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.

JF PH Kingussie
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 The outdated single track operation means that one breakdown can, and regularly does, bring the whole network to a halt.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.’

JF - office
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 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.”

Rail passengers deserve action on overcrowding

Railways back in public ownership: Not for profit; Improved services; Reduced fares.John Finnie has welcomed the announcement of a public bid to run ScotRail, but says passengers also need immediate changes to relieve overcrowding and make compensation easier to get.

John is transport spokesperson for the Scottish Greens, and will ask Transport Minister Humza Yousaf for action today in the Scottish Parliament.

Scotrail operator Abellio has been forced to produce a performance improvement plan by Transport Scotland, and the Mr Yousaf is due to make a statement on the problems with the service at 2.40pm this afternoon.

John is asking for passengers to automatically receive a form to claim a refund when performance is poor, rather than having to search for one. He is also urging immediate capital improvements to station facilities so that passengers have warm, comfortable rooms in which to wait for their connections.

Longer-term, the Greens want to see additional staff hired to ensure services flow smoothly, for staff to be consulted on ways to get punctuality and reliability back up to standard, and for Network Rail in Scotland to be devolved so that responsibility for rail infrastructure rests with the Scottish Government.

John Finnie said:

“Greens have long called for Scotland’s railways to be publicly-run as they are a public service. While we’ve yet to hear directly from the transport minister on this point, it is welcome that he has spoken of the need to prepare a public sector bid.

“In the short-term, passengers deserve action to improve the current dismal situation. Far too often commuters either have to stand all the way or they simply can’t board a train due to overcrowding. Abellio need to understand that poor service is unacceptable, and that offers of compensation should be automatic and easy to complete.

“Occasional delays and technical problems are understandable, and these can be made bearable by providing decent facilities for passengers. Our ageing stations are long overdue modernisation. We also need to ensure appropriate staffing levels and involve the staff themselves in any improvement plans as they know best how the service can be improved.

“Public transport has been overlooked by the Scottish Government for too long. It’s a shame it has taken till now for them to notice. Greens stand ready to offer constructive solutions to make Scotland’s railway the high quality public service it should be.”

John welcomes police commitment on dangerously slow driving

John Finnie three-quarterJohn Finnie has urged police to take seriously the issue of dangerously slow driving on roads like the A82, and says he welcomes Police Scotland’s positive response.

John wrote to Police Scotland leadership to raise the issue of slow driving, which is especially prevalent on scenic roads during the tourist season.

In reply, the Local Area Commander for road policing in the North, Chief Inspector Louis Blakelock, recognised the problem, saying:

“You correctly raise the point that inappropriate speed, like driving too slow, does as you suggest lead to frustration and irresponsible driver behaviour.

“Driving slowly, causing tailbacks and frustration is a behaviour that falls within the provisions of Section 3 of the Road Traffic Act 1988 (Careless Driving) and this type of behaviour is one that is routinely addressed by Police Officers patrolling the A82 and other roads.

“I wish to reassure you that Police Officers tasked with patrolling the A82 will be made aware of your concerns and they will continue to challenge inappropriate speed in the circumstances you describe as part of their core duties on the A82 and other trunk roads”

John said:

“While excessive speed remains one of the biggest threats to safety on our roads, driving too slowly on trunk roads is also a significant problem.

“During tourist season especially, queues can readily form on our trunk roads behind vehicles travelling 30mph whose occupants are effectively sight-seeing.

“This of course causes great frustration and can lead to increased danger from behaviours such as irresponsible overtaking.

“I’m pleased with Ch Insp Blakelock’s positive response to the issue, and I hope the increase in dedicated Road Policing Officers will help keep vital roads like the A82 flowing smoothly and safely.”

John calls for public ownership of ScotRail as fares rise again

Railways back in public ownership: Not for profit; Improved services; Reduced fares. After the announcement of another increase in ScotRail fares, John Finnie has urged the Scottish Government to move quickly to bring rail services back into public ownership.

As the Scottish Greens’ spokesperson on transport, John wrote to Transport Secretary Fergus Ewing MSP, pledging the support of all 6 Green MSPs for early legislation that would pave the way for an end to the disastrous privatisation of our national railway.

