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Highland & Islands MSP's
Archived From Main MSP Pages 2007

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26 December 07
Gibson And the Flow Country
Highlands and Islands SNP MSP Rob Gibson has reiterated his call for the flow country in Caithness to be named a world heritage site.
Mr Gibson's call came during the green spaces debate in Parliament.
He said... "The most massive green spaces are the world heritage sites. I make a plea for the Government's support in ensuring that the flow country in Caithness becomes such a site. We have to apply through Britain and so on. We have got to move on, in that
sense, and make sure that we get the world importance of such places recognised."
After the debate he said..... "The flow country at Forsinard is truly unique. Like St Kilda and the Edinburgh New and Old Towns (the two world heritage site's already in Scotland) you will not find a parallel in the world. The habitat allows the rarest of life to live and it's importance as a natural carbon capture area cannot be over emphasised in this climate change era. Therefore I am calling for Forsinard to be put on the world map by according the flow country around it world heritage status."
"The work that is already done there by RSPB and SNH is high quality by giving it world status the good work will be recognised As vital to the planet's future."

9 December 07
Domestic heating oil cripplingly expensive
Scottish Government must help pensioners and poorest
With world oil prices at their highest ever - and consequently with the cost of domestic fuel soaring - North MSP Jamie Stone has tabled a motion in the Scottish Parliament calling on the Scottish Government to take urgent action to help pensioners and poorer families faced with huge oil bills this winter.
Speaking in Holyrood, Mr Stone said:- "The fact is that I am now receiving many representations from people badly hit by these crippling price increases. Winter is upon us - and the awful thing is that the record price level is beyond the pockets of many people."
"What is particularly worrying is that it is precisely the most vulnerable, our pensioners and poorer families, who are least able to afford any price rise, let alone the recent huge increases. They will be faced with a stark choice, in the middle of winter, whether to run into debt which they cannot afford, or to turn the boiler off. Posing people that kind of question is a disgrace in this day and age."
"Accordingly I have tabled the motion that I have - and I believe that I am the first MSP to do so reflecting this very precise issue. It is to urge the Scottish Government to understand the severity of this matter - and to bring forward proposals as to how people caught in this trap can be helped. Additional insulation and energy efficiency are two approaches - but also the Scottish Government, while it cannot control the international price of oil, must also consider means of financial assistance - possibly via local government and the NHS."
"The sums per family or individual wouldn't be that large - after all, by definition, these people wouldn't be using a lot of fuel oil in the first place - but this kind of assistance could make all the difference. Within the overall Scottish budget of £30 billion this should be quite possible. I very much hope that fellow MSPs from all political parties will support this motion - and thus enable the Scottish Parliament to debate the issue and press Scottish Ministers for action.
"That the Scottish Parliament notes with concern the impact of the soaring price of domestic heating oil on Scotland's pensioners and poorer families - and calls upon the Scottish Government to bring forward proposals as to how people and families most affected can be assisted, both financially, and by the introduction of further insulation and energy efficiency schemes."

9 December 07
Gibson calls for greater airing of Scottish music and culture
Highlands and Islands SNP MSP Rob Gibson has lodged two motions in Parliament calling for Scottish music and culture to be given a wider airing in the media, and is calling on people to let the broadcasters know.

One motion congratulates the BBC Scotland for their programme Scotland's Music whilst calling for it to be shown throughout the UK and on their world wide channels. The other congratulates the organiser, and participants of the 5th annual Hands Up For Trad folk music Awards, which was held in Fort William between the 29th of November and 1st of December. It also called for a broadcaster to air the programme next year when the awards are in Glasgow.

Mr Gibson says that the two entities are hugely significant both as an expression of our vibrant culture and heritage as well as a great advert for Scotland.

"What struck me watching Phil Cunningham's excellent series and the fantastic awards show is that they are truly Scottish events encompassing music from Shetland to the Borders. As the Culture Minister said when she opened the folk awards last Saturday, when you consider the depth, variety and excellence of Scottish music it is incredible to think that it comes from a country of just 5 million. This is something that we are rightly proud and I feel should be shared with people throughout the world and given greater prominence in Scotland."

