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Caithness News Bulletins Elections 2003
Elections May 2003
23 March 03
18 March 03
18 March 03
Scotland's First Minister, Jack McConnell, spoke about the Executive's plans to increase access to broadband across the country during First Minister's Questions this week. This follows his announcement at the Highlands and Islands convention on Monday that six telephone exchanges in the Highlands - Forres, Nairn, Dingwall, Buckie, Oban and Fort William - will be upgraded for broadband.
Speaking after First
Minister's Questions, Mr Stone said:
"It cannot be left to the market to dictate where broadband access is available. It is too important for people of Caithness and Sutherland for that to happen. There is a very real danger that Far North businesses will be forced to relocate elsewhere if broadband is not accessible in the near future.
"I know there is strong desire in the community for broadband and both John Thurso and I have been encouraging local residents to register their interest with BT. "I believe it is the job of government to level the playing field for rural business. It's important to now step up the pressure to ensure that Far North communities get their fair share of funding for this new technology."
6 March 03
Speaking in the Scottish Parliament during the weekly
question time session, Mr Stone urged Finance Minister Andy Kerr to give
greater consideration to the Far North when decisions are being taken over
the dispersal of public service bodies. He highlighted Wick and Thurso as
good locations for pensions and IT based jobs.
"However, there is undoubtedly scope for better results, particularly for the Far North. Even a small number of jobs can make a huge difference in a rural community. Towns such as Wick and Thurso would benefit from new jobs delivered through the relocation and dispersal of government agencies and civil service posts. "The Finance Minister gave a positive response to my questioning. I certainly welcome the commitment to decentralise civil service posts. The key test will be whether we see new jobs and government agencies in the Far North."
4 March 03
Mr Stone secured a private members debate on the issue in a bid to move the campaign to change the current working practices forward. Addressing MSPs in the chamber he made the point that the Scottish Ambulance Service was given £22million by the Scottish Executive yet none of that funding has been used to upgrade Wick to a 24-hour service. Mr Stone said he wanted to probe the Deputy Health Minister on that issue and to find out whether the Executive can put pressure on the Scottish Ambulance Service to consider upgrading the Caithness depot.
Speaking after the debate, Mr Stone said: "It's vital that this debate marks the start of more constructive progress for change to Wick ambulance service. I was shocked to learn the campaign to reduce the hours ambulance crews work has been underway for 25 years. Review of the existing regime is both long overdue and badly needed.
"I discussed the situation with an ambulance driver this week. He revealed that he recently worked a typical 8am to 8pm shift. He was then called out at 10.15pm to take a patient to Raigmore hospital in Inverness. After a 200 mile round trip, he eventually got home to bed at 5am the next morning and was exhausted. "The Wick ambulancemen are suffering from sleep deprivation. They are endangering their lives and those of patients, and the 87 pence per hour rate for out-of-hours cover beyond their shifts seems to me to be derisory.
"I recognise that a move from the
current on-call system to full-time will require more staff and therefore
more money, but I believe that the health and safety considerations, for
both patients and ambulance staff, more than offset the cost implications.
"Health care is for all, regardless of where people in Scotland live. It
seems to me that one of the most powerful arguments for change is the
massive distances involved in travelling between Caithness and Raigmore
Hospital. The station at Dingwall operates on a full time basis so I find
it hard to accept why Wick remains on the part-time on-call system. For a
"The Deputy Health Minister, Mary
Mulligan's response was not as helpful as I had hoped. I am contacting her
to present the case for upgrading Wick ambulance service again. However,
this debate was a significant step forward and has certainly pushed the
issue some way up the political agenda."
25 February 03
Through lobbying, Mr Stone has secured a debate in the Scottish Parliament on the issue. MSPs will discuss the problems with the present regime for ambulance staff at Wick next Thursday.
Mr Stone is pressing for a review of the on-call system, with a view to upgrading it to full-time.
Speaking today, Mr Stone said:
“The current on-call working regime for ambulance crews in Caithness must be reviewed. Crews are on duty for as long as 20 hours at a time. They are frequently required to make journeys of more than 200 miles. Staff are paid less than 90pence per hour for being on-call. These facts speak volumes – review is clearly needed, and it is needed urgently.
“Aside from the crucially important health and safety responsibilities, not just in terms of patients but the staff themselves, there is a need to put in place the best possible ambulance service for people in the area. For the Far North this means an upgrade from part-time on-call to full-time.
“Many other rural ambulance stations, from Dunoon and Annan in the Borders to Peterhead and Fraserburgh in the North East, have won the battle to be upgraded. There is a very strong case for upgrading services at Wick. I will be presenting this in the Scottish Parliament during the debate.
“I hope the Executive will recognise the need for appropriate ambulance services in the Far North.”