MSP Warns that Super-Fast Broadband Roll-out is in Danger of Falling Behind Schedule

Donald Cameron, Scottish Conservative MSP for the Highlands and Islands, has issued a warning that the R100 broadband project to deliver superfast broadband across Scotland is running behind schedule.

He has expressed his fear that this failure will be particularly damaging to businesses in the Highlands and Islands which are dependent on broadband to conduct their operations and which, because of their location, are distant from customers and suppliers.

Donald’s warning came after First Minster Nicola Sturgeon was unable to confirm that her government would deliver on its pledge by the end of the current Parliament in 2021. Her comments were made at a committee meeting of the Scottish Parliament held yesterday (Wednesday 8th May).

During that meeting, it was revealed that the procurement process designed to identify a contractor was already months behind schedule and that until that process was complete the First Minister could not confirm the details of the actual roll-out. The procurement process should have been concluded in February 2019.

Donald Cameron said: “People across the Highlands and Islands who have been waiting for this roll-out will be deeply dismayed by Nicola Sturgeon’s inability to provide a direct answer.

“Access to decent broadband is absolutely fundamental to anyone running a business and the Scottish Government’s failure to handle the project properly and to deliver on its pledge is putting investment and prosperity at risk.

“It is particularly disappointing given that the Government was warned about this as long ago as September last year by Audit Scotland. There just seems to be no urgency in the way the Scottish Government have responded.

“Business owners continually tell me that they need the Government to be on their side and understand the challenges facing them. At the same time, one way that island and remote communities are seeking to address the challenges of depopulation is by attracting entrepreneurs to set up their businesses here and take advantage of the quality of life which we offer.

“But we cannot do that if the government continually fails us on providing vital infrastructure whether it is ferries, decent roads, or broadband.”

Cameron Demands Action in Argyll & Bute as Report on Bullying in NHS Highland Published

Donald Cameron, Scottish Conservative MSP for the Highlands and Islands, has demanded action from the Scottish Government over the bullying crisis at NHS Highland with specific reference to revelations about practices in Argyll and Bute.

The Sturrock Report, published today (9th May) has confirmed that a culture of harassment and bullying has prevailed at NHS Highland for at least a decade.

Mr Cameron questioned the Cabinet Secretary for Health, Jeane Freeman MSP, at the Scottish Parliament on the contents of the report, written by John Sturrock QC.

Mr Cameron drew the Cabinet Secretary’s attention to those parts of the review which covered Argyll and Bute.

In the report Mr Sturrock wrote that he was “concerned to hear from a number of sources about particular problems in some of the island communities and of a management culture located in Lochgilphead and Oban which seems to have created significant tensions and resulted in poor relations between managers and frontline staff.”

Mr Cameron asked the Cabinet Secretary for her response to the suggestion in the report that a specific and independent review of management practices in Argyll and Bute was necessary given that the nature of some of the allegations implicated management “at a very senior level”.  

After the debate Mr Cameron said: “I am pleased that Jeane Freeman accepted my point and will now look into appointing someone external to investigate what has happened in Argyll and Bute.

“It is quite clear that this is very serious indeed and that it goes right to the top of the organisation.

“Although there has been an understandable focus on Raigmore and the northern part of the NHS Highland area, it is evident that this issue has also had repercussions for staff and patients in Argyll and Bute too. That must not be overlooked.

“This crisis has been in the making for years and is about more than just bullying. It is about failures of governance and leadership, and led to a growing sense of disillusionment among the communities that NHS Highland is there to serve.

“NHS Highland is the largest public sector employer in both the Highland and Argyll and Bute council areas, and is ultimately the responsibility of the Scottish Government.

“Health secretaries have come and gone but the problems have only grown worse as we see our health professionals struggling to deliver the care across the region which they so badly wish to deliver.

“For years we have seen public confidence draining away as NHS Highland has struggled with deficits and contracting services. There have been constant warnings about the consequences but little has been done.

“This has been bad for patients, and bad for communities who have lost services, but it has also led to many of NHS Highland’s staff being put under intense pressure.”

Donald Cameron MSP Backs Marie Curie Call

Donald Cameron, Scottish Conservative MSP for the Highlands and Islands, has lent his support to help improve the lives of people in Scotland living with terminal illness. 

Meeting recently with representatives from Marie Curie, the terminal illness charity, Donald was interested to hear about their efforts to ensure that everyone should get the care and support they need at the end of life. 

Marie Curie supported over 8,600 people in Scotland last year through their hospices, nursing care, and support services. Every five minutes someone dies without the care they need, often missing out on care because they have a condition other than terminal cancer such as organ failure or dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease and frailty.

Donald Cameron MSP said: “Providing support to people who have a terminal illness, and to their family and friends, is one of the most important services any society can provide. It is reassuring to know that an organisation like Marie Curie is there to help, but it is also clear that more could be done especially given the growing need for their services. I would like to wish Marie Curie every success in their efforts which are inspiring and deserve widespread support.”

