Together with colleagues from Orkney and Shetland we had a very good meeting with officials from the Scotland Office last Friday to discuss the Our Islands Our Future initiative. We also had a video link with the Secretary of State for Scotland, Alistair Carmichael.
There was agreement that we should work towards producing a concordat to outline the areas where powers could be devolved from Westminster to Island areas. We will be looking at areas such as oil and gas, renewables, fisheries and the Crown Estate and how we can develop and manage island resources.
The Secretary of State also confirmed that an Islands’ desk had been created within the Scotland Office to act as a principal contact and resource to take forward work on ‘Our Islands Our Future’. This is significant and, I think, unique, in the administration of the Scotland Office or its precursor, the Scottish Office.
We are of course also continuing discussions with the Scottish Government on where powers can be devolved from Holyrood to Island areas and are halfway through a series of meetings aimed at drawing up a prospectus.
I was pleased to have the opportunity of being in Glasgow last week on behalf of the Comhairle, to pick up the Award from Community Energy Scotland for the level of Combined Heat and Power installed (CHP) at the Scottish Renewable Energy Awards.
Having had time to reflect on the award we have been given, it has only served to further fill me with confidence that we can, and that we will, continue to lead on renewable energy.
Our islands have an abundance of natural resources, which is why we are working with Community Energy Scotland to develop an Energy Supply Company for the Outer Hebrides, wholly owned by the local community. Between 2008 and 2012, the Comhairle, in partnership with Community Energy Scotland, invested £2.6 million in Renewable Energy schemes led by local communities. Because of this investment, we now have a massive 23.5MW of community owned electricity generation, consented and contracted to Grid.
The time to move on this is now, and by working together we can provide a brighter and more sustainable future for our islands
Being an MP is a great honour. It is an opportunity to represent all the people of your constituency on the matters of the day amongst some of the finest minds of the day. Whilst the role has somewhat diminished since the advent of the Scottish Parliament it is still an honourable position where the country’s representatives can hold forth and take part in great debates.
The Western Isles has a long and honourable tradition of MPs, of whatever political colour. Not so long ago we had the SNP’s Donald Stewart. Donald was a fine politician and a fine man who my father knew well. He consistently represented all the people of the Western Isles, whatever their political persuasion and never abused his position of trust in the House of Commons or told untruths under the cover of parliamentary privilege.
Good news story on BBC Reporting Scotland last Thursday evening.
The ‘Slàinte Mhath’ Sports Centre Scheme was used as a good example of how councils should handle health and leisure facility fees. Since the scheme came into place in January 2010 and fees were reduced by more than half, there has been a 25% increase in the number of people using the facilities.
This shows that by working together, we can continue to make good on the challenges that we face as a council and community. However the challenge now for us all as individuals, which maybe isn’t quite so easy, is to go and make full use of these services.
Interesting story in today’s news amongst the gloom from Grangemouth.
The Office of National Statistics (ONS) has reported that People who live in Orkney, Shetland and the Western Isles report the highest levels of life satisfaction, self -worth and happiness across the whole of Great Britain.
Residents in the three Island areas also have very low levels of anxiety, coming second in the table only to Dumfries and Galloway, the ONS said.
Of course, we knew all this already.
Yesterday and Monday, along with colleagues from Shetland and Orkney, I was at Westminster where a series of very productive meetings have taken forward our campaign to secure further powers for the Islands. A meeting with the New Secretary of State for Scotland, Alistair Carmichael, formed a busy two-day round of talks with Ministers and senior Government officials. I was greatly encouraged by the Secretary of State’s comments that there is much that can be done now to achieve our aims. We have always argued that whatever the outcome of next year’s referendum there is an opportunity for the Islands to improve their position and increase the benefits for those living in Island areas. It is about delivering those aspirations and I am optimistic that will happen sooner rather than later.
The introduction of a winter pilot ferry service for Lochboisdale/Mallaig is very much to be welcomed. The community has been lobbying for such a service for years and, although at this stage it is only a pilot I believe the traffic generated will show that a permanent service should be introduced.
This shows what lobbying and working together can achieve.
I, along with other colleagues from the Comhairle, will today be attending the first Our Islands – Our Future Conference in Orkney. As one of the three Island Councils in Scotland, we have laid out our vision for a stronger future following the Independence Referendum of 2014. We are calling for a commitment that whatever the outcome, the needs and status of island areas are clearly recognised in the new era for Scotland. Today’s conference is the first step on the road to fulfilling that vision. I will update you with our progress in due course.
On Tuesday, myself and the Convener attended the Petitions Committee of the Scottish Parliament in connection with Air Services and RET for Commercial vehicles. It was an interesting experience although I have to say I found it a little disappointing that some Members of the Committee appear not to have read the consultants’ report on RET which demonstrated that hauliers did indeed pass on savings under the scheme to consumers in the Western Isles. However the Committee has now agreed to read it.
On Air Services we outlined the process that the Comhairle followed in its deliberations over the budget and the extensive consultation process we went through.
I have no intention of the Comhairle revisiting that budget. However, I will be proposing a motion next week at P&R that we look at the possibility of an inter-island air discount scheme and whether we could use the revenue generated to go towards air services. Under the scheme public authorities such as the Health Board and the Comhairle would pay the full price of tickets but the public would get a reduced rate – the same as the ADS for Island areas run by the Scottish Government. If it feasible it is certainly worth looking at.
Transcripts from the Petitions Committee should be available in a few days and I will make them available on this site for anyone who is interested in reading the detail of what was said.
Following on from the Lews Castle and Museum nan Eilean Project, this week is ‘Make Young People Your Business Week’ and the Comhairle is wholly committed to helping young people in to work and supporting local business employment and growth. That commitment is demonstrated through the Comhairle’s Building Skills Grant which aims to encourage employers to recruit young apprentices. We currently have 11 employers across the Outer Hebrides providing 26 apprenticeship places. This type of scheme is vital to support young people to stay on the islands and to undertake their skills and training locally where possible.
In addition, the Comhairle’s Accredited Training and Skills team is delivering and supporting a number of National Training and Employment Support Programmes including:
- 57 Modern Apprentices in a wide variety of occupational areas;
- 9 participants on the Employability Fund with a further 13 applicants in the process of recruitment;
- 28 young employees through the Youth Employment Scotland Fund;