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.

LGBCS – Comments on Argyll & Bute Proposals from Michael Russell MSP

Commenting on the announcement by the Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs & the Environment, Richard Lochhead regarding funding for sheep and beef schemes, Argyll & Bute MSP Michael Russell said:

“I would encourage all eligible farmers within Argyll & Bute to apply for these schemes as soon as possible and to make sure that the money available comes to those areas most in need. There are many problems at present on the ground with the poor summer and the drop in prices amongst them. These schemes provide useful income at any time, but will be particularly valuable in the coming winter. “

THE TEXT OF TODAY’S  SCOTTISH GOVERNMENT PRESS RELEASE IS GIVEN BELOW :

Farming support schemes launched
01/09/2015 10:00
Beef and sheep farmers can apply for share of £38 million.

Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs Richard Lochhead today (Tuesday) encouraged farmers to apply for their share of a fund to support beef and upland sheep.

This is the first year of the new schemes. The support for beef producers replaces the old Scottish Beef Scheme and will reward farmers for calves born on or after December 2 2014. The support for farmers with sheep is new and will provide support to help maintain flocks in some of the most challenging agricultural land in Scotland. Payment under both schemes are due in 2016.

Mr Lochhead said:

“Succulent Scotch Beef and Lamb are prime products that are in demand all over the world. Scotch Beef was voted the nation’s favourite food and drink product last year. Following a challenging summer for farmers, these two new schemes will provide a welcome support for a vital part of the farming industry.

“This is the first time we have offered a specific support scheme to the islands to recognise the fact they have more adverse farming conditions due to poorer quality land and smaller markets which means they are more dependent on distant markets. Farming and crofting communities are vitally important and I hope the Upland Sheep Support scheme will help maintain employment, particularly during harsher times.

“I would urge farmers to make sure applications for these new schemes, which are worth around £38.8 million in total, are submitted in plenty of time ahead of the relative deadlines and make the most of the money available to them.”

The Scottish beef sector accounted for 22 per cent of Scottish agricultural output over the last 10 years, with beef production being the largest agricultural sector in Scotland. The sector has 11,400 employees on beef cattle holdings, and meat from beef suckler herds is highly valued due to its high marbling factor.

Sheep farming is a key agricultural use of rough grazing, with 8800 employed on specialist sheep holdings in Scotland. In 2011, specialist sheep businesses in the LFA (Less Favoured Areas) accounted for 20 per cent of Scotland’s SFP recipients and 6 per of total direct payments.

The Scottish Upland Sheep Support scheme is one of the Scottish Government’s decisions as part of the new CAP arrangement from 2015. It is part of a package of measures designed to reward activity and eliminate as far as possible the so-called “slipper farmers”.

In order to be eligible for the Scottish Upland Sheep Support Scheme a sheep producer must have homebred ewe hogs, no more than 200 ha of payment region 1 land, and 80 per cent of their holding must consist of land in payment region 3. Payment will be restricted to one ewe hog for every four hectares. The scheme is targeted at sheep production on the poorest quality land; other sheep producers are not eligible for this scheme, but will receive higher payments under the Basic and Greening Payments schemes.

Applications can be made online at https://www.ruralpayments.org

Notes to Editors

Funding breakdowns as follows: Beef £32.7 million and Sheep £6.1 million, but will depend on the euro / sterling exchange rate in force at the time of settlement.

Deadlines for claim submission are: Scottish Upland Sheep Support Scheme – midnight on 16 October 2015; and, Scottish Suckler Beef Support Scheme – midnight on 31 December 2015.

All applications for the schemes can be made through Rural Payments and Services, the Scottish Government’s online service, which allows applications to be submitted securely, checked for completeness prior to submission and provides and acknowledgement of submission.

Paper applications will also be accepted for these schemes. They should be submitted through local area offices. Applications for the Sheep Upland Support Scheme must be submitted through the Inverness area office only, with forms being sent to: RPID, Longman House, 28 Longman Road, Inverness, IV1 1SF.

Should customers require support from their local area offices in using the new services, appointments can be booked online by visiting http://www.ruralpayments.org/publicsite/futures/topics/customer-services/book-an-appointment/

Argyll & Bute MSP Michael Russell has written to Argyll & Bute Council Chief Executive Sally Loudon regarding the sale of Castle Toward.

An offer for the Castle – which was the subject of a failed community bid some months ago – was accepted in principle by the Council at its full meeting last Thursday.   However  information about the offer , including the name of the bidders, was not released by the Council allegedly at the insistence of the prospective purchasers, although they commented on the record  to the press the next day.

Details of the bid are now emerging and Mr Russell has indicated he believes they raise very significant questions that require answers.

In his email to Ms Loudon Mr Russell calls for an independent inquiry into the sale of the Castle and asks the Council to back him in seeking the appointment of an individual to do so by the Government.   He then goes on to raise ten questions that he believes that Council should answer at an early date.  The questions are appended below.

