Month: October 2015
This week is poverty week, more information can be found here: http://www.povertyalliance.org/challenge_poverty
Argyll and Bute MSP, Michael Russell, on a recent visit to Hope Kitchen in Oban said: “Great work is being done by groups like Hope Kitchen but there is an ever increasing need with the continuing Tory welfare cuts”.
Reacting to the withdrawal by the Argyll & Bute Council administration at today’s Policy & Resources Committee of the Council Leader’s desire to appoint two new spin doctors at a time when he is also proposing to cut millions of pounds which pay for vital Council services and lay off over 400 employees including staff who support the poorest and most disadvantaged school children, Argyll & Bute MSP Michael Russell said:
“This is a welcome U turn from councillors which I hope might indicate that at last some are questioning the disastrous course being set by the Council Leader.
The shameful prospect of appointing more spin doctors whilst considering how many support teachers should be laid off was clearly too much for most Councillors to stomach and I am sure that is why the administration had to withdraw it. I hope those same councillors will now look questioningly at Walsh’s dreadful cuts proposals and recognise that there are much better alternatives to the callous and wholesale salami slicing that is being proposed
Walsh’s cuts would severely damage communities the length and breadth of Argyll & Bute and cause huge hardship especially for the most vulnerable. They must be opposed by everyone who cares about the area.”
Argyll & Bute MSP Michael Russell has welcomed the unequivocal commitment given to him yesterday in the Scottish Parliament regarding the involvement of Argyll & Bute in the Government’s ongoing work to empower island communities.
There has been considerable criticism within the area about the refusal of the Island Authorities to allow Argyll & Bute – which has more inhabited islands than any single island authority – to take a full part in the consultative process. Mr Russell has made representations about the issue to the Minister on several occasions having received confirmation when the Lerwick agreement was published in 2013 that any changes beneficial to the island authorities would be applied to the Argyll islands as well.
Now Mr MacKay has put on official record in the Parliament those commitments and confirmed that the Argyll islands will be part of the new strategic ministerial working group.
Commenting Michael Russell said:
“I am very glad there is now an official record of the commitments that Derek MacKay willingly agreed should be entered into by the Government. Argyll and Bute has almost a third of the total number of inhabited islands in Scotland and we should be at the heart of all consideration of these matters. I will however keep a vigilant eye on the matter of full parity of the Argyll Islands with the islands authorities particularly as they are treated very poorly by Argyll & Bute Council at present as the Councils draconian cuts proposals, published last week, clearly show.“
Extract from the Scottish Parliament Official Report, 6th October 2015:
(Derek MacKay)….Michael Russell gave us a very helpful reminder of the fact that there are 93 inhabited islands in Scotland. Although the particular local authorities’ our islands, our future campaign have been very effective, the work that the Government does touches on all 93 inhabited island communities. That requires extra engagement by the Government to ensure that the commitments that are made apply to all islands as appropriate, although some are specific to individual islands. For example, there is the request and aspiration to have constituency protection for the Western Isles constituency in the Scottish Parliament.
I am very grateful for that reassurance, which will be well received in Argyll and Bute. Can I press the minister to go one step further and confirm that there will be representation of Argyll and Bute in the new strategic ferry group that he announced earlier?
Yes, there will. The strategic islands forum will involve other island communities to ensure that it reaches out. I can assure the member that that is the case. The islands area ministerial working group is comprised of those who came from the our islands, our future campaign—that is the nature of that forum. I again give the commitment, as islands minister, that I consider engagement with all islands when I make commitments and decisions to do with delivering on the Government’s prospectus.
Argyll and Bute MSP, Michael Russell has welcomed announcements from the Scottish Government including an increase in support for air services made during the “Empowering Scotland’s Island Communities” debate this afternoon in the Scottish Parliament.
As the constituency MSP who represents most inhabited islands – the islands of Argyll – he noted that those Islands have not been directly represented in discussions that the Minister has had with the Island authorities. Although this was not the Ministers fault Mr Russell explained: “the refusal of the Islands Councils to include the Argyll islands has been the problem and I do hope that even at this late stage the Island Authorities will re-consider this exclusive attitude which lacks both solidarity and generosity.” He went on to add “I hope the Minister will today not only renew the commitment to ensure that Argyll islands are treated the same way in terms of benefiting from positive outcomes from the Islands Bill but also endeavour to bring them in to formal discussions, starting with the new strategic ferries group”.
