Tuesday, 29 April 2008

Community right to buy needs urgent pick-me-up


Rob Gibson SNP MSP for Highlands and Islands has written to Scottish Government Ministers seeking to declutter the road from community interest to community land purchases.

Mr Gibson, a long-standing land reform campaigner, backed the Community Woodlands Association review of the Community Right To Buy when he attended the seminar last Friday [25th April] in Abriachan Village Hall.

He said afterwards,

"I back a review of the effectiveness of the land reform laws passed since 1999 for they have delivered far too few acres to community use. Meanwhile there is substantial evidence that short of a review, or any future legislation that might arise, civil service procedures need urgent decluttering.

"Already the Forestry Commission has simplified form filing for forest land development, i.e. they have dismissed the category of late applications from their new practice which don't apply in the crofting right to buy procedures. I want to see the Community Assets Branch of the Scottish Government take speedy action to devise and offer user friendly forms and procedures to all who apply for community right to buy. At the Abriachan meeting it was rammed home time and again that numerous complaints have arisen and those successful count their lucky stars.

"Further down the line the loopholes open to land owners enabling them to avoid community purchase must be removed, as does the expense of the appeals procedure which should not need to heard in a Sheriff Court. Conveying the land of Scotland to local people is the best way to develop local community confidence. The pace of land reform must be stepped up again under the SNP Government."


Monday, 21 April 2008

Gibson extols benefits of creative industries

News release
Immediate release

Highlands and Islands SNP MSP Rob Gibson has outlined the way in which culture and the creative arts can stimulate the economy at home whilst raising the profile abroad.

Mr Gibson's motion on the importance of the creative industries passed unanimously at the SNP's Conference on Sunday.

In his speech Mr Gibson extolled the benefits which the creative arts had brought to the economy throughout the nation...

"The creative industries employ 100,000 people and generate £5 billion annual turn over or 4% of Scottish GDP today. Music alone brings £6 million into the Shetland economy and Iain Hamilton of Highlands and Islands Labels confirmed recently that there are around 800 people working in this sector in the Highlands and it is worth £24 million a year to the area's economy."

He said that meant (according to statistics from Scottish Enterprise):

"Outwith London and the South East, nowhere else in the UK has a greater share of creative industries employment, and it’s going to get larger. Over the next three years the sector is expected to grow at 10% per annum in Scotland..."

He also said that cross cultural experiences can make a huge impact in the world as the play Black Watch had already done on three continents.

"Scotland is easily recognised and I have found that many countries want our cultural output. In turn we should be inviting as many nations as possible to come perform here."

"One example is the Basque sport and music group Nazioen Mundua - World of Nations which performed so successfully in Inverness last month that is now making twinning links with the local Highland Games."

Mr. Gibson said that Scottish artists were some of the best ambassadors that the country had and that their talents portrayed the nation in a positive light. He said that that the 2009 Year of Homecoming offered a great chance for people to come here and enjoy the real Scotland.


copy of motion put to (and passed by) conference:

Conference welcomes the growing evidence that Scotland's creative industries are becoming a core economic sector in 21st century Scotland.

We note that Scottish performers and artists receive a very warm welcome in many countries across the world - they are truly cultural diplomats winning new and future partners in business vital to Scotland's continued prosperity.

Conference urges the Scottish Government to extend the scope of its Expo fund to promote Scottish-based productions premiered in the Edinburgh festivals to include comparable acts premiered at Celtic Connections.

Conference also recognises the unique contribution and vibrancy of our contemporary traditional arts, and calls on the proposed new body, Creative Scotland, to make an enhanced commitment to fund the development of this sector. This would present the perfect opportunity to encourage pride in a strong, fair and inclusive national identity.

Proposed by Rob Gibson MSP
Seconded by Pete Wishart MP

Friday, 18 April 2008

Gibson welcomes transport statement

News release
Immediate release


Highlands and Islands SNP MSP Rob Gibson has welcomed comments from the Transport Secretary regarding rail services to North and South of Inverness.

Mr Gibson welcomed the announcement of new services between Inverness and Wick and Tain and said he hoped that work could be done to speed up the journey time on the Far North Line.

He also questioned what progress was being made to create a integrated transport experience. The Minister responded that he had raised the issue with Network Rail. He also related his experience of not being able to travel to Wick by train for a meeting. He said by the next time he was due to be in Caithness he hoped that there would be a sensible integrated timetable so that he can could travel there by train.

Mr Gibson said:

"Stewart Stevenson's comments are extremely positive for travelers on the Far North Line. The commitment to extra services and a promise to look at integrated times for the line is good news."

"What we have now is a Transport Minister with a genuine interest and commitment in rail travel in all parts of the country and is rightly scunnered by the state of the Far North Line. I will continue to press the issue of reducing the rail journey time to and from Caithness making it fit for the 21st century."


Wednesday, 16 April 2008

National Food Policy showing the way ahead

News release
Immediate release


Highlands and Islands SNP MSP Rob Gibson has pointed to two reports on farming as to why Scotland needs a national food policy for the future food security of the country.

His comments come after UNESCO published a report on the future of farming saying that more local food production using sustainable, natural and ecological farming methods, as well as safeguards to protect rapidly dwindling resources is needed to arrest the soaring food pricing which are leading to riots world wide. Further support came from the EU which published findings which raised grave concerns over the safety of Brazilian beef.

MR Gibson said:

"Each report makes the case for local clean food production and to be as self sufficient as possible. That is what lies at the heart of the development of a Scottish food policy. The Scottish Government is on the right track with this policy which could see Scotland prosper well into the future."

Mr Gibson said he was greatly encouraged to read that a UNESCO food expert calling for an 'agriculture less dependent on fossil fuels and that favours the use of locally available resources' and that scientists said they saw 'little role for GM, as it is currently practiced in feeding the poor on a large scale'.

"This backs up the idea that, as it stands, GM offers more dangers than it does opportunities for feeding the world. Indeed it points the way more organic way of farming, as opposed to large scale industrial farming. Scotland with its strong world-wide reputation for clean, safe and tasty food, is in an ideal position to lead the world in the new farming direction which is needed. I have faith in farmers and Government that we can be trail blazers for UNESCO and show the world how it should be done."

Commenting on the dangers of Brazilian beef he said:

"That is why a National Food Policy for Scotland cannot be compromised by imported beef of doubtful health status being offered by supermarkets on shelves next to prime Scotch beef which is top class. I will be writing to Richard Lochhead to raise the issue."


Sunday, 13 April 2008

Gibson lodges Orkney Stone Motion

News release
Immediate release


Highlands and Islands SNP MSP Rob Gibson has lodged a motion in the Scottish Parliament congratulating Historic Scotland on commemorating the first man in space in a stone tablet at Skara Brae.

