4 MSPs, an MP and 7 Councillors serving Argyll & Bute publicly challenge Council Chief Executive’s “unwelcome, unwise, unjustified and unacceptable” letter to Cllr Michael Breslin.

This Public Statement regarding the letter from the Chief Executive of Argyll & Bute Council to Cllr Michael Breslin has been agreed by a number of elected representatives serving Argyll & Bute, who are as follows:

Michael Russell MSP (Argyll & Bute)
Mike MacKenzie MSP. (Regional Member, Highlands & Islands)
Jean Urquhart MSP. (Regional Member, Highlands & Islands)
John Finnie MSP ( Regional Member, Highlands & Islands)

Brendan O’Hara MP (Argyll & Bute)

Cllr Isobel Strong (former Provost, Argyll & Bute, SNP Bute)
Cllr Robert MacIntyre (Convener, Bute & Cowal Area Committee, Independent, Bute)
Cllr Vivien Dance (Independent , Helensburgh Central)
Cllr Bruce Marshall (Independent , Cowal)
Cllr Gordon Blair (SNP, Cowal)
Cllr Iain Maclean (SNP Oban North) & Lorn)
Cllr Iain Angus MacDonald (SNP Oban North)

“Cllr Michael Breslin has published on his website a letter he has received from Sally Loudon, the Chief Executive of Argyll & Bute. It contains notice that she and her management team have referred Cllr Breslin to the Commissioner for Ethical Standards in respect of his “conduct in relation to the disposal of the Castle Toward Estate, Rothesay Harbour and the pay and conditions of care at home workers” and that she is concerned about what she claims are Cllr Breslin’s “sustained, repeated and public criticism of council officers.”

Should the Commissioner agree to investigate this complaint we would not be able to comment on the matter in public. However as no investigation has started we wish to make it known publicly, as elected representatives in Argyll & Bute, that we regard Michael as an exceptional and diligent councillor who is working very hard for his constituents and for the people of Argyll & Bute. He has been subject to much pressure from the Council leadership over recent months because of his strong advocacy for local communities with regard to important local issues. It is greatly to his credit that he has refused to be deterred from speaking the truth as he sees it and we applaud his determination to ensure that the problems of the Council – and solutions to those problems – are known and debated across Argyll & Bute.

Any attempt to silence Cllr Breslin such as this letter from the Council Chief Executive is in our view unwelcome, unwise, unjustified and unacceptable and represents a further worrying development in the departure of Argyll & Bute from best standards and practice of democracy and governance. These tactics should be strongly resisted by all who care about the area and its future.

We intend to write in support of Cllr Breslin to the Commissioner and to draw the attention of Audit Scotland to this development which is germane to its continuing investigation of the Council. We will also write to the Scottish Government expressing concern about the letter in the name of the Council Chief Executive and her 3 Executive Directors which we believe is harmful to the people they are employed to serve.”

MSP URGES RETURN OF THE BEOTHUK BODIES TO CANADA

“REQUESTS FOR REPATRIATION SHOULD BE GIVEN SERIOUS CONSIDERATION”

The MSP for Argyll and Bute, Michael Russell, has lodged a motion in the Scottish Parliament urging the Scottish Government to support repatriation of the Beothuk remains to Canada.

The skulls of Chief Nonosabasut, and his wife Demasduit, are currently held in the National Museum of Scotland. They were among the last remaining members of the Beothuk tribe of Newfoundland. The remains are considered of vital religious, cultural and ethnic significance to the people of Canada, and there is a growing campaign, led by Chief Mi’sel Joe, of the Miawpukek First Nation band, to return the remains to Canada.

Commenting on the motion, Mr Russell said:

“I have campaigned for many years to support the repatriation of important historical artefacts, where it is sensible and appropriate to do so. When I was Minister for Culture, I campaigned to secure the repatriation of the Lewis Chessmen to Scotland which resulted in some progress, though not enough. I have also had a long standing involvement in the attempt to return the Parthenon Marbles to Greece.

“The Beothuk bodies are an important religious and cultural symbol to the people of Newfoundland. Moreover, the issue is particularly sensitive, given that the artefacts are human remains from a historically important tribe. Increasing calls for their repatriation should therefore be given the most serious consideration.

“The Scottish Government has previously demonstrated a pragmatic approach towards requests for repatriation of artefacts by different countries and communities, taking into account their needs and the circumstances surrounding each request. I look forward to a similar response in this case.”

MSP asks Forestry Commission to withdraw support for Bachan Burn wind farm

The MSP for Argyll & Bute, Michael Russell, has written to Forestry Commission Scotland, urging them to withdraw their support for a planning application by PNE Wind for a large wind farm at Bachan Burn, overlooking the Firth of Clyde and Dunoon.

Mr Russell, a former Minister for Environment, has been in regular contact with the Forestry Commission on behalf of constituents for some time about the matter, and was instrumental in securing Forestry Commission representation at the public meeting about the wind farm proposal, which took place in March. Attendees of the meeting came out unanimously against the plan.

Continue reading MSP asks Forestry Commission to withdraw support for Bachan Burn wind farm

Meeting with Transport Minister and Bute & Gigha Dairy Farmers

Meeting with Transport and Islands Minister Derek MacKay MSP and Bute & Gigha dairy farmers today (Monday 18th May) in Rothesay. We made some progress, but it is now essential that the Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and the Environment finds the resources to support reduction in transport costs for Bute & Gigha, for those supplying to First Milk who have reduced the price they pay yet again:

This is the NFUS Press Release after the meeting:

Scottish Minister for Transport and Islands Derek Mackay MSP met with dairy farmers on Bute this afternoon to discuss subsidised ferry transport for milk tankers as a way of assisting beleaguered milk farmers on Bute and Gigha.