Mr Gibson who is vice convener of the Education, Lifelong Learning and Culture Committee of the Parliament, a musician as well the organiser of the Highland Traditional Music Festival in Dingwall which ran for 20 years (1981-2002) says that music has the potential to promote the country as well as change people's lives....

"The Féisian movement has shown that it can create top notch musicians who can go on to have a successful career in music. Other such movements have that potential as well as the basic benefit of delivering a sense of place and worth. These need continued supported from Government whilst broadcasters need to give the end product a higher profile so that becoming a musician in the traditional vein can be as aspirational as that of pop music."

"Both the awards and Phil Cunningham's TV series act as a great advert for Scotland as they shows our strong traditions, our beautiful scenery and our welcoming communities."

"I will be making a submission to the broadcasting commission to call for the Folk Awards to be televised next year. I would urge all those who care about Scottish music and culture to do like wise."

Mr Gibson has also called on the BBC to make Phil's series available in CD and DVD formats before Christmas.

2 December 07
Slashing of enterprise funding is a serious blow for the North
North MSP Jamie Stone has hit out at the Scottish Government's announcement that it is slashing funding for the enterprise network in the Highlands. Speaking in the Scottish Parliament this week, Mr Stone said: "It was a real leap of faith when the Highlands & Islands Development Board was established in the 1960s. It did a very great deal of good in terms of halting population decline and boosting the local economies of some of the most remote and fragile areas of Scotland. Now, a generation later, it has come as a very serious blow indeed that the Scottish Government has decided to undermine such previous investment by dramatically cutting its financial support for the enterprise network in the Highlands."

"Estimates vary, but the cut is at least £50 million over the next three years, and it could be as high as £100 million. This is money that is being removed from the Highlands -- it is as simple as that. Equally disturbing is the announcement by Sandy Cumming, the Chief Executive of Highland & Islands Enterprise, that this savage cut will lead to the enterprise network shedding 50 jobs - and these are jobs all over the Highlands, not just Inverness."

"From a Far North perspective this cut questions the Scottish Government's commitment to safeguarding high-quality employment as decommissioning at Dounreay proceeds. As has been clearly established, future quality employment in the Far North is about a co-ordinated approach by the relevant agencies, such as NDA and the enterprise network, and it's about a properly funded approach. It will take investment to create new jobs - and the cut in enterprise funding that has just been announced is obviously a very wrong move indeed."

"Why has the Scottish Government done this? I really don't know. They make the decisions. What I do know is that elected representatives for the Highlands, of all parties, must protest in the loudest possible terms about this decision. People in the Far North are understandably fearful about future employment prospects. We owe it to them."

10 November 07
Stone Challenges Minister on A9 investment

Today North MSP Jamie Stone challenged Transport Minister Stewart Stevenson about the Scottish Government’s plans for investment on the A9. Specifically, Mr Stone questioned the Minister about plans for investment at the Berridale Braes; but he was met with a non-committal answer. Mr Stone said, “It is vital for the far North that this Government recognises that the A9 runs right to Caithness and does not stop at Inverness.” “The A9 in the Far North is comparable in places with many B roads. Serious investment on the A9 especially at the Berriedale Braes is essential”  "My concern is that heavy investment on the southern stretch of the A9 will put much cherished projects such as Berriedale and Navidale into the long grass for a very long time indeed. I will not be silenced on this issue.”

10 October 07
MSP seeks community council views on flooding

Peter Peacock, Highlands and Islands regional Labour MSP, has written to every Community Council in the area to hear their views on flooding and what still needs to be done to combat its effects in north communities.

"For too long people in the Highlands and Islands have had to live in fear of flooding. Given changing weather patterns it is vital that the Scottish Parliament streamlines flood legislation to enable alleviation schemes to proceed more quickly," said Peter Peacock.

In recent years the Highlands and Islands have witnessed many flood events such as in Dingwall, Inverness, Elgin, Forres and Rothes. The Scottish Parliament's Environment and Rural Affairs committee has set up an inquiry into flooding and is looking for responses by 12th December.

