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Archived From Main MSP Pages 2005

26 December 05

Highlands and Islands Labour MSP Maureen Macmillan has spoken of the need for language support for the children of migrant workers settling in the Highlands as a part of the Fresh Talent Initiative.
Mrs Macmillan commented," I have been concerned for some time about the lack of support for the children of migrant workers coming to the Highlands. Many of those coming to the area are from former eastern block countries, but we are also receiving workers from many other parts of the world. It is an absolute necessity for the children of these incoming workers to learn English as soon as possible to help them integrate into the community. I am aware that there are initiatives for the workers themselves, being undertaken by Highlands and Islands Enterprise, Highland Council and employers. However, it seems to be more problematical to support the workers' children, as the families are spread out across our community. Children are enrolling at various small schools in the Highlands, arriving without warning and causing obvious difficulties for the education service, which has to provide them with language support.
The initial need is for English language instruction and this has had an increasing impact on both education and adult learning services. In recent months I have written to Highland Council, the First Minister and Minister for Education over this issue to try and ensure suitable linguistic support is in place in our schools. In Glasgow, the council received central government aid to accommodate an influx of the children of asylum seekers and I consider that Highland Council needs similar support. The council's education budget cannot realistically be expected to cope with the growing level of workers' children arriving in the Highlands from non-English speaking areas.
At First Minister's Question Time I asked the First Minister whether he agreed that the growing number of children of migrant workers needing specialist English language support at school may not have been fully recognised in the funding for additional support learning. I called on the Executive to monitor the increasing need for such specialist English language support in areas under pressure, such as the Highland Council area and to see whether there may be a need for extra funding for the education services. The First Minister acknowledged that this is a serious issue and welcomed the benefits that workers who come to our country bring to our economy and society. He suggested that I raise the funding concerns with the Minister of Education, Peter Peacock; with whom I have since had a preliminary discussion enquiringabout new sources of funding.
Similarly, there must be sufficient housing and other infrastructure available to cater for these workers. Some 400 migrant from Poland alone have moved in recent times to the Inverness area. These newcomers are most welcome and will fill jobs that are currently vacant. Some also have professional qualifications and can be utilised in the healthservice and elsewhere.
Mrs Macmillan added, "The present influx of workers and their children from Eastern Europe and elsewhere is part of the population and economic growth the Highlands is currently experiencing. It is essential that the English learning and other appropriate support for the incoming workers and their children is robust and well funded. I will be communicating further with both the Education Minister and Highland Council on this issue."

26 December 05
Gibson Backs Chef Rick Stein's Message On Local Produce
Highlands and Islands SNP MSP Rob Gibson has lodged a motion in parliament calling on the Scottish Executive to give wholehearted support for production and consumption of high quality, locally produced food. Mr Gibson believes that due to changes in lifestyles, local food production will become more important in future and believes that the current deal for small scale local producers and the lack of locally based processing facilities hinders the amount that a communities can produce.
Mr Gibson said....
"I am in complete agreement with food campaigner and chef Rick Stein that people should buy as much local produce as they can. In the future a greater emphasis will inevitably be put on smaller scale local production. This is why the Highlands and Islands and Scotland should be prepared for that time. At the moment we have an infrastructure which is geared to large scale production and central distribution and transport costs which discriminate against producers in remote and rural areas."
He continued...
"The executive must take the lead. For example support is needed for small mobile abattoirs throughout Scotland. This would lessen the need for mass transportation thus saving costs, improving the environment as well as the welfare of the animals and the quality of meat for the public. However faced with these clear cut and sensible arguments places like Skye still do not have a local abattoir."  "Transport issues are key to producers in remote and rural communities especially islands. In recent months we have seen how taking goods to the mainland and center is a cause for much concern whether that be mutton from Shetland, organically farmed salmon from the Western Isles or shell fish from Loch Eriboll. Given the fact that all Scottish ferry routes are coming up to tender in the next year I hope that the Executive takes into consideration what each bidder policy will be to transporting food stuffs from local producers on the islands to the mainland."
"This Christmas I hope that the Scottish Executive will make a commitment to small local producers and start to help them earn a living from the land which would in turn help support and enrich communities, while offering them a healthier diet. This motion merely recognizes that in the availability of local high quality food is not only desirable but essential. What we need from the powers-that-be is action to make surethat we are ready for that future."

22 December 05
Mary Scanlon MSP Hopes Lesson On Ferry Across Pentland Firth Will Be Learned
Following the release of the Audit Scotland report on the Ferry Service from Scrabster To Orkney which has had £71 million of subsidies in three years to enable it to keep going Mary Scanlon MSP hopes lessons will be learned
Commenting on the Auditor General's report on the Northlink Ferry services contract, Mary Scanlon MSP commented; 'People and businesses in Orkney have been fully aware of the problems relating to the tendering process, and leading up to the appointment of Northlink in December 2000. "I hope that the Transport Minister will now take the necessary time to take on board the points raised in the Auditor' General's report. "I hope that lessons have been learned from this flawed contract bidding process and that the Minister will reflect on just how much taxpayers money has had to be poured into Northlink in recent years. "I trust that the Minister will also meet with Pentland Ferries, who successfully carry passengers, cars and livestock across the Pentland Firth with no subsidy whatsoever from the public purse."

NorthLink Ferry Services Auditor Report

29 November 05

Highlands and Islands Labour MSP Maureen Macmillan has spoken in the Scottish Parliament during a debate on promoting energy saving using micro and small-scale renewables technology.

Mrs Macmillan commented," To date, too much of the debate on renewables has been about the size of wind farms and the impact of pylons. We must recognise the role that individual households, groups of households and small businesses can play and their need for affordable energy.

Some may be driven by increasing conventional fuel costs and the grants already available to switch to renewables but we can't afford to wait for builders or individual householders to decide on the basis of financial benefit. Micro-renewables need to be made part of all new developments and there is a huge opportunity to do more in the next few years, given that we plan to build thousands of new homes.

The present central heating scheme for pensioners is excellent, but I would ask the Scottish Executive to consider whether, at least in rural areas, micro-renewables could be used as an alternative to the oil option, which is becoming expensive, particularly in the islands, where oil prices are exacerbated by transport costs. The option in rural areas of oil or nothing for pensioners who want central heating seems to be building up trouble for the future.