Susan Brown, Marie Curie said: “Thank you to Donald for supporting our call that everyone should get the care and support they need at the end of their life, regardless of their condition.”

MSP Urges Government to “Get a Grip” of Ferry Problems

Highlands and Islands Scottish Conservative MSP, Donald Cameron has urged the Scottish Government to “get a grip” on continuing problems facing residents and businesses in the region who are dependent on ferries.

Mr Cameron renewed his call for action following news that ferry operator, CalMac, is proposing to remove vehicles for up to eight weeks on the Lochaline-Mull route, an announcement which has caused consternation among ferry-users who rely on the service. It is understood that residents may face a detour of 80 miles as a result.

Mr Cameron said: “The Lochaline crossing has long been an alternative ferry route to and from Mull used by locals and visitors alike and even a temporary closure to vehicles will have significant consequences”.

“More widely, these continued problems with our ferry network are undermining the confidence of businesses and communities in our islands. Who is going to invest in a new business if they can’t get their goods to market?

“After 12 years of promises from Nicola Sturgeon and her ministers, it has become only too clear that our transport infrastructure has not been a priority. Things have only got worse in many cases. Ministers have to get a grip.

“Only two weeks ago I attended a meeting of the Dunoon Ferry Action Group where residents are desperately worried about their local service following years of promises of investment which have come to nothing.

“And only last month, SNP minister Paul Wheelhouse had to admit that replacement ferries earmarked for routes between Skye and the Western Isles would not be delivered on time, while further north, the Government is failing to deliver on its promises for fair pricing for the Orkney and Shetland service.

“Meanwhile the CalMac ferry fleet continues to age with the prospect of another season of delays and cancellations.

“You really have to wonder what it will take for Nicola Sturgeon to wake up to these problems which are rapidly growing out of hand.”

Cameron Calls for “Major Improvements” After Visiting Oban Police Station

Highlands and Islands Scottish Conservative MSP, Donald Cameron has called for major improvements at Oban Police Station, and other stations in Argyll and Bute, following discussions with local police officers based in Oban.

However, he said he was reassured that the condition of the building, although poor,  is not compromising operational effectiveness.

Donald said: “Like many local people, I was shocked by the photographs I saw following the “Deep Dive” report prepared by the Scottish Police Federation on the condition of police stations across Argyll, and particularly the station in Oban.

“I am grateful to local officers for discussing the situation with me in Oban this week and I admire the fact that, despite these substandard facilities, our police continue to work and perform at the highest levels of service.

“However, the public must have confidence that our police officers are operating in a safe environment and that working conditions are not compromising their ability to carry out their responsibilities. Police officers carry out a demanding and often dangerous job on our behalf, and operating out of old and neglected buildings is simply unacceptable.

“It is clear that conditions are poor and I am dismayed that so many stations across Argyll and Bute appear to be substandard.

“Although there have been calls to close the stations at Oban and Lochgilphead immediately, I do not think that is strictly necessary, so long as there is a serious commitment by the Police Service to improve working conditions for staff and ensure that the areas used for custody are fit for purpose. We must see major improvements, and we must see them made very quickly indeed.

“I can assure concerned local residents that I will be questioning Scottish Government ministers in Parliament this week on the matter, and will be monitoring the situation to make sure the promised improvements actually happen.”

MSP say School Subject Choice Decline is “Deeply Worrying”

Highlands and Islands Scottish Conservative MSP Donald Cameron has said that the decline in school subject choice is “deeply worrying” after research conducted by Professor Jim Scott of Dundee University indicated that not a single secondary school in the Highland Council area or the Western Isles now offered as many as 8 subjects at S4.

Donald expressed his concern after a meeting of the Scottish Parliament’s Education Committee yesterday (Wednesday 24th April) which is conducting an inquiry into declining subject choice.

The revelations follow concern expressed  last month at the committee when research by Highlands and Islands Enterprise showed that 46% of school pupils  in the Highlands and Islands region believe that the range of subjects available will limit their post-school options.  

Donald said: “I am particularly worried about the knock-on effect this could have on Highers and Advanced Highers.

“There is widespread concern that this contraction in choice is leading to a decline in subject areas such as music, art, languages and technology.

“These are all creative subjects that have a particular resonance in the Highlands and Islands and we will be much poorer as a country if they continue to decline. Frankly, it is deeply worrying.”

Donald added: ”It is a sad fact that Nicola Sturgeon’s statement yesterday on a second independence referendum was her sixth on the constitution since becoming First Minister.

“She has not made a single statement purely on education to the Scottish Parliament.”

Liz Smith MSP, Scottish Conservative shadow education secretary said;

“While Nicola Sturgeon is busy pushing for another independence referendum, experts have fully exposed the extent of the subject choice crisis affecting so many schools across Scotland.

“Professor Scott’s detailed analysis tells us that the majority of state schools are now offering fewer subjects, undermining the strong Scottish tradition of breadth within the curriculum which was so admired around the world.

