SHOCKING DISREGARD FOR CONSTITUENTS
I was greatly disappointed to read that the Comhairle had decided to carry on with their ‘slash & burn’ budget proposals, in the face of huge public opposition and despite being presented by the SNP group with an fully costed alternative budget which would have avoided the worst of their planned cuts. I was particularly saddened to see that so many of those cuts were aimed at the most vulnerable in our community.
This should not have come as such a surprise when Labour’s deputy leader in Scotland, Anas Sarwar, is reported as saying that there is no point in funding free care for the elderly when half of the people in the poorest parts of Scotland do not live long enough to take advantage of it.
This shockingly callous and cynical attitude to the elderly shows how out of touch Labour has become, and goes some way to explain the budget decisions made by the majority of our councillors, including the small number of Labour councillors who stand under the party banner, and the much larger group who prefer to be seen as independents.
The decision to axe the Barra to Benbecula air route, and restrict the Stornoway to Benbecula route, which was endorsed by all but one of the Southern Isles councillors, was a shocking example of their disregard for their constituents. Those councillors will now need to explain their dreadful decision to their communities, especially to those who rely on the flights to visit the hospital in Stornoway.
This policy will be particularly damaging to the islands as the money to run these services is provided to the Comhairle by the Scottish government. For the administration to pocket the cash, while closing and reducing the services, will endanger all of our other subsidised transport services and make it more difficult to argue for those to be extended or even continued.
It is time those councillors who conceived and voted for this awful budget considered the effects of their decisions on the most vulnerable islanders, and particularly how they will hurt the elderly who make up such a large part of our community.
Dr D.C. Wilson, Tolsta Chaolais HS2 9DW
When I visited the Outer Hebrides in August I was woefully unprepared for the weather conditions, often having to wear two summer dresses at once, and for the hurricane-style winds. I was met at every turn by remarks about ‘soft southerners’ not being used to harsh weather.
Since then I have made it a daily task to look at the temperature differences between London and Stornoway and imagine my surprise to discover that more often than not there is very little to choose between the two and indeed when we were suffering temperatures as low as -13 in Norfolk, and -5 in London it was +2 degrees up there.
Clearly not quite what we thought. However when global warming sets in and the Gulf Stream vanishes you Hebrideans will finally get a taste of what you imagine is soft southern weather. Start knitting now.
Alexandra Kingston, Twickenham TW1 2JY
POST OFFICE MOVE
I have always maintained that, although central, the Francis Street Post Office is quite inconvenient for those either without a car or who are elderly/disabled, in that it requires an uphill climb from both the Bus Station and any parking. But it is, at least, accessible to all who may have to travel by bus.
To move our main Post Office to the Co-op, though convenient for those incoming from points North, (Tolsta route), and points West, (Lochs/West-side/South Lewis/Harris), it leaves Point customers having to connect with another bus route to arrive at the Co-op.
Many of our Island residents still do not drive. And of those, most must pay bus fares. Then there would be the dilemma of: Do I shop first before going to the Post Office, and then either arrange home delivery, or cart my shopping into the town Centre, on foot or by the next bus, or, perhaps, hire a taxi?
Of course, I can ‘do’ town first but will have to walk back to the Co-op to post the parcel I have lugged around for 3 or 4 hours?
Before I wax lyrical on why we don’t just move everything to the most inconvenient locations, let’s look at why this issue has arisen. The Post Office is in dire straits, and still cannot wrangle their way out of financial situation, even though they have imposed the most ridiculous charges upon us, (the most offensive being the convoluted letter/package-sizing system).
And, might I add, whilst ‘missing the boat’, some years ago, on installing “Cyber-Cafe” access in all P.O. Locations.
The Post Office is now making another attempt to bail itself out and the Co-op is only too happy to up-take this proposal, because it would, most probably, raise their market share.
Stephanie Ann Noble, BACK HS2 0LA
ONE JOB THREE PEOPLE
The same ‘consultation’ bandwaggon was rolling again with the cutback proposals as it did with the windfarms and the school closures, the sham of using this word consultation rears its head yet again when in reality, this council, bar one or two, listen to no one. So the next time someone in the council mentions the word ‘consultation’ that translated really means: we are going on a wee tour here and there to listen to your opinions and views, give you the chance to put them across, but it doesn’t really matter what you say we have already made up our minds on what windfarms we will give permission for, what schools we will close, and what air services we will axe, but in the interests of patronising you, we have an obligation to say the word consultation.
We have at this council, a Chief Exeutive, a Convener, and a Council Leader, one job rolled into three, I certainly know where I would start when looking to make cutbacks.
Donald Morrison, Stornoway
It’s shocking and unbelievable that all Uist councillors (apart from Donald Manford) voted to cut life-line air services to Uist and Barra, which will impact most on our frail and elderly.
This confirms what most of us knew, our councillors have no backbone - allow themselves to be led by officials. Well done to the SNP group who tried to block this drastic cut.
