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Parental confidence

This week the community of Ness was the next in line to be utterly devastated by the regressive policies of CnES where we saw our secondary school being shut. The decision to close was taken on Wednesday 11th Feb - a day that will live in infamy as far as people in Ness are concerned.

That day was the culmination of a twisted effort that even Niccolo Machiavelli would have been proud of. In a wonderful piece of politicking, a retiring councillor stayed on long enough to help out, while a new councillor remained benched until 12th March.

This all meant a 15-15 draw. The stage was set for the convenor to cast his second vote of the day. On the basis of his understanding of what the status quo actually means, he votes for the second time to close the school.

Let’s go back two and a half years to June 2012 when the decision to close Lionel School’s secondary provision was overturned. Our illustrious Leader Angus Campbell threatened to resign because he didn’t get his own way in closing Lionel School.

That spat betrayed a man who took it personally that certain people within his local authority would dare to have the temerity to fight to save their school. There was nothing personal meant by that Angus, it’s tragic that you saw it that way then. Tragic for the people of Ness I mean, like it was previously for Carloway, Shawbost, etc.

Roll forward two and a half years to what happened this week and our Leader proclaims that he’s done the merciful thing in closing the school because 75% of the parents in Ness have decided to skip S1&S2 in Lionel and put their children straight to the Nicolson.

What a complete turn around in the space of two and a half years. A massive jump from 0% to 75% of parents in two and a half years. By anyone’s standards that represents a collapse in parental confidence. Has that collapse got anything to do with CNES axing the Head Teacher position in Lionel then throttling the supply of teachers? In any way did these actions from CNES contribute towards this collapse in parental confidence?

Murdo MacRitchie

Port of Ness, Lewis

Are you listening?

It was with great disappointment that I heard the news that after a lengthy debate in the Council Chambers resulting in a 15-15 tie, the Convenor’s casting vote meant that the decision of the council was to close Lionel Secondary school.

In the media coverage which followed, one of the comments made by a Councillor who decided to support the closure, Angus Campbell, said: “Leader Angus Campbell said his duty as a councillor was to do the best for pupils in the Western Isles. He pointed out that 75 per cent of Lionel parents had made the decision themselves to move their children to the Nicolson Institute.”

One of the main duties of a Councillor is to represent their constituency. It is also his duty to not mislead his constituents.

This statistic is insulting and does not give a balanced and accurate description of the feelings of the Lionel/Ness community.

The statistic that Angus Campbell is using describes the current situation with S1 pupils from Ness. 5 out of 7 (71%) decided to go to the Nicolson Institute. If you were to look at the bigger picture and towards the future, Angus Campbell would see that this 75% (actually 71%) is a statistical anomaly.

The parent council sent out a questionnaire and in the current p7, 12 out of 17 (71%) would have stayed in Lionel. In the current p6, 100% would have chosen to have stayed in Lionel. Looking even further into the future, the Nursery school is full to capacity.

To blame the parents for the low intake is a disgrace. The people to blame are the likes of yourself Councillor Campbell, for creating uncertainty in the school by campaigning to remove the Headteacher of the Secondary School.

Moves such as this led parents to believe that the closure was a formality but the people of Ness, the Parent Council, the Facebook campaign and the 15 Councillors have spoken, at the meeting. The liked and well respected Councillor Charlie Nicolson said: “Are you listening Councillors?” I fear not.

Wednesday night’s decision leaves us with more questions than answers. The incoming Councillor for Ness and the West Side was not allowed to vote because he had not started his post yet. Surely for a decision of this magnitude, his appointment should have been brought forward or the meeting delayed, so the people of Ness and the West Side could have had a full representation.

There was further controversy when the Convenor, Norman A MacDonald, used his casting vote (in effect having 2 votes) to close the school. It is a long standing and honourable tradition through private and public bodies that where a casting vote is required for a matter to be resolved, the Chairman casts his second vote for the status quo i.e. for Lionel School to remain open.

Councillors must be familiar with the Scottish Government’s initiative GIRFEC (Getting It Right For Every Child), which all teachers are familiar with. It says that the wellbeing of children is at its heart. The wellbeing indicators are Safe, Healthy, Achieving, Nurtured, Active, Respected, Responsible and Included.

The teachers at the Nicolson Institute will aim to meet all of these, of course they will and I’m sure they do. This campaign is not a criticism of the Nicolson Institute, it’s a campaign to keep a good school open and to meet the needs of the people of Ness, some of whom live 28 miles away from Stornoway. I would now politely ask the councillors to read page 24 of their consultation and read the views of the people that matter, the pupils of Lionel.

They feel Safe, Healthy, Achieving, Nurtured, Active, Respected, Responsible and Included. This decision is about money, not about education. Are you listening Councillor?

