DELAYS COULD HAVE SERIOUS CONSEQUENCES FOR PATIENTS AND THE COMMUNITY

Argyll and Bute MSP Michael Russell has raised concerns about the progress of planned mental health unit in Argyll and Bute, following an announcement made by NHS Highland last Thursday (9th July) that the project has stalled at the early stages of the tendering process.

Proposals for the mental health unit, which is due to replace the mental health ward of Argyll and Bute Hospital in Lochgilphead, has been rejected at stage 1. The rejection means that a review of the application are now required, which could lead to a delay of up to 6 months. This additional delay comes on the back of previous announcements that completion of the unit will take place in late 2017, 5 years later than originally planned.

Commenting on the decision, Mr Russell said:

“I am concerned that the proposed mental health unit in Lochgilphead will suffer from further delays in the coming weeks. I have worked with staff and the community over the past few years to ensure that the new unit meets their needs, and they have already suffered unacceptable delays in the delivery of this vital facility.

“This latest announcement by NHS Highland brings much uncertainty for service users and staff in Argyll, putting previous commitments made by the Scottish Government and NHS Highland at risk. The current facility has been deemed unsuitable for meeting modern standards of patient care, and it is therefore imperative that the new mental health unit is operational as soon as possible.

“I will be writing to the Cabinet Secretary for Health to seek assurances that the new Mid Argyll mental health unit will go ahead as promised and that she will assist in getting it back on track.”

PETITION RAISED BY ARGYLL AND BUTE RESIDENTS TO BE SUBMITTED TO COUNCIL

Argyll and Bute MSP Michael Russell has given his backing to an online petition demanding a full and independent investigation into allegations of bullying and intimidation at Argyll and Bute Council.

The petition, started by Trevor and Susan Chandler of the Castle Toward Supporters Group, calls for an investigation “of, among other things, a culture of bullying and intimidation of staff, past and present within Argyll and Bute Council.” The petition has amassed over 2000 signatures on the campaign website 38 Degrees.

On hearing of the allegations, first published by Common Space in February, Mr Russell wrote to the Chief Executive of the Council, Sally Loudon, asking her to investigate. However she has refused to do so.

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“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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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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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.

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“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.”

I attended the Members’ Business debate, secured by Paul Martin MSP, on Protecting Rent-Tied Pub Tenants in Scotland. During the debate I noted the contribution that microbreweries make to the economy of island communities in Argyll and Bute; these breweries should be encouraged to develop their brands and create jobs.

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.

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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.”