The SNP Constituency MSP for Argyll & Bute Michael Russell has urged Argyll & Bute Council to reverse its decision on the axing of all school librarians and has suggested a way in which the £191,000 to be saved by the move could be found.

Speaking before he raised the issue in the Scottish Parliament Debate on the Budget, due to be held on the afternoon of Wednesday 24th February, Mr Russell said:

“The salami slicing of budgets undertaken by the Council administration has been hugely damaging. The alternative budget put forward by the SNP Group would have saved jobs and protected services and in particular it would have seen the retention of the much valued school library service.

The decision of the current administration to axe that service in its entirety leaves Argyll & Bute without a basic and essential part of its educational infrastructure. It has quite rightly been met with an outcry across the area and further afield.

As the award winning author Debi Gilori has put it “it’s unbelievable that at one end of Argyll there will be billions spent on weapons of debatable usefulness and at the other there will be a clawback of an essential resource which has time and again proven to be of life-changing value.”

Last Wednesday I was on Mull where there is a strong campaign getting underway to resist the removal of a school librarian who does change lives by her work. That campaign is being mirrored in other places too.

Today I want to suggest to Argyll & Bute Council a simple solution to the problem they have created .

The same meeting that decided to do away with school librarians agreed to set up a committee to choose a new Chief Executive. The cost of that post including travel and pension will come to slightly more than the cost of all the school librarians put together.

So Argyll & Bute council should put books and children before filling senior management posts. It should create an Acting Chief Executive post, appointing one of the present senior management team, and then undertake a radical decentralisation of management and delivery, something that the Council now claims to be committed to in any case.

That solution would be easy to implement, almost immediate in its effect given that the existing Chief Executive is leaving in May and would show that Dick Walsh’s administration had the correct priorities.

This is the right thing to do and it should be done now.”

Reacting to the Argyll and Bute Administration budget yesterday Michael Russell MSP and Brendan O’Hara MP have praised efforts of the SNP council group who’s alternative budget would have avoided compulsory redundancies.

The Parliamentarians have also praised the Community groups, parent councils and others who campaigned against the salami slicing of vital budgets proposed by the administration towards the end of last year.

Commenting on the process Argyll and Bute SNP MSP Michael Russell said

“ In the end the budget as passed by the 19 Tory, Lib Dem, Labour and Independent councillors who backed Dick Walsh will lead to job losses and unacceptable cuts to services. That was avoidable and the failure of those councillors to back the SNP alternative budget will cause suffering throughout the area.

However, strenuous efforts by communities and the opposition did force Dick Walsh and his administration to withdraw some of the most harmful proposals and to seek savings in areas such as councillor expenses, which originally the administration was not going to touch.

I am also pleased that as a result of the hard work by John Swinney and the Scottish Government and efforts that I and my colleagues have been making over the past three months the administration has agreed to start on the long overdue process of transforming and decentralising services. Work will now commence on putting together a rural regeneration package with the Scottish Government and I am happy to continue to support that process.”

Brendan O’Hara, SNP MP for Argyll and Bute added

“Argyll and Bute would have been much better served by all the councillors backing the alternative budget proposed by the SNP Council Group. The Administration budget will cut deeply into communities and services across the area.

None the less our constructive work with the Scottish Government in trying to get the council to change and prepare for the future now appears to be taking route and I will continue to support that process.

I am also pleased that the SNP council group has committed itself and the party to work with other opposition groups in order to push forward an agenda to change which gives hope for a better future after the council elections next year.”

Residents of the Ormsary community for the first time will now be able to make use of the mobile phone network to use email and the internet thanks to the Vodafone’s Rural Open Sure Signal programme which was launched in Ormsary Community Hall (Friday 5th February).

A simple Sure Signal box fitted to the roofline of the hall will distribute the signal over a wide area thereby providing a reliable 3G service to Vodafone users.

Local MP, Brendan O’Hara who took part in the launch welcomed the move and said,

I regularly receive contact from my constituents regarding difficulties with connectivity, so seeing the Ormsary area able to benefit so strongly from this initiative is very welcome and I do hope that this will be replicated throughout Argyll and Bute”.

He went on to say that,

“Lack of connectivity is a major factor in many people leaving our rural communities and anything that helps to stimulate economic activity will help to redress this

Also taking part was Argyll and Bute MSP, Michael Russell who added

 ”I am very pleased that Ormsary has been successful in securing a Sure Signal service which will massively improve communication and accessibility. Rural communities must not be left behind by the digital revolution and Vodafone’s commitment to these areas and this development is vital and welcome.”

Scottish Government accepts that the issue requires continued consideration and action.

Responding to the debate at the Rural Affairs, Climate Change and Environment Committee concerning his amendment to the Land Reform Bill that sought to give 1991 tenants in tenancies that had lasted for more than 50 years a conditional right to buy their farms, Argyll & Bute MSP Michael Russell said:

“I am of course disappointed that this important amendment was not in the end accepted by the Scottish Government.  However that disappointment is tempered by the very positive debate that took place, with supportive contributions from across the committee, and by a very welcome commitment from the Cabinet Secretary to ensure that the new Land Commission will take an interest in the issue.

Moreover, despite attempts by a range of interests to try and kill the issue off by excluding the topic from any further consideration, the Cabinet Secretary was clear that he expects further expansion of the right to buy in future legislation and that he recognises the circumstance in my constituency and elsewhere that drive the need for such change.

The entire committee was of course rightly concerned about the difficulties that compliance with ECHR presents to any such proposal, mindful as we all are of the human suffering and legal nightmares that have been created by the Salvesen/Riddell case. But the majority of the Committee was also positive about the prospects for progress if enough time and care was invested in the process and wanted to see the issue tackled early in the next Parliament.

I am determined that we will continue to make progress. We are still moving forward and there is no doubt that we are getting closer to giving many long term tenants in Scotland the same opportunities that their counterparts in other places have enjoyed for generations.

Land reform in Scotland started late as a result of the refusal of Westminster to treat the matter as a priority. It is made more complicated by the constraints of ECHR, welcome as they also are. With our own Parliament, looking widely across the whole range of human rights which this bill now embraces, we have made significant steps forward but there are more to take.

The Scottish Parliament is working hard on a good Land Reform Bill and making it better all the time. Future Land Reform Bills in future Parliamentary Sessions can and will take us even further.”