Finnie Calls for Safety Improvements at Garve

Highlands and Islands MSP John Finnie has called for urgent safety improvements to be carried out at the Garve level crossing, following a spate of reports of cyclists falling at the junction.

Mr Finnie has raised the matter with both Network Rail, who own and maintain the railway, and Transport Scotland, the Scottish Government agency who own the level crossing.

Garve level crossing

John Finnie said:

“I have been contacted by a number of constituents in recent weeks, concerned about the number of cyclists falling and being injured at the level crossing in Garve. I would welcome any technical improvements that Transport Scotland could make to the junction which would allow cyclists to cross safely on their bikes.

“Having visited the location I believe one simple step that could be taken in the meantime would be to ensure that the ‘cyclists dismount’ signage be displayed more prominently, as in its current location it is partly obscured on approach.”

Time to ‘Green’ Inverness for pedestrians

This article first appeared in the Inverness Courier and other Scottish Provincial Press Publications.

I was delighted to lay a motion before parliament last week highlighting the fantastic work of Own Your Street Inverness and their midsummer Inverness event.

The grassroots campaign aimed to encourage folk to leave the car at home and use streets, parks, pavements and other outdoors areas on foot, scooter, bike or skateboard for at least twenty minutes last Thursday.

Much like the well-attended annual Pedal on Parliament event it’s great to see that there is huge enthusiasm for better active travel facilities in the Highland capital.

It’s also good news that The Scottish Government has set a target of 10% of everyday journeys taking place on bike by 2020. However, even doubling the budget this year, whilst welcome, can’t make up for years of underinvestment in facilities for walking and cycling.

I recently signed up to Play Scotland’s Play Charter when they visited The Scottish Parliament. It’s vital that we ensure that our streets are suitable for living on, not just for driving through. In Edinburgh, the city council now operate a scheme where communities can apply to close their street to cars for the day, to encourage more kids to get out and play safely. I’d love to see The Highland Council adopt a similar approach here.

My colleague, Mark Ruskell MSP, is proposing legislation to change the default limit on the streets where we live, work and play to 20mph. A proposal that would make our streets much safer and one that has my full support.

I’m fed up with local authorities planning our towns around the motor car at the expense of everyone else. More than 30% of people don’t have a car, while many would prefer to leave it at home if they could. Yet planners, and councillors’ decisions, invariably put drivers ahead of pedestrians, cyclists and kids.

We need more places where people can move at their own pace, where they can cycle safely, where they can play or relax, and encourage people to use public transport by improving bus and rail services.

Investment in cycling infrastructure, as we have seen in Cavell Gardens recently, is welcome but The Highland Council and The Scottish Government have a propensity to splash the cash on road projects at the expense of other investment.

More focus on how to make our towns and cities a better place to be, tackling air pollution, and encouraging Highlanders to live healthier lives should all be at the forefront of transforming our public space. Instead, all too often, we hear about proposals to flood Inverness with cars by reducing parking charges, in the hope that this will somehow magically transform the city. It won’t, it’s time to take a different approach.

Finnie calls on government to speed up public sector rail bid

John Finnie MSP, Scottish Green Party Transport spokesperson, has this afternoon (26 Jun 2018) called on The Scottish Government to speed up their work on a public sector rail bid, accusing ministers of pushing proposals into the long grass.

The Minister for Transport and Islands has twice advised Mr Finnie that he will identify a suitable public sector body, firstly by spring (1) and secondly before summer recess (2).

John Finnie, MSP for the Highlands and Islands, said:

“The Scottish Government has indicated that it plans to bring forward a public sector bid, yet time after time the Minister has kicked this into the long grass. In the meantime, Abellio ScotRail has missed its punctuality targets for every reporting period in the last year. With only two days to go before summer recess it is time for the Minister to stop sitting on his hands and deliver what he promised.”

Notes:

(1) http://www.parliament.scot/parliamentarybusiness/28877.aspx?SearchType=Advance&ReferenceNumbers=S5W-14852&ResultsPerPage=10

(2) http://www.parliament.scot/parliamentarybusiness/28877.aspx?SearchType=Advance&ReferenceNumbers=S5W-16005&ResultsPerPage=10

 

Coul Links: John Urges Ministers To Step In

 

John today (20 June) urged Scottish Ministers to step in, after Highland councillors approved plans to build a golf course on the environmentally-sensitive Coul Links dune system near Embo in Sutherland.