The Stone, which now takes its place on the time line and which leads from the reception area to the Neolithic village, was unveiled at a well attended ceremony last Saturday (12/04 ).

Mr Gibson, who addressed the gathering including the Deputy Governor of Ugra Province, the Russian Consul General in Scotland as well as Cosmonaut Grescko, (who had worked with Yuri Gagarin), said:

"It was a fantastic day. By my count there were about 7 TV crews there, the bulk of which were Russian. As I said in my speech, the unveiling of the stone is about friendship and links. Given the reaction of the Orkney community to the Russian delegation, I am sure that bonds across the continent will strengthen."

"Historic Scotland deserves huge credit for agreeing to include the achievement of the first man in space on their timeline. I was first contacted by tour guide Bob Miller and Russian documentary film maker Alexander Korobko to petition Historic Scotland for an inclusion of a stone to recognise Yuri Gagarin's place in history as the first man in space. I knew it made sense and eventually so did Historic Scotland, and the excellent ceremony the other day coupled with the worldwide exposure that both Orkney and Skara Brae received proved to be so."

"The stone now sits equally and proudly alongside the stone which commemorates the first man on the moon. I am sure that the increasing numbers of visitors to Skara Brae will be proud to see a stone which represents their nation as they make their way to the village itself."

"Given the recent discovery of possible links between Orcadian and Slavic DNA there is considerable interest in the inter cultural dialogue between these two important areas of Northern Europe."


Note to editor:

Copy of Motion
That the Parliament congratulates Historic Scotland for commemorating the first man in space on a stone tablet in the timeline that leads from the reception centre to Skara Brae neolithic village; recalls that this groundbreaking achievement by Yuri Gagarin and the Soviet space programme is set equally and proudly alongside the stone which marks the first man on the moon from NASA; commends Historic Scotland for recognising and commemorating these pioneering achievements in its timeline, and further notes the likely Slav ancestry of residents of Skara Brae built around 3100 BC and the pride of latterday visitors who recognise these cultural links in our prehistory.

Wednesday, 9 April 2008

Gibson Welcomes Gordonbush go-ahead

News release
Immediate release


Highlands and Islands SNP MSP Rob Gibson has welcomed the announcement that Gordonbush wind farm has been given the go-ahead. The development will produce 87.5 megawatts of power - enough to power 35,000 homes.

Mr Gibson said,

"The approval for the development for Gordonbush is great news. The size of the wind farm is sensibly scaled to the area in which it is situated. It is also reassuring to see that special conditions (such as development of a habitat managing plan to minimize the affect on local bird life) have been stipulated so that the development does not adversely affect the environment in which it will sit."

"The commitment to community benefit will be a real boon to the area as well. 35,000 homeowners will benefit from clean and sustainable energy whilst the communities around the development will benefit financially."

"Gordonbush could be a model for other areas in the north on how to develop sensibly, sited and to scale wind farms."

Mr Gibson welcomed the step change in output from the development which is situated wholly in Sutherland. He pointed out that the Gordonbush development would produce an extra 40MW more than the nearest wind development in Sutherland. He said that increased production would lead to increased profit from the site which would lead increases in community benefit as well as making a strong contribution on the fight against climate change.


Tuesday, 8 April 2008

Gibson Highlights concerns over Test Centre Closures

News Release
Immediate release

Highlands and Islands SNP MSP Rob Gibson has lodged a motion in the Scottish Parliament calling for a rethink on the closure of a motor cycle test centre in Elgin.

The motion states that the plan to close 51 test centres across Scotland (including the one in Elgin) will cause increased pressures on those planning to sit their tests.

He said:

"If the proposed closures go ahead then test sitters throughout Scotland will be faced with increases in journey times, costs and complications."

"This will really hit motor cyclists in Elgin. If Elgin closes then test sitters will face a 4 hour round trip (including a one hour test), as well as an estimated extra cost of £250 (when motor cycle hire, the fact the instructor is with you, as well as petrol and refreshments are added). This will increase the risk of fatigue and cause an unnecessary drain of finances there surely must be a rethink."

"There are also concerns over the length of waiting lists at some test centers at the moment. If there are going to be only 12 left as opposed to the current 63 then it is fair to assume that the waiting times will increase. In an era of high fuel costs, motor bikes are going to become a more attractive option. It seems a strange time for shutting down the vast majority of centers in Scotland."

Mr Gibson will also write to the UK Transport Minister to raise the issue.



Copy of Motion
Date of Lodging: 7 April 2008
Short Title: DSA Motorcycle Centres
S3M-01678 Rob Gibson (Highlands and Islands) (SNP): That the Parliament notes with concern the decision by the Driving Standards Agency (DSA) to close 51 motorcycle test centres in Scotland; considers that these closures will result in increased travel time, expense and complications to those wishing to pass their motorcycle tests; notes that the closure of the Moray motorcycle test centre in Elgin results in test-sitters enduring a four-hour round trip to their nearest test centre coupled with a one-hour test, as well as increased costs estimated at over £250; considers that the dangers of fatigue are greatly enhanced and calls on the DSA to reconsider closing test centres, such as Elgin’s, which would result in people’s safety being put in danger, and finally considers that the DSA should be promoting motorcycling as a greener mode of transport and should make it easier to take the test, not more difficult.

Friday, 4 April 2008

Gibson welcomes new autism guidance

News release
Immediate release

Highlands and Islands SNP MSP Rob Gibson has welcomed the Scottish Government approach to improve services to those affected by autism.

New guidance will be offered to enhance community health and social care services for people with autism. It will offer best practice examples as well as recommendations including awareness training for all staff and involving people with autism in the planning of services.

As part of the new approach an Autism Toolkit is being developed to offer guidance to education authorities and schools in identifying and supporting children and young people with autism. The Autism Toolkit, which offers advice to education authorities and schools in identifying and supporting children and young people with autism, is due to be launched later this year.

Commenting on the moves Mr Gibson said:

"It is extremely important that those that are affected by autism in Scotland have a strong and effective support mechanism around them and education is a key player in that structure. We need this help for people across the north and elsewhere."

"The new guidance will improve the services open to those affected by autism. It will lead to increased awareness of issues surrounding the condition. In the twenty first century ignorance or a lack of understanding on autism is not acceptable. So this new guidance will hopefully improve the services we provide as a community to people with autism."

"The autism toolkit, when published, should go some way to address how best to ensure young people with autism are given the maximum level of support."


Tuesday, 1 April 2008

Gibson looks forward to 'auspicous day'

News release
Immediate release


Highlands and Islands SNP MSP Rob Gibson said he will be happy to witness the unveiling of the stone on the Skara Brae Timeline which commemorates the first journey into space by a Russian.

