Reacting to the closure of the Rest and Be Thankful earlier this week, and the failure to open the Old Military Road Diversion after further landslips today, Argyll & Bute MSP Michael Russell said:

 

“I was at the Rest this morning, as was the Transport Secretary Michael Matheson, though we were at different sides of the new slips that suddenly occurred as a result of torrential rain and high wind.

 

Personally, I have never seen more water coming off the hills, nor more extensive damage to the slopes. I know that the team from Transport Scotland and Bear are doing their utmost to get the roads open again but in these conditions they are working against severe odds. They deserve the community’s gratitude and support as they continue with their very difficult tasks.

 

I am more than aware of the inconvenience this closure causes to many of my constituents. On Wednesday my journey to Glasgow Airport from home took three hours, not the normal one and a half.  Last night coming back from Edinburgh very late I had to drive an extra 40 miles, which took an hour more than the normal trip. There is disruption to road haulage, normal journeys and special outings. Local business is losing money. It is frustrating and annoying and everyone wants – and needs – normal service to be resumed.

 

However the truly exceptional conditions of the weekend and the ongoing bad weather means that the road needs to be declared sustainably safe before that can happen. The presence of the nets and the partially completed work on the deep trenches has helped and indeed the trenches have prevented many closures in the last few years. Their presence also means that the task of clear up and re-opening will be more straight forward than it would otherwise have been once the go ahead can be given.

 

The reality is that on this occasion the sheer scale of the damage has been much larger and longer lasting than ever before, and more difficult to overcome but lessons need to be learnt from that too.

 

Along with local Councillors on both sides of the rest and the local MP I am pressing for an urgent meeting of the A83 Task Force to consider those lessons and ensure that the new Transport Minister is absolutely aware of the A83 as unfinished business which needs further action and investment.

 

 

Celebrating the 1807 potential lifesavers in Argyll and Bute this Blood Cancer Awareness Month

Residents in Argyll and Bute have been praised by blood cancer charity Anthony Nolan for the people in their community who are registered as stem cell donors.

To mark Blood Cancer Awareness Month this September, Michael Russell MSP has revealed that Argyll and Bute is 1st in the Highlands and Island, and 5th of 73 overall in the country  for having the most stem cell donors on the register. Michael Russell MSP collected a certificate on behalf of Argyll and Bute from the charity at a reception on Thursday 20 September in the Scottish Parliament.

This achievement is being celebrated by Anthony Nolan as part of its Communities vs Blood Cancer campaign – which shines a spotlight on the vital work being done at a local level to ensure every patient in need of a stem cell transplant can find a lifesaving donor.

In Argyll and Bute, 1807 potential stem cell donors are registered with Anthony Nolan.

In total, more than 700,000 people in the UK are on the Anthony Nolan register, any of whom could be a match for someone with blood cancer and asked to donate their stem cells to give a patient a second chance of life.

Now, Michael Russell is encouraging more people from Argyll and Bute, particularly men aged 16-30 and people from black, Asian and ethnic minority backgrounds, to register as stem cell donors and make sure that a match is available for everyone in need of a transplant. While anyone on the register could be a match for someone with blood cancer, men aged 16-30 are most likely to be asked to donate. They provide more than 50% of donations yet make up just 16% of the register. There is also a shortage of donors from non-white and mixed-race backgrounds.

Michael Russell MSP said: “I am very proud that Argyll and Bute has so many people who have selflessly volunteered to give someone a second chance at life. Donating stem cells is straightforward but it could make an enormous difference to someone with no other chance of a cure.

“I strongly hope that more people from our community will be inspired to sign up and show that together, we can provide a cure for blood cancer.”

Henny Braund, Chief Executive of Anthony Nolan, said: “Since 1974 thousands of caring, selfless people have joined the Anthony Nolan register and thousands of lives have been saved as a result.

This Blood Cancer Awareness Month residents can be proud of all the lifesavers in your community. It’s wonderful to have the support of Argyll and Bute in achieving our goal of saving and improving the lives of people with blood cancer and blood disorders.”

For more information about the Community vs Blood Cancer campaign visit www.anthonynolan.org/communities

Anthony Nolan uses its register to match potential stem cell donors to blood cancer patients in desperate need of a stem cell transplant. It also carries out vital research to make stem cell transplants more successful, and supports patients through their transplant journeys.

