Serco Charging Premium Rate for RET Rebate

Serco, the multinational company currently charged with operating the Northern Isles Ferry Services franchise, has been accused of acting in bad faith after charging customers premium rates to claim a rebate following the introduction of the Road Equivalent Tariff (RET).

Passengers who booked their journeys prior to the new pricing structure coming into force were eligible to claim a rebate, however Highlands and Islands MSP John Finnie has been contacted regarding passengers being charged substantial sums attempting to recoup their cash, via Serco’s premium rate telephone number.

Mr Finnie said:

“I welcome the introduction of RET which ensures Shetlanders will not be penalised for travelling by ferry.

“However, it’s extremely disappointing that passengers have been charged excessive rates to claim their rebate because they sensibly booked in advance.

“Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised that a disreputable company such as Serco seeks to exploit customers at every opportunity in their blind pursuit of profit, however, they should not get away with it on a Scottish Government contract.

“I’ve written to the new Cabinet Secretary for Transport asking him to address this matter urgently, and ensure that anyone who has fallen foul of this premium number will be recompensed immediately.”

Mass culling of mountain hares must stop, says Finnie

Highlands and Islands Green MSP John Finnie has called on the Scottish Government to urgently introduce a moratorium on the culling of mountain hares in the Highlands as new figures reveal the number of mountain hares in the eastern Highlands has dropped by more than 99 per cent since 1954.

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Mr Finnie said:

“Scottish Ministers have repeatedly stated that they do not support mass culling of mountain hares, yet it is happening all the same.

“Minister’s calls for ‘voluntary restraint’ are being blatantly ignored and it is therefore time that strong action is taken to protect this iconic, native species.

“We’re told by cull advocates that the main reason for culling hares is to increase red grouse densities. As if shooting hares just so there are more grouse to shoot wasn’t bad enough, there is no clear evidence that mountain hare culls actually increase red grouse densities.

“As is so often the case with blood sports, the real reasons for shooting appears more about tradition than species management.

“If estates are not willing to exercise voluntary restraint, and it is clear that many aren’t, then it is imperative that the Scottish Government takes the decision out of their hands and introduces measures to protect the mountain hare.”

Highland Council Causing a Stink with Toilet Closures

Highlands and Islands Green MSP John Finnie has accused The Highland Council of ignoring its own impact assessment by pressing ahead with the proposed closure of public toilets.

The Highland Council Equality Impact Assessment [1], conducted in January this year identifies public health issues for older people, people with disabilities and notably those who are pregnant.

John Finnie said:

“The Highland Council’s Equality Impact Assessment acknowledges that closing public toilets on such a wide scale will have negative impacts for older people, people with disabilities and pregnant women. Despite this the council leadership are determined to press ahead in their usual, incoherent manner, ignoring procedures, policies and good practice. Given the clear implications for public health, and potential for increased instances of public nuisance, it is astonishing that the council has not discussed this matter with NHS Highland and Police Scotland.

“Recent experience shows that closing these essential amenities results in laybys and other public spaces being impacted by human waste, not an attractive prospect. And while it may be possible in some circumstances for communities to take control of facilities, this is not always possible. Community ownership is certainly less practical when the council reduce comfort scheme funding so that communities are forced to subsidise former council owned toilets from their own limited resources.”

Greens call for north rail improvements

The Scottish Green Party is calling on the Scottish Government to deliver on its promises by urgently investing in improvements to rail services in the north.

Highlands and Islands MSP John Finnie, and Strathspey and Badenoch Councillor Pippa Hadley, have made the call in the wake of Transform Scotland highlighting the Scottish Government’s failure to meet journey time improvement commitments it made ten years ago.

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Councillor Pippa Hadley and John Finnie MSP at Kingussie

Mr Finnie said:

“It is disappointing but not surprising that the journey time improvements trumpeted by the then First Minister a decade ago have not been realised. The Scottish Government’s blinkered approach to transport infrastructure – focusing large sums of money on road projects – has come at the expense of public transport.

“A quality rail network in the Highlands is essential to cope with the huge increase in tourism, as well as affording opportunities to locals who want to travel across and beyond the region, and proper investment in the Highland Main Line is an important first step in delivering the rail service that my constituents deserve.”

Councillor Hadley said:

“The proposed improvements to the Highland Main Line are welcome but do not go far enough. The outdated single track operation means that one breakdown can, and regularly does, bring the whole network to a halt.

“It is vital that improvements are not limited to services between the north and the central belt. More opportunities for my constituents to travel between intermediate stations, for instance between Kingussie and Aviemore, would greatly boost the opportunities for communities, both socially and economically. However such services can only be delivered if the track is dualled.”

HIAL accused of wasting £18,000 on Centralisation Study

Highlands and Islands MSP John Finnie has accused Highlands and Islands Airport Limited (HIAL), the Scottish Government owned agency charged with running remote, rural and island airports, of wasting over £18,000 of public money on a study into proposals to centralise its air traffic control system.

Research by Mr Finnie has revealed that HIAL spent £18,602 on a ‘scoping study from EKOS setting out why Inverness should be the preferred location for proposed Remote Towers Control Centre.’

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John Finnie MSP

Commenting, John Finnie MSP said:

“HIAL’s proposal to slash jobs throughout remote, rural and island communities by centralising its air traffic control operation is short-sighted and will disadvantage the communities it is supposed to serve by centralising skilled jobs.

“My latest research has revealed that HIAL have spent £18,602 on a scoping study which found that Inverness was the prime location for this centralised system. It beggars belief that such a sum was spent stating the obvious.

“Instead of spending thousands of pounds telling us what we already know, it would serve HIAL better if it listened to the expert air traffic controllers, and their Trade Union Prospect, and ensured that these important, skilled jobs remain in communities throughout the Highlands and Islands.”

Finnie Calls for Scottish Government to Stop Prevaricating on Coul Links

In response to the decision of Scottish Ministers to extend their consideration on whether to call in the Coul Links planning application, John Finnie, Green MSP for Highlands and Islands, said:

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John Finnie MSP at Coul Links

“The proposed golf development at Coul Links presents a significant threat to a nationally and internationally protected site on the shores of Loch Fleet. Highland Council’s North Planning Committee completely ignored the environmental evidence and it is therefore vital that the Scottish Government step up and call in this proposal, which its own natural heritage agency objected to. Allowing this proposal to go ahead, in the face of all the evidence, would completely undermine environmental designations across Scotland. I have been inundated with correspondence from constituents in the Highlands and Islands, over 1300 to date, opposed to this environmental vandalism.”

“Before parliament went into recess the First Minister assured me that ‘It is our intention to honour obligations that currently arise from EU membership, but we have been clear in our resolve not to see environmental protections or other protections downgraded as a result of Brexit.’ In light of this commitment it is difficult to understand the need for a delay, when this development threatens international obligations such as the Ramsar Convention, and I once again urge the Scottish Government to stop prevaricating on this issue and call in the application without further delay.”

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.”