Mr Russell then outlined the importance of “connectivity – digital and physical” which he said is “key for the future of the islands.”
“Mobile phone services remain very poor as a result of lack of investment from the providers” he added and whilst “the rollout of high speed broadband is making progress there is still too much confusion about what will be delivered and when”.
He praised the SNP Government for completing the implementation of RET which will take place later this month , recalling that he and others had started arguing for it in the late 1970s, but he also welcomed what he called the “next step – a review of freight charges to introduce a better structure that enables growth is essential”. He also strongly criticised Loganair for disruptions to its island services and asked the Minister to ensure that the company honoured its commitments to islands and especially to Islay.
The consultation on the Future Islands Bill announced by Islands Minister Derek MacKay will run until 23rd December and Mr Russell has encouraged his constituents to make their own representations.
“Islands do need a new vision” he concluded “supported by Government but implemented locally. A vision in which there is a greater degree of island autonomy, where the community is in control of its own destiny and where local organisations and third sector can build capacity and confidence.”
I have now submitted my comments on the Local Government Boundary Commission Proposals for Argyll & Bute contained in their Fifth Review which include eliminating Cowal from the electoral map and creating a number of unwieldy and ill connected wards which are likely to decrease democratic accountability and increase the power of unelected officials at Kilmory. You can download my submission from the link below.
There has been widespread opposition to these proposals and communities across Argyll & Bute are making submissions.
If anything in my own submission is helpful I am more than happy to see it used or quoted by those objecting.
The LGBCS Consultation portal can be found HERE and the submission period closes on 22nd October.
Joint statement pledges support for those likely to be affected and calls for “cool heads and clear minds” to find a way out of crisis created by Council administration
In a joint statement on the “Service Choices” proposals which Argyll & Bute Council issued today as an appendix to a paper for next week’s Policy & Resources Committee, Argyll & Bute Constituency MSP Michael Russell, Argyll & Bute MP Brendan O’Hara and Highland Regional MSP Mike MacKenzie have commented as follows:
“These are a devastating and brutal set of proposals, which have been slipped out hidden away in a mass of other Council papers rather than openly presented to local people.
We agree with the Trades Unions that if these cuts were to go ahead they would render the Council not only unable to meet its core commitments but also unable to fulfil its statutory duties.
Today the Council leadership has presented to the people of its area a bleak picture of their future – one in which children in most need will get the least help, in which the streets go uncleaned, in which lollipop men and women, music instructors, janitors , classroom helpers, librarians and special needs assistants are all cast on the scrap heap, in which slower not faster broadband is provided in schools, in which museums close and Council services get worse and more expensive, in which charities providing essential help to the most vulnerable cannot survive, in which it costs more and more to be buried or cremated, in which refuse goes uncollected and grass uncut and in which even the Christmas lights are switched off.
These plans make a special mockery of the repeated pledge by Council Leader Dick Walsh that reversing depopulation was his number one priority. In reality these proposals will, by the Council’s own admission result in up to 1000 jobs being lost over the next few years. This area has very few employment alternatives available so depopulation will get even worse.
The so called “service choices” process was meant to provide a new start by re-imagining the way in which the Council helped the people of the area. Instead what has appeared after months of secretive meetings is a desperately cobbled together list of random but very damaging salami slices of essential council services.
It also beggars belief that a Council of any sort could on the one hand be appointing new staff to posts in Education Management and Strategic Transport whilst at the same time proposing to lay off Special Needs Assistants, Music Instructors, School Librarians, and janitors. That approach shows a casual and callous disregard for the most vulnerable. It also shows how ill thought out these “choices” are, with no co-ordination between Council departments in the scramble to find cuts. For example Dunoon Grammar School is presently advertising for a full time “Attendance Officer” the Council is proposing to get rid of all such employees. That is simply one of the chaotic and contradictory elements in the package.
The Tory Government at Westminster has created financial difficulties for the Scottish Government and every Scottish public body . The Scottish Government has fully funded the Council tax freeze as new figures confirmed this week and has done its very best to support local government spending. Argyll & Bute has in response done nothing to prepare its services for change , has failed to meet its core objectives and has mismanaged its resources . What is now being proposed is the outcome of that abject failure.
We can confirm that the SNP will be working to support local people and council employees threatened by this appalling, destructive process . We are glad that the trades unions have taken such a strong stance and we are keen to work with them and many others to develop a new vision for Argyll & Bute, something that is now urgently required.