John said:

“Unfortunately most of us come to expect, and begrudgingly accept, an annual rise in peak ticket prices. Last year’s rise was one percent and with this 1.9 percent rise announcement, it highlights the need for action to be taken to make commuting in Scotland more affordable.

“We can expect these fare increases to undermine our goals of increasing social inclusion, encouraging traffic off the roads and onto the railway, and softening the impact of the UK’s pro-austerity and anti-EU politics on the budgets of ordinary Scots.

“With a privatised ScotRail, ticket prices are driven by the profit motive, not the public interest. ScotRail passengers, and those priced off the rails altogether, are suffering as a result.

“Despite the price increases, the corporate urge to cut corners has put train guards’ jobs under threat. I hope at least that ScotRail will listen to the RMT union and keep the guards on the trains; anything else would be putting profit ahead of safety.

“Privatised railways are an enormous failed experiment. I’ll be writing to the transport minister to offer my support to the government for putting Scotland’s railway back in public hands.”

You can read John’s letter to the Transport Minister below

:Fergus Letter Page 1Fergus Letter Page 2

Oil rig grounding shows urgent need for an emergency tug in the Western Isles

The Anglian Prince docked at Ullapool in 2008. The tug served the Minch and beyond from its base in Stornoway until it was axed in 2012. Photo: Anglian Prince by Mike Dunn. CC BY-SA 2.0.
The Anglian Prince docked at Ullapool in 2008. The tug served the Minch and beyond from its base in Stornoway until it was axed in 2012.

Photo: Anglian Prince by Mike Dunn. CC BY-SA 2.0.

John has written to the UK’s new Transport Secretary to repeat his call for the return of an emergency tug to the Western Isles, a need highlighted by the grounding of the Transocean Winner oil rig on Lewis.

The tug Anglian Prince was based at Stornoway until it was axed as part of Westminster cuts in 2012, leaving the Orkney-based Herakles as the only Emergency Towing Vessel covering Scotland’s northern waters.

John said:

“I am grateful that there were no personnel on board the Transocean Winner when it ran aground, and that therefore no-one was hurt. I also want to send my thanks to the Stornoway Coastguard and other responders, who have handled this disaster in tough weather conditions and while also responding to multiple other distress calls.

“However, we cannot yet know what the environmental damage may be, and there can be no guarantee that the next incident will pass without injuries or worse.

“This incident, along with the many others in recent years, demonstrates the urgent need for an emergency tug based in the Western Isles.

“The major inquiry held after the 1993 Braer disaster recommended as a priority that northwestern Scotland be provided with a strong emergency tug, and our seas have only got busier in the intervening three decades.

“Despite this, Westminster cuts abolished the Western Isles tug in 2012, leaving only the Orkney-based Herakles, which could take many hours to reach a vessel in distress in the Minch.

“We are a maritime nation and as such it is government’s responsibility to ensure that our seas and our coast are adequately protected. I’m repeating my call to the UK Government: reinstate the Western Isles tug, before Scotland has to pay the price.

“In the longer term, it’s clear that Scotland itself has to take responsibility for safety in Scottish waters. Our seas are being poorly served by a Westminster government for whom the far north of Scotland might as well be the far end of the world.”

Click here to read John’s letter to the Secretary of State for Transport, Chris Grayling MP (PDF).

A third of Scotland’s roads in need of repair

This graph from the Audit Scotland's Maintaining Scotland's Roads: a follow-up report shows how road maintenance spending has declined.
This graph from the Audit Scotland’s Maintaining Scotland’s Roads: a follow-up report shows how road maintenance spending has declined.
John Finnie has called for urgent repairs to take priority over new roadbuilding, after a damning report found that 37% of council-maintained roads are in an unacceptable condition.

The Audit Scotland report Maintaining Scotland’s Roads: a follow-up report reveals how local authority spending on roads maintenance “continues to decrease” and that councils spent £33 million less on maintenance in 2014/15 than the Society of Chief Officers of Transportation Scotland (SCOTS) “considers necessary to maintain the current condition of local roads”.

Meanwhile, Transport Scotland, who are responsible for major routes, spent £24 million less than is needed to maintain the condition of trunk roads.

