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.
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.
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.
It is no great surprise, to me anyway, that the Western Isles has come out as the happiest place in the UK to live according to figures just released from the Office of National Statistics. The Islands offer a quality of life second to none with a low crime rate, good services and facilities, including six brand new schools, a pristine environment and a unique cultural heritage.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.