Peter Peacock added: "People affected by flooding have told me how devastating an event it is. As a local MSP I intend to raise any concerns made by the Community Councils as well as individuals to me as part of the inquiry so that flooding becomes a thing of the past."

18 July 07

Labour's Highlands and Islands regional MSP, Peter Peacock has raised the issue of Wick centre in the Scottish Parliament.
The North MSP sought an assurance from the Scottish Executive that it would consider a small towns regeneration fund as a priority for extra funding and consider giving local authorities more powers to deal with empty buildings and dereliction and, where necessary, compulsory purchase of key buildings to secure town centre improvements. Town centre trusts could act as a vehicle for environmental improvements, that many small towns seek.
Mr Peacock said, "I know that many communities feel powerless to act in bringing about town centre improvements in the timescales they desire. Very often town centres can be blighted by empty shops and dereliction, but also many towns and traders have great new ideas for bringing about environmental improvements to improve the feel of town centres and their trading prospects. These towns deserve backing.
"I have asked the Executive to consider setting up a new small town centres improvement fund and to give new streamlined powers to local authorities to assist improve town centres. I hope that if they do so Wick might benefit. I hope the Executive will act on this as I know town centres are a vital part of creating vibrant local communities.
"I would be happy to hear from anyone with ideas they have for improving their town centre and take that case to the Executive."

18 July 07

Highlands and Islands Labour regional MSP, Peter Peacock, has got the SNP Scottish Executive on the move on the question of support for local post offices, following questions in the Scottish Parliament. He believes the outcome stands to benefit Caithness.
In a written answer to a question on providing funding to help sustain local services, Mr Peacock has been told that Executive officials "are examining the department of Trade and Industry's plans for the post office network to see where the Scottish Executive can add value". Further, the reply says, "We will seek to do all we can within our devolved powers to secure the best possible outcome".
Mr Peacock said, "This is a change of position over that first given to me by Cabinet Secretary John Swinney in Parliament and I welcome the fact he is at last listening to the needs of rural areas after having pressure put on him. At least there now appears a commitment to look at funding rural post offices and supporting them in other ways."
"I await the detailed proposals of how local communities can apply for funding, what cash limits will apply and what the priorities for any funding will be. There are huge expectations to fulfill and I hope he is not going to let people down when the detail is released."
"I encourage the SNP Executive to match the commitment shown by the Westminster Government to support new rural outreach services, such as those being piloted in Caithness and Ross-shire."
Mr Peacock concluded, "There are many post offices in Caithness facing challenging circumstances and I sincerely hope this concession from the executive means something real in helping protect rural services, but only time will tell."

18 July 07
Highlands and Islands Regional Labour MSP Rhoda Grant has called for kinship carers to be put on the same financial footing as foster carers. Earlier this month Children and Early Years Minister Adam Ingram approved a new package of training allowances for foster and kinship carers, who can now claim up to £1,000 towards training. The funding will allow carers to access approved childcare-related training courses and cover relevant costs such as childcare.
Mrs Grant commented, “Last month I tabled a parliamentary question at Holyrood on the role of grandparents who foster. They are typical of kinship carers in that they do not automatically receive the same support as foster carers, despite carrying out identical functions in supporting children. Local Authorities have discretion on whether or not they give financial support to kinship carers, many do not and assessment is often carried out on a case by case basis. My question called on the Minister to clarify what steps the Executive would take to ensure Local Authorities provide grandparents with the same level of support that they provide for other foster carers”
“Kinship carers are often financially disadvantaged and again grandparents carrying out this role are typical. They are most likely retired and living off their savings or on a fixed income. I readily acknowledge the excellent work carried out by those who foster children but I would argue strongly that the level of financial support given to foster carers should also be available to kinship carers. The £4 million package announced by the Children and Early Years Minister contains some proposals which will significantly help support children who require fostering care. I have however, written to the Minister expressing my concerns over the issue of parity in financial support between the two groups of carers and asking for more details on the financial package applicable to kinship carers.”
Mrs Grant added, “The work carried out by both foster carers and kinship carers is invaluable to the children who receive it. This level of care must however be supported financially and it is vital that kinship carers are not disadvantaged simply due to their relationship with the child being fostered. 
I look forward to the Minister’s response.”