Support and encouragement for micro-renewables will lead to other benefits. The market for micro-renewables is not yet big enough to tempt businesses to invest and small wind turbines are still too expensive, compared with conventional means of generation, for householders to buy.  Five years from now, those devices will be affordable, because the higher the volume of production the cheaper the item. Measures should be taken so that the market for devices will grow to the benefit of the suppliers and householders will generate their own energy and possibly feed some of that into the gird. If we combine renewables with energy efficiency, we can make a real contribution to reducing carbon emissions."

Mrs Macmillan added,"Recent rises in conventional energy prices have reaffirmed the need to look at how we use energy and can cut our CO2 emissions - as well as ensuring power sources for the future. Micro-renewable technology, improved insulation and solar panels all have a role to play and should be the norm in our new housing. The technology however, does have to be affordable and introduced without further delay."

29 November 05
"Changes needed to keep light's shining in Glens" - Gibson
New Crofts, increased emphasis on land economy and a more equal distribution of EU funding will help keep lights shining in the glens during the 21st century according to Highlands and Islands SNP MSP Rob Gibson.

Mr Gibson comments came after he met with crofters from Inverness-shire and Ross-shire last week at Daviot (Friday 25/11/5). He said...."It is clear to me after listening to the crofters, that, if the Scottish Executive are serious about making life in the deprived areas of the Highlands and Islands sustainable then they must make sure that it worth people's while to live there. That means making sure that there are fair prices for food. That grants are made available to promote eco-tourism and that a sea change is needed in the direction of EU farming subsidies."
He continued... "Food and fuel security will be the pressing issues for future generations and crofting can help secure both those needs if they are given the means to do so. The Executive must start to promote the land economy by recognising that it is a key asset not just for the Highlands and islands but also the country as a whole. A fair price for good quality local traceable food stuffs now could go some way to saving crofting in the future which could in turn sustain Scotland in thefuture."

"Around 80% of EU farming subsidies in Scotland goes to 20% of the farmers. This figure is grossly anachronistic and even more so when you consider that the majority of those 20% are farmers that own vast tracts of land. Instead of trying to reduce CAP costs Tony Blair should focus on where EU farming subsidies are distributed and try and make it fairer for crofters and small holders. If this is allowed to continue the least favoured areas will suffer most."
He ended "This is my second in the series of meetings with Crofters through out the Highlands and Islands and already there is a pattern emerging. What is clear is that crofting communities want change.  However the changes as outlined in the proposed crofting bill are well wide of the mark. Crofters want, a fair deal and fair regulation to help realise the potential that their way of life offers them and the rest of society."
As part of Mr Gibson's series of meeting he will be visiting Lochcarron Friday 9th, Appin Monday 12th and Sconser (Isle of Skye) on Friday 16th December.

16 November 05
Homeless Reform causing anger in Highland

Scottish Conservative Communities Spokesman Mary Scanlon MSP has expressed her serious concerns that the Executive's policies on homelessness are causing "increased resentment" and "extreme anti-social behaviour" in some rural communities.

Speaking in a Parliamentary debate, Mary cited Argyll and Bute Council's allocation of 80% of Lets to those designated as homelessness, commenting; "This is causing a great deal of anger from those on the main housing waiting list who are aware that their opportunity of being allocated a house has greatly reduced since the legislation was introduced in 2002"

Argyll and Bute Council has stated that 'this is not going to help us create balanced communities.'

Mary added that the changes implemented in 2002 had seen an initial 59% increase in those assessed as homeless in the Highlands Council area, and further 15% rise in 2004-05, with the expectation that four out of eight areas in the Council region will now be unable to meet the 2012 target of eradicating homelessness.

"The numbers on Highland Council's Housing waiting list continue to rise while the number of Lets that are being allocated continues to fall," the Highlands and Islands MSP added.

"The council states that in areas with no social housing and very few registered social landlord properties being built, the stigmatisation and resentment of homeless households, who many perceive to be 'jumping the queue', is already common and likely to increase."

"In my surgery work, I have become aware of the situation leading to bullying and, in some cases, extreme and persistent antisocial behaviour.

"The local connection requirement in homelessness applications will be suspended in 2006, and that will surely have an effect on homelessness applications.

"In places such as Glencoe, Ballachulish, Ardnamurchan and the Kyle of Lochalsh, it will certainly result in far greater resentment. Many local people cannot understand why people who come into the area get a house before someone whose family has lived there for generations gets one. That feeling comes through very strongly from the Highlands and from Argyll and Bute."
See Also -
Right To Buy Council Houses Suspended In Pressure Areas
Caithness and Sutherland Not Affected By This Decision

16 November 05
Gibson Backs Labelling proposal

Highlands and Islands SNP MSP Rob Gibson has backed a proposal that, if implemented, would see beef sold in restaurants and other food outlets clearly labelled with its' country of origin. Mr Gibson says that labelling for beef makes good sense.... "This would benefit both beef producers and consumers. Scotland produces top quality near organic beef and has a world wide reputation for excellence. I think that the majority of people who eat beef in a restaurant or buy it in a supermarket would expect it to be good quality locally produced meat. If beef was labelled as coming from Scotland then I firmly believe that there would be increases in sales of Scottish beef."
He continued.... "I believe that labelling for beef should only be the beginning. All foodstuffs that are sold should also be marked with the country and farm of origin. The agriculture industry in Scotland has a good reputation and it needs all the help that it can muster. I believe that labelling can act as a catalyst for Scottish farming that would help improve its image and product which has been badly disadvantaged by unfair competition from cheap untraceable imports in recent years."