It was an intervention by Mr Gibson with Historic Scotland last year which has lead to next week's prestigious ceremony and will see dignitaries from Russia in attendance.

Mr Gibson was first contacted by tour guide Bob Miller and Russian documentary film maker Alexander Korobko to petition Historic Scotland for an inclusion of a stone to recognise the fact that Russia and Yuri Gagarin were the first in space.

After an exchange of views with Historic Scotland HQ in Edinburgh they relented and said that a new stone would be placed on the timeline.

Mr Gibson said:

"This will be an auspicious day and I am looking forward to seeing the stone unveiled. Credit goes to Bob and Alexander for their determination and to Historic Scotland for recognising the immense achievement of the pioneering Russian space programme.

"The stone will be set equally and proudly alongside that which marks the first man on the moon. I am sure that the increasing numbers of visitors to Skara Brae will be proud and content to see a stone which represents their nation as they make their way to the village itself."


Note to editor:

Copy of photo of Bob Miller, Rob and Alexander Korobko (CEO Russian Hour TV) at Skara Brae pointing to the space where the stone is likely to be.

Below is PR from last year on the issue:

News Release
Immediate Use Sunday 12th August 2007
Skara Brae timeline should include Russian space dateline

Rob Gibson SNP MSP for Highlands and Islands has approached Historic Scotland HQ to back an addition to the Skara Brae timeline that recognises that the first journey into space was by a Russian.

He explained, “I have been approached by several parties in Orkney to try and get Historic Scotland HQ in Edinburgh to give the go-ahead to alter the Skara Brae timeline to recognise the feat of Yuri Gagarin as the first man in space.”

“The US moon landing has been placed on the timeline as a critical modern date but this has prompted Russians to suggest the inclusion of the first trip of man into space achieved 12 years earlier by a Russian and by Russian technology as equally worthy of note.”

“Increasing numbers of Russian visitors come to Orkney and they feel that their country’s achievement (of putting the first man in space) should be recognised on the timeline display at Skara Brae. The willingness by Russians such as satellite TV producer Alexander Korobko to pay for a new display board to include this fact makes sense. Of course I realise that any number of key dates could be suggested, however I believe recognition of the earlier Russian space achievement is perfectly sensible.

“I approached Historic Scotland for a speedy decision bearing in mind that it would be achieved at no cost, it has local support and that it offers sensitivity toward our Russian visitors who may well arrive from cruise ships in numbers that exceed Americans who visit Orkney's ancient heritage.”

“Ten days ago I was assured by their Inspectorate Liaison Officer, Victoria Ball, that she has asked their Properties in Care division (who are responsible for Skara Brae) to look into my suggestion. She said they would reply as soon as they are able when I pointed out that I shall be visiting Skara Brae on the afternoon of Wednesday 15th August.”

Mr Gibson has also had a short discussion with the Scottish Tourism Minister Jim Mather who indicated his support for the inclusion of the Russian achievement in the timeline.


Victoria Ball, Inspectorate Liaison Officer, Historic Scotland - 0131-668-8931
Note to editor:
A report on this subject appeared in the Observer 12/08 link is below or See “The Observer” in Scotland 12.08.07 page 22.

Gibson welcomes local government settlement

News release
Immediate release

Highlands and Islands SNP MSP Rob Gibson has welcomed the SNP Government's 4.8% rise in funding for Highland Council whilst managing to freeze the council tax.

News of the record rate of funding came following the Governments Finance Secretary John Swinney announcement to Parliament on the local government settlement. It showed that Highland Council is to receive £425,168 million.

Mr Gibson said the figures and new concordat between the Scottish Government and local authorities in Scotland signalled a new era for the nation in which devolution of power would really begin.

"Council tax will not rise, yet there will be increased funding for Highland Council – in this announcement everyone wins. Against the back ground of the tightest ever budget, John Swinney has played a master stroke."

In particular, Rob welcomed the commitment that was given to the third sector:

"The Secretary gave recognition about the important role that the third sector plays in society and economy. Funding will increase to £93 million and of that £30 million will go to social enterprises. This amounts to a firm commitment to those organizations and enterprises that make up the third sector."

He went on…

"No doubt we will hear the clarion calls of our rivals as they decry our budget and what it means for the region. However these calls should have a health warning with them as they will contain excessive hot air. Indeed the Labour and Lib Dem's will be intensely negative. They will scaremonger until the cows come home, however their claims will ring hollow as they have had 8 years to improve the Highlands and Islands and have failed."

"What is not in doubt is that this marks a new chapter for relations between the Government and Council. I see it as localism and increased democracy as well as benefiting people in the pocket. It a positive step into the future. Our opponents have nothing new to offer and their incessant scaremongering is typical of their doom and gloom outlook and collective lack of political imagination."


Gibson welcomes scrapping of student poll tax

News release
Immediate release

Rob Gibson MSP has welcomed the scrapping of the Graduate endowment.

The SNP Government policy of ridding students of £2,289 fee after they graduate was passed with support from the Lib Dems and Greens after an alliance between Labour and the Conservatives was forged to scupper the Bill.

Mr Gibson said:

"The vote in Parliament today will be greeted with gratitude and relief by students the length and breath of Scotland. It is an early Christmas present for them. I am glad that the Lib Dem's joined with the Greens to vote for this fair and just SNP

"The unholy and anti-student alliance between Labour and Conservatives would have condemned graduates this year and in future years to increased debts. I see no reason why Peter Peacock, Rhoda Grant, David Stewart, Mary Scanlon and Jamie McGrigor would want to increase the burden on students across the nation. Especially those that they represent in the north (as research has shown) often shoulder a greater burden of debt."

"The Labour Party talks about social justice; however, they had a great chance to practice what they preach today but fluffed their lines. It will be to their eternal shame that they did so."

During the debate on the subject Mr Gibson said that dropping the fees would help the country as well as students…

"If the graduate endowment is scrapped then it will remove fees of £2289 from about 50,000 students. That will help the economy of Scotland because it will give people a better chance to work and live here. If that is not a good product of a university education I don't know what is."

He went onto quote a trainee teacher from Argyll who contacted him about the graduate endowment. In her letter she wrote:

"I hope to graduate in February and intend to teach in Scotland….therefore the money paid on my behalf for my tuition fees will be going back into the education of our country."

He also questioned the efficacy of the Graduate Endowment saying:

"The Government has received only £57,000 out of the £26.3 million that has been added to student loans. That is a ridiculous return.

He ended by urging the Labour and Conservatives to listen to their conscience and support the bill, but alas to no avail.


