Highland Mainline Upgrade Must Get Back on Track

Highlands and Islands MSP John Finnie this afternoon (22/03/2018) called on the Scottish Government to get the Highland Mainline Upgrade Back on Track, citing a lack of progress over the last five years.

Mr Finnie made the call in response to a statement from the Economy Secretary Keith Brown titled An Update on Major Infrastructure Projects, which failed to include any mention of rail projects.

John Finnie said:

“The Cabinet Secretary promised parliament an update on major infrastructure projects, yet chose to talk exclusively about roads. This speaks once more to the Scottish Government’s misplaced priorities – focussing huge sums on building new roads while largely ignoring investment in quality public transport.

“There can be no doubt that the Highland Main Line’s much needed upgrade has been put on the back burner by the Scottish Government. In a rather extraordinary response to my question the Cabinet Secretary referred to investment in the Border’s Railway. While I welcome this rare rail construction project, I am at a loss to see what benefit it brings to the north.

“It seems that the Scottish Government do not fully appreciate just how crowded the single track is and the knock on delays that seriously inconvenience many passengers on a daily basis.

“We are now faced with a situation where we have four lanes of road, and only one lane of rail, considerably less than in Victorian Times.

“The Scottish Government committed to greater investment in low carbon projects as part of the budget, it is now time that they delivered on this promise and invest in the quality rail service that folk in the north deserve.”

Finnie Wins Union Recognition

At the Justice Committee’s stage two consideration of the Civil Litigation Bill today (06/03/2018), the Scottish Green Party’s Justice spokesperson, John Finnie MSP, secured all-party support for his amendment recognising the vital role trade unions and staff associations play in supporting their members in civil litigation.

As configured, the Government’s legislation potentially put trade unions and staff associations in the same category as claims management companies and venture capitalists who provide third party funding to cases in order to secure a financial cut of any damages awarded by the court.

Speaking afterward Mr Finnie said:

“I was delighted to receive the support of my committee colleagues for this vital change which recognises the important role played by trade unions and staff associations in representing their members.

“The workers’ representatives’ supporting function is a million miles from those speculators driven by profit rather than justice and my amendment ensures that important difference will now be recognised on the face of the legislation.”

Parliament Pensions Poll Shows Public Wants Holyrood to Divest

New polling for the Scottish Green MSPs is set to pile pressure on managers of the Scottish Parliament’s pension fund to stop investing tens of millions of pounds of public money in firms that contribute to wars, climate change and ill-health. [1]

John , Justice spokesperson for the Scottish Greens, has been a consistent campaigner on the issue, revealing the extent of such investments in 2014. [2]

Now, a poll of 1,000 Scots by Survation shows that, of those expressing an opinion, 72 per cent say the MSP pension fund should not be able to invest in companies involved in arms manufacture, fossil fuel extraction and tobacco, while 28 per cent say it should.

On Thursday this week (8 Mar), JOhn is due to question the parliament’s Corporate Body on its pension fund investment strategy and whether current and former MSPs will be consulted about which industries their pensions support.

Commenting, John said:

“The pension fund for MSPs is complicit in the misery caused by warfare, climate change and the legacy of the tobacco industry. Anyone with an ounce of ethics would want this fund to get out of those investments, and it’s now clear that is also the view of most Scots.

“The managers of Holyrood’s fund cannot wring their hands any longer. In light of major divestment announcements recently from the likes of Edinburgh University, Lloyd’s of London and even New York City, there’s simply no excuse. I will continue to press for change.”


[1] https://greens.scot/sites/default/files/Scottish%20Greens%20Final%20Tables.pdf

[2] https://johnfinnie.scot/2014/11/13/msps-pensions-bankrolling-fossil-fuels-tobacco-and-the-arms-industry/

Finnie Stands in Solidarity With SAMS UHI Staff

Highlands and Islands Green MSP John Finnie has expressed his support and solidarity with striking university staff at the Scottish Association for Marine Science (SAMS) in Oban, and across the country, in the Scottish Parliament today (22/02/2018).

The University and College Union (UCU) is currently in dispute over proposed changes to the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) which could see members lose up to £200,000 in retirement, and Mr Finnie raised this matter with the Scottish Government at General Question Time.

The proposal from the employers’ negotiating body, Universities UK (UUK), to end defined benefits within USS would effectively transform the scheme from one with a guaranteed retirement income to a defined contribution scheme where pension income is subject to changes in the stock market. UCU general secretary Sally Hunt has said that the proposal is “the worst offer she has seen from employers in 20 years”.

Mr Finnie said:

“I express my solidarity, and that of the Scottish Green Party, to my constituents at the Scottish Association for Marine Science UHI in Oban and all those UCU members across the country who are on strike. I am also delighted to see the support offered to striking university staff by the NUS. It is good to see students and staff stand in solidarity for fair terms and conditions.

“The UCU has stated that changes to the pension scheme could see members lose up to £200,000 in retirement, describing this as the worst offer from employers in 20 years. That is clearly unacceptable.

