Befriending Lewis

A huge congratulations to Befriending Lewis who have scooped £150,000 worth of Big Lottery funding through the Improving Lives Fund. This is very welcome news for the group, which provides a way for people to have more social contact through matching them with a suitable befriender. The results of befriending can be very significant and often provides people with a new direction in life, opens up a range of activities and leads to increased self-esteem and self-confidence. We wish the group the very best in the coming years as they carry out this commendable and worthwhile work in our communities.

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Development of Renewables in the Islands

I had a good discussion with our MSP Alasdair Allan and Paul Wheelhouse MSP, the Minister for Business, Innovation and Energy on the development of renewables in the islands. Paul expressed his agreement with the Comhairle’s position on renewable energy and the Interconnector. That is, that we need the large scale windfarm projects to make the Interconnector viable.

Paul also agreed to write to the UK Energy Minister Greg Clark asking him to reconvene the Islands/UK Government/Scottish Government Energy Working Group to discuss the issues surrounding the development of renewables in the Islands, including the Interconnector.

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Population Seminar

We are hosting an important population seminar next week on Monday 7th and Tuesday 8th November.

Population decline and related issues of demographic imbalance are amongst the most acute economic and social issues faced by the Outer Hebrides.  The Seminar is the first step towards developing a comprehensive policy framework to tackle population decline and migration issues.  The first day will consider local, national and international perspectives and hear from community planning partners on their approach and how they can contribute to developing an over-arching policy framework for population retention and growth. 

The second day will involve each of the four Community Planning Partnership Outcome Groups (Economy, Education and Skills; Health and Well-Being; Communities; Natural and Cultural Resources) and a specific Young Person’s Group, coming up with five potential actions for consideration by the Community Planning Partnership.  The focus will be on stimulating debate, discussion and generating new ideas.   

The seminar will be attended by representatives of UK and Scottish governments as well as community planning partners, sectoral business representatives, community council and other community groups from across the islands.  We will also have student representatives from the four secondary schools. 

This seminar event will be the beginning of a wider stakeholder engagement process.  Following the seminar, it is intended to hold business and community Stakeholder Engagement events in Barra, Uist, Harris, Rural Lewis and Stornoway, with a view to signing off the new framework in March/April 2017.

 

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Anonymous donation

Huge thank you to the anonymous donor of jumpers for the Syrian baby. I have passed them onto the appropriate people.

Thank you.

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Letter

A copy of a letter sent to the local papers this morning:

For 20 years now, Comhairle nan Eilean Siar has supported Renewable Energy development because of its transformational socioeconomic and carbon reduction benefits.  However, plans to exploit the islands’ considerable Renewable Energy potential have been repeatedly thwarted by the lack of an electricity export connection (an interconnector) between the islands and the National Grid.

Four things are needed before the Transmission Owner for the North of Scotland – Scottish Hydro Electric [Transmission] Limited (SHE-T) – can build this new £800m interconnector:

  • a critical mass of consented Renewable Energy generation, contracted to Grid;
  • financial underwriting of the cost of the new Radial Connector;
  • UK Government confirmation that ‘Contract for Difference’ support will be available to island generators (a ‘Contract for Difference’ is an underwritten minimum Strike Price which makes island schemes viable by supporting the extra cost of their development); and,
  • approval by the Energy Regulator, OFGEM, of the Needs Case submitted by SHE-T in respect of the interconnector.

At the moment, sufficient generating capacity is consented and contracted to Grid and the commercial developers have underwritten the cost of the interconnector through a series of very substantial securities and deposits.

To allow a Needs Case to go forward SHE-T requires significant  commitments on the underwriting of grid costs.  A SHE-T spokesman recently stated in the press: “What we need, before we are able to make any Needs Case, is a firm commitment from the developers and a commitment that they will underwrite the costs of the cable”.  To my mind that comment is critical.  Millions of pounds of underwriting will be required for the type of cable needed for the Outer Hebrides.  At this stage it is only the larger projects with (with planning and grid consents) who have been able to demonstrate the required financial commitment. These large scale projects are therefore absolutely essential to secure the interconnector.

Based on the commitment shown by commercial developers the current timetable means that the interconnector will be in place by early 2021.  There is no other process or timetable that will allow the interconnector to be put in place within that timescale; indeed there is no other process that will allow SHE-T to go forward with a Needs Case in the foreseeable future.

An announcement from the UK Government on CfD support is anticipated before the end of this year and SHE-T will then submit their Needs Case to OFGEM for approval.  Other than large-scale commercial developers there are no other projects in the islands with the necessary planning consents and grid contracts in place to allow them to compete in the CfD auction.

Community Renewable Energy schemes are vitally important to the Comhairle and, already, there is 21.5MW of community owned generation consented and contracted to Grid.  Ideally, we would like to see all island generation in community hands but the simple fact is that only the commercial generators have the resources to underwrite the cost of the interconnector.  Without this underwriting, and sufficient consented and Grid contracted generation in place to justify the new link, there would be no interconnector.  Failure of the interconnector project would seriously disadvantage our community generators since the current island Grid is at capacity and the only option for connecting future community schemes is the interconnector.