5 July 07
The launch of the last of the two experimental wind turbines for the Beatrice field wind project should point to a bright future for Nigg in the construction of offshore wind turbines provided land ownership issues can be resolved said North MSP Jamie Stone.

However Mr Stone is worried that Wakelyn Trust, which owns part of the site may very well damage that future through it's unwillingness to sell its share to those who could capitalise on the yard's potential.

Speaking from his constituency Mr Stone said: "With the construction and launch of these two experimental turbines for the North Sea, the Nigg Yard has won itself a place at the forefront of offshore wind generation."

"Given the much better wind regime offshore and the increased planning and development constraints onshore, of shore wind must be the way forward - and Nigg must have place in that future."

"It is therefore vital for Nigg, and the economy of Ross-shire, that the issue of the yard's future use is not jeopardised by the Wakelyn Trust, and I commend efforts being made by Highland Council to investigate the compulsory purchase of the site.

28 March 07
Highlands and Islands Labour MSP Maureen Macmillan has welcomed a response from Highland Council regarding safety at barrier-less rail crossing. Recently, two young men were killed in a tragic incident at such a crossing in Easter Ross and concerns have been expressed for some time over the safety of barrier-less crossings in Ross-shire and beyond.

Mrs Macmillan said, "I have previously argued that we must review these crossings and take action to make them safer. The British Transport Police do prosecute motorists for ignoring the traffic lights at crossings but I am still concerned over the cut backs in police support staff to monitor the cameras at Highland crossings. What also needs to be done is to change driver perception at the crossings, something which has been done effectively at road junctions, for example on the A9.

Following the tragedy at Delnies, Easter Ross I wrote to Highland Council and Network Rail calling for a review of safety at the crossings and suggesting that rumble strips are installed at either side of the crossings on the approach roads, to alert and slow down drivers approaching the crossing. I have now received a letter from the Director of Transport at Highland Council confirming that they will be working closely with Network Rail in an effort to improve safety at level crossings and as part of this close liaison the council are to likely to develop some pilot schemes incorporating traffic calming on the
approaches to level crossings."

Mrs Macmillan added, "I am encouraged that Highland Council and Network Rail are working together to try and improve safety at barrier-less rail crossings. There have quite simply been too many incidents at such crossings and although driver error may frequently be the reason, a thorough review is required to assess any new initiative or measure which could potentially make crossings safer. Road surfaces, signage and other 'street furniture' should all be included in any evaluation which should be designed to slow drivers down and leave them in no doubt they are approaching a crossing and must comply with the traffic lights.

I will follow any pilot measures instigated by Highland Council with interest."

17 March 07

Highlands and Islands SNP MSP Rob Gibson has written to TRANSERV Scotland to raise concerns about the stretch of A9 from the Weigh Inn to Scrabster. Mr Gibson wrote to the transport agency to find out what work is being carried out to stop the land slips that have beset the road for many years and to ascertain if any more are expected. He also asked to questions regarding the state of the road which has suffered during the land slips and with heavy traffic. He said...."I have been contacted by many constituents regarding the state of the road and their worries over the increased risk of land slips during as the tourist season comes around."
"That stretch of road is important is marks the beginning of the A9 and is important as many tourists and freight use it. Therefore it needs to be in tiptop condition."
"I hope that TRANSERV Scotland realise this and have taken the necessary action."

8 March 07
McGrigor Slams £17m Bill For West Coast Ferry Tendering
Commenting on news that the cost to the Scottish taxpayer for tendering West Coast ferry services is more than £17m, Conservative Highlands and Islands MSP Jamie McGrigor said: "This whole process has been a farce from start to finish. Unfortunately we're not even sure that this is the finish. "Tavish Scott and the Liberal Democrats have managed to waste £17m so far on yet another ferry tendering fiasco and that's probably not even the final figure. Their credibility really has hit rock bottom. "It's not just the Scottish taxpayer who has lost out. Private companies who initially tendered for routes will also be considerably out of pocket. "The Scottish Executive will claim they had no alternative because of EU rules but other countries have proceeded without a tendering process and have avoided penalties. Yet again, Scotland is forced to follow EU rules that others ignore with impunity. "My concern now is from which budget this money comes and what other services will have been lost to pay for this bungling".