“I was pleased to have the opportunity to raise the issue with the Minister for Higher Education in parliament. While there is no direct role for the Scottish Government, I stressed the importance of Ministers using their influence with UUK and Scottish University Principals in order to ensure meaningful talks resume in an effort to resolve the situation.”

Scottish Government Owned Inverness Airport Among Worst Environmental Performers

Highlands and Islands Green MSP John Finnie has called on the Scottish Government to lead by example following the publication of a report by the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) showing that HIAL Inverness Airport, which is owned by Scottish Ministers, is among 59 businesses in Scotland listed ‘very poor’ for environmental compliance.

The results published today (15/02/2018) by SEPA show Scottish regulated businesses achieved a six year high, with 91.7% of sites recorded as ‘Excellent’, ‘Good’, or ‘Broadly Compliant’.

Another major concern in the north was the Dounreay Nuclear facility which was recorded as ‘Poor’.

John Finnie said:

“It is encouraging to see an overall improvement in environmental compliance from businesses and organisations in the Highlands and Islands and across Scotland. This is due in no small part to the thoroughness of SEPA staff across the country and they deserve to be commended for that.

“The recent SEPA enforcement in the Cromarty Firth – halting the movement of two oil rigs – was a great illustration of them taking prompt and robust action to protect our precious environment. It is clear this has been happening across the country, in conjunction with businesses, culminating in today’s positive results.

“There are a number of extremely concerning issues that come out of the SEPA figures which shows the need for continued vigilance. I am astounded to see that HIAL Inverness Airport, which is owned by Scottish Ministers, has again been rated ‘very poor’. The Scottish Government and its various organisations must lead by example and I will be taking this issue up with Ministers when parliament returns next week.

“It is no surprise to see Dounreay listed among poor performers, yet this is still extremely concerning. I would hope that complying with environmental regulation would be the number one priority for the operators of a decommissioning nuclear plant and I will be raising my serious concerns with the UK Nuclear Decommissioning Authority.”

ScotRail Queries

John recently raised a number of specific issues, brought to him by constituents, with ScotRail. The issues related to redundancy schemes, cleaning, toilet failures, refreshment trolley services, breakdowns and online issues. You can read ScotRail’s replies below:

  • Since the start of the franchise in April 2015, the number of leavers under voluntary redundancy has been as follows: 2015/16 : 48, 2016/17 :  23, and 2017/18 : 17.
  • We have a comprehensive resourcing plan of cleaning requirements for our train fleet.  A new cleaning regime is in place and the results from mystery shopper exercises out and about on the network have been very encouraging.  In the last couple of months, we have created 21 new cleaning posts and we will continue with this recruitment drive into 2018, as we introduce the electric trains and High Speed Trains connecting Scotland’s seven cities.
    John has sought clarification on where these posts are. 
  • We don’t keep a rolling record of toilet failures.  Any faults are, however, reported and dealt with at our maintenance depots as quickly as possible following any reports of defects or blockages.  Transport Scotland does measure our on-train cleaning standards, including toilets, and the most recent mystery shopper results show a steady improvement on toilet presentation and functionality.  We have made a number of modifications to some of the on-train toilets to improve their reliability, as well as introducing controlled emission toilets on our Class 156 trains.
  • The number of occasions this year Inverness to Wick/Thurso trains ran without a refreshment trolley was 434.  This is 18.8% of the 2300 services we have run on the route so far this year.  We recognise this is not good enough and have a plan in place to address the staffing challenges on this route.
  • A full review was undertaken with the Freight Operating Company following the locomotive breakdown on 13 The company has reviewed its contingency arrangements to recover a locomotive in the event of a breakdown and we have asked them to work with other operators to minimise any disruption if there is any future locomotive failure.
    John has lodged parliamentary questions to assess what contingencies are in place in the event of future breakdowns
  • I am pleased to advise the problem with our online customer comments forms was resolved very quickly and the system is again operating normally.

Scotrail Must Serve North Better

Scottish Greens Transport and Tourism Spokesperson John Finnie MSP has called on Scotrail to ensure that passengers in the North receive a decent level of service.

The call comes following enquiries from Mr Finnie which reveal that the Inverness to Wick/Thurso Scotrail service ran without a refreshment trolley on 434 occasions in 2017, the equivalent of almost one in five journeys.

Highlands and Islands MSP John Finnie said:

“It is completely unacceptable that more than 400 far north services ran without a refreshment trolley in 2017. These journeys take more than four hours and passengers reasonably expect a decent level of service. It is not too much to ask for the opportunity to buy a drink and a sandwich. This is particularly relevant when ticket prices have risen sharply yet again.

“In addition to the inconvenience this causes to the local population it also presents the north in a bad light to visitors. Tourism is hugely important to the Highlands and tourists will rightly expect advertised facilities to be available when they travel.

“I understand Scotrail have put a plan in place to address staffing issues and I have written to them making it clear to them that they must provide a better service in 2018 than they did last year.”