Gibson welcomes Ports announcement

News release
Immediate release

Highlands and Islands SNP MSP Rob Gibson has welcomed the Forth Ports Authority decision to scrap any plans for ship to ship transfer of Russian crude oil in the Firth of Forth.

He said:

"This announcement is good news for Orkney as it will allow a steady build up of an entrepot hub scheme at Scapa Flow where the sheltered waters are the safe setting to continue a trade that has an unblemished record."

"Forth Ports do not admit the environmental dangers despite the huge community pressure and action by the Scottish Parliament to apply European law to safeguard bird and environmentally sensitive sites. I am glad that Orkney can now bid for this work."


Gibson seeks views on road safety

News release
Immediate release

Highlands and Islands SNP MSP Rob Gibson is calling on people from the North to give their views on how to make the road network safer.

His call comes after the Scottish Government announced that they will be consulting the public on the new 10 year road safety strategy.

Mr Gibson said:

"This is a chance to influence the road safety across the country and in the locality as well. In the Highlands tragedy strikes very often on the roads, devastating families and shaking communities. So this is a chance for local people to help give some inside information on what can be changed to the road network to lessen potentially fatal accidents."

"I hope that the consultation will allow for more original thinking on the matter of road safety. This includes changing driving habits. But it is clear that something radical needs to happen to cut down on the ever rising death tolls on our roads."

The consolation on a new Road Safety Strategy will run from February 1st until 25th April 2008. The Scottish Government aims to publish the strategy in Autumn 2008.


Note to Editor

Contact consultations at:

Address: Transport Directorate Area 2-F (North) Victoria Quay EDINBURGH, EH6 6QQ
Email: ian.c.robertson@scotland.gsi.gov.uk
Telephone: 0131 244 0848

Gibson welcomes inspired arts fund

News release
Immediate release

Highlands and Islands SNP MSP Rob Gibson has backed an announcement from The Scottish Arts Council that £8 million is to be made available for 'inspired' arts projects throughout the nation.

The Inspired fund (which comes from lottery sources saved up by SAC) will be available across the spectrum from main stream arts groups to amateur dramatics. As well as groups outside the arts world and will give priority to arts which are directed to the community and have a lasting legacy.

Commenting on the announcement Mr Gibson said…

"This offers a fantastic opportunity to arts and community bodies Highlands and Islands to have an inspirational idea turned into a reality. One thing is for sure that there is abundant creativity in every corner of the region which is very much tied in with the community. Therefore I expect that those in the arts in the North will get their fair share of this money, if they get their thinking caps on."

"I also welcome the fact that this fund will allow those outside the arts to be able to pitch ideas. It offers a truly open route for those to get their ideas across and leave a legacy which will benefit their community."

"This idea of community involvement is not a new one in the Highlands and Islands. The Féisian Movement is a prime example of an inspirational community arts event which excels in participation and excellence and has created some of the most exciting music acts in recent years. That is why I am sure that the fund will be warmly welcomed in the North and West."


Note to editor:

Outline planning application deadline 5th May 2008
Link to Scottish Arts Council PR on the fund: http://www.scottisharts.org.uk/1/funding/inspirefund.aspx

Gibson Welcomes Fairer Scotland Fund increase for Orkney

News release
Immediate release

Highlands and Islands SNP MSP Rob Gibson has welcomed figures which show that the Scottish Government spending for deprived areas in Orkney is due to rise until 2011.

An additional £310,000 will be spent over 3 years for Orkney's vulnerable community. It will mean that over £1 million will be made available to the Council until 2011.

Mr Gibson said:

"The funds prioritise money for areas of high multiple deprivation. The Government has provided stability on spending for the next 3 years. This means that organisations and charities will be given the backing and stability from the SNP to provide a vital service in communities that suffer high levels of depravation.

“During the budget process all we have heard from the opposition is doom and gloom. The scare stories and smears against SNP Councillors and MSP's has been nothing short of disgraceful.

"This is the best deal that local authorities have received from central Government since devolution – no mean feat when you consider that it was the worst financial deal that the Labour Government has given to Scotland since devolution.

"SNP Scottish Government has made provisions for a council tax freeze, which will be welcomed by the majority of people in Orkney. The Government will raise spending in the future for vulnerable groups. From my point of view both of these outcomes are welcome."


Gibson welcomes cash for Highland youth groups

News release
Immediate release

Highlands and Islands SNP MSP has welcomed the news that £84,000 is to be made available to youth projects in the Highland Region.

The money comes from a central fund of £3 million which is taken from the proceeds of crime.

The funding will go to projects which support young people involved or at risk from violence, alcohol, drugs or antisocial behaviour as well as support for initiatives such as youth drop-in services and residential, environmental and outdoor activities including climbing walls, skate parks, mountain bikes and canoes and yachts.

Youth groups and projects across the areas will be invited to apply for funding which will be distrusted by youthlinkscotland.

Mr Gibson said:

"This is the first time that the ill gotten gains of crime will go to funding youth initiatives. I like the fact that the money will go to helping the future generation."

"This scheme will widen the chances of youngsters in the North participating in activates that will stretch them mentally and physically. It will also fund services that will offer them support and comfort and may save some from following a path of anti-social behaviour and crime."

"If young people are involved and offered positive choices then the benefit is not just for them but also society as a whole. I am calling on those youth groups and organisations across the region to apply for funding to offer those opportunities to the youth of the area."


Note to editor:

YouthLink Scotland will administer the grant scheme. There will be two applications stages, with the first running in April/May 2008 with decisions taken by May 2008. The second stage will take place in August 2008 with decisions taken by mid-September 2008.

Gibson welcomes UHI announcement

News release
Immediate release


Highlands and Islands SNP MSP Rob Gibson has welcomed the recommendation from the Quality Assurance Agency that the University of the Highlands and Islands be given degree awarding powers as a giant step forward for the region.

A long standing supporter of UHI Rob (who is also vice convenor of the education Committee in Holyrood) said:

"This is fantastic news and a giant step forward for the whole of the Highlands and Islands. I am certain that in time this decision from the QAA will be seen as a momentous turning point in the future of the Highlands and Islands. It is history making stuff."

"Great praise must go to Professor Cormack and his team and all those associated with UHI both past and present who have worked tirelessly to achieve this result."

"This news, coming at the same time as the Scottish Funding Council for Further and Higher Education record £27.4 million award to the University, makes it a case for double celebration for UHI."

Commenting on the fact that approval from the Scottish Government and Privy Council is needed to complete the process Mr Gibson said:

"I would imagine that this will be a mere formality on both parts. I can't see any problems from either side. However, should it not go through I would imagine that there'd be a small scale rebellion in the Highlands!"


