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.”

Key to delivering quality NHS service is adequate staffing and planning

This article first appeared in the Strathspey & Badenoch Herald and other Scottish Provincial Press publications.

The other day in Inverness I met a former colleague walking briskly in the street, looking very healthy. He told me of his significant heart failure episode some months earlier and of the “outstanding” treatment he’s received at all stages of the medical intervention. Like many, he is blessed by an attentive GP. When the crisis happened, knowledgeable and supporting paramedics attended at his house and, throughout his time in hospital staff at all levels addressed his every need. Likewise, his aftercare continues is a similar supportive fashion.

Another friend recently suffered acute pains in their leg. An early diagnosis, and tailored physiotherapy has ensured they are once again fully active and likewise singing the praises of NHS Highland.

Do these examples mean everything is perfect with our National Health Service, certainly not. However, they illustrate how good the service can be when properly resourced. Key to delivering that quality of service is adequate staffing and planning ahead both in terms of personnel and training.

In addition to ongoing assistance with constituency case work, my Parliamentary colleagues and I meet every couple of months with NHS Highland to receive briefings and discuss major issues of the day.

I am always keen to understand the causes of any problem and what is required to address it.

Some Parliamentary colleagues want to have it all ways, however, they cannot rightly demand autonomy for clinicians but expect Government to intervene on every issue.

Brexit looms large over every aspect of politics from protection of our precious environment to support for our crofters and farmers. Our health service, which relies so heavily on those from elsewhere in the European Union and indeed beyond, does not operate in a vacuum. The employment challenges faced in keeping EU citizens, fearful of being deported following the United Kingdom’s withdrawal, are nothing when compared to the challenges of recruiting people to what’s seen a UK increasingly hostile to migrants.

Politicians of all parties have an important role to play in ensuring our NHS, indeed all our public services, are successful. Of course our job is to scrutinise, where appropriate criticise, and praise but it is not to personalise or deflect nor act in a way that suggest that we have anything other than the highest quality of workers in our health service.

So, I advise being wary of politicians with the easy fix for health service recruitment; they either don’t understand or are being misleading.

Health is an important part of my constituency case work and of course there are problems but, my two friends are by no means unique in having enjoyed the full NHS experience. Slàinte!

Finnie “Bitterly Disappointed” with Ferries Decision

John Finnie MSP, Scottish Greens’ spokesperson for Transport and Islands, has said he is “bitterly disappointed” following an announcement from the Scottish Government that it will put the Northern Isles Ferry Services out to tender.

The Scottish Green Party supports the RMT in advocating that the service should be publicly run.

Mr Finnie said:

“I am bitterly disappointed by the Minister’s decision to put the Northern Isles Ferry Services out to tender. The Scottish Government has missed a real opportunity to deliver a publicly owned service, run in the interest of communities in Orkney and Shetland. Instead the service will continue to be run for the benefit of private shareholders.

“This decision will come as good news to the likes of Serco, who will no doubt be queuing up to reap the subsidy and profits that come with running these lifeline services, in the full knowledge that if anything goes wrong it will be the public finances that bear the brunt.

“If this is the direction of travel from the Scottish Government then it is extremely concerning and brings into question how serious it is about bringing forward public bids for other major transport services such as ScotRail.

“The Scottish Green Party has long championed the public ownership of our vital transport services; it seems this government is quite content to let the private sector cherry pick the profitable bits, hardly the actions of a progressive government.”

Finnie Calls for NorthLink Nationalisation

John Finnie MSP, Scottish Greens Transport and Islands Spokesperson, has today called on the Scottish Government to bring NorthLink Ferries into public ownership at the earliest opportunity.

In a parliamentary motion, the Highlands and Islands representative said that the vital services should be run in the interest of public service, rather than private profit.

Finnie’s intervention comes ahead of a Scottish Government statement on northern isles ferries this Thursday (24th).

John Finnie said:

“The good folk of Orkney and Shetland deserve more frequent, affordable and reliable ferries, run in the interest of public service, rather than solely for private profit. It was good to see the Scottish Government recently purchase the three northern isles ferries, this should be the first step in bringing the whole setup back into public ownership.

“The RMT has been campaigning on this issue for some time and I fully support their calls to nationalise the service. Ensuring properly staffed vessels which are subject to collective bargaining can only benefit northern isles communities.”