Commenting on the email, Mr Russell said :

“This issue won’t go away.   Whilst everybody wants the Castle to be occupied and used it is important that the community and local voters understand what process is being followed .  In particular they need to know that there were no discussions with another purchaser during the period that the buyout was being attempted  , hat the price obtained was well in excess of what they offered and that the proposals are coherent and achievable. 

There are some doubts on all those issues and there are also concerns that the way in which this new private bid was considered was and remains very different from the way their bid was treated.   

I hope the Council will be completely open about these matters but the secrecy surrounding the offer – now seem to be utterly necessary – does not bode well.   Argyll & Bute makes use of  “exempt items” on its agendas very frequently and these prevent public scrutiny and press reporting.   They should be the limited exception rather than the increasingly frequent rule, a matter I and others have raised with Audit Scotland”

——

The questions asked by Mr Russell are as follows:

1) When did the prospective purchasers first approach the Council ?
2) What discussions did the Council have with the prospective purchasers prior to the end of the Community Bid in February?
3) Did any Councillor or official name the prospective purchasers and their company tor councillors in  January and/or February when asked about alternative bids should the community bid fail ?
4) Why did the leader of the Council affirm at the time of the community bid that the property would not be sold for less than the valuation when the property is now being sold for less than the valuation?
5) Given that the purchase price of £1.51 million is divided into three parts, the first of which (£1.1 million) is due on the 30th of September will the council confirm that it did not offer the community a chance to match that price and why it did not do so ?
6) Will the Council confirm the total cost to the Council since the failed community purchase concluded regarding security and maintenance up to 30th September and indicate how far ,if at all, that sum added to the community offer made in February differs from the sum due on 30th September.
7) Will the Council publish the terms under which the balance of the purchase price will be due and indicate what the Council will have to do to secure that balance and within what timescale.
8) Will the Council indicate what due diligence was undertaken on the bid from the prospective purchasers and in particular what assurances and guarantees were given regarding the eventual expenditure of £28 million on developing the site as estimated by the developers and quoted in the report to the Council?
9) Will the Council indicate what advice was given to Councillors regarding the sources of funding for the bid by the prospective purchasers given that , for the community bid, much adverse comment was made by officials regarding the communities heavy dependence on public funds ?
10) What external assessment of the bid by the prospective purchasers was either offered by the developers or sought by the Council  given that the community bid was positively assessed by HIE , the Scottish Government and the Scottish Land Fund ?

 

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.

I welcomed the Cabinet Secretary of Education and Lifelong Learning’s statement on the scope of the historic child sex abuse enquiry. I hope the enquiry will hold those responsible for these dreadful crimes to account, and give some closure to the victims involved.

You can view my contribution to the debate below:

Meeting with Transport and Islands Minister Derek MacKay MSP and Bute & Gigha dairy farmers today (Monday 18th May) in Rothesay. We made some progress, but it is now essential that the Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and the Environment finds the resources to support reduction in transport costs for Bute & Gigha, for those supplying to First Milk who have reduced the price they pay yet again:

This is the NFUS Press Release after the meeting:

Scottish Minister for Transport and Islands Derek Mackay MSP met with dairy farmers on Bute this afternoon to discuss subsidised ferry transport for milk tankers as a way of assisting beleaguered milk farmers on Bute and Gigha.

Speaking from Rothesay, NFU Scotland Vice President Andrew McCornick said:

“Dairy farmers welcomed the opportunity to meet with the Minister for Transport and Islands, Derek Mackay MSP, in order to discuss the increasingly difficult situation for dairy producers in Bute and Gigha and the significant difference that subsidised ferry transport for milk tankers might make to the future of the dairy industry on these islands.

“We welcome Mr Mackay’s support in principle for putting temporary measures in place to provide half of the cost of ferry fares for First Milk tankers until the planned review period in September.

“However, it is clear that the stumbling block will be finding the required funding in order to bridge this gap, believed to be in the region of £35,000. NFUS will therefore continue discussions with Mr Mackay and the Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs Richard Lochhead in the hope of securing this vital funding to part-remedy the increasingly desperate situation for dairy producers in Bute and Gigha.

“There will be ongoing frustration amongst milk producers on these islands that this matter remains unresolved and our dialogue with Ministers will start again tomorrow with renewed vigour.”

Commenting on his appointment as Professor of Scottish Culture & Governance at the University of Glasgow, Argyll & Bute MSP Michael Russell said:

I am delighted and honoured to have been asked to share some of my enthusiasms and experiences with students and staff at Glasgow University.

“Glasgow is one of the top 100 Universities in the world and Scotland has more world class Universities per head of population than any other nation. I greatly enjoyed being part of that success as Education Secretary and I am pleased to be able to continue my involvement in a new way.

“This part time post will allow me to undertake some teaching, drive forward some research , act as a strong advocate for excellence in Higher Education and encourage wider access at an institution which attracts many students from my constituency.

“I will of of course continue to serve and work very hard for all my Argyll & Bute constituents, a task which remains my priority, and I fully intend to stand for re-election to the Scottish Parliament in this constituency next May.”

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