This week started in the Kirkwall office with the usual series of calls with parliamentary colleagues and my office to discuss the week ahead. I then had a meeting with senior representatives Bank of Scotland to discuss the closure of the Stromness branch later this year. The planned closure of the last bank in Stromness is undoubtedly a blow to the local community. Unfortunately, it seems clear that the decision to close the branch will not be overturned. However, I was keen to stress that there are issues regarding ongoing access to services for businesses and personal customers that still need to be addressed, such as the case for retaining a cashpoint facility in the centre of town. I will continue to press Bank of Scotland on these issues and encourage anyone directly affected by this closure to get in touch.
Later in the morning I had a meeting with the Scottish Ambulance Service to discuss ongoing issues surrounding the provision of community first responders in the isles. Given the vital role community responders play in helping keep our communities safe, it is concerning that some first responders are considering leaving the service for a variety of reasons. I reiterated to the SAS that first responders deserve to receive consistent support and care needs to be taken not to overload responders with responsibilities that are more appropriately carried out by medical professionals. I'm planning a joint meeting between the SAS, NHS Orkney and local community councils next month to ensure we can find a sustainable, long-term provision.
In the afternoon, between dealing with casework and making a number of calls, I had a catch up meeting with the parliament's Non Government Bills Unit who are supporting my Members Bill on Assisted Dying for Terminally Ill Adults. On the same issue I then met with representatives from the Scottish Youth Parliament who are keen to support my Members Bill and recently raised this at their annual meeting with the Scottish Cabinet. On Monday evening I crossed over on the MV Alfred to travel down to Edinburgh.
Once back in the office on Tuesday morning I had meetings with the Presiding Officer team, Parliamentary Bureau and then with my Scottish Lib Dem MSP colleagues. Later in the afternoon I caught up on emails while tuning into Topical Questions which this week focused on the ongoing ferries fiasco and the crisis in emergency care with new records on A&E waiting times, avoidable deaths and cancer referrals. You can watch Topical Questions here and read the transcript here.
I was then in the Chair for a Health and Social Care Committee Debate on perinatal mental health, which you can also watch here and read here. Once out of the Chair I headed back to the office where I was interviewed by BBC Radio Orkney about the need for customers to check and submit meter readings to avoid the risk of being charged the new higher rates for energy already used ahead of the new price cap which came into force today. The increase in energy costs is a serious worry and I would encourage anyone with questions or concerns to get in touch. There are also a range of organisations who are ready to help, including THAW Orkney here, Home Energy Scotland here and Citizens Advice Scotland here.
After a stage one debate on candidacy rights of foreign nationals in the local elections, which you can watch here and read here, I was in the Chair for the Members’ Business debate on Commonwealth Day 2022, which again you can watch here and read here. Later in the evening I had a catch-up meeting with cross-party MSP colleagues who are supporting my Members Bill on Assisted Dying for Terminally Ill Adults.
I spent Wednesday morning catching up on emails and dealing with casework before I chaired the monthly meeting of the parliament's Conveners Group. In the afternoon there was a Covid-19 update from the First Minister, who announced the phased lifting of restrictions next month, with the legal requirement to wear a face covering in places of worship ending on Monday and in public places and transport ending on Monday 18 April. You can watch the First Minister's statement here and read it here. Afterwards there was portfolio questions on Health & Social Care and Social Justice, Housing & Local Government, which you can watch here and read here. I had the opportunity during Health Questions to raise with the Cabinet Secretary the concerns over support for community first responders in the isles. Humza Yousaf acknowledged the issue and confirmed he would monitor developments as discussions are taken forward. You can read more of my comments here.
I was then back in the Chair for a Ministerial Statement on Moray Maternity Services, which you can watch here and read here. Ahead of my attendance on BBC Debate Night later in the evening in Stirling, I had a meeting with colleagues to discuss the issues of the day. Naturally the biggest story of the week and the first question was on the continued unfolding of the ferries fiasco at Fergusons shipyard, following the damming Audit Scotland report last week which found a "multitude of failings" into the two CalMac ferries which remain undelivered and two and half times over budget. This has been shockingly handled by a succession of SNP Ministers and the politically driven process has led to a scandalous waste of taxpayers' money and still no ferries. Accountability for the "multitude of failings" highlighted by Audit Scotland rests with the First Minister and an independent public inquiry is now required to establish the truth about what has gone so badly wrong. Ultimately it is islanders who have been left high and dry by this fiasco and they deserve far better as lives and livelihoods depend on the lifeline services provided by these ferries. You can watch this week's Debate Night here.
On Thursday morning I caught up on emails and casework before attending a Q&A session with a group of young John Smith scholar students, currently interning with various MSPs. You can find out more about the John Smith Centre and this programme here. I then had a meeting with my Presiding Officer colleagues before the start of chamber business which began with General Questions, which you can watch here and read here. It was then time for First Minister's Questions where again the main issue raised by opposition leaders was over the ferries fiasco. You can watch FMQs here and read the transcript here.
After a bite of lunch and catching up on emails I was back in the Chair for portfolio questions on Constitution, External Affairs and Culture, which you can watch here and read here. Afterwards there was a Ministerial Statement on Interim Principles for Responsible Investment in Natural Capital, on which I was able to ask a question about government targets on the rewilding of publicly owned land. You can watch the statement here and read it here. This was followed by another Ministerial Statement, this time on Scotland’s Vision for Trade, again you can watch here and read here. The final item of business was a stage one debate Miners’ Strike Pardons Bill, which I chaired. You can watch it here, read it here and find out more about the bill here. The bang of the gavel marked the start of Easter recess with parliament returning on Tuesday 19 April.
On Friday I stayed in Edinburgh where I kept busy catching up on casework and made a number of calls. I also had a catch-up meeting with NHS Orkney interim chief executive, Michael Dickson where we covered a wide range of issues from Covid to first responders; breast screening services to the welcome resumption of the Macmillan unit within the Balfour.