Holyrood Highlights 24.01.20

My week has unfortunately been dominated by the disappointing news from HIAL that they plan to press ahead with the centralisation of air traffic control (ATC) services in Inverness. On Monday, I met local air traffic control staff who will be affected by this decision and who have repeatedly raised concerns around safety, reliability and the costs attached to this decision. These concerns have been ignored by HIAL’s management, who seem determined to press ahead, despite the risk of staff choosing to leave which in turn could put Orkney’s lifeline air services at risk. You can read about HIAL’s announcement here.

I did my best during Monday to answer emails on this as well as ongoing concerns about the threatened closure of Peedie Breeks Nursery, which risks serious knock on implications for a wide range of local businesses and services, including NHS Orkney. I also had a meeting with the Chief Executive Officer of Disability Equality Scotland, Morven Brooks, to discuss the work of the organisation, including support for access panels in Orkney and across the country. You can read more about the group here.

As well as preparing for the parliamentary week ahead, including Topical Questions and a Members Business Debate on the air traffic control centralisation, I also completed my column for the Orcadian, which you can read here.

I flew into Edinburgh on Tuesday morning and attended Justice Committee as usual. We continued taking evidence on the Children (Scotland) Bill from various groups involved in supporting children and young people going through the care sector. We also heard from the Justice Secretary on the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act Amendment Order. You can watch the full committee session here and read it here.

Afterwards, I had my regular weekly meeting with Lib Dem MSP colleagues, before making my way to the chamber for Topical Questions. There I pressed the Transport Secretary to call a halt to the ATC remote tower project to allow the plans to be island proofed and alternative options for modernisation to be fully considered. You can watch my questions here, the full session here and read it here. You can also read my further comments here.

I remained in the chamber for the Stage 3 debate on the Scottish National Investment Bank. The Bill was approved, which means that the bank should be operational by the end of the year. However, it was disappointing that the government didn’t use this opportunity to establish an investment bank that focuses efforts on tackling climate change, given the declaration of a climate emergency but failing to act when the opportunity arises. You can read more about the Bill here, watch the full session of the debate here and read it here.

Later, I attended an MSP briefing with HIAL management to discuss the decision taken in relation to air traffic control services. It was a useful opportunity for me again to raise concerns that have been highlighted to me by local ATC staff, councillors and others about the decision.

On Wednesday morning, I had an early phone call to discuss the fall out form the recent closure of OACAS. This is another issue that many people have contacted me about over recent weeks, expressing understandable concerns about the impact on those reliant on this important local service. I continue to have discussions with Orkney Health & Care, and others, to ensure individuals are still able to access services and support through other routes and that staff and volunteers are also being given any support needed at a challenging time.

I then met with representatives from the Renewable Infrastructure Development Group to discuss their offshore wind proposals and the potential development of hydrogen. You can read more about the group here.

Another meeting followed, this time with Dr Anna Souhami from the Scottish Centre for Crime and Justice Research (SCCJR) to hear about her research on policing in the Scottish islands. This was based on experience in Shetland, but has obvious overlap with Orkney. You can learn more about the SCCJR and their publications here and Dr Souhami’s research here.

I then joined MSP colleagues from across the parties for the launch of WWF Scotland’s new climate and agriculture report at a lunchtime briefing. The report, ‘Delivering on Net Zero- Scottish Agriculture,’ outlines the measures and requirements needed to help Scottish agriculture to reach net zero emission targets by 2045. It was interesting to hear the panel, including former NFUS President, Nigel Miller talk through how these measures might be delivered differently in different parts of the country. You can read the report here and learn more about the work of WWF Scotland here.

I used the remainder of the afternoon and into the evening to deal with various casework issues, make some calls and go through my inbox. Unfortunately, this prevented me from attending the Cross-Party Group on Japan, where the Consul General of Japan and other speakers offered views on the year ahead. You can read more about the CPG, including minutes of previous meetings, here.

Thursday began with a meeting with Dr Keith Baker from Common Weal regarding proposals to establish a Scottish Energy Development Agency to decarbonise Scotland’s energy networks. It was useful to hear how the agency might work in providing a strategic overview and direction. You can learn more about the proposal here and about Common Weal here.

I then went along to a briefing by the Prospect Union on HIAL’s remote tower project, which was useful ahead of the Members Debate that afternoon. Prospect put forward their concerns about the project, particularly around the threat to jobs and the damage it could do to island communities.  

At FMQs, Jackson Carlow began by questioning Nicola Sturgeon about the state of Scotland’s police stations, following reports of collapsing roofs, leakages and other disrepair. Meanwhile, Richard Leonard focused on figures showing a rise in debt levels for Scotland’s students, particularly those from lower income backgrounds. You can watch the full session here and read it here.

This week, Willie Rennie used his question to call for an investigation into the welfare services being made available to Scotland’s police officers. This follows the high numbers of police officers who are reportedly experiencing poor mental health and, in some circumstances, have committed suicide. You can watch Willie’s question here.

I remained in the Chamber to take part in a Members Business Debate, led by my colleague Beatrice Wishart, on the centralisation of air traffic control services. I reiterated the deep frustrations felt by ATC staff over the decision and the lack of meaningful consultation. You can watch my contribution here, the full debate here and read it here. You can read my full comments here.

I then had a brief meeting with colleagues from the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body, before returning to my office to catch up on emails and casework for the remainder of the afternoon.

Today, I have had some time at the constituency office to deal with casework. I also met with Robbie Ross and Paul Livingstone from Police Scotland who are in Orkney to deliver a Cybercrime Safety Workshop, but also took the opportunity to visit schools, meet businesses and talk to the local social work team. Orkney has unfortunately experienced high rates of cybercrime in the past and it is an issue that I have previously raised with Police Scotland and the Scottish Government. It was therefore encouraging to see workshops being delivered to help businesses and individuals become more aware of online threats, find out what support is available to them and learn how to best protect themselves against cybercrime. You can learn more about the Cyber Resilience programme here.

This evening, I am delighted to once again to join Robbie Fraser in co-hosting the annual Orkney Sports Awards. The event brings together athletes, coaches, officials and volunteers from a variety of sports across the county to recognise and celebrate their achievements over the last 12 months. The ceremony is always a highlight of the sporting calendar and this year promises to be another enjoyable evening. You can see a list of the nominees in each category here and keep track of the winners during the evening on the Orcadian Facebook page here.

Next Week

I will have further meetings with HIAL over the remote towers project and will be attending an informal discussion with the Professional Footballers Association on Wednesday. I have a justice sub-committee meeting on policing on Thursday and I will be attending the Highlands and Islands Students Association Conference in Inverness on Friday.

As ever, my full diary is here while “This Week in the Scottish Parliament”, a weekly update from the Scottish Parliament, can be found here. You can also view motions that I have submitted to parliament this week here and questions that I have tabled here.

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