15 November 05
"Cases only tip of Highlands and Islands heating problem iceberg" Says  MSP Jamie McGrigor

An MSP has been inundated with pleas for help from people in the Highlands and Islands waiting to get work done as part of a national heating scheme. Conservative MSP Jamie McGrigor is now dealing with over 80 cases where work on heating systems under the Scottish Executive's Warm Deal and Central Heating programmes has not been carried out. Jamie McGrigor said "I am dealing with more than 80 cases to do with applications in the Highlands and Islands but my concern is that this is just the tip of the iceberg.  "While there has been some movement on some cases, who knows how many more cases there are? Who knows how many elderly and vulnerable people in the Highlands and Islands face a cold winter without adequate heating because of the Scottish Executive's failure to ensure full delivery of its schemes? "Constituents have experienced significant delays in getting work done; there has been shoddy or even dangerous workmanship in some cases; and people have simply been denied such work on dubious grounds. "One constituent says that she feels that she is living in a "danger zone", another has waited two years just for electric heaters to be installed. A Caithness woman was told that she could not go on the scheme because she already had heating-a 20-year-old peat-burning Rayburn. "The Executive is always quick to congratulate itself but it should also take responsibility when things are not working. Although there are many cases in which work has been delivered successfully, there are just too many in which constituents have experienced real and potentially dangerous problems. "The Executive must act now to ensure that continued support is available for those who need assistance in upgrading their heating systems and in improving the energy efficiency of their homes, but it must also ensure a far better delivery of the schemes".

15 November 05
Highlands and Islands Labour MSP Maureen Macmillan has hailed the announcement by Deputy Health Minister Lewis Macdonald of a new centre for Telehealth and a Virtual School of Rural Healthcare for the Highlands. Both the new services were recommended by the Kerr Report into NHS provision.  Speaking today Mrs Macmillan said, "I am delighted by this announcement.  Health provision in large rural areas, such as the Highlands, will always involve logistical and other problems. The new initiatives will see a new Centre for Telehealth created which will allow patients to obtain easier and quicker diagnosis. The new health focus will be much more on community health care and technology is integral to improving service provision over a range of health issues. Telemedicine is already in use in the Highlands but this will see an expansion of the technology which can only benefit patient care and mitigate against the problems of distance and rurality.  The Virtual School of Rural Healthcare will be central to the training of rural health care professionals across the Highlands, allowing them to receive practical experience on the wards and in communities whilst at the same time having access to high quality training facilities."  Mrs Macmillan added, "Health service provision in the Highlands has to involve new ways of looking at the difficulties presented by our geographical location and I am sure the two new projects, announced by the minister and due to be set up within the next three years, will have a considerable positive impact."
Health service improvements in the Highlands

12 November 05
McGrigor Calls For More Information On Undersea Power Lines Option

Jamie McGrigor has again hit out at the threat of giant pylons being sited in the Highlands.  The Conservative MSP has called for more information on whether the cables could be run subsea. Mr McGrigor also backed a call by his party's Deputy Leader Murdo Fraser for a public inquiry into the planning application for the 400kV Beauly to Denny power line.  Jamie McGrigor said "I back Murdo's call for the Scottish Executive to launch a public inquiry into the planning application by Scottish and Southern Energy.  "Like many people in the Highlands and Islands, I am horrified by the number and sheer size of the new pylons that could be erected throughout the Highlands.  "If a subsea cable is planned to take electricity from Lewis to the Scottish mainland, could it not stay subsea until it gets nearer to where most of the electricity will be used.  "I fully appreciate that there are considerable extra costs associated with this option, however the unknown health concerns over pylons should mean it is at least fully considered. I would certainly like to see more information on its feasibility".  Mr McGrigor also called on the Scottish Executive to encourage micro wind turbines, which provide on-site generation of electricity. This, he said, would allow properties or communities in remoter areas to become more energy independent. "Unobtrusive small systems, which make individual houses and buildings energy independent or at least partly independent and save CO2 emissions, should be an important part of future energy policy".

3 November 05
'Greenock incident shows dangers of downgrading' GIBSON

Highlands and islands SNP MSP has pointed to a tragic at incident at Inverclyde midwife led maternity unit as a reason why Caithness maternity services should be maintained with consultant back up.

His comments come in the wake of a statement made from Sheriff John Herald saying that a baby who died at birth in the midwife led maternity in Greenock had received a 'second class service' compared with those born in Paisley.

June Watt had been due to give birth at the consultant led Paisley maternity unit however she went into labour quickly and could not make the 20 or so miles trip to Paisley in time. The baby was born with the umbilical cord wrapped around her neck and died shortly after.
Mr Gibson said...."This is an extremely tragic incident and the solution to Caithness Maternity service provision cannot ignore this case. Every life is precious so NHS Highland needs to heed the best means to make specialist clinical judgment and advice available for such emergencies in the Far North.

"What this incident and comments from the sheriff makes clear is that a midwife-led service can cope well with regular deliveries but consultant back-up on the spot is essential."

2 November 05
McGrigor: "Don't ignore irresponsible fireworks use"

MSP Jamie McGrigor has called for the strict enforcement of rules regarding the sale and use of fireworks.  Around 1,000 people are hospitalised every year in Scotland, with 5% of cases leading to hospital stays of a night or more. The Conservative MSP urged the public to contact the police when fireworks were being used dangerously in their area.  Jamie McGrigor said "Fireworks can provide fantastic entertainment for families and children, providing exciting, and if properly organised, safe fun for all. "However, it seems some people are intent on making Bonfire Night lasts for weeks, causing untold misery to some people and pets alike with noise and anti-social behaviour throughout the night.
"The public, along with Northern Constabulary and retailers, can work together to ensure that fireworks are enjoyed safely in the Highlands and Islands and to help reduce the around one thousand people per year taken to hospital in Scotland.
The amended Fireworks Regulations of 2004 banned the sale of air bombs, mini-rockets and bangers, whilst placing stricter controls on rockets. It is also illegal to sell fireworks to people under the age of eighteen.
Mr McGrigor continued "The laws already exist to prosecute people for breaking the law with fireworks, with fines of up to £5000 for those convicted of throwing or setting off fireworks in a public place and with those caught using fireworks to cause unnecessary suffering to animals facing substantial fines as well as imprisonment of up to six months.
"We must deter the kind of irresponsible and dangerous use of fireworks that seems to have been on the increase in recent years".