Ronald MacInnes, North Uist HS6 5HG
PETITION OWN GOAL
I regret to have to say that my erstwhile colleagues in the SNP party, from MP, MSP and including also a number of councillors, are again guilty of an inglorious “own goal”. The wording of the Petition to the Scottish Government Petitions Committee is a knee-jerk reaction to a political decision on Inter-Island flights taken in good faith by the Comhairle, after extensive consultation at locality level, and is in my view inadmissible.
Quick reference to the Scottish Government guidance on submitting a Petition (4 pages of A4), states the following:
“A primary role of the PPC is to hold the Scottish Government to account. It has no remit to intervene in the operational decisions or actions of other public bodies in Scotland such as health boards and local authorities. A petition which requests the Parliament to do something it clearly has no power to do is inadmissible (page 2).”
Whilst it may be politically necessary to mobilise action in response to this decision of the Comhairle, it is a bit late in the day, and is at best foolhardy, at worst anarchic. Petitions should be embarked upon with a view to seeking a positive outcome, and not utilised as a big stick with which to beat the perceived offending council, democratically elected.
I believe your readers will have witnessed similar actions taken recently by our elected representatives with regard to - Road Equivalent Tariff (RET) with massive increases in fares for Commercial traffic, as imposed by the Minister, and more increases round the corner; School Closures, with upwards of an additional £1m being wasted because of delay in implementation, and the meter still ticking re legal action and fees; and of course cost of fuel, with inept political interventions to date (still paying 154.9p per litre for diesel in the Uists). All of these measures impact negatively on island residents.
This highlights for me the concerns we should all carry re the power struggle continuing between an SNP administration at Holyrood, bolstered on these islands by an SNP MP and MSP, and an independent council which is doing its level best to work within a much reduced budget, set by Holyrood.
I have previously written publicly about Inter-Island flights, and I have also communicated with respective Ministers, expressing the view that additional funding should be found from central government to enable continuation of inter-island flights, even with a reduced service, including the Barra to Benbecula route. The Western Isles Health Board received an additional funding of £1.7m only last week from the Minister for Health and Well Being. The Finance Secretary has a budget of over £30bn, the Comhairle has a budget of £117m. Where there’s a political will, a way can be found.
Our MP and MSP are, with respect, missing the target! Surely they are best placed to speak with the key SNP ministers at Holyrood who are budget holders, and work with the Comhairle to ensure essential life-line inter-island flights continue. Any cursory glance at the workings of the Petitions Committee will quickly reach the conclusion that (i) only competent petitions will be considered, (ii) they are thorough and detailed in receiving evidence from all relevant parties, and (iii) they don’t reach decisions quickly.
Western Isles Health Board are not likely to come to the aid of the Comhairle to share costs in subsidising air services, and comfort themselves in the knowledge that the Air Ambulance Service is available in any health emergency. This is short-sighted, and will incur massive increases in costs of emergency call-outs at £8000 + per flight: politicians from all parties should be alarmed at this prospect.
My advice to Dr Allan and Mr MacNeil is to reconsider your strategy, and please get on the phone with Ministers Keith Brown and John Swinney with a view to seeking additional temporary funding meantime to ensure continuation of flights from Barra to Benbecula, even if only for three days per week, linking in with the Benbecula to Stornoway connection. This will go some considerable way to allay immediate concerns and give the necessary time for a more detailed examination of inter-island flights across all remote locations, including Orkney and Shetland.
To help inject a level of common sense into this unfolding fiasco, I will again send a copy of this letter to Deputy First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon.
Andrew Walker, Isle of Benbecula HS7 5QR
We are currently researching a prospective documentary for BBC ALBA about the Welfare Reform currently being phased in, affecting many people in Scotland.
Are you presently, or do you know someone who is being affected by the ‘bedroom tax’, the review of disability benefit claims, or the new ‘universal credit’? Or indeed, are you soon to be affected by these changes to the welfare system?
We are looking for people’s stories to highlight the issues raised by this controversial legislation. If you have a story we’d love to hear from you to be considered for the documentary. If you have Gaelic, all the better but we are looking for any and all stories.
Please be assured of full confidentiality, and that all information is handled with sensitivity.
Please contact me at MacTV on 01851 70 5638, or alternatively by e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. I look forward to hearing from you.
David Nicolson, MacTV, Stornoway
EDITORIAL - Football visit
The news that Glasgow Rangers FC Chief Executive Charles Green enjoyed his trip to the isles so much that he is planning to come back with a team for a charity match against our Select sides should provide a great boost for local football.
Rangers - despite their recent troubles - remain one of the country’s biggest clubs and any visit by them can only act as a shot in the arm for the game at grassroots level here in the Hebrides.
Here’s hoping Mr Green is able to honour his word sooner rather than later and bring his boys to Stornoway for what would certainly be a hugely anticipated and surely well attended clash.
Regardless of how any subsequent fixture went on the park the real winners would be the local supporters and of course the charity coffers if the match, as expected, takes place as part of a fundraising night.