Gibson calls for increased languages provision at Culloden centre

News release
Immediate release


Rob Gibson has written to the National Trust for Scotland to ask why the new story of the Jacobite Rising at the Culloden centre is not in a wide range of languages.

The Highlands and Islands SNP MSP said:

"I visited the new centre and was very impressed by the displays and use of Gaelic in oral interactive displays. But I was surprised and shocked that the huge range of languages spoken by the surge in visitor numbers expected at the new Culloden centre is not matched by oral explanations on head sets but only on a series of summary leaflets in about ten languages.

"I recall the old centre's film presentation which you could appreciate in many tongues. It is surely a backward step that the new centre requires you to speak English or Gaelic to follow the state of the art displays.

"I previously met the NTS to ensure the full use of Gaelic in the new centre and I am full of praise for its use there. I was severely non-plussed when I asked to be told that most people who visit can speak English or Gaelic and that the summary leaflets were considered appropriate for people who spoke a range of world languages such as French, Japanese and Russian etc.

"I am now asking the NTS if there are plans to meet that need, if they have enough cash to achieve it and if this is in hand before the official opening this April on the battle's anniversary. As a welcoming nation Scotland has to show we can speak to other people in their own languages.


Gibson welcomes croft re-letting

News release
Immediate release


Highlands and Islands SNP MSP Rob Gibson has welcomed a decision by Balnagown Estate to re-let Croft R2150 Oldtown, Ardgay.

The confirmation came in a letter to Rob from the Crofters Commission Chief Executive Nick Reiter.

Mr Gibson had contacted the Crofters Commission after reports circulated that the 2.1 hectare property was to be broken up, decrofted by the estate and given over for housing development.

However after meetings between the Commission and Estate the latter confirmed that they would be re-letting the original property as one unit.

Mr Gibson said:

"This a great outcome. Nick Reiter and the Commission are to be congratulated on their intervention and the Balnagown estates too for their decision to re-let the property in its original state."

"For the future it is important that as much land as possible is kept for food production and croft land in the North and West is of the greatest importance. Low cost affordable housing is also important to the way of life in the Highlands and Islands but I have grave reservations to building on large areas of fertile land. There are enough barren areas in crofting communities where homes can be built."

"The Scottish Government is committed to developing Scottish food policy which will give the country greater self sufficiency. We can all see that food prices are rising and with climate change and the mad rush towards bio-fuels it will continue to do so. So what is imperative is that we do not sacrifice a self sufficient future by sacrificing our productive croft and farm land for further housing developments."


'Darling & Brown acting like feudal tax collectors' - Gibson

News release
Immediate release


An MSP who represents 95% of Scotland's whisky distilleries has lambasted the UK Labour Government for the budget day announcement of a 59p hike in tax for a bottle of whisky.

Highlands and Islands SNP MSP Rob Gibson accused Chancellor Alasdair Darling of orchestrating a smash and grab raid on the economic communities of North Scotland whilst offering them nothing in return.

"In some situations you have to ask yourself who benefits from such actions? In this situation I am not sure who benefits (apart from HM Treasury), but one thing is for sure the rural economy of the Highlands and Islands will not."

"Three days after the end of fair trade fortnight it is clear to Scotland and the world that the UK Government does not apply this sentiment to the Scottish whisky industry. Indeed what the Chancellor and the Prime Minister have done today is more in keeping with the actions of medieval feudal tax collectors as opposed to modern day practices."

"This announcement comes against the background of increased cost for the raw materials needed for whisky as well as energy costs. I cannot imagine another country in the world hammering a successful and world renowned business which is so important to the local economy and status as the way in which the UK
Government has done today. A 9% rise in tax increase is a big extra cost for distilleries which are investing and expanding to give better quality jobs in areas where unemployment is too high."

"A better solution would be for Holyrood to set and collect the tax and plough the money back into rural Scotland from whence it came. It is clear that Alasdair Darling regards Scotland's whisky industry as a cash cow which along with Scottish Oil revenue is cynically used to prop up a failing British economy."

"Make no mistake that the main losers in the Chancellor's announcement are the whisky producing communities of the Highlands and Islands. This will make no noticeable difference in the binge drinking culture in Scotland. The Chancellor is attacking communities as opposed to disorder through a price hike on cheap lager, cider and Alco pops."


Mixed reaction over Post Office outcome

News release


Highlands and Islands SNP MSP Rob Gibson has welcomed an announcement that Pulteney Post Office has been saved. However he has expressed discontent that the other Post Offices under threat in the Highlands were not.

Many community Post Offices were threatened after a cost cutting review was ordered into their services. However Pulteney was saved after a vigorous campaign by the community.

Mr Gibson said:

"This is great news for Pulteney and Wick itself. It is testament that the strong campaign fought from the grass roots truly did make the Post Office think again. But the UK Labour Government has a lot to answer for in letting the Post Office renege on services in so many vulnerable areas."

"The case to retain the post office in Pulteneytown was overriding. It will mean that older and people will not need to trek the long and steep route to the other side of town merely to access the services that they could have got on their doorsteps."

"It is extremely disappointing that that Post Offices choose to ignore public opinion and close those in Dingwall and Saltburn as well as others throughout the region."


Food sovereignty message as relevant in Scotland as Africa

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Rob Gibson SNP MSP for Highlands and Islands has welcomed the visit of an international food sovereignty expert to visit Dingwall auction mart and farmers market.

Last Saturday Rob welcomed the study visit of Patrick Mulvany Chair of the UK Food Group a network of NGOs concerned with global food and farming issues to the Highlands.

Rob said:

“Patrick and I agreed that the SNP policy to create a National Food Policy can play an important role in kick starting the food sovereignty debate here and very practically helping to ensure willing home buyers for the quality produce of Highland farms and crofts.

“I met Patrick on Thursday in Holyrood and he then met other MSPs including Bill Wilson and John Scott. On Friday he met with the Scottish Crofting Foundation. It is clear that his work is as relevant in countries as diverse as Scotland and Mali in West Africa. Localised food systems and valuing food producers is key to the future of each of our economies.

“Ironically on the day of our meeting in Dingwall the SNFU President Jim McLaren was reportedly speaking at a seminar in St Andrews University calling for a reopened debate on GM crops. Mr McLaren claimed without any proof that this would help to address climate change and protect the environment better than traditional methods.

“The SNP considers that GM crops and GM animal feed have no place in a sustainable food policy here in Scotland or in Africa. The GM industry has failed and the Scottish Government, along with a majority of EU member states, seeks conventional and organic production in the future and Holyrood will soon debate the strict environmental liability.

“The message of the food sovereignty movement is to work with nature and put control of production into local hands. Flawed GM technologies steal nature and biodiversity in the name of profit. The SNP position on a GM moratorium has to be developed into demands that non-GM animal feed becomes mandatory in
Scotland. This could be met by non-GM Soya which is plentiful in Brazil and other countries but it could also create far more jobs in growing our own animal feed in the future.”


