Argyll and Bute Council seem to be failing to understand or support island communities according to local MSP Michael Russell who has spoken out in defence of those living on the island of Coll who believe they were wrongly criticised in a Council press release on Friday.

The release urged local people to apply for part time fire service jobs at the local airport in order to save it from imminent closure yet the Council knew that the community had already rejected the changes being forced on that facility by the Council itself and had pointed out that it would be impossible for the Council to find anyone willing to take on what one local resident called “double the work for half the pay”. 

Commenting, Argyll and Bute MSP Michael Russell said:

“The impasse on Coll, which threatens the very survival of the airport and with it the vital air link to the mainland, is only the latest in a series of problems on islands within Argyll and Bute precipitated by the Council.

The dropping of “Bute” from some of the Council’s marketing materials including on its crucial growth deal has caused great offense on the island yet nothing has been done to address the issue. Many Bute residents believe that their island will suffer if its visibility is not maintained.  

The imposition of a traffic regulating order on Mull, despite unanimous local opposition and a massive local campaign, resulted in the Council having to withdraw the order when they were faced with a legal action by the community which they suddenly realised would have succeeded. Yet the Council, after apologising, refused to permit an independent examination of what had gone wrong and has still to publish its own internal report on the fiasco. 

On Islay the Council refused to listen to local residents concerns about the destruction of the character of historic Port Charlotte with the erection of bog standard street lights in prominent places.

On Lismore there has been substantial concern about a suggestion by the Council that it might withdraw the passenger ferry service which appears to have been accompanied by a crude attempt to blame the Scottish Government for the proposal. This idea may still feature in the final budget package put forward by the current administration despite fierce opposition from the community and its rejection by local Councillors. 

And now on Coll there is an imminent and real threat to the vital air link. Some local Councillors are again active in trying to avert such an outcome but instead of sensible negotiation about the issue the Council chose to issue an inflammatory press release from Kilmory, adding insult to injury.

Argyll and Bute has 23 inhabited islands and their needs should be at the heart of the Council’s concerns given their fragility and the special needs of their residents. However it sometimes seems as if the Council at a central level does not understand them, has no strategies to support them and regards them as something of a nuisance.

The Council need to pause, think again about Coll and in addition look at their processes with the Scottish Government’s Islands Act firmly in mind which mandates them to consult on policy and service changes in good faith in order to “think island” in all official actions. 

I am happy to help and support such actions, but they need to become an urgent priority for the current administration and officials.”

Yesterday, on Thursday 10th of October, World Mental Health Day, Argyll and Bute MSP Michael Russell published the analysis report from his recent Mental Health Survey for Argyll and Bute.

This follows on from the report being discussed and explored at a meeting with Scottish Government Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport Jeane Freeman and a number of local representatives from Mental Health services.

Commenting, Michael Russell MSP said:

“I am pleased to present my Analysis Report of the Mental Health in Argyll and Bute survey, especially as it is World Mental Health Day.

This was an instrumental part of our meeting with Jeane Freeman last week which lead to a mutual feeling that the concern expressed about mental health services in Argyll and Bute has to be heard and ensuring the best possible support is available is now the objective of all involved.

It is crucial that mental health is given the same attitude and care as physical health and as it is a day of awareness it is a great opportunity to reflect on this.”

Last Friday (October 4th) Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport, Jeane Freeman, met with a number of representatives of mental health services in Argyll and Bute at a round table meeting chaired by local MSP Michael Russell.

Following the successful survey seeking to find a range of perspectives on Argyll and Bute mental health care, which saw 350 respondents share their experience, Argyll and Bute MSP Michael Russell invited representatives from all levels of mental health care to meet with the Cabinet Secretary and discuss how services can be improved.

Commenting after the event local MSP Michael Russell who chaired the event said:

“I am very grateful to all those who took part including those with experience of mental health issues, local medical and third sector practitioners, the Health and Social Care Partnership, education and the Police. It was particularly important for everyone to have Jeane Freeman there to respond to the concerns and experiences that were related and to suggest ways forward.  

“There is a great deal of concern in Argyll and Bute about mental health services and finding ways to improve access, decrease waiting times and ensure the best possible support and help was the clear objective of everyone present. I hope that future interaction with Mental Health Forum’s as well as follow up from the Cabinet Secretary and the Health and Social Care Partnership, including the effect of new monies coming into the system for support in schools and the community, will make a difference as will improved methods of working. I am very committed to continuing and sustained changes as well as a service that is designed for, and by, those who need it most alongside those who work in mental health services every day.”

Argyll and Bute MSP Michael Russell is running a fact finding survey to hear from constituents in Argyll and Bute on their experiences of our local Mental Health services in order to provide feedback to Scottish Government Minister for Mental Health Clare Haughey MSP along with key local organisations at a summit in Dunoon later this year.

The survey has now been accessible online for just over a fortnight but has already had hundreds of responses from constituents with a great range of backgrounds including service users, staff working in the services and friends and family who have helped loved ones gain access to the support they need.

Commenting on the survey, Argyll and Bute MSP Michael Russell said:

“It has been excellent to see so many people getting involved and providing feedback on their experience of our mental health services. Mental health care is an absolute lifeline to so many of us and it is crucial that the services provided are as good as they can be. By contributing to our survey you are ensuring that your voice and your experience is heard by those who will shape the future of the services.

I would encourage anyone who has not yet taken part to set some time aside and complete our survey.”

The survey will remain available online until Friday 23rd of August at: https://www.surveymonkey.co.uk/r/JYKKRHK

Paper copies can also be made available on request.