Holyrood Highlights 22.12.2017

My weekly update on my work as Orkney's MSP. To receive these weekly emails straight into your inbox, email me at [email protected] 

On Monday I had a number of meetings with constituents, as well as with Orkney Islands Council officials to discuss both the fuel poverty strategy and a range of education-related issues.

On Tuesday morning, I travelled south to attend the Justice Committee where we took evidence on the budget from the Lord Advocate and Crown Agent, before considering various Public petitions and finalising our Stage 1 report on the Civil Litigation (Expenses and Group Proceedings) (Scotland) Bill. You can read more here

Following the weekly meeting with Liberal Democrat colleagues, I headed to the Chamber to ask a topical question about the deployment of armed police and the use of tasers. I asked the Justice Secretary, Michael Mathieson, for assurances that consideration will be given to scaling back the deployment of armed police and tasers in the event of threat levels reducing. I also raised concerns about the proposal that armed officers might attend, for example, domestic disputes, where the presence of an armed officer might actually heighten tensions. You can read the transcript here or watch the exchanges here.

After Topical Questions, I stayed in the chamber for a government statement on broadband. The Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and Connectivity, Fergus Ewing MSP outlined plans to deliver superfast broadband to 100%of premises by 2021.  He also confirmed that the Highlands & Islands, Aberdeen, Dundee and Angus will be one of three separate ‘regions’ when contracts are tendered in due course and that £384m would be allocated to cover delivery of the R100 commitment across this ‘region’. While Mr Ewing’s recognition that rural and island areas must be prioritised, he provided little detail as to how this would be achieved. Following the statement, I called on the Scottish Government to provide opportunities for smaller operators to help deliver the ‘Reaching 100%’ (R100) broadband programme. You can read the transcript here, watch the exchanges here or read my comments here.

In the afternoon the Parliament debated Stage 1 of the Social Security Bill. Among other points, my colleague Alex Cole-Hamilton MSP confirmed Scottish Liberal Democrat support for the principle that people should have a right, not just the opportunity to access independent advocacy in the same way that this right is written into the Mental Health (Care and Treatment) Scotland Act 2003. I was pleased to see the bill pass this first stage and you can read the transcript here or watch the debate here.

Meantime, I spent the afternoon addressing casework. I also turned my attention to writing my column for this week’s The Orcadian, which you can find here.

In the evening, I attended a number of parliamentary receptions including one on the opportunities for Scottish ports from decommissioning in the oil and gas sector and another celebrating the 10th anniversary of Street Pastors.

On Wednesday morning, I first had a conference call with the Chief Executive of HIAL regarding a local staffing issue. I then spent the rest of the morning dealing with casework, preparing my speech for a debate that afternoon and discussing with colleagues in other parties my plans to lodge an amendment to the budget, forcing the government to deliver its promises for fair funding for our internal ferries. I continued on this theme after lunch, when I used Portfolio Questions to again press the issue, this time with the Transport Minister, Humza Yousaf. I asked Mr Yousaf whether or not he believed that the cost of delivering internal ferry services was putting a disproportionate financial burden on the local Councils. He refused to answer and even went on to deny any responsibility. You can read the transcript here, watch the exchanges here or read my comments here.

The rest of my afternoon was then spent in the chamber. First, it was a statement on the Scottish Government’s Energy Strategy, which can be found here. In my question to the Energy Minister, I pressed him to ensure the forthcoming Warm Homes Bill was ambitious on energy efficiency. I also urged him to address the surcharge on energy bills for customers in the north of Scotland, which is exacerbating fuel poverty in places like Orkney.  You can read more here. You can read also read transcript here or watch the exchanges here.

The Transport Minister then returned to the Chamber to delivera statement on ferry procurement where it was confirmed that a decision on extending the contract for the Northern Isles service would now not be taken until Spring 2018. This delay is doing nothing to help focus attention on the improvements we need to see in these lifeline services and how these can be delivered. You can read the transcript here, watch the exchanges here or read my comments here.

To round the day off, I spoke in the Stage 3 debate on the Wild Animals in Travelling Circuses (Scotland). In my speech, I welcomed the steps taken by the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee and the government to address problems with definitions, that I had raised during the stage 1 debate. This ban is a welcome move, and secured unanimous support across the parliament at decision time. Information on the Bill can be found here. You can read the transcript of my speech here, or watch it here.

On Thursday morning I dealt with casework in my office and undertook interviews with broadcasters for stories over the Christmas season. I also learnt of news that the MV Hamnavoe will be replaced with a freight vessel when it goes off for planned maintenance in the new year. This is not a suitable replacement on a lifeline route, a point I made during an interview with Radio Orkney where I called on the Transport Minister to use his influence to deliver a more acceptable solution. You can read my comments here.

I then headed to the chamber for General Questions where I asked the Health Secretary to ensure NHS Orkney is able to redeploy the full amount of the resource it currently pays to NHS Grampian for services it is looking to secure from other health boards in a bid to tackle lengthy delays. Ms Robison said she was happy to meet me to discuss this further and I’ll be taking up this offer in the new year. You can read the transcript here, watch the exchanges here or read my comments here.

First Minister’s Questions was next up. Ruth Davidson raised the lack of a specialist programme to recruit graduates into priority teaching subjects, despite earlier government commitments. Richard Leonard pressed the First Minister on the state of the Scottish economy and her government’s economic policy in the draft budget. Willie Rennie raised delays in mental health care with 10,000 young people having had their mental health treatment delayed. You can watch proceedings here, or read the transcript here.

After FMQs, I met with the Scottish Fire and Rescue Serviceto discuss developments locally in Orkney, including progress in completing upgraded training facilities at Kirkwall airport. I spent the rest of the afternoon catching up on emails and making calls before flying home last night on a diverted route via Dundee airport due to fog at Edinburgh Airport. A big thank you to the Loganair crew and staff at Kirkwall airport for their efforts in getting us home.

This morning I visited the Royal Mail Sorting Office in Kirkwall. This is always an exceptionally busy time of the year and it was good to be able to thank all of the staff for their phenomenal efforts. This afternoon I spent my time addressing casework and tidying up loose ends before the Christmas holidays.

Next week:

Please note this week is the last week before the Christmas recess and the Orkney Parliamentary Office will be closed from today, Friday 22 December 2017 to Wednesday 3 January 2018 (inclusive). A reminder you can view “This Week in the Scottish Parliament”, a weekly update from the Scottish Parliament by clicking here.

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