Loganair Review

Loganair’s announcement of a review of their performance is to be welcomed and I believe that it also well overdue. Many people have spoken to me about how flights have been delayed leading to missed appointments or even connections on other flights.

I am writing to the Scottish Government making very clear that the performance of Loganair has not been at an acceptable level and that I feel the Comhairle should have a role in the strategic review of performance. This would be appropriate as part of the efforts to give real powers to island communities to improve services in their communities as part of the ‘Our Islands Our Future’ initiative.

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Local Tax Commission – Western Isles Event (Wednesday 19th August)

The Commission on Local Tax Reform – established jointly by the Scottish Government and the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (COSLA) – is holding a public meeting at Comhairle nan Eilean Siar Council Offices, Sandwick Road, Stornoway, on 19 August from 6.00pm to 9.00pm.

Residents will have the opportunity to take part in a discussion with the Commission, which sees Councillors and MSPs from across Scotland’s political parties working alongside people from business and civic society to explore and understand a range of alternatives to the present Council Tax.

We very much welcome the Commission’s visit to the islands and it is important that the views of people in areas such as the Outer Hebrides is part of this process. As in many things, the impact of change may have different implications for island areas and it is important that all points of view are heard.

I would encourage as many people as possible to attend this event.

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Councillor Iain Morrison

Today was a sad day for both the Comhairle and the Western Isles when we attended the funeral of Cllr Iain Morrison, better known as Iain a’ Mhilichean. The respect Iain was held in was shown by the number attending his funeral and the sadness felt by all who were there.

It was often said that Iain knew everyone and that was through the many, many people he came into contact with and the fact that he made time for each and every one of them.

Our thoughts are with Annette and the family. A good friend who will be sorely missed.

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Charles Kennedy

The tragic and early death of Charles Kennedy saddened me. Not that I knew him well although we had met a couple of times. But the man’s personal qualities aside , and they were many, he had a view of Highland and Island politics that strike a chord. Charles’ loyalty to the Liberal Democrat cause was unquestionable. However, following the loss of his seat he referred to the fact that he liked Highland and Island politics because they were about people rather than party.  I know what he meant. Rest in Peace Charles. Our thoughts are with your family and friends at this saddest of times.

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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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