8 March 07
Highlands and Islands Labour MSPs Maureen Macmillan and Peter Peacock have responded to the Department of Trade and Industry's consultation on the future of postal service. The background to the consultation is the declining revenue from many small sub-post offices and an existing postal network, which the National Federation of Sub Postmasters and a cross party group of MPs have agreed is unsustainable. Mr Peacock said, "The main focus of the consultation was on how a national access criteria could be applied and new outreach service delivered. Only in the last few weeks I have visited a mobile post office in the Highlands, which delivers to five villages and a sub post office which provides outreach services to two other villages, using community and village halls. These businesses are excellent examples of the new ways of delivering postal services we need to explore. I firmly believe the Highlands and Islands should be at the front of the queue when these services are offered.  In our response Maureen and I criticised the access proposed criteria, which should have more flexibility. It should take account of public transport routes, in addition to just miles and more weight should be given to saving sub post offices when they are linked to mail and/ or shop or other services."

Mr Peacock added, "I met last week with representatives of Postwatch Scotland and learned of the active role the organisation is taking in helping to argue the consumer interest, throughout the detailed consultations on individual area plans for reconfiguration of services. I made representations to Postwatch Scotland to include the issues of concern, which Maureen and I identified in our response." Mrs Macmillan said, "Local authorities have a clear role in supporting postal services, through for example service points or the use of mobile libraries. There definitely should be a strong linkage between post service and local authority service delivery. Also, in formatting the criteria for the network, local authority boundaries should be used - rather than the suggested Westminster constituencies. The new postal outreach services in Scotland are working well and importantly offer the opportunity to deliver services again to small rural communities which have already lost their local sub post office. I look forward to the publication of the outcome of the consultation."

8 March 07
Gibson Questions Minister Over Wick Harbour
Highlands and Islands SNP MSP Has questioned Transport Minister Tavish Scott over funding for protection of Wick Harbour following flooding towards the end of last February. Mr Gibson welcomed the response from the Minister (during question time today) which stated that money would be made available for repairs and the upgrade for the south pier. However he warned that the money is needed as soon as possible..."I will be keeping a close eye on this situation as it is of the utmost urgency that repairs are carried out in the Harbour and especially the South Pier." "Should the pier be breached then many parts of Lower Poultney and Wick could be flooded which could cost a great amount both socially and economically." He also said that Ports and Harbours throughout the Highlands and islands should be invested in to allow for safe use and coastal protection..."Sea transport is likely to become more important in the future and therefore it is important that harbours like Wick and others in the Highlands and Islands are given the funding to make sure that they can be used to their full capacity when required."

27 February 07
Highlands and Islands Labour MSP Peter Peacock has visited the pilot mobile Post Office scheme which operates in Caithness. A DTI consultation is presently continuing into the future of postal services and part of the process will involve a consideration of new and innovative ways of delivering postal services to our rural areas.  (Post Office consultation closes on 8 March 2007)

Mr Peacock said," The National Federation of Sub Postmasters and a cross party group of MPs in Westminster have agreed that the present configuration of Post Offices in the UK are not sustainable and new methods of delivering postal services must be found for certain areas. The government has agreed to fund 500 new outreach services for postal deliveries and I am keen to see the Highlands and Islands at the top of the list for consideration when these are rolled out.

I had previously spoken with Ian MacKay the Scottish Director of the Royal Mail on this issue and today met with him in Caithness to discuss outreach services in the context of the Highlands and Islands. I then visited the pilot mobile post office, which has been operating in Caithness for more than a year and delivers postal services to Reiss, Keiss, Aukengill, Mey and Thrumster four days a week. The workings of the mobile service were explained to me by Glyn Jackson, who is clearly doing a great job. The new arrangement is a good replacement for the previous service and offers an increased range of transactions to customers. The mobile post office is an excellent example of the type of initiative we need as postal services undergo change.