2 November 05
Moray Tories select Mary Scanlon MSP as Candidate

At a packed meeting on Friday 28 October Moray Conservatives selected Mary Scanlon MSP as their candidate for the next Scottish Parliamentary Election.
Speaking after her selection Mary said, "The Moray seat is the first to be selected in the Highlands & Islands and I am honoured and delighted to be the candidate. I look forward to continuing to work with the people of Moray and to winning back this important seat for the Scottish Conservatives".
Mary Scanlon was elected to represent the Highlands and Islands region in the Scottish Parliament in 1999 and again in 2003.
Amongst those attending Friday's meeting was Peter Duncan, Chairman of the Scottish Conservative Party, who said, "Mary has been an outspoken advocate for the region in the Scottish Parliament - she will be a real fighter for Moray!"
David Boyd, who is the local party Chairman, expressed his delight at Mary's selection and went on "The Scottish Conservative Party are focused on winning the seat in May 2007. We have the support of the Party Chairman and the Board and our local members are determined to succeed in giving Moray's electors the heavy weight representation they deserve at Holyrood"

2 November 05
Highlands and Islands SNP MSP has backed striking farmers at the begging of their 3 day protest against the low prices paid to them by Supermarkets.  Mr Gibson also went onto say that the Government had a duty intervene to make sure that Scottish farmers and crofters are subject to fair trade.  "The farmers' action should be supported to expose a scandal of Government non-intervention."  "The growing crisis for home producers requires much more than  honeyed words from Scottish Ministers. They must tell London enough is enough. Supermarket profiteering must be curbed by statute not voluntary codes. The SNP backs a new Competition Commission enquiry to curb profiteering by the big four supermarkets and encourage the production of more home produced food."

2 November 05
Crofting minister raises more questions than answers
'More questions raised than resolved' was how Highlands and Islands SNP MSP Rob Gibson summed up this morning's meeting of the Environment and Rural Development Committee which cross-questioned Crofting Minister Rhona Brankin.

She was answering questions on the controversial proposals for the draft Crofting Bill consultation. However Mr Gibson said that after questioning the minister he is still dissatisfied with the Bill and the way in which it is going....

"Rhona Brankin did not give the assured response that the Crofting Communities were looking for. I questioned her on interposed leases which could see former estate owners raking in revenue from renewable energy even if the land is sold to crofting communities. Her response was she had yet to meet Prof. Paisley of Aberdeen University, whose opinion is that existing powers in the Crofting Acts make interposed leases illegal. Mrs Brankin said that a meeting well happen to resolve the issue, but stipulated no date and did not expand on the issue interposed leases. She announced no interim measures which leaves community buyouts across Scotland in limbo. She also failed to answer why it took so long for the loophole to be identified "

Mr Gibson also raised the point that while a current tenant can buy their croft for 15 times the annual rent. The same right is not afforded for those wishing to take over a deceased crofters land...

"This is a case of double standards, should the child of a deceased crofter wish to take over their father's or mother's croft then they probably have to pay the market rate because the crofter's estate is valued using market values for land in the area. The Bill does not address these issues but I will watch with interest to see what if any changes are made to speed a solution."

Mr Gibson also pledged to continue listening to crofters and called for the Environment Committee to do the same. He has arranged a series of meetings with crofters, in Rogart, Loch Carron, Daviot, Sconcer, and hopes to arrange more to listen to their concerns....

"In the 1880's MP's traveled the Highlands and Islands listening
to the troubles and hardships of the crofter's and cottars. This lead to the 1886 Crofting Act which gave security of tenure. All MSP's who care about the future of crofting should do the same."


30 September 05
Highlands and Islands Labour MSP Maureen Macmillan has raised the issue of supermarket lorries using the A9 to supply major supermarket outlets in the North. Speaking in the Scottish Parliament. Mrs Macmillan highlighted the decision by Wm Morrison, who have recently taken over and refurbished a store in Inverness, not to continue using the Freight Facilities Grant operated by their predecessor Safeway. The grant gives
funding to companies to remove their goods vehicles from the road and use rail transport instead.

Mrs Macmillan commented, "I was very disappointed with the decision by Wm Morrison Supermarkets not to continue to use the Freight facilities Grant. It had been operated successfully by Safeways removing millions of lorry miles from Scottish roads. I raised the issue in Parliament with Transport Minister Tavish Scott who reiterated the Executive's commitment to move road freight to rail, particularly on roads such as the A9.

Most supermarket distribution centres are located in the central belt of Scotland or further south. The transportation of goods by large commercial vehicles on roads such as the A9 has implications for road safety (through driver frustration) and the environment, as well as wearing out the road surface prematurely.

Morrisons as a company say they have a firm commitment to the environment, which makes the decision not to utilise the FFG all the more surprising. I have written to the Managing Director of Morrisons with my concerns, strongly urging the company to reconsider its decision not to take up the FFG. I have also written in similar terms to the Managing Director of Tesco, who have a major presence in the North and who are currently testing the viability of rail distribution in a trial at Inverness."

Mrs Macmillan added, "The large supermarkets are an important part of our local infrastructure and provide many essentials for day-to-day life. They should be given every encouragement to use the FFG and remove their lorries from our congested roads and I am more than willing to raise any practical concerns they have over making the switch to rail freight with the Transport Minister."

22 September 05
Bold Step needed to improve A9 safety

Mary Scanlon MSP yesterday called for the "Bold step" to dual the carriageway from Perth to Inverness, as the only step which can prevent some of the horrendous experiences that many drivers encounter on the A9.
Speaking after recently published statistics showed that the 82 fatalities occurring on the A9 in the last five years were the highest number for any trunk road in Scotland, Highlands and Islands MSP Mary highlighted the danger of the Northerly A9 connecting roads, citing the A889;
"The A889, linking the A9 and the A86 from Dalwhinnie to Laggan, has been designated the most dangerous road in Britain, with a shocking accident rate which is almost four times higher than the next most dangerous road in Scotland, the A99. Other links from the A9 including the A95 into Morayshire and the A835 into Ullapool were designated by the AA as high-risk roads.
"We are talking about not just the A9, but the seriously high-risk roads that connect to it, and the road beyond Inverness.
"The road north of Dornoch narrows and needs to be given greater priority status than we are giving it today, and while I understand that the forecast is for a very severe winter, I would not like to risk coming down the Berriedale Braes in snow and ice."
Mary stated that the Executive should be concerned about the fatalities and horrendous injuries that many people experience as a result of accidents on the A9, and stated her own concern at the delay in the promised junction improvement at Ballanluig and Bankfoot;
"Piecemeal changes such as the construction of two-by-one lanes are a welcome improvement, I would support my colleague Murdo Fraser's call for the eventual dualling of the A9 to Inverness, as this bold step is needed."
Read What Mary Scanlon said in the Debate

16 September 05
Highland MSP's On the Attack Over Island Ferries
The official reports from the Scottish Parliament are long but this might be of interest as the Highland MSP's all got in on the act with Tommy Sheridan unusually praising a conservative Mary Scanlon as coming from a better position then labour MSP's.  the day also had the debate on Crofting  - another issue of vital importance to the Highlands and Islands.  Rob Gibson points out during the debate on crofting "
a year in which we are discussing a housing bill, a planning bill and a crofting bill. We have also discussed transport, which affects crofting, and I am afraid to say that we did not do that very well today.

