Finnie Calls for “Urgent Action” to Save Bi-Fab Jobs

Highlands and Islands MSP John Finnie has called for urgent action to save hundreds of jobs potentially under threat at Arnish following Burntisland Farbricators (Bi-Fab) notice of intention to appoint administrators.

Green MSP Finnie said:

“Urgent action is required to save the jobs under threat following the announcement that Bi-Fab is to appoint administrators. The threat posed to the Arnish yard is extremely concerning. It is vital that the Scottish Government engages all stakeholders in a constructive process which explores all options to preserve these jobs both in the immediate and into the long term.

“Scotland has huge potential to be a world leader in a just transition toward a low carbon manufacturing future and Bi-Fab have been at the forefront of this move over the last few years. Greens will look to work collaboratively – with other parties, trade unions and industry in an effort to achieve a swift and positive resolution to this situation.”

Promoting Active Travel in Scotland- John’s Speech from the debate

Yesterday (31st October 2017) the Scottish Parliament debated the promotion of Active Travel. John moved an amendment to the Government’s motion. You can read John’s Speech or watch it below.

  • John:

    “The Green amendment sets out our long-standing ambition, which is shared by many people who want safer, healthier streets, for 10 per cent of the transport budget to be spent on walking and cycling. We know that 25 per cent of all journeys are by foot or bike, but currently the Scottish Government spends 1.6 per cent of that budget on walking and cycling.

    It is important to get it right, for a number of reasons. I am sure that the minister will recognise the rising cost to the national health service of air pollution, for instance, and inactivity, as we have already heard in the chamber today. It will be interesting to hear the feedback from the cabinet secretary, Roseanna Cunningham, on low-emission zones, because we certainly need to make progress on those, not simply for reasons of health but also to reduce congestion and make our roads safer.

    Members of the Scottish Green Party have been working hard on a new policy, developed in consultation with disability groups, traffic engineers and walking and cycling campaigners, with the aim of aligning Scotland with more progressive European Union countries, such as Denmark and the Netherlands, in respect of transport. It is thanks to decades of investment in active travel in those countries that they have some of the fittest and happiest populations in the world.”

  • Mike Rumbles (intervention:

    “The concern with the development of the Greens’ transport policy is that putting 10 per cent of the transport budget into walking and cycling could put public transport at risk. Could John Finnie address that issue?”

  • John:

    It is all part of a package. Mike Rumbles is a member of a party that is happy—like all the other parties in this Parliament—to spend £6 billion on two roads, despite the backlog of repairs that we heard about from Neil Bibby. The Scottish Green Party is not against spending on road infrastructure, but we would maintain and perhaps upgrade some roads, rather than have the vanity projects that the other parties seem very keen on. It is an overall package that needs to be considered.

    I want to talk about safety and about my colleague Mark Ruskell’s member’s bill to have a default speed limit in built-up areas of 20mph. The consultation was well responded to, with more than 2,000 people responding and 80 per cent supporting the measure, which has been overwhelmingly welcomed by families, schools and community groups. That is simply because people want the streets where they work, live and play to be safe and pleasant places. People have suffered the blight of pollution and danger caused by high traffic levels, key to which is planning policy. A planning bill is coming up later in the year, and I am sure that that will be a factor.

    I want to pick up on a comment that Bruce Crawford made. The increase in the budget is welcome, but this is about the overall percentage of the transport budget that is spent on active travel. That went from 1.1 per cent in 2013 to a commendable figure of almost double that in the following year, but last year it was down to 1.6 per cent. Progress is welcome, but perhaps in summing up the minister can clarify whether that will be maintained in terms of the programme for government aspect.

    In the short time that I have left, I want to talk about how difficult it is to calculate spend on walking. Local authorities are mainly responsible for the infrastructure in that regard, and although grants are available they are used for a wide range of sustainable transport projects, so it is difficult to get an exact figure for spend on walking.

    There is always conflict. I have had representations from the Ramblers about the metalling of multi-use paths, which is seen as an intrusion into green space.

    Spend on cycling is also a complex issue. Indeed, the annual survey that Spokes undertook was discontinued in 2015, due to the increasing complexity of compiling it.

    We use the Scottish household survey’s figures on the proportion of journeys that are undertaken on foot and by bike, and there is some encouraging news. There are improvements in the figures on cycling to school, and the number of child casualties has plunged. The distance that is travelled by bike is on an upward trend and—if I may be parochial for a minute—in the Highland Council area 2.5 per cent of people report that their bike is their main mode of transport. That is the second-highest percentage in Scotland; across the Highlands and Islands the proportion is 1.9 per cent, which might surprise members.

    Today, the minister announced funding for what we call the “mad mile”: a stretch of road across a green-belt area in Inverness, which will mean that at peak times motorists will get between two points 12 seconds quicker. Such an approach is not sustainable. I alluded to the A9 and A96 upgrades; it will be interesting to hear how they contribute to active travel.

    We will support the Labour amendment; it is commendable that it addresses transport poverty. We agree that the money that is being spent on replacing APD could certainly be much better spent.

