Following is the latest edition of Holyrood Highlights. Please email [email protected] to have this update sent to you weekly.
Monday morning was spent dealing with casework before heading off to St Margaret’s Hope Primary School to take part in reading sessions with various classes. This is part of Save the Children’s Read On Get On campaign aimed at ensuring that all pupils leaving primary school are confident readers. I even got away with reading The Grinch Who Stole Christmas before the end of November.
I had to cut short the visit to the Hope school for a conference call with senior management at the Civil Aviation Authority and my colleagues Alistair Carmichael and Tavish Scott. This discussion enabled us to relay some of the concerns that are being expressed about the performance of Loganair and to seek assurances that these concerns are taken seriously by the airline and the regulator. The CAA confirmed that Loganair’s services meet European safety requirements and further clarified that they remain in close, on-going contact with Loganair. You can read more here.
Monday also saw confirmation that wave energy developer, Aquamarine Power were ceasing trading. I renewed my calls for the £10million allocated to the now unattainable Saltire Prize to be made available immediately to support the wave and tidal energy industry. You can read more here.
On Tuesday morning I flew down to Edinburgh (on time, I’m pleased to say) for an Education & Culture Committee session on student finance. We heard evidence from NUS Scotland, Universities Scotland and the colleges about problems faced by college students through a lack of certainty about grant funding and the effect that the government’s shift from grants to loans has had on university students from poorer backgrounds who now shoulder more of the overall debt burden. You can watch the committee here.
The first item of business in the debating chamber on Tuesday afternoon was topical questions where I questioned the Government about the revelation over the weekend that the GIRFEC (Getting It Right For Every Child) Programme Board had quietly been disbanded more than 18 months ago. This board was responsible for implementation of the Named Person legislation which is set to come into force next year. You can read more about that here. It is concerning that this board was disbanded without Ministers bothering to inform Parliament. I have submitted further parliamentary questions on this but meantime you can read the exchanges in parliament here and or watch the exchanges here.
I stayed in the Chamber for the other topical question, which was on the announcement by the Scottish Government that the Basic Payment Support to farmers is to be made in two instalments with payments likely to be delayed well into the new year. The consequences for cash flow for many farm and related businesses could be serious. You can read what was said here.
The afternoon was then spent working on casework and drafting my latest parliamentary report, due out in mid-December. This will be the final report of this parliamentary session ahead of next May’s elections and I hope you find it of interest.
Wednesday started with a Scottish Parliament Corporate Body meeting before again taking time throughout the day to work on my next parliamentary report. I also used Wednesday afternoon to draft amendments to the Scottish Governments Education Bill which is currently at stage 2 and going through the Education Committee. These focus on the aspects relating to the rights of those with additional support needs.
In the evening, I attended a reception to mark 50 years of Highlands and Islands Enterprise (and its predecessor, HIDB). It was a well-attended event with guests from right across the region, including a strong Orkney contingent. The opportunity to reflect on the successes of an organisation that has undoubtedly helped stimulate economic development in the Highlands and Islands was very welcome. Also worthy of note has been the turnaround in population retention. More on what the last 50 years has brought can be found here.
Thursday morning I flew back to Orkney early to take part in the Orkney Tourism Conference held at the Picky. I joined the panel discussion at the end of the event, but was very interested to hear about the opportunities and challenges presented to our tourism businesses operating in ‘a digital age’. The event also saw the launch of the latest tourism brochure, more details of which can be found here.
As for First Minister's Questions, in my absence, I was pleased to see my colleague, Willie Rennie return to the issue of mental health, calling on the Scottish Government to invest more to tackle mental health waiting times. You can read the transcript of the exchanges here and watch it here.
Today, I spent a frantic hour up at The Orcadian offices signing off my parliamentary report before flying off to catch KGS under 15s football team in the third round of the Scottish Schools Cup. Although I missed the end I was delighted to hear they went through on penalties. Congratulations to the whole team and good luck in the next round.
This afternoon I hosted the latest Northern Isles Digital Forum in Kirkwall. The Forum was set up jointly with Alistair Carmichael three years ago. It offers a chance for the public to hear and ask questions about the on-going work to improve broadband and mobile phone coverage within the county. My thanks to Highlands and Islands Enterprise, BT, Vodafone and Cloudnet Solutions (who are currently developing Orkney’s own White Space solution) for their participation. If you would like more details about what was discussed or future events, please get in touch.
Later today, I joined others at an event to celebrate the contribution made by Helen Moss, who is stepping down from her role as head of Relationships Scotland Orkney. Helen has been a real driving force and will be sadly missed. It was then a mad dash through to Stromness, where I am delighted to have been invited along to have Christmas dinner (in November?!) with the Hamnavoe Carers group.
As this is the last week in November for Holyrood Highlights, I would to again plug Movember. Movember challenges men to change their appearance and the face of men’s health by growing a moustache. It helps raise awareness and funds for cancers that affect men. Please get a check-up with your GP and consider making a donation to a good cause at https://uk.movember.com/donate
Next week I will visit Boots in Kirkwall and also attend meetings of the Intra Island Air services and with local Befrienders in Orkney. In Edinburgh, the Education Committee will start dealing with amendments on the Education Bill on Tuesday and I will be speaking in the chamber debate on education on Wednesday. It is then off to Brussels for meetings with the European Commission and Parliament on a range of key issues in relation to Agriculture, Fisheries and more. For everything else, please check my diary