thoughts and prayers go out to all those suffering the effects of the earthquake in Nepal.

The scale of this disaster is extensive and the response should be on a similar scale. People in the Western Isles have already shown how generous they are with local businesses, schools, voluntary organisations and individuals making considerable efforts of assistance. I know that pupils from the Nicolson Institute raised over £1000 today alone. I too would like to thank everyone who has contributed and would urge people throughout the Islands to lend further support by donating whatever they can afford.

Donations to the Nepal Earthquake Appeal can be made through: www.redcross.org.uk/nepalearthquake

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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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