DJ Smith


Formerly Cross, Ness

Out of hours cover

As a doctor who worked in The Lewis Hospital during surgical training in the late 1960s, carried out locum work in remote rural practices, and did the out of hours work for my wife in general practice, I find it difficult to believe that island communities can be condemned to such unsatisfactory out of hours cover as now seems to be the case in North Harris and many other relatively isolated communities.

As it happens, Tobermory on Mull has also featured prominently in local newspapers recently, but the concerns of residents in North Harris have received prominence in The Herald today.

I appreciate that today’s world with a 24/7 society with instant access to an unlimited source of medical information and a culture of transparency and accountability is very different to the one in which I was brought up.

Deference, whether justified or not, was accorded to certain groups of people in a community, and individuals were more trusting of those who made decisions affecting their lives.

However, when I graduated fifty years ago, medicine was regarded as a way of life, and it was expected that one’s work/life balance would be heavily weighted towards the former.

It was a privilege to be a doctor, and the reward and professional satisfaction could not be measured in financial terms.

Morale was in general very good, and whether justified or not, one felt appreciated, as did those in many other occupations.

The aviation industry would no doubt have disapproved of the long working days and sleepless nights, but somehow the adrenaline kicked in when required, one “learnt” to work effectively when tired, and the thought that one might be helping someone in need was sufficient for this to be part of a doctor’s way of life.

However, the “new” Consultant, (a Faustian pact if ever there was one) and GP contracts of 2003 changed the medico-political landscape for ever.

There was a need to recruit more doctors, particularly in rural areas, but the solution has proved a failure on nearly every account, and done little to enhance doctor/patient relationships in some communities .

Fortunately for patients in Lewis and Harris, Agnes Munro and her team of emergency nurse practitioners provide an outstanding service, very highly regarded nationally as well as locally, and I have no doubt that at a more local level, paramedic and advanced nurse practitioners can provide invaluable assistance in emergency situations.

However, in remote rural areas, there can be no substitute for local general practitioners who know the medical history of their patients providing 24 hour cover with the help of nearby colleagues, or as used to be the case associates. In the more distant past, direct help was available from Inverness, particularly if required on an emergency basis.

Regrettably, the GP contract coincidentally inflicted a variety of bureaucratic burdens on doctors, which have inevitably and inexorably deflected them away from having the time and energy available to spend on direct patient contact, the most rewarding aspect of a doctor’s work.

Sadly, without significant changes to the GP contract, I don’t see this being possible in the foreseeable future.

John Sinclair


Calmac Privatisation

Unite are very pleased that your newspaper has highlighted the impending threat to the ferry services, jobs and the wider economy of the Western Isles as the Scottish Government prepares to re-tender Clyde and Hebrides Ferry services, this is a matter that should rightly alarm us all.

Unite members and the Western Isles communities have suffered in the past as a result of Conservative legislation Compulsory Competitive Tendering (CCT), most notable being when the Comhairle lost the school meals services to an outside contractor.

Many will remember that employee numbers practically halved in a short space of time, also when this private company delivered things like cocktail sausages rolls to the canteens of our Islands as a lunch for the children.

The Island membership of Unite the Union supports the call from Labour candidate Alasdair Morrison for a united approach to defending the integrity of this most vital of public services, effort to oppose this reckless act of political vandalism requires effort and unity.

Unite were disappointed to read last week that both the Western Isles MSP and MP have refused to support Mr Morrison and his legitimate efforts on behalf of our islands, and that they have refused to state their opposition to the privatisation of Cal-Mac routes.

As Unite membership is spread across all political parties Unite hope the MSP and the MP will have a change of heart and join Alasdair Morrison campaign, and Unite also hope the Comhairle will join the effort to retain Caledonian Macbrayne in public ownership.

Calum Mackay

Branch Secretary

Unite the Union


Further austerity cuts

I see that Labour candidate Alasdair Morrison is concerned about the lack of night cover by the GPs in North Harris. Has it occurred to him that, if Labour win May’s General Election and realise their pledge to inflict a further £35 billion of austerity cuts on the poorest and most vulnerable people, Scotland’s pocket money from London will be cut by a further £3.5 billion.

That could mean the end of ALL medical services in Harris.

Only by electing the maximum number of SNP MPs, who could hold the balance of power in a hung Parliament, can Scotland defend itself from the worst effects of the austerity cuts planned by the Tweedledum Labour Party and their comrades-in-arms, the Tweedledee Tory Party.

Dr David Wilson

Press Officer, Lewis SNP

Tolsta Chaolais,

Isle of Lewis

Beautiful Islands Picture: Alan Veals was intriguied by the unusual cloud formation in the sky over Holm.