RUSSELL RAISES NEED FOR INFORMED COMMUNITY INPUT TO CAL MAC TENDER “FROM THOSE WHO USE THE SERVICES”

Argyll & Bute MSP Michael Russell, who is the constituency Member of the Scottish Parliament representing most CalMac routes, has called for the views of experienced ferry users and island communities to be heard during the current dispute and tender process.

Mr Russell was questioning Transport & Islands Minister Derek MacKay, who was delivering an emergency statement in the Parliament about the current strike.

Speaking after the statement, Mr Russell said:

“My constituents will have welcomed, I am sure, the Minister’s definitive, clear and comprehensive statement which went a long way to demolish the very damaging mischief-making and misrepresentation about these matters currently coming from the Labour opposition, and some others.

“However it is vital that the Minister ensures that the tender process – which is regrettably a necessity under European Law – emphasises experience and quality of service and not merely price.

“Accordingly the new and very welcome stakeholder group which the Minister announced and which will add further accountability and transparency to the tender process must be chosen from those who use ferry services all the time and who know from their own experience what is needed on a daily basis by those who rely absolutely on publicly funded ferry services.

“Cost to the Scottish Government is not the key issue – quality, capacity, frequency and reliability of service are all more important issues.”

FLAGS TAKE CENTRE STAGE AT COUNCIL MEETING AGAIN

Argyll & Bute Council spends more on flags than any other Council in Scotland according to new figures obtained by an FOI request supported by local MSP Michael Russell.

But those figures may help Argyll & Bute SNP Council Group Leader Sandy Taylor secure the flying of the Saltire on Council flag poles, after a long period during which it has rarely been seen.

According to the FOI request, during the financial year 2014/15 Argyll & Bute spent £977 on buying flags, these being ones with the Council coat of arms on a white background. That was almost double the next highest figure. The special Argyll and Bute flags are flown on most days on many Council flagpoles, a change from the Saltire, which was flown regularly until 2013, when a senior official took the decision to rescind previous practice, consulting only the Council Leader and the Provost.

An earlier attempt to persuade the current administration to revert to the flying of the Saltire on all days on which another flag is not prescribed (usually the Union flag for Royal occasions) was unsuccessful but now Cllr Taylor, along with Cllr Philand of Argyll First, has proposed the following motion, which will be considered by the Council on Thursday :

“NOTICE OF MOTION UNDER STANDING ORDER 13 The Flag of Scotland (The Saltire)”

Whereas the Mid Argyll community previously benefitted from the regular flying of the Saltire on the Front Green of Lochgilphead, its removal prior to 2014 Referendum continues to cause considerable consternation, as evidenced by a local petition, community council, business representations to local Members and newspaper articles. This concern however, is not restricted to Mid Argyll, but is reflected across Argyll and Bute.
The Council’s Flag Flying policy sets out which flags are to be flown, from which flag staffs or poles on which flag days; including the Saltire on six days per year, and the Council flag on the day of a Council meeting.
Whereas it has been suggested that the continuous use of the Saltire diminishes the significance of flag flying on appointed days, this is clearly at odds with other Councils, at least 19 of which fly the Saltire, businesses and governmental agencies which hold no such fear.

Motion:
That the Council Flag Flying Policy be amended so that the Flag of Scotland be flown on Council flag staffs (poles) on all days other than those specified in the Flag Flying Policy for the flying of the Union flag and the Council flag.

Commenting on the motion Cllr Taylor said:

“I hope the administration will now listen to the clear view of the public that they want this Council to be like many others and fly our national flag as often as possible. The opportunity exists to start afresh on this matter and I hope that this modest change can find sufficient support across the Council chamber.”

Mr Russell added:

“Argyll & Bute is out of step with national sentiment on these matters and on some occasion the policy creates a nonsense, such as the year when the Council flagpoles on Castle Hill in Dunoon (the most permanent flagpole on the town) had nothing on it during Cowal Games, whilst there were flags hanging everywhere else in the area. This is an ideal opportunity to move on.”

RUSSELL CALLS FOR INTERVENTION BY SCOTTISH GOVERNMENT AND EUROPE AS MILK PRICE FALLS AGAIN

Argyll & Bute MSP Michael Russell has written to Richard Lochhead, the Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs & the Environment, urging intervention by the Scottish Government and the European Union in the on-going dairy crisis, as First Milk – the only producer purchasing milk in Argyll & Bute – announced a further one pence fall in their “A” price, bringing it to an all time low.

Mr Russell said:

“This further reduction in one stroke negates the concession given only last month by the Scottish Government on the transport of milk from Bute and Gigha.

“Consequently it puts in further jeopardy the future of milk producers in those places and also in Kintyre, for whom the cost of production is now vastly greater than the price they can obtain from the only purchaser of their milk.

“I have had a number of messages from dairy farmers in Bute and Kintyre since the announcement yesterday and most are now actively considering leaving the sector. They simply cannot sustain month on month cuts in price that seem to have no end in sight.