    The Lib Dem amendment talks about equipping people with skills. We should also equip people with knowledge, because people’s attitudes are such that there are tensions between the various groups. I plead for courtesy for pedestrians, for cyclists, for motorists and for people on horses, so that tensions are removed.

    The speed of vehicles is a challenge in rural areas. If we can get goods off heavy goods vehicles and on to rail—there has not been positive news about that in the past couple of days—it would be a big help.

    I finish by commending a constituent, Mr Robert Phillips, who is a fine example to us all. He commutes by kayak daily between Holm Mills, on the outskirts of Inverness, and the city centre. That option is not available to all of us, but we need to have a wee look at what we can do.

Greens Raise Concerns About Rail Funding Allocation

Scottish Greens Transport Spokesperson John Finnie MSP has expressed concern at a move by the UK Government to change the method of rail funding in Scotland over the next five years, thus reducing the funds available to improve the rail network.

The Scottish Government was due to publish its Statement of Funds Available for railways on Friday 13th October, yet the UK Government’s Chief Secretary to the Treasury didn’t inform the government of its final offer until the day before.

The change will mean that a long term agreement between the Scottish and UK Government’s in place since 2005 will become defunct and Scotland will no longer receive funding proportionate to the size of the Scottish rail network.

John Finnie said:

“I am extremely concerned that the UK Government has taken the decision to reduce the funding allocated to maintain and improve Scotland’s rail network. The current funding arrangements have been in place for more than ten years and ensure that Scotland receives a share of railway funding proportionate to its share of the rail network.

“At a time when we know we must reduce harmful emissions to mitigate the impact of climate change it is vital that we increase investment in rail and other forms of sustainable travel. Cutting investment in rail by £600 million is absurd and will only make it that much harder to tackle climate change.

“This cut in funding will have real impacts on communities across Scotland. Only last month the Transport Minister announced he would fund a feasibility study into the Levenmouth rail link in Fife. While there is improvement required on the Highland Main Line, the Far North Line and on the Inverness to Aberdeen route. All of these projects and others across the country may now be hampered by this funding cut.

“I hope colleagues from all parties can put differences aside and match their requests for improved rail infrastructure by joining my call on the UK government to revisit this decision and ensure that Scotland continues to receive its fair share of rail funding.”

 

Finnie calls on Scottish Government to continue Improved Terms and Conditions dialogue

Highlands and Islands MSP John Finnie has called for the Scottish Government to respond positively to NHS Highland’s request to consider ‘sign-on recruitment incentives.’

The senior medical practitioners who petitioned NHS Highland over their concerns about a shortage of radiologists called for the implementation of improved terms and conditions to help recruit and also retain the local workforce.’

During a Scottish Parliament debate last night (04/10/2017) on the issue, Finnie encouraged the Cabinet Secretary for Health, Shona Robison, to consider the proposal which NHS Highland believe may help recruit and retain the local workforce during the debate on radiologists in NHS Highland.

Following the debate Mr Finnie said:

“There is a particular problem with retention and recruitment of staff in Highland and it is important that, without intruding on national collective bargaining, the Scottish Government consider all options to improve the current situation.

“I welcome the suggestion from NHS Highland that the implementation of improved terms and conditions of service may have an important part to play in encouraging medical professionals to move to the Highlands and I hope the Cabinet Secretary will give due consideration to this proposal and keep talking.”

 

John Finnie (Highlands and Islands) (Green):

As ever, I am enthusiastic to congratulate all public sector workers, including those at NHS Highland.

Although Mr Mountain told us that the issue is about people and not politics, the last part of his motion says:

“the Scottish Government should match the commitment of … NHS employees”.

That, to be quite frank, is gratuitous. It is not gratuitous in its own right, but it is gratuitous in that it comes on the back of what I thought was an ill-judged intervention on the issue, when he called for the cabinet secretary’s resignation. That lacked proportionality. It is the nuclear option, and it is indicative of a political mindset, to which I will return.

As a Highlands and Islands MSP, my obligation is clear: I must understand the issues. I am sighted on the NHS Highland paper of 26 September, in which it is quite evident that there is no denial of the scale of the problem. Indeed, the chief executive’s report says that radiology services are currently under “unprecedented” pressure as a result of the shortage of radiologists, and that that is compounded by increasing demands on the service.

We know that several groups of clinicians have expressed concern. I am sighted, too, on the letter that NHS Highland sent to them. One of the calls that the clinicians made was for improved terms and conditions. It has been suggested that there be further dialogue with the Scottish Government; it is clear that that would be a way of helping, so I encourage the cabinet secretary to participate enthusiastically in that. I appreciate that there are shortages all over the place, but there are particular challenges in the Highlands. I am also sighted on NHS Highland’s action plan.