15 September 05
Jamie McGrigor Wants To Help Anyone Waiting Heating Upgrades For Work Under Warm Deal
Dear Sir

During my recent Summer Surgery Tour of the Highlands and Islands, it was brought to my attention that some people are experiencing delays in receiving new heating systems or insulation work which they applied for under the Scottish Executive's Warm Deal or Central Heating programmes. Some people may have even paid for the work in advance yet are still waiting for the work to be carried out.
With the winter fast approaching and cold weather an increasing possibility, it is imperative that any delays in either scheme are addressed and the relevant companies contracted to undertake the work notified.
If you are waiting for work to be carried out under either scheme, or have experienced delays in getting surveys or approvals undertaken, please contact me by calling 0131 348 5648 or by writing to me at the Scottish Parliament, Edinburgh, EH99 1SP.
Yours Sincerely,
Jamie McGrigor MSP
61 Chalmers Street
PA30 8DX

15 September 05
Scottish Executive Legislative Programme - Planning

Mary Scanlon MSP today welcomed the Executive's White Paper on Planning, and it's proposed aim to simplify and speed up the planning process in Scotland whilst also allowing wider, and hopefully fairer and more meaningful consultation.
Speaking during Parliamentary debate on the Scottish Executive's Legislative Programme, Mary commented; "Planning is always a controversial issue but probably nowhere more so than in the Highlands and Islands at the present time. The proliferation of wind farm applications and in particular the upgrade of the National Grid Transmission from Beauly to Denny, have caused much concern.
"Although some of the proposed developments have the backing and support of the communities affected, there is little doubt that many proposals certainly do not. The potential blight on the landscape of erected windfarms, and mega-pylons is a huge issue. The Scottish Executive and indeed Highland Council will need to consult very closely with local communities, not only over the route of the proposed Upgrade of the Beauly to Denny Transmission line, but also to discuss and debate the impact of each pylon in the highly sensitive areas south of Beauly and in the Cairngorm National Park."
Mary highlighted the most recent Audit Scotland report which showed that of 32 local authorities only two achieved the Executive's target of deciding on 80% of planning applications within two months.
Mary asked; "If Local Authorities do not achieve their targets, then what will be the consequences? Can 30 out of 32 local authorities have a reasonable excuse for not achieving them, and what is being done to address these delays in the planning process?
"I support the proposal whereby local authorities will be statutorily required to update development plans every five years however we similarly need to know what sanctions local authorities will face if they do not keep these plans up to date."
Mary focused on the many Local Plan changes which local communities face, commenting; "I would highlight the example of the Dalfaber Action Group's response to the latest application for houses on the outskirts of Aviemore. Over 650 new houses are now planned for the near future, and this is a considerable deviation from the agreed Local Plan."

McGrigor attacks Executive complacency over future energy plans
Jamie McGrigor has met with Scottish & Southern Energy over the proposed Beauly to Denny powerline.
Speaking after a meeting with representatives of the energy company at the Scottish Parliament, the Conservative MSP said questions were still unanswered over the potential damage the lines might do.
Jamie McGrigor said "These lines and their pylons will have a dramatic impact on the scenery of the areas they pass through - areas that are amongst some of the most beautiful in Scotland.
"While I am grateful to Scottish and Southern Energy for coming to the Parliament to discuss their proposals with us, questions are still unanswered over the potential damage the lines might do.
Mr McGrigor then rounded on the Scottish Executive, accusing them of having insufficient plans for future energy generation; an issue he said could have serious consequences in the future.
"What is clear is that the UK Government and the Scottish Executive have not made sufficient plans to deal with the energy shortages Scotland is likely to face in the future.
"The Executive's complacency means it will not simply be a question of how we generate our electricity, but how we even keep the lights on".

5 September 05

Highlands and Islands Labour MSP Maureen Macmillan has welcomed a £250,000 funding commitment from the Scottish Executive to tackle suicide in the Highlands and Islands and other remote and rural areas.
Recent suicide statistics show that people in Scotland are twice as likely to kill themselves as in the rest of UK.
The Highlands and Island MSP says £200,000 will be targeted on supporting suicide prevention work in the area. A further £50,000 will be given to the Breathing Space telephone line for increasing their work in the same rural areas of the country.
Speaking about the funding commitment, Mrs Macmillan said, "Recent figures show that there were 28 suicides in the Highlands in 2003 and every life lost was tragic and touched the lives of the families, friends and the community.
Last year the Scottish Executive announced a national Choose Life strategy for suicide prevention. The programme is making good progress through local and national action to prevent suicide. This further funding commitment will support this strategy throughout the Highlands and Islands and provide money for the Breathing Space helpline to increase their work in the area."

