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.”

Concern over Funding for Western Isles Council

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Scottish Conservative Highlands and Islands MSP Donald Cameron has expressed concern following the release of figures which indicate that the Comhairle nan Eilean Siar  is to receive the worst financial settlement of any local authority in Scotland, while rates paid by businesses in the islands are forecast to rise by 10%.

Donald said: “The figures released from the SNP Government show that the Comhairle is to receive an overall increase of just 0.38%, which of course is below the rate of inflation.

“This is the lowest figure for any local authority in Scotland.

“If you remove ring-fenced funding for additional Scottish Government projects, the actual amount received for the council’s core activities is to be cut by 2% –  which is on top of the years of cuts that have already caused so much difficulty.

“At the same time as Council services are due to be further sliced, the business community in the Western Isles is looking at an overall rise in its business rate contribution of over 10%.

“Any business which operated like this would have ceased trading years ago.

“How on earth are we supposed to build a brighter future for our island communities when our business sector is treated like this?

“The SNP Government does not seem to understand that the economy depends on us having thriving private businesses, large and small.  

“Instead of passing on the extra funding it has received from the UK Government, the SNP Government has continued to starve local authorities in the Highlands and Islands while finding money to spend on its pet projects, usually in the Central Belt.

Councillor Ranald Fraser (Sgir Uige agus Ceann a Tuath nan Loch) said: “For the islands to prosper and attract and retain young people we need to create the conditions for businesses to thrive.

“I hope that this tenet is always a consideration for any Scottish government.

“I am fearful that business rate payers and domestic council tax payers in the Western Isles are faced with another year of ‘pay more, get less’ when it comes to the council services that we all rely on.”

MSP Cameron Urges Caution on Lynx Reintroduction Proposals

Scottish Conservative Highlands and Islands MSP Donald Cameron has urged caution following representations from concerned farmers about the possibility of re-introducing the lynx to Scotland including Kintyre.

His intervention follows feedback received from Councillor Alastair Redman (Scottish Conservative, Kintyre and the Islands Ward) who has also been contacted by constituents concerned about the proposal.

Cllr Redman said: “Livestock farmers in Kintyre are very concerned that an apex predator like the lynx, which is quite capable of killing sheep, could be introduced locally.

“I have discussed this at length at my surgeries in Kintyre and I have every sympathy with the wishes of farmers to protect their stock from the possibility of attack.

“We have all seen the results of dogs attacking lambs and sheep and we cannot have a situation where this could be made even worse.”

Donald said: “The reintroduction of native species which have become extinct should only be contemplated following extensive consultations with all interested parties.

“And that must include land managers, farmers and crofters who stand to be most affected. Having spoken to many in the farming sector whose livestock are already suffering from predation from other wild species, I’m very sceptical indeed about reintroducing lynx to Argyll.

“I know that the Lynx UK Trust has already suggested trialling lynx reintroduction into Kielder Forest in Northumberland but the proposal was turned down by the UK Environment Secretary Michael Gove who said that there was not sufficient evidence of local buy-in for the proposal and neither had there been adequate research into the ecological impact of lynx introduction.

“If it’s not good enough for Northumberland then, it’s hard to see why it’s suitable for Argyll or indeed anywhere else in Scotland either.

“Bringing back former native species can be a very positive thing but only if such projects command widespread public support and are properly funded and supported by the relevant agencies.

“We should not undermine trust in this process by initiating schemes which have not been properly thought through or assessed.”

Highland MSP Pays Tribute to Mountain Rescue Teams Following Ben Nevis Tragedy

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Scottish Conservative Highlands and Islands MSP Donald Cameron paid tribute to the Lochaber and Glencoe Mountain Rescue teams and the Coastguard during First Minister Questions.

He made his comments in the same week that rescue teams responded to an avalanche in Ben Nevis which claimed the lives of three climbers.

Donald said: “I felt it was right to draw attention to the courage and professionalism of those people who make themselves available to help others at risk of death or serious injury in the mountains.

“As someone from Lochaber with friends in the mountain rescue team, I am very aware of the immense effort over many years that has been made by volunteers to rescue walkers and climbers who have got into difficulty in this challenging environment.

“Members of the Mountain Rescue Teams subject themselves to many hours of training and preparation in order to carry out what can be gruelling and sometimes very upsetting tasks in the most extreme of conditions.

“There are many people alive today who owe their lives to their efforts.

