Commenting on his appointment as Professor of Scottish Culture & Governance at the University of Glasgow, Argyll & Bute MSP Michael Russell said:

I am delighted and honoured to have been asked to share some of my enthusiasms and experiences with students and staff at Glasgow University.

“Glasgow is one of the top 100 Universities in the world and Scotland has more world class Universities per head of population than any other nation. I greatly enjoyed being part of that success as Education Secretary and I am pleased to be able to continue my involvement in a new way.

“This part time post will allow me to undertake some teaching, drive forward some research , act as a strong advocate for excellence in Higher Education and encourage wider access at an institution which attracts many students from my constituency.

“I will of of course continue to serve and work very hard for all my Argyll & Bute constituents, a task which remains my priority, and I fully intend to stand for re-election to the Scottish Parliament in this constituency next May.”

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Russell asks for Chair and CEO to explain further price reductions and penalisation of Bute suppliers

The Scottish Parliament Rural Affairs Committee has agreed to recall senior figures from First Milk to question them about the company’s “Turnaround” plan revealed last Friday which further reduces the amount paid to Scottish dairy farmer members of the co-operative and introduces a punitive additional one penny a litre cut for Bute producers because of transportation costs.

Michael Russell, the MSP for Argyll & Bute and a member of the committee requested the recall at a meeting of the Committee this morning and members agreed to include it at an early date in their forward work programme. The invitation is likely to be issued by committee clerks today and it is hoped that the Chair and CEO of the company will agree to appear before the committee within a fortnight.

Commenting on the decision Mr Russell said:

“There is huge anger on Bute at the decision of their own co-operative to penalise the dairy farmers of that island with an additional one penny per litre price cut over and above the 0.2 cut being imposed across Scotland, but not in some other areas of the UK. Members of the rural affairs committee were unanimous in their view that this new development necessitated a recall of First Milk, who gave evidence to the Committee’s dairy inquiry on 28th January, given that the price being paid before this latest cut was still well below the cost of production. In addition the committee has previously called for assistance with transportation costs for Bute dairy farmers and the “turnaround” plan seems to cynically take advantage of any concession that might still be made.

“I believe the Chair and CEO of First Milk have a great deal of explaining to do and the Scottish Parliament Rural Affairs Committee is keen to hear from them as soon as possible. Such a public session will also allow the Bute dairy farmers themselves to hear at first hand why the company has behaved in this destructive and damaging way.”

The Minister for Transport and the Islands Derek MacKay has urged Argyll & Bute Council to resume negotiations on the provision of lifeline air services to Colonsay, Coll and Tiree after it broke off discussions with Hebridean Airways on Saturday and issued an inflammatory press release announcing a new tender process which would result in no service at all for more than a year.

Mr MacKay was responding to a topical Parliamentary Question called by the Parliament’s Presiding Officer when business resumed for the week at Holyrood. The Question was tabled at the weekend by Michael Russell, the SNP MSP for Argyll & Bute who also asked Mr MacKay to get his officials and Transport Scotland involved in re-starting the negotiations.

Mr Russell condemned the breakdown as “wholly unnecessary” and pointed out to Mr MacKay that as recently as 7th April Hebridean Airways was named as “preferred bidder” for the services with the maximum points scored in their bid for the “price” category. Mr Russell also revealed that the difference between the price being offered by Hebridean for the coming twelve months and the amount the Council wanted to pay each year for the next three years (£707,000 a year, a sum which has been unchanged 2011) was only £43,000 yet the Council had put at risk the three island communities involved rather than discuss it further.

Speaking after the Question had been answered in Parliament Mr Russell said:

“The more I learn of this situation the more astonished I am that the Council has been prepared to see three island communities seriously damaged and young people on those islands forced to be away from home for long periods rather than undertake the sensible course of positive negotiation.

“Again and again Hebridean Airways have tried to reach a deal, only to have new difficulties put in their way. The Council itself scored the Hebridean Airways bid so highly that it made the company the “Preferred Bidder” for the routes but then kept moving the goal posts. Last week it even introduced a completely spurious “State Aids” concern – the same concern that it had used to scupper the Castle Toward bid and destroy the plans for an Oban Transit Marina – into the matter, casting it about like a Harry Potter spell that always ensured it got its own way.

“I am very glad the Minister strongly advised the Council to return to the table and find a solution as quickly as possible. He also made it clear that there was no need for a lengthy new tender process, which the Council was talking about as recently as Saturday.