Mr Peacock added, "I also recently visited a village post office in the Highlands, where the sub postmaster delivers outreach services to another two local villages, two days per week. Initiatives such as these provide a good example of what can be achieved. Only last week I sent a questionnaire to Community Councils across the Highlands and Islands seeking their views on a range of issues, including the delivery of outreach type services.

There are fresh and exciting opportunities for delivering postal services, as shown by the Caithness pilot and we must ensure the Highlands and Islands are well represented in the new arrangements."

6 February 07
Gibson comments on level crossing safety measures
Rob Gibson SNP MSP for Highlands and Islands who visited Delny rail crossing after last Fridays' tragic accident, has proposed that extra red flashing lights fifty metres before such ungated crossings could be an added warning to drivers.  He said, 'I spoke to Network Rail officials and the police at the scene as they completed the distressing job of clearing up the wreck. Since there are 700 of these crossings in Scotland, it is no surprise that Network Rail has a campaign leaflet to remind drivers of the routine at ungated crossings. 'However I believe more has to be done. Following other serious incidents at Halkirk, Delny and Dingwall in recent years I have been investigating practical means to alert drivers. I believe that the Roads [Scotland] Act of 1984 can be investigated to see if powers can be taken to erect new warning lights 50 metres. I will pursue this urgently with Ministers.'

2 February 07
MSP Jamie Stone Hits Out At No Northern Representation On NHS Highland

Far North MSP Jamie Stone has hit out at the lack of representation for the counties of Caithness and Sutherland on Highland Health Board. Speaking during a Holyrood debate about elections to health boards Jamie Stone told MSPs he thought it was a 'disgrace' that, for many years, not one single health board member in the Highlands came from the counties north of the Moray Firth. He is now calling on appointments to health boards to give greater consideration to the need for fair representation.
Commenting today, Mr Stone said: "It is disgraceful that for many years, the residents of Caithness and Sutherland have had no members on the Highland Health Board to fight their particular corners. "If there had been a member from the Caithness area at the time when maternity services were being reviewed, perhaps residents in the far north would not have faced such a lengthy battle to save these important local health services.
"It is clear that the membership of health boards across Scotland should be representative of the area and communities that they serve. Greater consideration should be given to this aspect when appointments are being decided.
"Highland Council covers a similar area to NHS Highland. It has area committees to ensure that, where possible, decisions are taken closer to home. Although this may not be feasible for the health board, at the very least, all counties in the Highlands should be represented in the decision making process."

29 January 07
Gibson warns of Olympics raid
Highlands and Islands SNP MSP Rob Gibson says the Big Lottery Fund in Scotland should not have to gamble on its funds being raided to pay for the London Olympics. Mr Gibson words come as news emerges that Sir Clive Booth the director of the Big Lottery Fund in England claimed that “dark forces in Whitehall” are going to use lottery monies to plug the Olympics black hole.
Mr Gibson said that the money people seek to spend all over Scotland was put to better use than a one off show piece event, "This money directly changes people's lives. Major land buyouts throughout the Highlands and Islands have been financed by the lottery. While numerous urban and rural projects have benefited. I will monitor the acceptance and rejection rates across the North from the Lottery. Its guardians in Scotland must make sure that there is enough money to let the good work continue."
"If London Ministers are allowed to come North and plunder Scottish project money which make such a real difference, then this is no laughing matter. Long lasting effect of land buyouts will far out-live the one-off costs of Olympic facilities. No matter how many local people in East London benefit in later years, and they deserve every support from the Government, I do not believe it should be at the expense of those people who will genuinely benefit from lottery money. Whether they be in Sighthill or South Uist."
"I hope we can rely on Cllr Alison Magee who will soon take up the Scottish chair of the Big Lottery to bear this in mind. If any reduction of lottery cash is proposed to plug the funding gap of the badly miscalculated costs of the London Olympics, I hope she will speak up."