“We owe the Mountain Rescue Teams and the Coastguard a huge debt of gratitude for their selfless commitment on behalf of others who share their love of Scotland’s mountains.”

Cameron Lobbies Government for Ferry Commitment for Islay

Scottish Conservative Highlands and Islands MSP Donald Cameron lobbied the Scottish Government for an improved ferry service for Islay.

Donald said: “Distilleries in Islay are rightly concerned about a potential lack of capacity in the ferries serving the island.

“Action in this area is absolutely vital if we are to secure the economic future of Islay and attract investment.

“I am pleased that the minister has offered to discuss this crucial matter with me and I will certainly be taking the offer up.

“My priority is to ensure that the right investment in transport infrastructure takes place before problems start arising in the service due to under-capacity.

“Islay makes a very significant contribution to Scotland’s reputation as a producer of internationally renowned products and it is right that elected representatives keep the pressure on the SNP Government to deliver the investment that allows that contribution to continue and grow in the future.”

Scottish Conservatives Launch “A New Approach to Scottish Farming”

The Scottish Conservatives have today published “A New Approach to Scottish Farming” which sets out the principles of their future farming policy for Scotland.

The document forms the basis of the Scottish Conservative debate on future agriculture policy in the Scottish Parliament today.

A Scottish Conservative approach to Scottish farming will focus on productivity, regional differentiation, environmental protection, research, education and securing the future of farming careers.

The Scottish Conservatives will highlight the opportunity of designing and implementing a new support system that is much better suited to the needs of Scottish agriculture than the outdated Common Agricultural Policy.

The rest of the UK remains the biggest market for Scottish farm produce; it is crucial that any new system does not create any friction with this internal market.

This approach recognises the unique landscapes and circumstances faced by 85 percent of Scottish agriculture and would maintain funding to farmers facing remoteness, harsh climate, and poor soil quality.

The Scottish Conservative focus will provide support to farmers providing key environmental outcomes, combining financial stability with environmental measures.

The introduction of measures to help new entrant farmers, more flexible working and managing exits from farming would help to secure the future farming workforce.

Our education system must also adapt to support a new generation of land managers through Rural Skills Level 4 and increased vocational training. STEM subjects must be a priority in order to allow farmers to harness technology, and implement future focused environmental strategies.

Scottish Conservatives Shadow Secretary for the Rural Economy Donald Cameron MSP said:

“The Common Agricultural Policy is not fit for purpose and we have an opportunity to design and implement a system far more responsive to the needs of Scotland’s farmers.

“The SNP continue to let farmers and crofters down, by being far more preoccupied with promoting independence than working with Scottish agriculture to grasp this opportunity; as a result farmers face uncertainty and anxiety.

“Our ‘New Approach to Scottish Farming’ sets out the principles of the system the Scottish Conservatives will set up post Brexit.

“Our focus is on practical, simple support that farmers can access easily and quickly.

“The Scottish Conservatives want government to support environmental measures, new technologies, new entrants to farmers, and flexibility for those in farming as well as those who wish to exit with dignity.

“Scotland’s unique landscape poses challenges and opportunities which we will embrace and continue with the same levels of funding.

“Above all, Scotland’s farmers deserve an ambitious programme of support and encouragement that will ensure our rural communities capitalise on the opportunity we now have.

“In contrast, the SNP seems content to wage constitutional warfare rather than address the serious, practical issues facing farmers today.”

Cameron Writes to West Coast Motors in Bid to Save Dunoon to Glasgow Route

Donald Cameron MSP with Cowal Councillor Yvonne McNeilly

Highlands and Islands MSP Donald Cameron has written to West Coast Motors in the hope of securing a future for the Dunoon to Glasgow bus service.

The service, which is due to be axed following an announcement by the Greenock-based bus operator McGills, is the only direct bus service between Dunoon and Glasgow.

West Coast Motors already operate a number of services across Argyll and Bute, including services between Campbeltown and Oban to Glasgow respectively.

Following the issue being raised by constituents with Donald Cameron, he has written to the operator to see if they would consider taking on the route.

In a letter to the operator, Donald Cameron said that he felt the loss of this service could act as a “disincentive for people wanting to visit Dunoon”.

Donald Cameron MSP said:

“The number of people who have been in touch with me about this issue really shows that the loss of this service will have an impact on Dunoon and the wider Cowal area.