Argyll & Bute and Eilean Siar are the council areas with the highest and third-highest proportion of local roads in unacceptable condition, with over half the roads in Argyll and Bute in need of repair. This tallies with maintenance spending in these council areas: Argyll and Bute has the biggest gap in the country between current repair spending and what SCOTS says is necessary, and Highland the third-biggest gap. Both councils spends more than £10m less than is necessary to maintain the roads in their current condition. Orkney has the lowest number of roads in unacceptable condition, with almost four out of five roads making the grade.

John is the Scottish Greens’ spokesperson on transport. He said:

“The findings of this report will not surprise many. What’s important now is that action is taken to allocate adequate resources to ensure that Scotland’s roads are fit for purpose.

“With the tightening of local authority budgets, it’s understandable that many councils have struggled to keep up with road maintenance.

“That’s why Scottish Greens are fully supportive of expenditure being used to maintain our existing infrastructure rather than spending obscene sums on building new roads.”

John appointed to two Holyrood committees

Large committee room in the Scottish Parliament
Photo: Adam Elder / Scottish Parliament
John Finnie has been appointed to the Scottish Parliament’s committees on Justice and on Rural Economy and Connectivity.

John has served on the Justice Committee since 2011, drawing on his experience as a former Northern Constabulary police officer. Most notably, he used Justice Committee hearings to hold Police Scotland to account over officers carrying firearms while on routine duties – a campaign for which he received the title of Community MSP of the Year at the 2014 Herald Scottish Politician of the Year Awards.

His appointment to the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee – which is also responsible for transport, agriculture and the Islands – reflects John’s new role as the Scottish Greens’ spokesperson on Transport, Tourism and Rural & Island Communities, as well as remaining the party’s spokesperson on Justice.

John said:

“I’m delighted to be appointed for a second term on the Justice Committee, where my priorities will include restoring the community ethos to Scottish policing, and defending our hard-won human rights.

“Joining the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee is an exciting opportunity to push for the investment the Highlands and Islands needs to make the most of our huge potential in sustainable industries like food, forestry and clean energy.”

The Committees are a vital part of the Scottish Parliament. Holyrood only has one chamber – it has no equivalent of the House of Lords – so the Committees are responsible for making sure proposed new laws, and the work of the government, are scrutinised in detail. Committees can also conduct inquiries into issues within their policy area, calling witnesses including government ministers and officials, outside experts, and people who are directly affected.

The six Green MSPs were appointed to a total of 11 Committee places. The other Green assignments are:

  • Ross Greer (West Scotland) — European and External Relations Committee; Education and Skills Committee
  • Patrick Harvie (Glasgow) — Finance Committee; Standards, Procedures and Public Appointments Committee
  • Alison Johnstone (Lothian) — Health and Sport Committee; Social Security Committee
  • Mark Ruskell (Mid Scotland and Fife) — Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee
  • Andy Wightman (Lothian) — Economy, Jobs and Fair Work Committee; Local Government and Communities Committee

You can see the full line-up for all of the new committees in the Scottish Parliament Official Report.

Greens Welcome CalMac Contract Award

Scottish Green MSPs John Finnie and Ross Greer today welcomed the news that CalMac Ferries Limited is the preferred tenderer for the next contract to operate the Clyde and Hebrides Ferry Services (CHFS) network.

The public sector operator was up against private outsourcing company Serco.

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

“This is the right decision by Scottish ministers. Lifeline public services such as west coast ferry routes must be kept in public hands. It’s welcome that by keeping Calmac public the workers’ pension scheme is protected, along with a policy of no compulsory redundancies. The employment Calmac provides is vital in rural and island communities.”

Ross Greer, Scottish Green MSP for West of Scotland, said:

“All credit to the RMT Union and local communities for keeping up the pressure on this campaign. Greens will keep a close eye on the new contract to ensure Calmac delivers on the commitment to invest in improvements for the travelling public and the workforce.”

John with Ross Greer MSP, Andy Wightman MSP, Mick Cash and other members of the RMT
John with Ross Greer MSP, Andy Wightman MSP, Mick Cash and other members of the RMT