Gibson encourages new approach to Wick High School

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Highlands and Islands SNP MSP Rob Gibson has called on the Highland Council to come up with new ways to fund school improvements.

His call comes in the wake of a meeting of Wick High school PTA to highlight the below par fabric of the building.

Mr Gibson said:

"There is no doubting the message from the meeting that Wick High School is not fit for 21st century education. It is in a deteriorating condition – some of which could have been put right earlier and others due to years of under funding after 8 years of inaction from the Liberal Democrat and Labour Executive."

"Given that under funding and the vast amount of money needed to over haul the fabric of the school to make it fit for purpose, the Council needs to think outside of the box to fund the changes. A system of community bonds could be used to raise the money for example."

"PPP is not a viable option as it mortgages the future to the hilt. When a needs assessment was made several years ago there were far worse school buildings in Highland than Wick HS. That is why the Scottish Government is set to create a fund for future investment. But the council could start thinking out of the box to address this situation. I am writing to the Education Chairman local Cllr Bill Fernie to seek his views."


Gibson welcomes strong voice for Highlands and Islands

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Area SNP MSP Rob Gibson has backed a Scottish Government plan to give the Highlands and Islands more say over the economy.

During the Highlands and Islands Convention in Shetland First Minister Alex Salmond announced that two additional places were to be created on the influential National Economic Forum. The convention would nominate two representatives to take up the seats.

Mr Gibson said…

"This move from the First Minister shows that the SNP are committed to an all Scotland approach to Government and shows that he can see the importance that the North and West will play in Scotland's future."

"There is a great potential for the Highlands and Islands to be the main economic driver for a future Scotland. It is important that we start inputting into the Nation from the start and places on forum are integral to this."

"I believe that in the future there will be an influx of people northwards as new industries start to take root. We could see a reverse flow of people from the centre to the north. Far from being on the periphery of economic development there is a real chance that we could be the central hub."

"Inclusion in the Forum is recognition of this and shows a commitment from the SNP Government to the whole of Scotland."


SNP MSP welcomes council tax freeze

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Commenting on the budget decision made today by Orkney Islands Council Rob Gibson MSP for Highlands and Islands said:

"The decision by the Council to freeze Council Tax at current levels is extremely welcome. After large increases in Council Tax under a Labour/LibDem Scottish Executive the people of Orkney were long overdue for a financial break.

"That has only been possible through the SNP Scottish Government's determination to make finances available to local authorities to implement a Council Tax Freeze."

Rob continued:

"When I was re-elected last year a key promise of the SNP was to freeze council tax. In Orkney and throughout Scotland that has been possible and this decision today makes good my personal promise on this issue last May.

"We have a historic agreement between the Scottish Government and local authorities that gives Council's like Orkney much more freedom to deliver local priorities as well as gives council tax payers a real terms cut by stopping even an inflationary rise."


Gibson calls for Scottish history for Scottish schools

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Rob Gibson MSP for the Highlands & Islands has called for Scottish history to be placed at the very heart of the school curriculum. Mr Gibson highlighted the importance of a rounded education in the development of identity and self worth in pupils. He stressed that Scottish history should be an integral part of the curriculum and deserves equal attention to that of other core subjects.

Speaking in the debate on the role of history in Scottish education Mr Gibson said:

"We have come a long way to reach the Scottish Government’s position today that underpins the confident expression of the importance of Scottish history in Scottish schools."

He continued….

"The aims of this debate are to explore the Scottish content in the syllabus; to ensure that continuity through school life gives pupils the general sweep of our country's story.

I hope that educational experts will now have the courage to take Professor Tom Devine's suggestions of a sweep of knowledge from the Picts to the global world.

Through song and story, dance and empathy, young eyes can be opened and Scottish history with good local examples is the key.

It's high time the Scottish history caught alight in our school curriculum and we should not shy from deciding to stress its centrality in our schools."


Note to editor:

Link to transcript of debate:

Gibson calls for Trad Awards to be televised

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Highlands and Islands SNP MSP has used his members debate on traditional music to call for the annual Hands Up For Trad Awards to be screened on television.

Mr Gibson paid tribute to the organiser Simon Thoumire, his team and the musicians for putting on an excellent showcase of what Scotland has to offer. He questioned, however, why in the fifth year of the awards no broadcaster had seen fit to broadcast the event on TV.

He said:

"Why have the broadcasters not televised this enjoyable, professionally presented event, the Scots Trad Music Awards? BBC Radio Scotland provides excellent coverage but it is the TV audience that should be targeted to share the stunning live performances at the Trad Awards. One act that performed at last year's awards poses a key question — how can a wider audience hear about our unofficial 17-piece national folk orchestra, the Unusual Suspects, led by Corrina Hewat? They are truly international stars and played a major part in the success of the Scottish showcase at the huge Lorient festival in Brittany last August. Where was the TV coverage?"

He went onto comment that given the popularity and success of Phil Cunningham’s series on Scotland's Music there would be a sizeable core audience that would tune into the broadcast. He also highlighted the importance a strong musical culture can play in spreading a positive image of a nation in the world.

"I have met cultural attachés and representatives of European Union member states and Regleg Governments to discuss how they promote their traditional music. There is a huge welcome for Scottish culture there. Other countries, such as Norway, Denmark, Flanders and Catalonia, produce annual CDs to showcase potential markets for their top artists. Surely the Scottish Arts Council should be doing that for Scotland. The promotion of Scottish music in England and in many other lands could be a rich source of income for our sparkling musicians."

He called on the Government to give increased support to musicians and to spread the music around the world.

After Rob said:

"It was an excellent consensual debate. Every speaker agreed that the awards should be televised. It is important that Scotland's living culture gets an airing in the Parliament. It is an important aspect to our cultural make up and often the life blood of communities from Shetland to the Borders. I am of the opinion that if the Scottish Parliament can have a debate on fish each year then they can have an annual debate on traditional music."

"I welcome the Minister's commitment to traditional Music and am sure that the Scottish Government will back the case for TV coverage both to the BBC itself and to the Scottish Broadcasting commission which is turning the spotlight on how the BBC treats Scottish Culture."

He ended…

"I look forward to attending the sixth Scots Trad Music Awards in November in Glasgow this year and look forward to watching the highlights on a TV channel after it gains a prime spot for live transmission on a Saturday evening."


Note to editor:

Link to transcript of debate:

Gibson Welcomes Committee action on Dornoch Link

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Recommendations by the Scottish Parliament's Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change Committee have been made regarding the future progress of the Dornoch rail link.