Speaking from Rothesay, NFU Scotland Vice President Andrew McCornick said:

“Dairy farmers welcomed the opportunity to meet with the Minister for Transport and Islands, Derek Mackay MSP, in order to discuss the increasingly difficult situation for dairy producers in Bute and Gigha and the significant difference that subsidised ferry transport for milk tankers might make to the future of the dairy industry on these islands.

“We welcome Mr Mackay’s support in principle for putting temporary measures in place to provide half of the cost of ferry fares for First Milk tankers until the planned review period in September.

“However, it is clear that the stumbling block will be finding the required funding in order to bridge this gap, believed to be in the region of £35,000. NFUS will therefore continue discussions with Mr Mackay and the Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs Richard Lochhead in the hope of securing this vital funding to part-remedy the increasingly desperate situation for dairy producers in Bute and Gigha.

“There will be ongoing frustration amongst milk producers on these islands that this matter remains unresolved and our dialogue with Ministers will start again tomorrow with renewed vigour.”

‘DON’T DELAY, APPLY TODAY’ LOCAL MSP URGES FARMERS

IMPROVEMENTS WELCOMED TO FARM SCHEME

Argyll & Bute MSP Michael Russell has urged Argyll & Bute farmers and crofters to beat the last minute rush and apply for farm payments using the Single Application Form (SAF) as the Scottish Government announced improvements to the operation of the new Rural Payments and Services website.

The complexity of the new Common Agricultural policy (CAP) has resulted in implementation challenges right across the UK and Europe – and as a consequence Scotland, along with 15 other EU countries, have extended the deadline for farmers and crofters to submit their SAF until the 15 June.

Mr Russell said:

“Local farmers have just over one month left to complete their SAF forms. We already know this task has been made more difficult by the complexity of the new policy, so people should not leave it till the last minute to apply.

“It is good news that the Scottish Government has taken action so that the performance of the Rural Payments and Services system has improved – particularly the speed at which it runs. I have been making representations on behalf of local farmers for some time on this issue as have my MSP colleagues and it is good that Richard Lochhead has listened and ensured that changes were made.

“Scotland, along with 15 other EU countries, have extended the deadline for farmers and crofters to submit their SAF until the 15 June – but, if possible, they should beat the last minute rush and apply now.”

Rural Affairs Secretary Richard Lochhead said:

“This is the first year of the new payment system for the more complex Common Agricultural Policy and, although delivery has been challenging, we are now seeing real improvements to the system’s operation.

“While the new system is different from the previous one that farmers will be familiar with, it offers significant benefits to farmers, ensuring they get paid what they are due and is designed to minimise errors and penalties.

“We are aware that some farmers and agents have experienced issues and we have a dedicated team working to ensure all problems are sorted as quickly and we have extended the deadline for the submission of applications by one month to 15 June 2015 to allow for more time to get used to the system and rules of the new Common Agricultural Policy Programme. In addition, we recognise that that online applications do not suit everyone and paper applications have always been welcome.”

MSP comments on Audit Scotland Report on Argyll and Bute Alcohol and Drugs Partnership

Commenting on the newly published Audit Scotland report on the Argyll & Bute Alcohol and Drugs Partnership contract process, undertaken by Argyll & Bute Council last year, Argyll & Bute MSP Michael Russell said:

“This Audit Scotland report describes a shambolic process, riddled with errors and resulting in a contract outcome that may have breached the law.

“It is of course clear that the contract cannot be re-awarded to anyone else at this stage, more than six months after the tender was won. Fortunately Addaction are now performing well, but that is despite the ADP and the Council, not because of them.

“However the report lays bare all the things that the Council’s critics have complained about for a long time.

“For example, the Council at an early stage cleared itself of all wrongdoing. It was only the pressure of the other drugs and alcohol agencies in Argyll & Bute, working with the two local MSPs, that succeeded in getting this external examination of the process, which has come to a very different conclusion.

“In addition, Audit Scotland confirms that the ADP governance arrangements were chaotic and cumbersome, something which applies to the Council as well. These arrangements were of course overseen by as senior Council official though they were described some time ago as being “far from best practice.”

“The report also reveals that councillors were not kept informed and consulted, an anti-democratic style of management which is common place in the authority as most local people know only too well.

“We are very familiar in Argyll & Bute with the Council applying buckets of whitewash to itself, no matter the mess it makes, and that modus operandi is now confirmed for all to see in the Audit Scotland document.

“I am therefore very surprised, however, that despite previous reports showing how appallingly poor the Council’s performance and service delivery is, and despite reams of evidence from incidents such as the Castle Toward fiasco and the recent chaos round the lifeline Hebridean Air Services contract, all the watchdog seems prepared to do after this latest disaster is look for a few small improvements. Indeed the report states that Audit Scotland has concluded its examination of the whole matter and is leaving it up to Argyll & Bute Council to implement change. Experience shows that never happens.

“Audit Scotland must wake up and see that their report merely confirms an existing and damaging pattern of serial failure from a local authority that is being badly led and poorly managed. There must be radical action to change that, for the sake of all local citizens, and I shall be asking the Minster for Local Government and Audit Scotland to press for extensive and far-reaching change in the Council as quickly as possible.”