Argyll and Bute MSP Michael Russell takes part in wear it pink event at Scottish Parliament for Breast Cancer Now

Michael Russell MSP for Argyll and Bute dazzled in pink as he pulled on some bright pink at the Scottish Parliament to encourage constituents to take part in wear it pink, on Friday 19 October.

 

Michael Russell joined fellow parliamentarians in Holyrood to encourage people across Scotland to get involved and take part on wear it pink day to raise money for Breast Cancer Now’s research.

 

Michael Russell is calling for constituents in Argyll and Bute to join him, as well as thousands of others across the UK, to sign up and take part in wear it pink which takes place during Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and to date has raised over £31million towards Breast Cancer Now’s important work.

 

Breast Cancer Now’s wear it pink day is one of the biggest fundraising events in the UK. Back for its 17th year, the fundraiser calls on supporters to ditch their everyday colours, and add a splash of pink to their outfit, to raise money for breast cancer research.

 

Michael Russell, constituency MSP for Argyll and Bute, said:

 

“Sadly, most of us know someone affected by this devastating disease – every year around 4,700 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in Scotland and almost 1,000 people will die of it.  

 

 

“I am incredibly proud to be backing wear it pink this year and I would like to urge local people across my constituency to join me on Friday 19 October and show their support for Breast Cancer Now.

 

“As you can see from my photograph, taking part is easy, all it takes is an additional splash of pink to your normal outfit! It’s time to stand together, pull on some pink, and support Breast Cancer Now’s vital research – I hope you will all join me.

 

 

Baroness Delyth Morgan, Chief Executive at Breast Cancer Now, said:

 

“We are really grateful for the enthusiasm and support shown by MSPs. Everyone looked fabulous in their pink accessories and showed just how easy it is to add a touch of pink to your everyday outfit. We hope that by wearing pink, Mr Russell will encourage constituents in Argyll and Bute to get involved and fundraise in their homes, schools or workplaces, and help us to continue to fund world-class research into this devastating disease.

 

Wear it pink is a fantastic opportunity for communities across the UK to come together, have fun and show their support to this very important cause. By simply wearing something pink and donating what you can, you are helping raise much-needed funds to stop breast cancer taking the lives of those we love. Together we can take one step forward to help reach our goal that, by 2050, everyone who develops breast cancer will live, and live well.”

 

To take part in wear it pink this October, please visit wearitpink.org/2018msp for further details, fundraising ideas and how to register for your free fundraising pack.

Constituency MSP for Argyll and Bute, Michael Russell, joined MSP’s from across the Scottish Parliament to raise a cup to the World’s Biggest Coffee Morning.

Putting politics aside, Michael Russell MSP joined with Janice Preston, Macmillan Head of Services in Scotland for the charity’s flagship fundraising campaign which aims to raise millions to help people with cancer live life as fully as they can.

Last year thousands of people across the UK took part in a Coffee Morning event, raising around £27m for Macmillan. This year the total raised by Coffee Morning since it began in 1991 will pass the £200m mark. The official day for World’s Biggest Coffee Morning is Friday 28th September but you can hold your own event at a time to suit you.

It couldn’t be more simple to get involved – all you need to do is get together with family, friends or colleagues over coffee and cake. You can register now for your free fundraising pack via the website – www.macmillan.org.uk/coffee – or find a Coffee Morning near you to get involved in.

Help people with cancer live life as fully as they can and find a Macmillan Coffee Morning in your community to attend this September. www.macmillan.org.uk/coffee

Difficulties being experienced by two vessels in the Cal Mac fleet which serve Arran have resulted in major disruptions to the services for Islay and Colonsay. Commenting on the Argyll and Bute MSP Michael Russell said:

 

“Whilst everyone is aware of the problems of success that Cal Mac has been experiencing, including record numbers of passengers and greatly increased sailings, the recent problems have highlighted the absolute necessity of getting more vessels into the fleet and have also indicated potential weaknesses in operations and management that need to be addressed.

 

No one doubts the extraordinary hard work of Cal Mac staff in trying to overcome current issues but equally no one in the affected community should have to experience, once again, severe problems that are causing considerable personal difficulties for those who rely on lifeline services as well as a threat to key local, late season, tourist events. Such impacts, leading to economic and social damage, are unacceptable.

 

It is good news that there are two new vessels under construction though the delay to these is unfortunate. However CMAL has, apparently, been scouring the world for several years for a suitable additional vessel as a stop gap and has failed to find one. Most people who rely on ferry services do not understand that failure and want to see it overcome.