During a session today the committee decided to congratulate the Dornoch Link Action Group and their STAG One feasibility study which members agreed should be submitted to the Scottish Government. The Committee agreed to write to the Transport Minister asking him to take account of this work as part of the Scottish Government’s Strategic Transport Projects Review and recommended that he should decide how to fund the STAG Stage Two study. Consequently members agreed to keep the petition No 894 open.

Speaking after the session, Committee member and Highlands and Islands SNP MSP Rob Gibson said:

"I am glad that the Committee took action to keep the Caithness Communities Councils petition alive. The case for the Dornoch rail link is continuing to be made and the results from the STAG One appraisal adds more weight to the importance and real beneficial change that a link would make to the East Sutherland economy and that of Caithness and Orkney."

"We will be writing to the Transport Minister for his views and consideration. I am confident that the Minister will take seriously the question on the future funding of the next STAG appraisal."

Paying tribute to the campaigners Rob said:

"The Dornoch Link Action Group is to be congratulated on its tireless advocacy for this project. Also the support from Caithness Community Councils and other bodies such as the Caithness Transport Forum has been invaluable. Our quest for a rail link is still very much in play, some significant progress has been made and with cross-party support we can see the way ahead."


Gibson lodges motion to celebrate young musicians

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Highlands and Islands SNP MSP Rob Gibson has lodged a motion in Parliament congratulating Carrbridge's Ewan Robertson on winning the title Young Traditional Musician of the year 2008.

Mr Robertson was presented the prize from Culture Minister Linda Fabiaini after he was judged to be the best of a short list of six at the awards ceremony during Celtic Connections Festival in Glasgow.

Mr Gibson, who attended the event, said:

"It was a fantastic evening. The performances from all nominees were outstanding and shows that the future of traditional music is in safe hands."

Rob, who ran a traditional music festival in Dingwall for 25 years and is a musician himself also said.....

"The panel had one of the hardest decisions to make in the 10 years of the competition but I agree that they made the right choice. Ewan is the first guitarist/singer to win the prize and he delivered a mature set that belied his 24 years. "

"Ewan Robertson attended the National Centre of Excellence in Traditional Music at Plockton High School and the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama. It shows the importance that these institutions play in the nurturing and development of traditional musicians. Therefore that is why they should continue to be supported and why they should promote tradition music so that they can give young people a stage to learn and a spring board to excel."

He ended...

"It is clear from this awards night that Traditional music is in rude health throughout the Nation. I wish to all those of the night the best for the future. Each and every one of them were a credit to themselves, their locality and the country. I especially hope that Ewan will take on this accolade to help put his name on the musical map."


Note to editor:

Copy of motion:
Short Title: Young Traditional Musician of the Year 2008
S3M-01234 Rob Gibson (Highlands and Islands) (SNP): That the Parliament congratulates Ewan Robertson from Carrbridge on winning the BBC Radio Scotland Young Traditional Musician of the Year 2008 award, decided during the Celtic Connections festival at the City Halls, Glasgow on Sunday 27 January 2008, the first singer-guitarist to do so; commends all those who took part in what was a fantastic show-piece of young Scottish talent; recognises the quality of contestants fielded which made this year’s decision one of the most difficult for a decade; acknowledges the contribution that institutions such as the National Centre of Excellence in Traditional Music at Plockton High School and the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama can make in the development of young musicians, both of which Ewan Robertson attended as a student, and wishes Ewan the greatest of success in his musical career.

Gibson welcomes budget outcome

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Highlands and Islands SNP MSP Rob Gibson has warmly welcomed the passing of stage one of the Scottish Budget.

The budget was voted through in-spite of a failed attempt to wreck it by the Liberal Democrats and Labour.

Mr Gibson said:

"This budget means that council tax will be frozen, there will be increases in road gritting, reduction in business rates, abolition of the graduate endowment, new fire and safety communications rooms, increased funding for the third sector and care for the elderly, additional teaching places and police recruitment as well as many other benefits."

"This is an all Scotland approach to Government and the positive effects will be felt throughout the nation. It is a budget which will help all in society."

Commenting on the Lib Dem/Labour alliance against the budget he said:

"I understand that there needs to be an opposition; however Labour and their Lib Dem backers came up with no credible alternative. If they succeed they would send Scotland into political turmoil. They would stop the Council Tax freeze, kill off free prescription charges and hit small business owners by ending the business rates relief before it ever got going. That would prove a political point but in the end do more damage to ordinary individuals than good."

"I hope that in the following weeks they will see the error of their ways in future vote. However I feel that they are too busy trying to settle political goals than trying their best for the people of Scotland."


Gibson blasts lotto raid

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Highlands and Islands SNP MSP Rob Gibson MSP has accused Far North MP of selling the areas good causes short.

His accusation came after last week's vote in Parliament which gave the go ahead for £180 million lottery cash to be diverted from good causes to the London Olympics.

Mr Gibson said:

"Community projects and good causes have come under pressure throughout the North thanks to the voting behaviour of the Local MP. I am not against the Olympics in London at all and yes they should be funded to make sure that they are a spectacle to match the occasion. However, I do not believe that good causes in Caithness, Sutherland Easter Ross or anywhere else for that matter should have to suffer in the way that they are at the moment to make sure this happens."

"This action carried out at the behest of the Labour Party and backed by the Lib Dems will hit the poor and vulnerable as well as arts and culture projects that give self worth to individuals of all ages as well as local community and regional pride. I find it very sad that they should choose to fund the Olympics this way."

Meanwhile Mr Gibson commented on calls from the Lib Dems for all money from dormant bank accounts and unclaimed assets to be given to youth charities....

"Given the current raid carried out on Lottery money by the Lib Dems and Labour partners in London, I would rather see this vast pot of money from dormant bank accounts and the like go to all types of organisations which do good in their community.

"It is a good gimmick to say that all the money should go to youth organizations, however the reality of the situation is rather different. Given the Lib Dem's actions in depriving all good causes of vital cash then it should only be fair that this money go to those that have lost out due to the Olympic raids. That means organisations for the young, elderly, disabled, arts, and the poor and vulnerable in the community."


Welcome for audit of Scots language

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Rob Gibson SNP MSP for Highlands and Islands has welcomed the Scottish Government's commitment to commission an audit of the Scots language.

Mr Gibson said:

“I fully support the announcement by Culture Minister Linda Fabiani who told BBC Scotland Sunday Live that the responses of the public, private and voluntary sectors will be audited with regards to their views on the uses of Scots. Since it is the daily speech of around one and half million Scots this is long overdue.

"It is a breath of fresh air from the Scottish Government who is taking seriously the strengthening of Scottish self esteem by studying the attitudes towards Scots.