25 January 07

Highlands and Islands Labour MSP Peter Peacock has welcomed reassurance from Trade and Industry Secretary Alistair Darling there would be no further closures of post offices in 38 postcode districts, 37 of which are in Scotland. This follows the publication last month of a DTI consultation on the future of post offices. Both the National Federation of Sub-postmasters and the cross party group of MPs who looked at the issue viewed the present post office provision as unsustainable.
Mr Peacock commented, "This is a significant reassurance. 37 of the 38 post code district are in Scotland, with the majority being in the Highlands, in areas such as Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey, Ross, Skye and Lochaber, Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross and Argyll and Bute. Within these areas post offices will be protected under new rules which set out a minimum standard for future coverage.
"This tightening of the rules under which the post office can close outlets has been formulated to protect postal services for those living in these rural areas. The 37 Scottish postcodes contain 95 post offices in communities, serving a population of 38,611 - at just over 400 people per post office. One postcode district, "IV27" covering Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross, has 12 post offices serving just 1582 people - at 130 people per post office. In the event of a temporary closure within these 37 post office districts the Post office will have now have a duty to replace the service.
Inevitably, there will still be some change in the post office network and I have already secured a visit and meeting with Ian Mackay, Scottish Director of the Royal Mail to discuss the issues. I want to press Royal mail and work with them to secure a significant share of the new outreach services, which will be made available in areas without post office provision. These services may utilise a mobile post office or outreach services in village halls, mobile libraries or other premises."
Mr Peacock added, "Alistair Darling's announcement shows the government's firm commitment to a strategy to secure a sustainable network of postal services in our area and is to be warmly welcomed. I hope those politicians who have seen this issue as one in which to secure Party advantage by stressing negatives will now look for the positive benefits to be brought to the Highlands and Islands out of inevitable change. That will be what I will be working for. "

23 January 07
Rob Gibson MSP Warns On The Rising Pull Of The Supermarkets
Rob Gibson MSP SNP for the Highlands and Islands has warned that High Streets across the region are in deep trouble through the pull of the big four supermarkets. His words come in the wake of a report from the Federation of Small Businesses which shows that 73% of people in Dingwall shopped less in the town centre since the opening of Tesco. Mr Gibson, who recently gave evidence to the Competition Commission hearing in Edinburgh on its investigation into the dominance of the big supermarkets, said that while he recognised that people wanted and deserved choice of goods, in the long run supermarkets may reduce real choice.
"The FSB report shows when a major supermarket moves in to town it leads to a drastic loss in footfall throughout the High Street. This in turn leads to many shops closing thus leaving only one or two supermarkets left and therefore less choice." "I am told by business people that the trend in Dingwall is one which also exists in Alness and Invergordon. I believe that Thurso and Wick as well as Tain will soon experience the same trend. Given that state of affairs it would seem extremely unwise to plan for three major supermarkets to be situated in Tain because the effects on Ardgay, Bonar Bridge and even Dornoch could be serious. This has far reaching consequences for rural areas in the North."
"If local food shops are forced to close because they are being undercut by supermarkets, then it will be local producers who will suffer. Generally food in supermarkets is cheaper, however it is often exploits the producers and is not local. At a time when local food producers ought to benefit from healthy diet and food policies of the Scottish Government they are at risk."
"I understand why people want to shop in a range of big supermarkets, however the FSB report and the Competition Commission's interim findings show small towns across the land bear the brunt. Profits no longer circulate locally, they merely reward shareholders across the globe. No other EU country allows this free-for-all. Why should Scotland?"

10 January 07

Highlands and Islands Labour MSP Peter Peacock has discussed the future of post offices across the Highlands and Islands with Ian McKay, the Director of Scottish Affairs for Royal Mail Group. The government's proposals for the future of the post office network were announced last month by Alistair Darling, the Secretary for Trade and Industry when he pledged the government subsidy for rural post offices would be continued and he would fund new outreach services. The consultation document released at that time highlighted the huge growth in post office losses as fewer people used their services and the network became less and less viable. The vast majority of the post office in Scotland and the UK are private businesses.
Mr Peacock commented," I have had an initial discussion with the Director of Scottish Affairs for the Royal Mail Group and have now written to him on this important issue. The current situation across the network is simply not sustainable and this is acknowledged by the National Federation of Sub-postmasters and the cross party group of MPs who looked at the issue.
"While opposition politicians have and no doubt will seek to accentuate any potential negatives in the situation, it is clear there are many positive new initiatives and policy approaches also being proposed. The central idea that there should, for the first time, be a strategically planned network of services which will ensure access for all, the provision of clear strategic criteria for access and the exciting prospect of new outreach services, are all positives which offer opportunities.
"In my letter to Mr MacKay I stressed that I wanted to press the Royal Mail Group to ensure that the opportunities for the Highlands and Islands arising from change are maximised, particularly by looking at funding for new outreach services. I also invited him to visit Caithness with me to discuss how the lessons from the pilot mobile post office which serves five local villages four days a week might be applied to other parts of the Highlands and Islands.
Change to the network is coming and while I will support local efforts to retain as many current services as possible I am also keen to both press Royal Mail and to work with them to develop new services to our area and put the Highlands and Islands top among regions to benefit from the new outreach services."