As commercial companies, developers like Lewis Wind Power obviously require a return on their investment.  The Comhairle recognises this but has negotiated a very generous additional package of benefits for the community, including the transfer of a sizeable share of the generation produced by these windfarms into direct community ownership – far in excess of the volume needed to supply island demand.  This means that ‘Hebrides Energy’, our new, not-for-profit, community owned Energy Supply Company will be able to generate and sell its own electricity to island consumers at as near cost price as the regulatory regime allows.  Other benefits will include unprecedented opportunities for the island supply chain, many new jobs, apprenticeships for our young people and revenue benefits for our communities.

Angus Campbell

Leader, Comhairle nan Eilean Siar

 

 

 

 

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Hebridean Celtic Festival

Last weekend’s Hebridean Celtic Festival was a huge success and it was great to see the town so busy with festival goers.  The event was a sell out with many calling it the best festival yet. The real success of the festival lay in the excellent organisational work put in by the HCF team and the many volunteers who made the event possible.  The Hebridean Celtic Festival has become an integral part of our summer and the event is a real draw for tourists, while also encouraging the locals to come out and enjoy the festivities.

Well done to all concerned.

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Population and Migration

The Comhairle is to hold a seminar on the decrease in population and the demographic imbalance in the Western Isles.

The current population estimate for the Outer Hebrides is 27,070 as at 30 June 2015; this represents a decrease in the overall population of 180 persons (-0.7%) from mid-2014 to mid-2015. The decrease in the population is due mainly to the highest levels of negative natural change over the last decade.

Attracting people to our islands is something we have worked on for many years and positive net migration is an essential part of counteracting the negative natural change that the Outer Hebrides continues to experience. The Comhairle agreed at last week’s Policy and Resources Committee to host a Population and Migration Seminar in Autumn 2016 in order to develop a comprehensive policy framework to tackle population decline and migration issues. These islands offer a good quality of life but we also need to provide the infrastructure for people to fulfil their aspirations and for that we need good and affordable housing, good services and most importantly; a multi-agency approach. Our new Islands Minister, Humza Yousaf, and our community planning partners have been invited to the seminar in the Autumn and we look forward to working collaboratively with them to reverse to our population decrease in the Western Isles.

Creating Communities of the Future” is the Outer Hebrides Community Planning Partnership’s (OHCPP) Economic Strategy for the period up to 2020. The ambition is to work with the private and community sectors to create a confident Outer Hebrides that has at its heart a stable economy that offers new growth opportunities; that has strong communications links both within and without the Hebrides and that values its Gaelic, cultural and natural heritage; that is a place where young people are highly valued and where the population is stable and moving towards growth.

 

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Comhairle links with Refugee Week Scotland

The week Scotland comes together to celebrate the contributions refugees make in Scotland and today we confirmed that Syrian families will arrive in our islands over the summer months

The theme for Refugee Festival Scotland 2016 is solidarity. Gary Christie from the Scottish Refugee Council said that “Now, more than ever, we need to stand together with people who’ve had to flee their homes and are now trying to build new lives here.”

I have informed the Members of the Community Planning Partners and my fellow Elected Members that by the time we meet again in September, the Outer Hebrides will have welcomed Syrian families to be resettled in our community.  In the weeks ahead I would expect that more information is made available.

Local agencies have been working hard to make the arrival of families as discreet and smooth as possible for the families.  At the moment the plans involve housing two related families.  They will be housed in and around the Stornoway area.  The families will be supported where necessary but also will be given the space that they need to re-adjust to family life here in the Outer Hebrides.

I am confident that as a Community we will be welcoming and compassionate and allow the families the scope they will need to resettle within our islands.  All partners are pulling together to do this which is also really encouraging.

 

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Community Land Conference

Over 70% of the population of the Western Isles now live on community owned land generating economic development throughout the Islands, the Community Land Conference in Stornoway heard at the end of last week.

The driver behind community land buy outs has been to reverse a decades long decline in our rural areas. It is encouraging to see the evidence that shows us just how successful the various trusts have been in stimulating economic development. The trusts represented  have progressed projects ranging from renewable energy generation to housing and tourism developments, investing millions and employing significant numbers of staff in the areas where good jobs are needed most.

Community Land Owners working together with public and private sector providers and national and local government need to find a way to make affordable housing available to retain and attract young families in particular to their areas.

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Ferry Tendering

Good news that the conclusion of the Clyde and Hebrides Ferry Services tendering exercise has been reached and today’s announcement that Caledonian MacBrayne are to be awarded the contract.

The Comhairle worked hard with both bidders during the tendering process and are pleased to note that the process was found to be fair, open and transparent.

We welcome the proposal to award the contract to CalMac and look forward to building on good working relationships with management and staff in the firm.  We particularly welcome a number of the pledges made by the company as part of their bid, in particular the provision of more opportunities for local employment, including more apprenticeships, the creation of a new Director of Community and Stakeholder Engagement post and a Communities Board to better involve communities in investment and services decisions, and the introduction of smart and integrated ticketing systems on key routes.

We will continue with our campaign for more management and administration roles associated with the ferry services to be based in the islands and look forward to working with CalMac and Scottish Ministers to that effect”.

The importance of these lifeline services to the communities and the businesses of the Outer Hebrides cannot and should not be under-estimated.  We are confident that working in partnership with Scottish Ministers, Transport Scotland and CalMac in the delivery of the contract will ensure continuous improvement in these services to the benefit of all.

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