1 September 05
Decentralisation A Way To Bring Prosperity To All
SNP MSP for the Highlands and Islands Rob Gibson has pointed to an economic report forecasting that the Highlands and Islands will become one of the least competitive and poorest regions in Western Europe by 2015, showing the lack impact that Scottish Executive policies have on the area.
The report by the Experian group forecasts that the Highlands and Islands will be (economically speaking) 209th out of 214 regions in Western Europe, with a downturn in employment and a GDP growth rate which is one of the worst in the UK.
Mr Gibson said...
"It's deeply worrying and shows that Scots Executive policies for the North fail most areas outside Inverness. It must act as a wake up call to all people in the area to listen to the SNP's ideas to bring sustainable prosperity."
He went on...
"The Executive must decentralise more jobs from Edinburgh. Case by case, such as SNH coming to Inverness, is not enough. A radical policy of job dispersal to economically depressed areas such as North Sutherland the Islands and Caithness could increase population there and start a renaissance. I believe SEERAD should be moved from Pentland House to the shores of the Pentland Firth. Not only would it give much needed jobs and economic boost but also would bring those that work on agriculture, fisheries and the environment closer to the lives of those they most affect"
he continued...
"Highland Council and the Islands Councils must carry out more decentralisation. If a department of 5 people is moved from a major hub, like Inverness to a small community in Sutherland or Ross-shire then more jobs would spring up to cater for them."
Mr Gibson went onto call for local government reorganisation to make it more local he said...
"The thirty-two monolithic unitary local authorities in Scotland today take power away from local communities which strangle local developments and hands-on power which encourages voters to be interested and involved.
Municipalities like those in Norway or France which serve communities of a couple thousand could be set up. They could oversee local housing decisions, set up and run renewable energy projects all of which can help arrest the lack of affordable housing today., Young people coming back to their communities is a key goal to boost local confidence."
Mr Gibson also said it will take vision to create a Centre of Excellence in Clean Energy to be based in Dounreay.
Such vision is vital if the Experian Group forecast is to be avoided."

27 August 05
Women's Needs Must Come Top In Maternity Debate
SSP Central Scotland MSP and former midwife Carolyn Leckie today spoke out in support of a critical report by the Scottish Women's Convention on maternity services. (We Just Can't Let This Happen)
Carolyn said: "This report confirms the views of thousands of women living in the areas affected by maternity service cuts and centralisation.  "Forcing women to travel hundreds of miles to have their babies is not just an inconvenience. "Both mothers' and babies' lives will be put at risk by delaying access to specialist consultants and putting mothers through the ordeal of travel at a  time when they should be concentrating on their health. "The debate on maternity services will not go away until the Executive and the Health Boards take the opinions of service users and local communities seriously."

26 August 05
Gibson welcomes Slow Food Congress to Skye

Real lessons for day to day living can be learned from the growing number of food festivals that are held around the North of Scotland so says Highlands and islands SNP MSP Rob Gibson.
Mr Gibson's comments come before he attends the 1st UK Slow Food Congress which takes place at the Gaelic College, Sabhal Mór Ostaig on the Isle of Skye this weekend.
He said...."Three food festivals taking place in Durness, the Highlands based around Inverness and on Skye are all exemplary of how to prepare local food to a high quality. However the underlying idea behind these festivals is how to get the best out of the local produce and is something that could and should translate into every household accessing the best local produce."
He went onto call on local authorities to take an active role in promoting better eating habits and more local food production...
"I believe that every local community in Highlands and Islands should undertake a food audit to find out where the food that is used comes from. This could point out to locals consumers the extra costs both physically and environmentally that imported food costs. Local producers could have a strong home market. Highland Council has taken a lead in source the majority of the ingredients for school meals locally. Across the country we should be encouraging more local food production."
He continued....
"In Caithness the Mey brand of food products is an interesting and welcome movement but it's real success will depend on how accessible it is in terms of availability and price to the local population as well as other discerning buyers."
Mr Gibson welcomed the first Slow Food congress, not only in Scotland but the UK which takes place in Skye this weekend, he will be attending it as invited guests with his partner Green MSP Eleanor Scott. The movement was set up in Italy during the mid eighties and is dedicated to eco-gastronomic values, which promotes good quality and well prepared local food.
He said..."Not only am I looking forward to some fantastic food I will also be interested to find out more about the ethos behind the movement, how it will work in Skye and what lessons can be taken from it and applied to every day life in the Highlands and Islands ."

26 August 05
MSP Mary Scanlon Concerned At Inpatient Waiting Times

Reacting to the latest NHS Scotland waiting time statistics for June 2005, Mary Scanlon MSP said; "NHS Highland compares relatively favourably with Health Boards across Scotland."
Mary expressed concern at the Median waiting time for in-patients and day cases which has again increased in the last quarter, from 50 days to 52 days;
"The steady increase from 32 days Median wait in 2001 to 52 in June 2005 is a worrying trend, and one which NHS Highland does not seem to be able to halt.
"It is not all bad news for NHS Highland, but an increase of 63% and the prospect of further rises in waiting time for an in-patient appointment, could lead to more worry, uncertainty and suffering for patients."

26 August 05
Jamie McGrigor MSP on Highlands and Islands Tour
Highlands and Islands MSP Jamie McGrigor will travel the length and breadth of the region next week on his Summer Surgery Tour.
Starting in Shetland, the Conservative MSP will hold surgeries in Lerwick, Kirkwall, Stromness, Thurso, Wick, Brora, Golspie, Dornoch, Tain, Dingwall, Grantown before finishing in Elgin on Friday.
Mr McGrigor will also visit the new Shetland Museum on Monday morning, before meeting Unst Councillor Brian Gregson to discuss the impact of the closure of Saxa Vord on the island.
While on Orkney, he will hold talks with Islands' Council Convenor Steven Hagan to discuss the issues of central underfunding and the new ferry contracts. Mr McGrigor, who is Tory Scottish Culture, Tourism and Sports Spokesman, will also meet with Orkney Tourism Group in the afternoon, before attending a reception in the evening with the Orkney Conservative and Unionist Association.
Mr McGrigor will meet Highlands and Islands Enterprise Chairman William Roe and Chief Executive Sandy Cumming in Inverness on Friday, before attending the Dalmally Show on Saturday.