Post Office Consultation

10 January 07
Gibson to Question Exec on GM Stance
Highlands and Islands SNP MSP Rob Gibson is to question the Scottish Government over their stance on GM Crops this Thursday. MR Gibson will direct his question at the Environment Minister after the Government's new Scientific adviser (Professor Anne Glover) backed GM food as the answer to poverty, hunger and toxic pollution. Mr Gibson's question to Ross Finnie comes in the week that Friends of the Earth International published a report which shows that GM crops have failed in tackling world hunger. Speaking ahead of his question at Holyrood Mr Gibson said that the spectre of developing GM crops planting in Scotland had been raised by the latest comments from the Scottish Executive's chief scientific Adviser that "that people should embrace genetically modified food as an answer to poverty, hunger and toxic pollution"...
"Prof Glover's words may sum up her scientist's perspective but politically they send all the wrong signals as to advice that Ministers may ask her for. They are ill throughout, misplaced, out-dated and dangerous.
To ensure that the clean image of Scotland's food brand remains just that, one of quality and of distinctive taste and safe for the environment in which they grow, then it is imperative that GM Crops are kept out of the country. Scotland's food future relies on our distancing what we produce here from dubious GM practices elsewhere."
"European consumers reject GM ingredients in our food time and again. The current output of USA, Argentina and Canada is mainly for fodder crops for animals that later feed humans."
"Consumers increasingly say they want natural local and traceable food. The FOE report shows that GM crops use more Pesticides at higher costs and lower quality, so I really can't understand Prof Glover remarks in that light."
"In 2004 Liberal Democrat and Labour MSP's banded together to vote to allow trials of GM Chardon maize in Scotland. They won by one vote over a grand coalition of Tories, SNP, Greens, SSP and Independents. Only a three line whip saved them. "
"Meanwhile Highland and Moray Councils among others joined the European Network of GM Free Regions. This is a statement that many parts of Scotland would disagree with Prof Glover's thoughts."
"I await with interest the Scottish Government's views on their
chief Scientific Adviser's stance?"

Copy of question Rob will ask tomorrow (Thursday 11/01/07) around 2.20PM
5. Rob Gibson: To ask the Scottish Executive what its position is on the view of Scotland's new chief scientific adviser, Professor Anne Glover, that people should embrace genetically modified food as an answer to poverty, hunger and toxic pollution. (S2O-11645)
You can watch the question at http://www.holyrood.tv/index.asp

10 January 07

Local MSP Jamie Stone has welcomed the launch of a new scheme which will see young people in the Far North benefit from cheaper travel locally and across Scotland.  Under the Young Persons' concessionary travel scheme, all 16 to 18 year olds will get one third off single bus fares and a free rail card giving them one third off rail travel. The scheme will also include full time volunteers up to the age of 25 who are actively contributing to their community. Commenting on the new scheme, Mr Stone said: "I am sure that young people across the far north will give a warm welcome to cheaper bus and rail fares to anywhere in Scotland. "In rural areas, many young people need to travel long distances to get to school or college and for social and leisure activities so the costs of using public transport can quickly add up. This scheme will help make public transport a more affordable option for many young people and make it easier for them to access services and facilities in our area. "We have seen the boost that a concessionary fares scheme has given to Scotland's older people so I am delighted that the needs of younger generations have also been considered by ministers."


MSP Archive 2005