Facebook Session on the Budget

I was delighted that so many people took part in our Facebook session to discuss the budget and the difficult choices we are facing. Over 100 people took part which is considerably more per head of population than other local authority areas which have conducted similar events. It really is a useful way of engaging though hard work – particularly for a Friday night!

One of the questions which arose during the session and which I have heard being discussed in the community is why the Comhairle doesn’t increase Council tax to prevent cuts in services having to be made. The trouble for the Comhairle, and other local authorities is that there is a financial penalty – in the region of over £300k – imposed on Councils which do not maintain the Council tax freeze. Plus we would need the money to cover the costs of the services so we would be looking at a significant increase in Council tax. Therefore under the current circumstances the Comhairle does not consider that taking money out of people’s pockets in the Western isles and it going to Edinburgh would be a sensible move.

What the Comhairle and COSLA did lobby for was for the Scottish Government to use the power it has to raise income tax by a penny in the pound with the additional money generated, around £470m, going to local government services. This lobbying has proved unsuccessful for this year but it is a theme I am sure local government will return to next year.

 

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Island Air Services

There is deep concern in the community at the air services currently being provided for the Islands. There is a problem in the number of delays and cancellations being experienced and there needs to be a long term strategy to provide improved services. The first meeting of the Transport Forum, which resulted from the Our Islands Our Future campaign, takes place next week where we can examine these issues and look at a way forward. One of the options which would be worth exploring would be whether Island Councils can be more involved in running air services.

 

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Islands’ Bill Consultation Deadline – Today

The deadline for responses to the consultation on the Islands’ Bill is today, 23rd December 2015.

I was very pleased to hear that the Higher Modern Studies class at the Nicolson Institute  submitted their views to the Scottish Government on the provisions of a future islands bill, yesterday. Their response was – “As young people living in the Western Isles we feel strongly that more must be done to protect and develop our island communities. We believe that we have benefitted greatly from our upbringing on the Isle of Lewis but we have also faced challenges that other young people in Scotland do not face. Whatever the government does, we feel it is important that the people living in the islands are consulted and that local people can have a real say in how their communities are developed. We think it is very important that young people get a say in the future of island communities.”

The Islands’ Bill presents a chance in a lifetime, so I would encourage everyone to fill in the consultation document. https://consult.scotland.gov.uk/islands-team/islands-bill-consultation

You are not required to fill in all of the questions and it will only take five minutes of your time. It’s really important that the Scottish Government hears the voices of the islands so again I would urge everyone to take part in the consultation.

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Outer Hebrides Tourism Success in 2015

I warmly welcome recently published figures which show an increase in visits and spend for the first 6 months of the year in Scotland.

I would also like to echo the words of Mike Cantlay, Chairman of Visit Scotland, who recently praised the Outer Hebrides for playing a big part in Scotland’s tourism success in 2015.

The Outer Hebrides is, of course, a truly outstanding experience for visitors and this was particularly the case during 2015 the Year of Food and Drink – these islands are a shining example of Scotland’s amazing food and drink produce, as well as the natural environment and rich cultural heritage.

It is essential that we work closely with the local industry to ensure that visitors experiences of products and services throughout the islands live up to the breathtaking scenery.  The tourism market is continually evolving in line with visitors expectations therefore it is important we engage with the local industry to ensure they have the chance to make the most of all the opportunities tourism brings to the Outer Hebrides’ economy.

We look forward to 2016 – the Year of innovation, Architecture and Design – and hope to see even more visitors to our islands

 

ENDS.

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West coast based ETV

I recently wrote a letter to Robert Goodwill MP, Minister of State, once again highlighting the urgent need for An ETV based on the west coast

“As you will be aware the UK Government reduced Emergency Towing Vessel (ETV) capacity in the north and west of Scotland in 2010.  One ETV, based in Kirkwall, now serves the entirety of the waters in the north of Scotland.  In the view of Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, the Local Authority for the Outer Hebrides, this level of provision is totally inadequate and is putting mariners, the local community, the local economy and the local environment at significant and unacceptable risk.

The removal of the ETV previously based in Stornoway means that a vessel in distress in the Minch, for example, would be hours-upon-hours away from any prospect of emergency assistance.  Over the recent past we have seen a number of incidents in which vessels went dangerously adrift in close proximity to the Outer Hebrides.  The MV Wilson Gdynia, a Barbados-flagged bulk carrier, went adrift in a storm off Barra Head and the 53,000 tonne cargo vessel the MV Eleanor D lost her engines in a gale west of the Hebrides.  Perhaps the most significant of these recent events was the fire on board the MV Parida which caused the vessel to lose power and go adrift.  The Parida was carrying a shipment of nuclear material from Scrabster to Antwerp.  Luckily none of these incidents resulted in the loss of life or in environmental pollution, but they are highly illustrative of the incidents that can and do occur in the dangerous waters in the north and west of Scotland.

We have been fortunate up to this point, but at some stage a catastrophic incident will occur that could have been averted by having an ETV available on the west coast.  I therefore reiterate my call for the Government to treat this issue with the utmost seriousness and to reinstate the west coast ETV.

I would be happy to meet with you to discuss this issue in greater detail and to reinforce the on-going demand from the Council and the local community of the Outer Hebrides for the reinstatement of this critical service.”

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Facebook Chat on Islands’ Bill

Last night I took part in our first ever Facebook Chat in a discussion about the Scottish Government’s Islands’ Bill and the current consultation which ends on the 23rd December. I found it to be a very enjoyable experience with some very interesting and helpful contributions. Thank you to all who took part or observed the session – we plan to do something similar on the budget in January.

If you were unable to attend the Facebook event, you can still see all the questions and answers: https://www.facebook.com/events/154192591610573/

The Islands’ Bill presents a chance in a lifetime, so I would encourage everyone to fill in the consultation document. https://consult.scotland.gov.uk/islands-team/islands-bill-consultation

You are not required to fill in all of the questions and it will only take five minutes of your time. It’s really important that the Scottish Government hears the voices of the islands so again I would urge everyone to take part in the consultation.

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Beinn Ghrideag Success at Green Energy Awards

I would like to congratulate all concerned with the Beinn Ghrideag Windfarm project which was awarded the Best Community Project Award at the Scottish Green Energy Awards, held at the Edinburgh International Conference Centre on Thursday 3rd December.

This is a great example of a community working together to utilize the fantastic renewable development opportunities we have here in the Western Isles. I sincerely hope that many more communities use this as an example of what can be achieved through community partnership and innovative thinking.

 

 

 

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Thoughts with the People of France

Our sympathies and thoughts can only be with the people of France during these troubled and shocking times.  I spoke to a French friend over the weekend about the terrible events in Paris which brought home to me the personal side of this terrible tragedy. Clearly the proud nation of France is going to take time to recover from these horrible, terrifying events. We stand with French colleagues, friends and family. The Saltire and the Comhairle flag are flying at half mast in respect for all those that have suffered.

And well done to Charlie Nicolson who agreed to fly the French tricolour on South Beach from the early hours of Saturday morning.

 

 

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Stornoway Port Authority 150th Anniversary

I would like to congratulate Stornoway Port Authority on their 15oth Anniversary and for hosting the British Ports Association Conference last week. The Conference was very interesting and it was also a well organised event.

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Enhanced ferry services proposals

I warmly welcome the enhanced ferry services proposals recently announced, particularly the new service on the Lochboisdale/Mallaig route. The Comhairle has lobbied for some time for better transport services for our island communities and this is indeed a very positive step.

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