24 August 05
Highlands and Islands Labour MSP Maureen Macmillan has written to Deputy Environment and Rural Development Minister Rhona Brankin, seeking a meeting to discuss the draft Crofting Bill.
Mrs Macmillan, who sit on the cross-party crofting group, commented, "I am well aware of the concerns within the crofting community over this proposed piece of legislation. In the West Highlands, it has been suggested that if implemented in its present form, the bill could result in the end of crofting as we know it. During a recent visit to Shetland, crofting representatives also expressed their concerns to me over the
effects on the bill. 
The main area causing disquiet is the commercialisation of assignations, which could effectively mean that crofting land can be sold for housing, thereby removing it forever from agricultural use. Some of the problem could be solved if the Crofter's Commission exercised its powers more strongly and I want to discuss the possibility of this with the Minister. There is also ongoing concern about the future effect of the single-farm payment in the long-term and the future of LFASS.
Mrs Macmillan added, "Crofting has been a way of life for generations, it provides income for many families throughout the Highlands and Islands and has been commended by environmentalists as both ecologically sound and sustainable. When I meet the Minister I will certainly stress the opposition and anxieties that have been highlighted.  I would hope that when the bill is presented to parliament it will reflect the concerns raised."

10 August 05
Moray Primary Schools
In response to the news that Moray Council has today abandoned their proposed Primary School Closures programme, Mary Scanlon MSP said; ""I would hope that lessons have been learned from this consultation.  "There has been a huge backlash in response to the proposals from communities throughout Moray, including a petition in the Scottish Parliament. I am pleased that Moray Council has, on this occasion listened to the concerns of local people and I hope that in future, the crucial role of local schools as a centre and hub for the local communities will be considered.  "Small Rural Schools have unique characteristics which can attract people to live and work in the area."

9 August 05
NHS Waiting Times set for Infertility Treatment
Mary Scanlon MSP has been informed that the Scottish Executive will consider applying a 'target waiting time' for couples who wish to receive infertility treatment, following a review of NHS assisted conception criteria.  Commenting, Mary said; "Currently, Waiting List times for tertiary Infertility Treatment vary widely across Scottish NHS Boards, and can force couples to wait for as long as five years in Grampian, by which time many women have reached the current cut-off age for treatment of 38 years old.  "I have asked a series of Parliamentary Questions on this subject in recent months and have set up a Short Life Parliamentary Working Group to increase recognition of infertility as an important health need. I am delighted with this breakthrough, and to hear that the Scottish Executive has responded by launching a review of NHS funded Infertility treatment.  "I will continue to work closely with the Consultants and Health Professionals who have contacted me and are involved with my Working Group, to ensure that Infertility Treatment is recorded as a Waiting List target, as this is the only way to ensure that adequate resources will be dedicated to assisting the many couples throughout Scotland who desperately wish to conceive a child."

1 July 05
McGrigor warns of “dangerous precedent”
A Conservative MSP has said the future of crofting in Scotland is at risk following a decision by the Crofters Commission.
MSP Jamie McGrigor said he is deeply concerned over the decision to allow a Taynuilt croft to be de-crofted for luxury homes and warned it could be just the first of many across the Highlands and Islands.
In a letter sent to
Crofters Commission Chairman David Green before the decision was made, Mr McGrigor said the development would not be in the interest of Taynuilt and was already causing consternation amongst local people.
Jamie McGrigor said “It is surely one of the Crofters’ Commission’s goals to work for the future of crofting rather than to give a whole croft over for a housing development.
“It is certainly not in the interest of Taynuilt to have a mini housing estate in this place, especially when there is no overriding need for housing because 80 houses are scheduled to be built elsewhere in Taynuilt in the near future.
“In contrast, there is already demand for more ground from the existing crofters, and I am reliably told by the local Crofters’ Foundation representative that nine different people would be glad to take on the croft in question. 
“The decision to de-croft has caused consternation amongst the majority of local people in Taynuilt and could have serious implications for the future of crofting across the Highlands and Islands.
 “How long is it before we see similar development proposals in the Western Isles, in the rest of the Highlands or even on Orkney or Shetland? A very dangerous precedent has been set”.

29 June 05
Gibson Speaks On Housing Bill

Highlands and Islands SNP MSP Rob Gibson has outlined three key points to that need to be addressed in the new housing bill.
Speaking in the First Stage debate in Parliament today Mr Gibson said that while the aims of the Bill were progressive and welcome more work was needed to be done to  promote low cost affordable homes, to climate proof existing and future housing stock as well as encouraging the construction of eco-friendly housing which are pressing priorities that the Bill did not fully address.  He said… " Chancellor Gordon Brown has proposed that Personal Pension Plans should include house purchases. What do Ministers think will happen to desirable housing stock in attractive areas of Scotland. Whilst we have yet to witness the £1 m house in my home village of Evanton every former council house with a view, every croft on the market throughout the Highlands and Islands is going to deny present and future house buying by the resident population who can already see when alerted to this that their children have little or no hope of competing."
He continued… "Scotland may have the best insulation in  Britain however it is far behind other North European Countries such as Norway, Sweden and Finland. The climate change report, which was drawn up by the Environment and Rural Development Committee, identified that around 700,000 houses in Scotland needed climate proofing. Doing this would create better living conditions, produce jobs and most importantly conserve energy which will reduce carbon emissions while eventually saving people money. It is time that the Scottish Executive started taking the cost of this seriously in the huge disrepair estimates that they have made."
He ended…. "The time for eco-friendly housing has come. In the Highlands we are uniquely placed to exploit the rich natural resources on our doorstep to construct low cost sustainable housing. But the Housing minister will have to ensure that the transport minister cuts the cost of fuel and the price carrying building materials across the Minch and on routes to the Northern Isles. "
Modernisation package to reform planning system

27 June 05
Mary Scanlon MSP At W8 Conference
Mary Scanlon was one of eight MSP's who attended the W8 Summit in Edinburgh on June 23rd, to hear eight inspiring and thriving African women address the conference in a celebration of the significant contributions they have made across Africa.

Mary was honoured to represent Alivera Kiiza, a member of the W8 group of African women, in the Scottish Parliament.

Commenting, Mary said; "It was very pleased to attend the W8 conference, to hear the interesting and moving stories of these women, and to meet Alivera Kiiza, a woman who has shown great courage and entrepreneurial spirit in leading a coffee co-operative in her home land of Tanzania.

"Generally speaking women are not allowed to inherit and own land in many parts of Africa, however, Alivera has overcome this problem and now owns 6 acres of coffee and banana plantations as her business. She encourages other women to do the same. Women in Africa have a significantly lower default rate in business than men.