We need to look at everyone’s roles and responsibilities. The Scottish Government has a clear role in ensuring that adequate funding is provided, and I welcome the £3 million that is to be provided. I look forward to Mr Mountain and his colleagues contributing to the debate on taxation, because we need adequate funding. Without that, it will be impossible to fulfil the Tories’ wish list. I have no doubt that what they are asking for today will be the first of many asks from them. We need to understand the funding requirements.

NHS Highland has a requirement to ensure delivery of safe services. That will require a workload assessment, workforce planning and safe staffing levels.

Whether we are in government or in opposition, MSPs have an obligation to articulate constituents’ concerns and to hold to account bodies such as NHS Highland. I have done that in relation to consultations on hospital builds, general practitioner services, nurse practitioners, drug services, waiting times and care at home. The cabinet secretary has received quite a number of representations from me.

There is also the issue of how we conduct ourselves. To represent our constituents and hold bodies to account, we must understand the issues, read the briefings from NHS Highland and attend the briefings that it provides, because there are a number of complex issues involved. That will lead to the potential for some informed comment to be made, instead of the rabble rousing and cheap headlines that we have had.

At this point, I want to talk about the shocking abuse that my colleague Gail Ross has had in relation to health issues in the Highlands. She is not a member of my party, but I know that she works tirelessly on behalf of her constituents and does not deserve the abuse that she has had from the community. In that regard, I must say that I expect a minister of religion to mediate the mob rather than to aggravate or motivate the mob. People need to pay attention to how they respond to their elected representatives and the work that they do.

In the short time that I have left, I turn to Brexit. It will fuel not just the problem of recruitment, but the problem of retention of staff. We already know that there are some people who have had enough and are heading off, which is not a good state of affairs.

I commend the work that is being done to address the problem. We do not need to recount the past; we must deal with the current situation. I urge the Scottish Government to do its very best to put in place a plan that addresses the issue of radiologists not just in the Highlands but elsewhere, and I urge my colleagues not to talk down the Highlands, but to promote it as a place to come to live and work. I say to Mr Mountain that that would be a proper manifestation of people, not politics.

HIE and Natural Retreats

Earlier this year John wrote to Charlotte Wright, as Chief Executive of HIE, following the concerns of the community regarding the funding which had been provided to Natural Retreats by HIE. You can read the correspondence below.

 

John’s Letter of 16th May 2017

 

HIE’s reply of 29th May 2017

John’s follow-up response to HIE of 7th June 2017

HIE’s response of June 13th 2017

John’s email of August 31st

HIE’s response of September 26th

 

The Highland Council Must “Get a Grip” of Repair Backlog

Highlands and Islands MSP John Finnie has called on the Highland Council to deal with its £100 million building repair backlog urgently before someone is seriously injured.

The P&J revealed on Tuesday that Highland Council has over £100 million of building repairs outstanding, with some requiring urgent action.

The news came the day after rubble fell through the ceiling of Inverness Library, landing close to public areas.

John Finnie said:

“The Highland Council must get a grip of their repair backlog before someone is seriously injured or killed as a result of unsafe buildings. It will rightly concern many people that public buildings we use every day are in urgent need of repair and require immediate attention.

“What is perhaps more alarming is that auditors were unable to confirm whether more buildings were effected. Clarity must be provided as soon as possible.

“Urgent action must be taken to ensure that any buildings which pose a serious risk of injury are taken out of commission until these repairs are completed.

“Whilst the Council Leader may bemoan her budget and shrug her shoulders perhaps she and other senior members of the administration would do better to reflect on who saddled the council with the obscene levels of PFI/PPP debts which could have financed a robust inspection and repair regime and much much more.”

 

Finnie Slams HIE Arms Event

Highlands and Islands Green MSP John Finnie has called on Highlands and Islands Enterprise to cancel an arms industry event it is organising in which, “Businesses in the Highlands and Islands are being invited to a free workshop to find out how the region can benefit from opportunities in the aerospace, defence, security and space industries.”

Mr Finnie has previously raised concerns with HIE about using public monies to support the defence industry.

The free workshop will be held in at An Lòchran, Inverness Campus on Tuesday 26 September and invites local businesses to find out how the region can benefit from opportunities in the aerospace, defence, security and space industries. It is organised by Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) and ADS Scotland which is the Scottish branch of the aerospace, defence, security and space industry trade organisation, ADS.

Mr Finnie has submitted a motion to the Scottish Parliament condemning this event and the use of public monies to promote the an industry that produces weapons that can be used to maim and kill innocent civilians which also calls on the Scottish Government to review its agencies’ policies on the promotion of such organisations and for HIE to cancel this event.

John said:

 

“Public money should not be used to support the design, manufacture and sale of arms.

“The arms industry around the world is obscenely wealthy and needs no encouragement, let alone public finance to support its sordid trade.

“When I’ve previously raised issued with HIE about their support I’ve been told it’s hard to separate the manufacture of items which could have an application for the defence industries.

“There’s precious little public money about and it certainly should not be used to advance this particular sector.

“I have contacted the Chief Executive of HIE asking that she cancel this event and hope the Scottish Government will be progressive and stop all public support to the arms sector.”