“Parents simply do not buy the argument that restricting subject choice is beneficial. 

“Instead of giving statements on independence, Nicola Sturgeon should be explaining why experts think the SNP’s education reforms are failing a generation of pupils.”

Cameron Demands Action on Dunoon Ferry After 12 Years of SNP Promises

Highlands and Islands Scottish Conservative MSP Donald Cameron has described the failure of the SNP Government to resolve the longstanding issue of the inadequate Dunoon-Gourock ferry, despite repeated promises to take action, as “12 long years of shameful failure.”

Donald’s comments came ahead of a meeting being held in Dunoon next week by the SNP Minister for the Islands Paul Wheelhouse to discuss the ferry situation.

“When the SNP narrowly won the Argyll and Bute seat back in 2007 it was widely credited to their promise to sort out the ferry service which even then was a source of concern to people living in Dunoon and the surrounding area.

“12 years later, and nothing has been done.

“This represents 12 long years of shameful failure as we still have the same unreliable ferries sailing between Dunoon and Gourock.

“The SNP Government seems not to understand that this lack of action has a major impact on sustaining communities in areas like Cowal which face major challenges in retaining young people and attracting investment.

“Mr Wheelhouse simply must come up with a credible action plan.”

Donald added “ I am looking forward to attending the Dunoon Ferry Action Group on 26th April to hear directly from residents. I will do all I can to ensure progress is made.”

Cllr Bobby Good (Scottish Conservative – Dunoon), said:  “Ever since I was elected two years ago local people have been asking me when we will return to a decent service from Dunoon.

“The answer is, when the Scottish Government finally sits up and accepts its responsibility for Argyll’s vital transport infrastructure.

“My fear is that they will seek to replace the ferries we have, poor as they are, with a passenger-only service.

“It is imperative that the minister listens to our community and accepts that we deserve a ferry service fit for the twenty-first century.

“And that means ferries which can carry vehicles.”

Cameron Demands Action to Protect Air Service to Islands

Highlands and Islands Scottish Conservative MSP Donald Cameron is demanding action to protect air services to the Inner Hebridean islands of Coll,  Colonsay and Tiree after Argyll and Bute Council confirmed that the service from Oban may cease, at least temporarily, after the current contract ends on 16th May.

Donald received the warning after the council’s Head of Economic Development and Strategic Transportation, Fergus Murray, replied to a letter from Donald asking for an update on the state of the contract negotiations

Donald said: “This air service is a lifeline for the communities that it serves on Coll, Colonsay and Tiree.

“Among the people who use it are pupils attending high school in Oban and medical professionals.

“It goes without saying that these island communities will be dismayed by this continued uncertainty.

“It is clear from this letter that funding air transport links to these islands presents major financial challenges for the council, which have been made much worse by years of unfair financial settlements from the Scottish Government.

“At the end of the day, SNP ministers in Holyrood control the purse strings and they have a responsibility to protect our most vulnerable island communities.

“They need to act now and use their powers to sort this matter out and provide islanders with the reassurance that the route is secure.”

MSP say Postponement of A83 Taskforce Meeting is “Unbelievable”

Highlands and Islands Scottish Conservative MSP Donald Cameron has described a decision by Michael Matheson, Cabinet Secretary for Transport, to postpone a  meeting of the A83 taskforce by more than two months as “unbelievable”.

The meeting, which was due to take place yesterday (27th March), will now take place in June.

Donald said: “The A83 is a major arterial road serving many residents and businesses in Argyll. They will be enormously disappointed by this delay.

“For the Cabinet Secretary to cancel the meeting with just two days’ notice, is simply unbelievable. Apparently he has more pressing committee business elsewhere.”

Donald, who pressed Mr Matheson in January on progress on the A83 with questions in the Scottish Parliament, added: “Once again, issues which are crucial to rural parts of the Highlands like Argyll are put on the back-burner by this SNP Government.

“It simply isn’t good enough to hold up progress in this way and I will be asking for a full explanation of how the SNP Government proposes to make up for this lost time.”

Councillor Alastair Redman (Scottish Conservative – Kintyre and the Islands Ward) said: “It’s seems that Mr Matheson and the Scottish Government he represents talks the talk without walking the walk. This is yet another example of how little this central belt urban obsessed SNP cares about rural Argyll.

“Time and time again this Government  have left our trunk road network underfunded and have not shown any real leadership over this matter.

“I’m in full support of the ongoing campaign from Argyll residents and the local press alike to find a long term solution to the problems with the A83. This means the Scottish Government taking responsibility and investing large scale funding to our trunk road network here in Argyll not just piece meal patchwork.

“The SNP have in the past tried to pass on the blame for their own failing on ferries, Police, NHS, Education and our economy to the U.K government and no doubt they will try the same with the A83 but the people of Argyll are fed up with their excuses.

“The fact remains that if this was a trunk road linking two of Scotland’s urban centres it would already be fixed. This continued sidelining and indifference to the needs of rural Argyll must stop.”