"I have been greatly impressed by her determination to succeed in business despite the many obstacles facing African women, and I was happy to be asked to represent her in the Scottish Parliamentary debate on the W8 conference."

22 June 05
Gibson questions Exec over future of Crofting and farming in the Highlands and Islands
Highlands and Islands SNP MSP Rob Gibson has questioned the Scottish Executive on the effects a renegotiated European CAP policy would have for the crofters and farmers in the Highlands and Islands.  His question comes in the wake of recent comments from Tony Blair that the CAP is outdated and that less European money should go to farmers.
Mr Gibson said...."I would like to know what the impact would be on farming and crofting in the North of Scotland should Mr Blair get his way in Europe. I hope that we don't see a re-run of the early 1970's when Edward Heath said the Scottish fishing was 'expendable' and could be traded away during negotiating entry into the EEC."  "When Mr Blair says that the CAP needs to be reduced he does not speak on behalf of farmers and crofters of the Highlands and Islands Because he doesn't come out and tell them what any change would mean. I have placed a written question to the Scottish Executive to find out if they know how such a change would impact our people."  "We already know that the Scottish Executive expects the Highlands and Islands to loose out on roughly £210 million worth of aid should Tony Blair get to change the budget, so I expect that they must have some idea as to the impact for crofters and farmers if the CAP is slashed, and if they don't then they have a duty to find out."

17 June 05
McGrigor On Crime

Low level crime up over 11% in Highlands and Islands
Cases of petty crimes such as vandalism have soared across the Highlands and Islands according to new figures.  Conservative MSP Jamie McGrigor said the figures, which show low level crime in the Northern Constabulary have soared by over 11% since last year, were deeply concerning.
Jamie McGrigor said "While some might describe these crimes as low level, there is nothing low level about the impact they have on the people they affect or on the communities across the Highlands and Islands plagued by these crimes. These are deeply concerning figures.   "They show cases of vandalism and breaches of the peace both increasing, with only a small decreases in cases of fireraising and of people being drunk and incapable.  "These are the everyday activities that make streets feel so unsafe and areas so unwelcoming, and this Executive is failing to deal with them. The fact that the 11.9% increase in the Northern Constabulary area is below the Scottish average only helps to demonstrate that the Executive is losing control of our streets. "I have no doubts that the Northern Constabulary and its officers are working increasingly hard to deal with these cases but what is now abundantly clear is that the Scottish Executive's anti-social behaviour legislation is not acting as a deterrent to these criminals.  "While this Executive tries to sound tough on crime, people across the Highlands and Islands, be that in Orkney, Shetland, Argyll and Bute, Caithness and Sutherland or any other area, see low level crime going up.
"People in the Highlands and Islands are tired of all the rhetoric from a LibDem/Labour Executive that is clearly failing to make local communities feel safe for the honest law abiding citizen".

17 June 05
McGrigor On Charity Awards
McGrigor urges Highland and Islands public to nominate voluntary groups for charity awards.   MSP Jamie McGrigor is calling on the Highlands and Islands public to nominate local voluntary organisations for the prestigious Queen's Award for Voluntary Service.  Twelve voluntary organisations across Scotland received the award in 2005 and nominations can be made from now until the 30th of September this year for next year's award.  Jamie McGrigor said "Volunteering is such an important opportunity to give something back to local communities and there are so many excellent voluntary organisations across the Highland and Islands that do so much to improve the quality of life of other people, especially those who are elderly, vulnerable or disabled.
"Many of these voluntary groups operate on small budgets and survive simply because of the hard work and generosity of their volunteers and they deserve real recognition.
"I would encourage any member of the public who benefits from a local voluntary organisation or who knows just how beneficial that group is to their community to consider nominating it for the Queen's Award.
"A number of groups in the Highlands and Islands received the award this year and it would be great to see more local voluntary bodies receiving the award in 2006".
Application forms are available at www.queensawardvoluntary.gov.uk   or by calling the Queen's Award office on 0845 000 2002.

17 June 05
Gibson On Railway In Far North

17 June 05
McGrigor On Dental Provision

McGrigor to question Executive on dental provision in Highlands and Islands
MSP Jamie McGrigor is to question the Scottish Executive on dental services in the Highlands and Islands.
The Conservative MSP has had a Parliamentary Oral Question to the Executive accepted for Question Time next week. He said it was time the issue of dental provision became a priority for the Executive.
Jamie said "Dental provision is an issue that has been raised time and time again with me across the Highlands and Islands.
"Whether it's in Orkney, Shetland, Caithness, Argyll and Bute or any other area the issue is always the same - people are frustrated that it is becoming nigh on impossible to get access to an NHS dentist.
"I will simply be asking the Scottish Executive what people across the Highlands and Islands are already asking - what action it is taking to ensure access to improve dental provision for people living in our area?
"In desperation, many people are being forced into paying for expensive private treatment. This is simply not an option for many younger families with young children who need, and are entitled to, access to NHS dental provision.
"It is time this issue became a priority for this Executive".

17 June 05
Gibson speaks up for small holders
Highlands and Islands SNP MSP Rob Gibson has called on the Scottish Executive to use the Crofting Reform Bill to regularise the position of small landholders (as defined in the Small Landholders Scotland Act 1911) whose needs were not met by the Agriculture Holding Act of 2003. Mr Gibson discovered that the 2003 Act did not legislate for small holders even though land tenure expert Sir Crispin Agnew raised the issue of small landowners when giving evidence to the bill in November 2002. He pointed out that there could be several hundred small holders throughout Scotland who needed to be considered. Mr Gibson said...."Last Saturday along with my colleague Stewart Maxwell (SNP MSP for West of Scotland) I met several small landholders on Arran. Due to their uncertain position, they hope the Crofting Bill proposals could help them out. Therefore I have written to the Scottish Executive under Freedom on Information provisions to understand why the 2003 Act ignored them. I have also asked the Scottish Executive how many small holders there are in Scotland in each County to clarify the size of the problem."
"The small holders that I met in Arran were hopeful that an amendment could be placed in the Crofting Bill that would allow their situation to be addressed at long last. While they are not crofters their situation is very similar. If Arran becomes a part of the Crofting counties, as proposed by First Minister Jack McConnell then the Arran small landholders cannot be ignored.