Meeting With SSE Over Electricity Surcharge

Yesterday, along with the Western Isles Poverty Action Group, I met with representatives of the energy company SSE to discuss the 2p per unit surcharge that consumers in the Highlands and Islands pay on their electricity bills.

SSE have committed to undertaking further work on a ‘social tariff’ which could reduce prices but would require the approval of the energy regulator, OFGEM.

We made clear the dissatisfaction and anger of people in the islands to the additional charge on their electricity, amounting to some 15% of the charges they pay. In an area with the highest levels of fuel poverty in the UK it is clearly unacceptable. The SSE representatives listened to the case we made and undertook to do further work on how a ‘social tariff’ could be introduced which could reduce bills. Whilst this would require the approval of OFGEM we made clear that we were of the view that SSE could reduce bills now if they were minded to.

A petition of over 1150 names, calling for the surcharge to be removed, was presented to the SSE representatives by the Poverty Action Group.

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Cancellation of Car Ferry Service

There is no doubt that the work to the linkspan in Ullapool is both necessary, and will help to make the turnaround much swifter and more efficient, however, we are very disappointed with the lack of communication from CMAL and Cal Mac on this issue.

We still do not know when exactly this 6 week period will come into force or what alternative provision will be made. This is very concerning and I hope that Cal Mac discuss their plans with our communities as soon as possible, particularly as this is a lifeline service.

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Petition to have Electricity Surcharge Removed

I fully support the WIPAG’s petition to get electricity prices lowered for H&I consumers.

Over 500 signatures in the space of 24 hours is a clear demonstration that the people of the Highlands and Islands will not stand for what is clearly a discriminatory charge and I sincerely hope that SSE review their charges. The removal of the surcharge would certainly make a huge difference to consumers, particularly as 71% of the population in the Western Isles live in fuel poverty.

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Higher Tariff on Electricity Charges

I am fully supportive of calls being made for SSE to explain why consumers in the Highlands and Islands pay a higher tariff on electricity charges than consumers in the rest of Scotland.

Not only are we being charged 2p per unit more than the rest of Scotland, we also face higher charges for the transmission of energy out of our area. So we are faced with a double whammy – particularly as much of that electricity is produced in the Highlands and islands. At the same time we have the highest fuel poverty figures in the UK. To impose an additional burden on the people of the Highlands and islands is completely unacceptable and completely contradicts the principle of universality.

I would also be interested to know how long people in the Highlands and islands have been paying this tax and also what is OFGEM’s views on what is clearly a discriminatory charge

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100th Anniversary of World War 1.

Very informative and interesting evening last Thursday at an event organised by Newton Residents’ Association to mark the 100th anniversary of World War 1.

Local historians Sandy Matheson and Malcolm Macdonald talked about the Ross Battery, its role in the war and the importance of the site to both the Army and the Navy.  There was also a moving account of the tragic events surrounding the loss of the Iolaire in January 1919 and the role Battery Point played.

It was a timely reminder of the sacrifices made by the people of these Islands in the ‘war to end all wars’.

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Opening of the Acres

I was delighted to be at the official opening of the Acres yesterday, the purpose built temporary accommodation unit for homeless persons.

For years the Comhairle has sought to provide a facility like this. It is, unfortunately, much needed. I was impressed by the quality of the facilities and by the quality of the work undertaken by the main contractor, Alec Murray Ltd.

One of the interesting features of the building is its energy efficient design with solar and photo-voltaic panels, underfloor heating and a remote controlled Building Management system.

Of course, as well as being a first rate facility, the Acres also offers local employment opportunities with 8.5 full time equivalent jobs.

Congratulations to all involved in making this project a reality.

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£1m financial gains for cancer patients in the Western Isles

Fantastic news that a service provided through a partnership with Macmillan Cancer Support has secured over £1m of financial gains to date. The service provides support and advice and seeks to increase benefits take up and access to financial support for people suffering terminal and debilitating illnesses and conditions in the islands. Delivered by a support officer based in the Revenues and Benefits Team at the Town Hall, the service has been in operation for 4 years and has supported people throughout the islands from the Butt to Barra.

I am delighted that our partnership with Macmillan Cancer Support has been of such enormous benefit to cancer suffers throughout the islands.  Securing financial support means those affected can focus on what really matters at what can be a very difficult and challenging time.

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Commonwealth Baton Relay – Western Isles

The Commonwealth Games Queen’s Baton Relay comes to the Western Isles next Monday (7th) and Tuesday (8th) July. This will be an opportunity to celebrate over 60 members of our community who have been nominated by the public for their contributions to community and sporting life in the islands. The baton will arrive in Barra on Monday evening and travel the length of the islands on Tuesday, with community events being held along the route in Daliburgh, Liniclate, Tarbert, Lionel and Stornoway.

We are delighted that Glasgow will host the Games this summer and we are, and will be, doing our best to highlight the opportunities for spectators to visit our special islands throughout the Western Isles, before or after attending the Games.

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The launch of ‘Empowering Scotland’s Island Communities’

This morning saw the launch of ‘Empowering Scotland’s Island Communities’ – the Scottish Government’s response to the Our Islands Our Future campaign.

The document contains proposals for Island areas including that 100% of Crown Estate revenues would go to Island areas where developments ware in Island waters. That is a really good proposal and one that we had argued long and hard for. Other proposals include an Islands Minister, an Islands Act and a stronger voice in Europe for island areas.  Of course, from the Scottish Government’s perspective, these are dependent upon a yes vote in September’s referendum. I gave a commitment this morning that the work will go on in maximising benefits for Island residents whatever the outcome of the referendum. 

The complete Scottish Government document is available here: http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Publications/2014/06/2708/downloads

We look forward to soon seeing the UK Government’s response to Our Islands Our Future.

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Queen’s Honours List

I would like to add the Comhairle’s congratulations to Kenneth MacIver, BBC Radio nan Gàidheal Presenter, who was awarded the title of OBE on the Queen’s Birthday Honours List this past weekend for services to Gaelic Broadcasting and to the community in the Western Isles. Kenneth is a former councillor of Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, and served the ward of Loch a’ Tuath from 2007 to 2012.

I would also like to congratulate Alistair Buchan, who was awarded the title of CBE, for services to Local Government. Alistair is currently the Chief Executive of Orkney Island Council, but worked in the HR department at Comhairle nan Eilean Siar a number of years ago.

Finally, I would like to congratulate John Murdo Morrison from Harris, who was awarded the title of MBE, for services to the community in the Western Isles.

Sincere congratulations to them all.

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