Planning officials had warned that the course would have a detrimental impact on a protected wildlife habitat, and had recommended refusal.

Organisations including RSPB Scotland and the Scottish Wildlife Trust objected to the project.

John said:

“This is a disappointing but unsurprising decision by councillors who are too easily swayed by flimsy promises of jobs, regardless of the cost to an irreplaceable wild landscape and the nature and tourism that it supports. Coul Links is internationally important, and the proposal by American businessmen is reminiscent of the false promises from one Donald Trump in Aberdeenshire.

“I have repeatedly raised this issue in parliament, including with the First Minister. Many local people will be disappointed to see councillors effectively doing the developers’ bidding, and I urge Scottish Ministers to step in to ensure we do not allow another golf course in the wrong place.”

Decision to put the Northern Isles Ferry Service out to tender was a missed opportunity

This article first appeared in The Orcadian.

The Scottish Government’s recent decision to put the Northern Isles Ferry Service out to tender, rather than bring it into public ownership, was disappointing and a wasted opportunity.

The Minister for Transport and Islands had the chance to bring the service ‘in house’, thereby ensuring it was operated exclusively in the interest of communities in Orkney and Shetland. Instead he has ensured that Serco, who operate the service at the moment, or some other multinational corporate giant, can still run a service. This is problematic because that statutory obligation placed on any limited company is to maximise profit for its shareholders not put islanders first.

Of course, public ownership in and of itself does not guarantee that the service will be successful. However, if the Scottish Government ran the service it could ensure that any subsidies given to the route, or profits made from running it are reinvested into the service, and not pilfered off to private shareholders. It would also ensure that staff terms and conditions could be protected.

The Scottish Green Party are unequivocal in our desire to see public services, including the Northern Isles Ferry Services and the Orkney and Shetland internal ferries, run exclusively in the public interest rather than handed over to these predatory multi nationals who can afford slick advertising agencies but whose first port of call to generate profits is to attack the terms and conditions of the very staff who deliver their service.

Regardless of who delivers the service, the public rightly see a role for politicians in the provision of public transport. The Minister claims that putting the franchise out to tender reflects the public’s view, and whilst that MAY be the case, that same public will rightly hold the Scottish Government to account for any shortcomings, as will I.

The Scottish Government is due to bring its Transport Bill before parliament in the coming weeks, and I will seek to use this vehicle to progress the Scottish Greens’ desire to see a different approach taken to transport across Scotland.

The Scottish Government this week welcomed the UK Government’s support for a third runway at Heathrow Airport, a shocking error of judgement both in terms on the negative environmental impact and the fact that it will do nothing to address growing levels of inequality.

The Scottish Government, in common with the three other parties in the Scottish Parliament, positively salivates at the vanity road projects, happy to spend £6 billion on the A9 and the A96 alone.

Successive Holyrood administrations have presided over a decline in bus patronage and we believe that the Lothian Bus Model, operated in the country’s capital, and now in East Lothian, shows that buses can be operated to the highest standards by a public operator, and make a profit.

Lothian buses scores well on frequency, cleanliness and predictability, the same unfortunately cannot be said about many of the bus services on Orkney. There’s no mushrooms growing in the windows of Edinburgh’s bus fleet! I’ll be pushing for the Transport Bill to afford Orkney Islands Council the opportunity to design and operate the quality bus services that Orcadians so desperately need.

Of course bus services already receive considerable subsidy from government, but it is clear this could be better spent.

The Bill also presents an opportunity to ensure that services are better co-ordinated. It’s vital that bus and ferry timetables line up, at both ends of the journey, so government promises about ‘smart ticketing’ need to be delivered on.

Passengers should only need one ticket for their journeys, rather than multiple pieces of paper often required at the moment. It is important though, that in introducing integrated ticketing across transport modes, we get the best system available.