What is now obvious is that we will all need cool heads and clear minds to find a way forward for Argyll & Bute after the mess that Dick Walsh and his administration have made. He and those supporting him have placed the council in severe jeopardy and those who live the Council area in desperate fear of the future. They should hang their heads in shame.”
Link to cuts information: http://www.argyll-bute.gov.uk/moderngov/ieListDocuments.aspx?CId=544&MId=6816&Ver=4
WELFARE CUTS AGENDA ‘FAILING BY EVERY CONCEIVABLE MEASURE’
The MSP for Argyll & Bute Michael Russell has today highlighted new figures showing that Tory welfare cuts are likely to cost 100 jobs in Argyll & Bute – confirming that this regressive policy agenda is “failing by every conceivable measure”.
New research from the Scottish Parliament Information Centre (SPICe) based on methodology used by Professor Steve Fothergill in a study on Wales -shows that as a result of reduced disposable income due to social security cuts, £1,520 million is being removed each year from the Scottish economy. That fall in disposable incomes results in a fall in jobs £22 million of the £1520 million is estimated to come from payments made to social security claimants in Argyll & Bute.
This new data comes on the back of expert evidence from Sheffield Hallam University to the Scottish Parliament’s Welfare Reform Committee making clear that Tory social security cuts had “no relationship with employment growth” and that “the evidence provides little support for the view that welfare reform is having important and positive impacts on the labour market in Scotland.”
Commenting, Mr Russell said:
“It’s now abundantly clear that the Tory cuts to social security are making local people in Argyll and Bute pay a heavy price.
“Not content with pushing vulnerable people even further into poverty we now know that Tory social security cuts are actually costing 100 jobs in Argyll and Bute because of the reduction in social security payments by £22 million in the area. These cuts effectively suck spending power out of our poorest communities creating a vicious circle of unemployment in places where that problem is already severe.
“With his welfare cuts failing by every conceivable measure, it’s time for David Cameron to finally admit that his unfair policies simply don’t work and for a long overdue U-turn from a Government which appears more in penalising unemployed people than in supporting them back into work.
It is absolutely no wonder that more and more people in Scotland want these key powers to be in Scotland’s hands rather than in the hands of right-wing Tory ideologues.”
Speaking after a meeting with Scottish Ambulance Service officials Daren Mochrie, the Director of Service Delivery and Garry Fraser, General Manager for the South West, Argyll & Bute MSP Michael Russell said:
“I am grateful to the Scottish Ambulance Service for agreeing to meet me, but I have to admit to being disappointed by the discussion that took place. Almost a year has passed since the then Cabinet Secretary for Health Alex Neil met with representatives of the Mull community and the Chair and CEO of SAS to discuss widespread public concern on the island about the level of cover.
Promises were made at that meeting that SAS would work with the community to meet their concerns and an options appraisal process was put in place. A further meeting with the current Cabinet Secretary took place in March and the community expressed growing concern that SAS was not yet fully engaged in ensuring that commitments entered into were translated into action on the ground.
In the options appraisal the community voted overwhelmingly for a solution which would provide a rapid response vehicle and timely, sustainable 24/7 paramedic cover. This is what the community believe would be the best solution and is the one that they understood was being taken forward by SAS after the Ministerial meetings. The training of volunteer first responders to support this provision has been undertaken and NHS Highland has shown interest in providing the vehicle, though the community want it operated by the Ambulance Service.
However in meeting after meeting on the island SAS has avoided making a commitment to delivering this agreed outcome citing a whole range of difficulties including lack of budget, low demand and the risk of “skills atrophy” for paramedics working on the island.
I have today given an ultimatum to SAS on behalf of the community. Within six weeks they must either set a firm, agreed timetable for delivering this solution or they must be very explicit in rejecting it and give clear reasons for doing so.
If they do reject it then I will campaign with the community for what Mull was promised a year ago and which SAS has so far failed to produce – the comprehensive, safe and sustainable ambulance service that islanders have a right to expect.
I have arranged to meet the two SAS officials in six weeks time and meanwhile I will write to the Cabinet Secretary setting out the continued dissatisfaction of my constituents on Mull with the situation.
On a positive note, however, SAS confirmed to me today that the landing site for the helicopter ambulance at Bunessan is ready to become operational once a red light is fixed to the school by Argyll & Bute Council. I am asking the Council to complete that task with urgency so that a second night landing site is available on Mull.”