 

Cal Mac also needs to look again with urgency at its maintenance and refit routines. They have an aging fleet but passengers need to be assured that maintenance routines are being undertaken with sufficient regularity and that refits are being planned at times that don’t impinge on busy periods.

 

Kenny Gibson MSP and I have requested a meeting with the relevant Ministers in the Scottish Government, which would include representatives of the local Ferry Committees on Arran and Islay. We hope to make Ministers aware of the huge difficulties caused by this situation and make some concrete suggestions for the future. Whatever happens these problems cannot be allowed to continue, let alone happen again.”

Starting this month, Universal Credit Scottish Choices will be available to those living in Argyll and Bute. Whilst the UK Government continue the rollout of Universal Credit in Scotland, which is expected to be completed in December, the Scottish Government are using the minor administrative powers they have in relation to Universal Credit to attempt to mitigate its impact.

Sometimes known as “The Scottish Flexibilities”, Universal Credit Scottish Choices will give people the choice to receive twice monthly payments and to have the housing cost in their Universal Credit award paid direct to their landlord.

Commenting, Argyll and Bute MSP Michael Russell said:

“The SNP Scottish Government remains strongly opposed to the rollout of Universal Credit, in particular the decision that every person claiming UC will only receive their first payment after 5 weeks.

This is leading to rent arrears and hardship and whilst we have been repeatedly calling on the UK Government to halt the roll out of Universal Credit to make the necessary improvements to delivery it has been falling on deaf ears.

I am pleased that so far the take-up rate of the Universal Creidt Scottish Choices has been high – with more than 2,500 people choosing one or both of the choices in the final two months of 2017 – and I am hopeful that this will be of assistance to many of my constituents in Argyll and Bute.”

This year’s SNP Programme for Government will help contribute to a successful and vibrant Argyll and Bute, driving progress in health, social security, the environment and the economy, Michael Russell MSP has said.

Argyll and Bute will benefit from ambitious action in a wide range of areas throughout 2018-19, including:

• Empowering head teachers to lead improvements to their schools with more power over their own budgets; developing ways for parents and pupils to ensure their voices are heard in decision-making; giving £10m to schools and councils to work together across regions; continuing to support teacher recruitment; and investing £33 million over three years to help children in care with education.
• A National Export plan ‘A Trading Nation’, backed by £20m, will boost the value of Scottish exports, help Scottish companies succeed in emerging markets, and provide additional help to those considering overseas trade.
• The National Infrastructure Mission, the most ambitious infrastructure spending plans yet, will invest £1.5 billion more infrastructure each year by 2025-26,including for faster broadband, improved transport and more low-carbon energy.
• £250m will be invested to reform the way we treat mental health in children and adults – delivering 430 new school, college and university counsellors, and fast-track specialist treatment systems for those with serious mental illness.
• A new Scottish Social Security System with dignity and respect at its heart will deliver 11 benefits, including the first Best Start Grant payments for low income families with young children by Christmas, 6 months earlier than planned; a 13% increase in the Carers’ Allowance – an extra £442 per person this year – as well as funeral expense assistance.
• New legislation to introduce a Scottish National Investment Bank.
• A major package of reforms in the justice system – with a new support system for victims, witnesses and families of those affected by crime, including a dedicated case worker for families of murder victims, improved information and support about prisoner release, as well as support for engagement between victims and offenders to help the victim and to prevent reoffending.
• £1bn investment a year including funding for low carbon transport solutions and to phase out new petrol and diesel cars and vans by 2032 – creating at least 20 electric towns across Scotland by 2025; adding 1500 new charge points in homes, businesses, and in public; investing £20 million to help people switch to electric vehicles; adding more than 1500 new ultra low emission vehicles to public sector fleets; and investing £1.7 million to add over 100 green buses.
Michael Russell, MSP for Argyll and Bute said:

“The SNP’s plan for Scotland signals a major boost for jobs and the economy in Argyll and Bute, including an additional £7 billion infrastructure investment in schools, hospitals, transport and digital connectivity over the next five years.

“We are continuing the major reforms in our health, education and justice systems over the course of 2018-19– with a significant £250 million extra funding for mental health services, increased support for teachers, head teachers, parents and pupils, as well as a major package of reforms for the justice system, increasing support for the victims of crime and their families.

“With Scottish exports up 12% – the fastest growth in the UK – a £20m National Exports Plan this year will ensure Argyll and Bute’s businesses thrive in the face of the Tories’ damaging hard Brexit plans.

