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.”

Armed Police Assessments Must Be Published, says Finnie

In response to a Topical Question of the recent Police Scotland announcement about a different model of deployment for Armed Response Vehicle (ARV) operators Cabinet Secretary Michael Matheson clearly criticised the existing model as ineffective.

The Scottish Green Party consider the changes to ARV deployment, which mean that armed officers will now attend routine incidents, and the roll-out of more officers armed with TASER are flawed.

Speaking after the statement, John Finnie MSP, Scottish Greens Justice spokesperson, himself a former police officer, said:

“I advised the Cabinet Secretary that Police Scotland sending briefings or meeting with politicians does not constitute consultation on this vital issue.

“We are seeing slow but significant changes in our police service, quite properly being equipped with personal protection equipment, to the roll out of offensive, potentially fatal weaponry like firearms and TASER.

“I am disappointed that my request that the Cabinet Secretary call on Police Scotland to publish the risk assessments they purport underwrite the existing and proposed models of deployment went unanswered.

“What we need is facts not innuendo and spin. There is no legitimate reason why the public should not be given access to assessments which are fundamentally changing our model of policing.

“I will ask the acting Chief Constable to publish both documents.

“The Scottish Green Party also require to know the mechanisms by which the disarming of police officers can take place.

“We want less rather than more weapons in our communities.”

Finnie Comments On Gagging Of Easter Ross Workers

Highlands and Islands Green MSP John Finnie has offered a guarded welcome to the news that the 31 workers who lost their jobs as a result Highland Council not renewing a recycling contract with an Easter Ross company are to receive some payments.

John Finnie said:

“It’s unfortunate that it took me raising the issue at First Minister’s Questions and posing a series of questions to Highland Council to get any movement on this issue. I understand the workers will require to sign ‘gagging’ clauses to receive 13 weeks’ payment. They won’t be allowed to comment on either the Council or its policies, along with anyone in any way connected with the local authority or indeed the French company, Suez, that were given the contract by the Council.

“However, I am under no such obligation not to comment and will expect Highland Council to detail how we ended up in this point and the extent to which they are funding this deal. Highland Council lacks political leadership; indeed the Leader Councillor Margaret Davidson indicated she was heading off on holiday rather than meet the workers.

“So, whilst pleased for the individual workers – none of whom now have a job – let’s not forget that, as a result of this shambles, Highland’s recycled waste will now be transported to Newcastle. It’s about time that Highland Council’s administration got a grip and assessed the widest implications of their decision-making.

“For instance, I’m sure that they didn’t factor paying several thousand pounds to 31 workers as a result of this botched episode. In addition to asking Highland Council for an explanation, I will be raising this case with Audit Scotland.”

Finnie Raises Easter Ross Recycling Jobs with First Minister

North Green MSP John Finnie raised the plight of 31 workers, who have lost their jobs due to a controversial Highland Council procurement decision, at First Minter’s Questions, this afternoon.

The decision has resulted in the entire workforce at Evanton-based William Munro Construction losing their jobs, after Highland Council awarded a £1.5million recycling contract to a French multi-national company, SUEZ.

The council informed the company by email, less than 2hours before their existing contract expired that their recycling contact would not be renewed.

Subsequently, SUEZ has denied they need to take on any of Munro’s workforce under the TUPE Regulations and the 31 workers now not only have no work but are also, due to their disputed employment status, unable to claim benefits.

This new contract will result in recyclable waste from across the Highlands being transported to Newcastle for processing.

John said:

“It is extremely concerning that the Highland Council have acted in this fashion, essentially pushing 31 employees into redundancy less than one month before Christmas.

“I was pleased to have the opportunity to raise the issue with the First Minister and welcome that she plans to investigate.

“It beggars belief that the council have decided they will transport this waste to Newcastle for processing. They have failed to adequately consider the workers involved, the impact this will have on the local economy in Easter Ross and the wider environmental impact transporting this waste will have and I’ve written them telling them so.”