While I respect the decision that McGill’s have taken, I hope that another operator may be able to come in and take on the route.

West Coast Motors already operate a number of similar services in the area, and while I would not want to put any undue pressure on them, I hope that they will at least consider it, so that this vital service can remain in place for the community.”

Cameron Challenges Minister Over Peak Time Ferry Proposals

Concerns over a proposal to increase ferry fares on peak time services has been raised by Scottish Conservative MSP Donald Cameron.

The idea, which is contained in the SNP Government’s Scottish Ferries Plan, is one of several proposals to ease passenger and vehicle congestion put forward in the document which maps out the future of Scotland’s ferry services until 2022.

However, the idea has been criticised by local communities across the Highlands and Islands, with some fearing that it could discourage people from living and working in Scotland’s island communities in particular.

Today in the Scottish Parliament, Highlands and Islands MSP Donald Cameron asked the Minister Paul Wheelhouse to give assurances that local people across the region would not be impacted by such a proposal.

Paul Wheelhouse responded by stating: “we recognise the concern that users of lifeline ferry services have about accessibility to services when they need them” and that he would “be happy to meet Donald Cameron to discuss his concerns about issues that have been raised directly with him.”

Donald Cameron MSP said following the exchange:

“There has been huge concern across the islands about this particular proposal found in the SNP’s ferries plan, and the minister did not adequately address the very significant worries which local residents have about the issue.

“At a time when the high cost of living remains a real threat to population levels in our island communities, the last thing we need are hikes in fares on lifeline ferry services.”

Concern as Western Isles “Miles Behind” Superfast Broadband Target

A recent survey has suggested that the Western Isles is miles behind achieving the 2021 target of every home and business having access to superfast broadband.

The survey, carried out by the consumer magazine Which? measured the broadband speeds of all of Scotland’s 32 local authorities in the year to September 2018, carrying out 277,575 speed tests.

It found that the average broadband speed in the Western Isles was a mere 11.5Mbps, which was considerably behind most mainland authorities.

The SNP Government defines superfast broadband as having “speeds greater than 30 Mbps”, and have made a commitment on several occasions to ensure that “every home and business in Scotland [has] access to superfast broadband by 2021”.

Although broadband and wider telecommunications policy is set by the UK Government, the SNP Government are responsible for the rollout of broadband through its ‘Digital Scotland Superfast Broadband’ programme.

Last year, the former Digital Minister Matt Hancock announced that due to the poor performance of the SNP Government in delivering superfast rollout, the delivery of the next phase of “full-fibre” rollout would be carried out between the UK Government and Scotland’s local authorities.

Scottish Conservative MSP Donald Cameron said:

“Ensuring that communities have fast and reliable broadband is an absolute necessity, and I firmly believe that in this day and age it is a service which people expect to have just like any other utility.

It is appalling that the Western Isles is miles behind achieving superfast broadband speeds of 30Mbps and it is very concerning that other local authorities in the Highlands and Islands are nowhere near achieving the 2021 target.

While the SNP engage in their own internal civil war, many people across the islands are being left behind, and it is high time Nicola Sturgeon got her priorities sorted.”

Cameron Calls for Scottish Government Backing for New Stornoway Port

Plans for a major investment in Stornoway were raised in the Scottish Parliament today following an exchange between Scottish Conservative MSP Donald Cameron and the Transport Secretary Michael Matheson.

The investment, which comes in the form of a new deep water port by the Stornoway Port Authority, was highlighted by the Highlands and Islands MSP as part of a wider question as to what support is being offered to help ports across the country expand and attract new business.

The Stornoway Port Authority published details of their 20-year Master Plan in December 2018, and indicated that it has begun the process of seeking a Harbour Revision Order, as well as other licences from Marine Scotland to undertake the work.

The Transport Secretary Michael Matheson said in response to Donald Cameron that “we are engaged with a number of different parties in those ports in order to look at what further assistance can be provided. In relation to the port in Stornoway, we will give consideration to that and work in partnership with the local authority and the port authority.”

Donald Cameron MSP said:

“There is clearly a huge opportunity for Stornoway to develop a port which will allow larger cruise ships to berth, and will in turn be a boost for the economy of the wider islands.

It is important that the Scottish Government gets fully behind this project, and indeed assists other ports in taking advantage of new business opportunities.

I welcome the positive message from the minister today, and hope that all local politicians can work together alongside the Port Authority to ensure that these plans come to fruition.”