“Now that Mr MacKay’s officials and Transport Scotland are available to assist a resolution, I urge the Council to get this sorted within days and to ensure that nothing like it ever happens again.”

ARGYLL AND BUTE MSP CALLS ON SCOTTISH GOVERNMENT TO ASSIST IN RESOLUTION OF “UNNECESSARY AND DAMAGING” DISPUTE

The MSP for Argyll & Bute Michael Russell has demanded that Argyll & Bute Council secure the immediate restoration of lifeline air services to Coll, Tiree and Colonsay, which are to be suspended from 16th May as a result of a failure of the Council to negotiate a new contract with Hebridean Air Services.

Hebridean Air Services were forced to give notice of suspension of their services because of EU rules which meant they would be liable for payments to passengers, if they did not give advance notice to those booked beyond the period for which they are contracted. The company told Argyll & Bute Council two weeks ago that it would have to take this action, but the Council failed to do anything to prevent it happening.

Commenting on the dispute, Mr Russell said:

“I have today written to the Chief Executive of Argyll & Bute Council about this unnecessary and damaging dispute.

“First and foremost, the Council’s failure to secure a deal will mean that the “scholars services” will cease, meaning that many children on the islands will not be able to get home at weekends. That will be deeply upsetting for them and their families, and will affect their studies.

“The regular flights are also vital for islanders, for tourism, for the utility providers like phone and power companies, for local government and for other statutory bodies which send people to the islands on a regular basis.

“I am astonished that the Council has let things get to this stage in negotiations that has been going on for some considerable time, particularly as I understand that the gap between the Council’s position and the company’s position is now very small.

“In addition, I am told that the Council has known about the suspension for a fortnight but has said nothing. The Council then chose to tell those affected by means of an inflammatory and accusatory press release and to say that the services could be restored “next summer” – leaving the possibility of no services for a year or more.

“Colonsay has suffered tremendous ferry disruption in the last month. If its only air link is to be cut as well, then the island will be in desperate straits. Coll is also dependent upon these flights, having no others, and although Tiree has a direct Glasgow link, many islanders have been using these services as a means of going to Oban for urgent business.

“The traffic from Oban has built up over the past few years and is now significant. However, the suspension of these flights leaves the Council-owned airport with no scheduled services at all – which is a completely farcical situation.

“In addition to contacting the Council and speaking to Hebridean Air Services, I have also tabled a Topical Question in the Parliament and I hope it will be called this week. To supplement that, I have this morning been in touch with the Transport Minister and I understand his officials are currently looking for ways in which they can assist in resolving this dispute. However, this is a problem that should never have happened, and Argyll and Bute Council need to sort it now. Waiting a year would be totally unacceptable and deeply destructive for the islands, and all those who live there.”

“BUTE FARMERS BETRAYED BY THEIR OWN CO-OPERATIVE” – MICHAEL RUSSELL

The MSP for Argyll & Bute Michael Russell has reacted angrily to today’s announcement by First Milk that it is further reducing the price it pays to its dairy farmer members in Scotland, with an additional cut for Bute farmers because of transportation costs. He has confirmed that he has already spoken to the company, as well as to Richard Lochhead, the Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and the Environment, about the issue.

Commenting on the price reduction, Mr Russell said:

“I was horrified to be notified this morning by farmers that a further cut to the price they receive was going to be announced today. First Milk claim their “turnaround” plan requires them to take 0.2p more off the price of a litre supplied by Scottish farmers, though no such reduction is to apply to Welsh farmers.

“As the price paid is already below the cost of production, this is a further serious blow to Kintyre. However, to add insult to injury, the price being paid by the company to dairy farmers on Bute will fall by 1.2p from the 1st of June, with the company citing increased freight costs as being the reason.

“In reality, this is a cynical attempt by First Milk to blackmail the Scottish Government into further transport subsidies, with the benefit going not to farmers, but to the company. It is also a cruel betrayal of the Bute farmers who have supported their own co-operative over many years.

“There is tremendous anger today on Bute and further afield. I spoke to the company this morning and told them that I regarded their actions as absolutely unacceptable, and have also had a telephone conversation with Cabinet Secretary Richard Lochhead, who was as horrified as I was.

“I am taking a delegation of Bute farmers to see the Transport Minister on the 12th of May , which is the same day as Richard Lochhead is due to meet First Milk. There will be an unequivocal message from all of us to the company on that day – reverse these appalling decisions , and apologise for them.

“I will also press the Government hard for immediate help with transport costs though we need to find a way to ensure that the money does not go into the pocket of First Milk but instead into the dairy farms on Bute.”