The Scottish Greens will always work with others, where we can, to improve Scotland’s public transport infrastructure.

The focus must change, however, from mega investment in climate trashing road and aviation polices that favour the wealthiest, including proposals to hand international airlines an aviation tax bung, fortunately on the back burner for the moment, to more equitable investment in ferries, buses, trains and cycle lanes that facilitate everyone in our communities.

We need greater marine and fisheries protection capacity regardless of which Brexit we are landed with

This article first appeared in the Shetland Times

With UK’s proposed EU exit now just ten months away it seems that there are more questions than answers about what the future will hold.

One thing that seems clear is whatever the outcome, the Scottish Government will need to increase its capacity of marine and fisheries protection vessels.

Currently Marine Scotland, the Scottish Government agency charged with monitoring our seas, has a fleet of just three Compliance Vessels. This fleet has wide ranging responsibilities including monitoring marine protected areas and ensuring compliance with fishing regulation in the Scottish zone.

In contrast the Welsh Government has recently commissioned five new vessels, built in Wales, to patrol its significantly smaller seas. The Scottish Government has a real opportunity to take the bull by the horns and invest in new vessels to ensure its fleet has the appropriate capacity.

My recent discussions with Scottish Government Ministers lead me to believe that, rather than seizing the initiative, they are content to sit on their hands. The Cabinet Secretary for Environment advised me in writing that ‘I am keeping the situation under constant review.’ This sentiment was echoed by the Cabinet Secretary for the Rural Economy, who I questioned on this matter at a parliamentary committee last week, before he went on to praise the expertise of Marine Scotland staff.

I have no doubt that the Marine Scotland staff are experts in fisheries and marine protection, but I have serious concerns about the current resource allocation and whether it allows them to do everything possible to protect our seas.

Recent incidents in Marine Protected Areas, such as at Loch Carron in Ross-shire have demonstrated that a lack of resource is making it difficult for Marine Scotland to adequately protect Scotland’s vast marine environment, and with more protected areas due to be added I find it difficult to see how this situation will remedy itself.

It is likely, given the pigs ear the UK Government are making of the Brexit process, that we could find ourselves, out of the EU and completely isolated on 1st April next year. I am hopeful that we won’t end up in that position, but even if a transition arrangement is agreed, it is likely that there will be calls for increased monitoring of Scottish waters.

With that in mind I would urge the Scottish Government to take the initiative, put marine and fisheries protection at the forefront of its thoughts, and create ship building jobs in Scotland by commissioning the additional vessels that we will need in the future, regardless of which variant of Brexit we are landed with.

Finnie Presses Scottish Government on Scotland’s Unique Migration Needs

John Finnie MSP has today (31 May 2018) called for cross party talks to reconvene in an effort address the UK Government’s current ‘hostile environment’ policy, which is not delivering for Scotland’s communities.

Mr Finnie highlighted the example of the fishing industry in Barra, struggling to recruit sufficient numbers of staff (1). He also raised the matter of a Canadian teacher who was refused a visa, threatening the provision of Garlic Medium Education on Mull (2).

Mr Finnie also spoke of the importance of migrants working in our NHS and in the valuable tourist trade, both of which are vital to communities in the Highlands and Islands.

Highlands and Islands MSP John Finnie said:

“The UK Government’s so called ‘hostile environment’ policy has created a situation whereby the social and economic needs of our communities are disregarded in favour of a dogmatic anti-immigrant ideology. Many remote, rural and island communities in the Highlands and Islands, and elsewhere in Scotland, have unique needs which Westminster’s one size fits all approach simply doesn’t cater or care for.

“In the last session of parliament all the parties in the Scottish Parliament accepted that Scotland had unique needs in relation to migration, with the reintroduction of a post study work visa one of the key recommendations of a cross party commission. Unfortunately, despite Scottish Tories support for it in Scotland, they were overruled by their then Home Secretary, Theresa May.

“Immigration enriches our communities and keeps many local businesses and public services running. But the UK Government’s current inflexible and frankly xenophobic approach is harming our communities. It is time for the Tories’ approach to immigration to come to an end, and for a humane, welcoming immigration system to replace it.”