“Despite Brexit, we will ensure Scotland remains an attractive place to live and work and provide advice and support for those EU citizens already living in Argyll and Bute that are dealing with the Tory government’s unfair plans to charge them for the right to live and work here.

“And our global climate change ambition will continue to be matched by realistic action, with £1billion funding in low carbon and public transport over the next year.

“These bold and ambitious plans for the year ahead are just some of the reasons why the SNP is the second biggest party in the whole of the UK.”

This year’s Programme for Government contains 12 new Bills, with a further 13 Bills continuing from the previous legislative session and will include major announcements:

List of Bills:
• Budget Bill
• Biometric Data Bill
• Census Bill
• Consumer Protection Bill

• Disclosure Bill
• Electoral Reform Bill
• Electoral Franchise Bill
• Family Law Bill

• Female Genital Mutilation Bill
• Non-Domestic Rates Bill
• Scottish National Investment Bank Bill
• South of Scotland Enterprise Agency Bill

Scotland’s new public service to make first social security payments.

Argyll and Bute MSP Michael Russell has welcomed the news that carers will receive the first payments of the new Carer’s Allowance Supplement from mid-September, back-dated to April.

This new benefit will be paid twice a year by Social Security Scotland, the first major new public service to be created since devolution.

Eligible carers will get a supplementary payment of £221, equivalent of an extra £8.50 per week, an increase of 13% on Carer’s Allowance from the Department of Work and Pensions.

The Carer’s Allowance Supplement is worth more than £30 million a year and will benefit 982 Carers in Argyll and Bute.

Carers will receive letters from Social Security Scotland from week beginning 10 September so that they know in advance to expect a payment.

SNP MSP for Argyll and Bute, Michael Russell said:

“This roll out of the Carer’s Allowance Supplement marks the beginning of a bright new chapter in Scottish public service.

“The SNP is committed to delivering a fairer system for social security:  one that affords carers the dignity and respect they are due as a result of their selfless dedication.

“We appreciate the contribution carers make to our society and we have always advocated that Carer’s Allowance should be the same rate as Jobseeker’s Allowance.

“It follows that the new powers over social security mean that we can make this a reality and put more money into the pockets of carers as a thank you for their tireless efforts.”

SCOTTISH GOVERNMENT IN WORLD FIRST

SNP MSP Michael Russell has welcomed the news that free sanitary products will be available to pupils, students and learners at schools, colleges and universities across Scotland thanks to £5.2 million Scottish Government funding.

Delivering on the SNP’s Programme for Government commitment to fight ‘period poverty’ in Scottish schools, colleges and universities – this initiative makes the Scottish Government the first in the world to make free sanitary products available to all pupils and students.

Following a successful pilot scheme in Aberdeen last year, the Scottish Government also provided the charity, FareShare, with over £500,000 to distribute free sanitary products to women on low incomes across the country.

Argyll and Bute MSP, Michael Russell said:

“The SNP Government’s £5.2 million investment in free sanitary products will allow students in Argyll and Bute and indeed all of Scotland to remain focused on what matters – their studies.

“Basic sanitary provision is a right, not a privilege.

 

“The notion that anyone should struggle to buy essential hygiene products is simply not acceptable and we should be proud that Scotland is leading the way in the fight against period poverty.

 

“I would encourage everyone to get firmly behind initiatives like this, including the UK government.”

In recent correspondence with senior officers of RBS, Michael Russell MSP has outlined his continued disappointment and frustration with the treatment of communities across Argyll and Bute.

 

The Royal Bank have now closed Campbeltown branch and are in the process of closing Rothesay branch. Inveraray branch was granted a stay of execution until the end of the year however it will still be closed.

 

The House of Commons Scottish Affairs Select Committee and a wide swathe of community groups and charities have been highly critical of the banks decision to close branches in such rural communities, but RBS appear to remain deaf to all reason.

 

Commenting local MSP Michael Russell said:

 

“This is becoming a very simple issue. Does RBS want to support rural communities or does it want to undermine them? It is taking actions to achieve the latter and in those circumstances it deserves every bit of criticism it gets.”

 

“RBS also deserves to have its customers make a judgement about whether they wish to continue with such a company which appears absolutely deaf to the opinions of those it is meant to serve and deaf to the facts of the damage that it is doing.”

 

“I will continue to voice the concerns of the communities that I serve and can only hope that sooner or later RBS start to listen.”