“Losing the dairy sector in Argyll & Bute would be devastating for the local economy and for the overall agricultural health of the area. In the light of that I raised the question of European intervention with Commissioner Hogan last week when he appeared before the Rural Affairs Committee and he indicated that European funds might be available. I also raised the issue at the Rural Affairs Committee this morning and repeated that commitment from Commissioner Hogan.

“I am therefore asking Richard Lochhead to take forward that possibility as quickly as possible and to find any other means he can to deliver real practical and urgent assistance for the dairy farmers of Argyll & Bute, without which I fear there will be virtually no dairy sector left in this area within a few months.”

TINKERS HEART TO BE PLACED ON LIST OF “MONUMENTS OF NATIONAL IMPORTANCE”

MSP “Delighted” with change of heart from Historic Scotland

Argyll & Bute MSP Michael Russell has expressed himself “delighted” with the decision of Historic Scotland to reverse its previous refusal and add the Tinkers Heart at Cairndow to the “Schedule” of monuments of national importance.

In a letter to the Scottish Parliament’s Petitions Committee this afternoon, Historic Scotland’s Director of Heritage Management, Barbara Cummins, outlines the new work the organisation has undertaken since they were called back to the committee earlier this year, along with Culture Secretary Fiona Hyslop, to face questioning about the refusal and then says:

“On the basis of this new work, we now consider Tinkers’ Heart is a site of high cultural significance in three main areas:

(1) it gives us a great understanding of the traditions and material heritage of Scottish Travellers;
(2) it is a rare example of a permanent physical monument of Scottish Travellers; and
(3) it holds a high significance in the consciousness of Gypsy/Travellers and the people of Argyll as a symbol of Scottish Travellers and their heritage.

In light of this, we intend to place Tinkers’ Heart on the Schedule as a monument of national importance.”

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Stage 3 – Community Empowerment (Scotland) Bill – 17th June 2015

View my contribution to the Stage 3 debate on the Community Empowerment (Scotland) Bill, pointing out how my amendments can help communities who face obstructions from local authorities in asset transfer. These amendments are designed to ensure that there can be no repeat of the situation faced by the community of South Cowal, whose attempts to purchase Castle Toward were thwarted by Argyll and Bute Council.

MSP WELCOMES PASSAGE OF THE COMMUNITY EMPOWERMENT (SCOTLAND) BILL WITH “CASTLE TOWARD” AMENDMENTS

“NO LONGER WILL LOCAL AUTHORITIES BE ABLE TO RIDE ROUGHSHOD OVER THE WISHES OF COMMUNITIES.” – MICHAEL RUSSELL

Argyll and Bute MSP Michael Russell has today (Wednesday 17th June) welcomed the passage of the Community Empowerment (Scotland) Bill.

The legislation seeks to extend community ownership of land by allowing communities to buy abandoned or derelict land, as well as extending the Community Right to Buy in rural areas.

The legislation also contains new provisions for community groups to appeal to Scottish Ministers if a local authority refuses to sell an asset to the community. These provisions will ensure that local authorities must engage constructively with community groups who wish to purchase assets covered by local authority asset transfer regulations.

These provisions resulted from amendments to the legislation, lodged at Stage 2 by Mr Russell, in response to Argyll and Bute Council’s handling of the sale of Castle Toward, in which the Council blocked a credible bid from the South Cowal Community Development Company, backed by the Scottish Land Fund, to purchase Castle Toward.

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MSP welcomes additional weekend office support for SAF applications

Michael Russell, MSP for Argyll and Bute, has welcomed the Scottish Government’s announcement that more support will be available for farmers and crofters filling in the Single Application Form (SAF) during the final weekend of the application window.

Area offices will be providing additional telephone support for farmers and crofters between 10am and 3pm next Saturday and Sunday (13th and 14th June), as well as normal working hours between now and the SAF application deadline on Monday 15th June. The announcement comes after the Scottish Parliament’s Rural Affairs Committee recommended more telephone support for farmers in the remaining application period.

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Written Questions on Ferry Routes in Argyll and Bute

Argyll & Bute MSP Michael Russell has tabled a series of Written Questions in the Scottish Parliament in pursuit of what he calls a “new approach” to the procurement of ferries.

Commenting on the questions, Mr Russell said:

“The events of recent months and in particular the chaos on the Islay and Colonsay routes in April and the unacceptably frequent cancellations recently of the Mull, Arran and Campbeltown services have suggested to many that a new approach to ferry procurement is needed which results in more resilient boats which can operate on all the routes, interchangeably.

“However at present Caledonian Maritime Assets Ltd, which procures the ferries used by Cal Mac, intends to go on building ever bigger and ever more sophisticated vessels primarily designed for specific crossings. That needs to change.

“When such vessels are ordered there then has to be very substantial modification of existing pier and harbour infrastructure to accommodate them, with huge disruption and cost over a long period of time.

Continue reading Written Questions on Ferry Routes in Argyll and Bute