"Whether it is the rich Caithness tongue or Ayrshire Lowland Scots from the land of Burns it is a significant event in the moves to end the neglect and denigration of one of our native languages."


Energy self sufficiency and security of top importance to Scotland

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'An all Scotland focus on the potential of marine energy in the Pentland Firth is key to Scotland's energy future'. This was the central tenet of Highlands and Islands SNP MSP Rob Gibson's speech on energy during the energy debate in the Scottish Parliament. (17/01/08)

In the chamber Mr Gibson said that Scotland could safeguard its energy supply for the future, and that harnessing the marine potential between Orkney and Caithness was key to that outcome.

However he listed three major inhibitors against Scotland reaping the rewards that the tides offer. He listed them as: the tax gathering powers and intention of the Crown Estate; OFGEM, whose stewardship of the National Grid means that Scotland almost certainly faces the highest connection prices in Europe; as well as costs to deal with the legacy of nuclear.

He also said that the Caithness Energy Alliance conference on 6th of February in Dynamic Earth (Edinburgh) was crucial to pushing forward Scotland's energy future….

After the debate Rob said:

"The Crown Estate's main motive is greed. They are the landlords of the seabed and will extract major rents from marine development whether it be tidal, wind or electricity cables. For an example of their practices you need only look at the money it levies on harbours such as Scrabster. They charged them £36,000 a year and do not reinvest in the area."

In 2004 Mr Gibson asked the Scottish Executive what rent the Crown Estate charged for under sea electricity transmission cables. He received the response that there was no fixed price. In light of the recent announcements from the body he will be revisiting this question.

He continued….

"The Office of Oil Gas and Electricity Market (OFGEM) charges 30 times more for remote parts of Scotland to hook up to the national grid than it costs in Denmark. In the same report it shows that Scotland almost certainly faced the highest connection charges in Europe. This is a scandal which puts real questions of Scotland's energy future and these questions have not gone away."

On the cost of nuclear he said…

"Each year £175 millions goes toward decommissioning Dounreay. It is quite correct that a thorough job must be done with proper wages going to the work force. However the cost of new nuclear and the subsequent cost of decommissioning the old ones will divert important investment away from renewables."

He finished...

"It is time that Scotland starts looking to its future energy security needs. This means using the potential that is on its doorstep. That means wind, wave and tide. Caithness and Orkney are key to that future. Much is already in place now, what is needed is a final push to make it happen. However those inhibitors are also there and until Scotland has full control over these inhibitors then our energy future is not yet secure."

"When Westminster talks about energy security they talk about securing energy supplies from Asia and the Middle East. However, for Scotland, energy security is found on its own door step. I think it more prudent and moral to look for it there than thousands of miles away."


Gibson calls for study into effect of Visitor centre

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Highlands and Islands SNP MSP Rob Gibson has called for a social/economic study into the impact that the revamped Urquhart Castle is having on the Drumnadrochit economy.

Mr Gibson made the call while he was questioning John Graham Chief Executive of Historic Scotland during a session of the Education, Life Long Learning and Culture Committee today. (Wed 16 Jan 2008).

During his questioning Rob asked how Historic Scotland applied one of its aims to Urquhart Castle, which is its third most important paying attraction in the nation (behind Edinburgh and Stirling castles). The aim in question was the one that states 'Historic Scotland is to make the best use of the historic environment to achieve wider aims of social and economic regeneration.’

In that vein he further enquired what effect the success of the Urquhart Castle centre had on the economy of nearby Drumnadrochit since it was reopened in 2002.

Mr Graham answered that he had no information on the social and economic effects of the Historic Scotland project. He noted the contract for catering was with a local firm, however he said that he had received letters of concern about the displacement of trade from Drumnadrochit businesses.

Mr Gibson suggested that Historic Scotland should carry out an economic impact study into the effect that Urquhart castle was having on the immediate economy. Mr Graham responded that a study of that kind would be better carried out by HIE than Historic Scotland.

Mr Gibson said after the committee meeting:

"Historic Scotland has to be as proactive as possible to involve all strands of local business. The Destination Loch Ness Initiative was designed to benefit local people. It should help to achieve Historic Scotland's aim of wider social and economic regeneration by involving as many businesses in the Drumnadrochit area as possible."

"I have been contacted by businesses in the area who tell me that since the new visitor centre has opened up at the castle then footfall has dropped dramatically in Drumnadrochit. Therefore many businesses could be in financial danger. I hope that an appraisal can be made of the situation and a new working partnership can be forged."

He also said that he had written to the head of HIE to see whether they would carry out a socio/economic study into the impact that Urquhart Castle visitor centre has had on Drumnadrochit and the surrounding area.


Gibson welcomes directly elected health board proposal

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A chance for Caithness to have a permanent voice on health matters was how SNP MSP Rob Gibson summed up new Government proposals to have democratically elected health boards.

Health Secretary Nicola Sturgeon launched a twelve week consultation with the public over the idea of elected health boards this week and Mr Gibson said that areas like Caithness would benefit if the proposal was to be agreed…..

"During the recent maternity campaign it was pointed out that not one person from Caithness was on the Highland Health Board. Therefore the views of the County couldn't be articulated directly at the highest level."

"That situation could now change by getting a Caithness person elected. However, should the board be open to direct elections from the public there would be a strong change of having at least one representative from the North permanently on the board."

"I think elections to the health board would generate real interest in Caithness and other areas out with the centre. Areas like Caithness and North West Sutherland have in the past been the first targeted when it comes to health cuts. Therefore they understand more than most the importance of having a voice at the top table so they will make sure that they are represented."

"This is a further example of the SNP offering power back to local communities. The new government is setting out to end the closed shop approach to appointing members exercised by Lib/Lab Executive. I hope that other parties, when this issue comes to a vote, will back local democracy as opposed to political appointments."

"I would urge those with an interest across the Far North to respond to the consultation and make their views known, and I will look forward the proposals being fully debated and best means chosen to represent local wishes."


Note to editor:

Consultation on directly elected health boards can be accessed at:

'Welcome news but more to be done on air fares', Gibson

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Highlands and Islands SNP MSP has welcomed the commitment from the Scottish Government’s intention to carry on with the Air Discount Scheme.

The Scheme entitles the residents of Caithness, North West Sutherland, Orkney, Western Isles, Shetland, Islay and Jura to a 40% discount on the price of core air fares.

Transport Minister Stewart Stevenson has applied to the European Commission to extend to the scheme until 2011.

The ADS was introduced less than two years ago and has an uptake of 87%.

Mr Gibson welcomed the news, however he says that more needs to be done to make the Highlands and Islands accessible…..

"I'm glad to see the people of the Islands and remote Highlands benefit from the ADS but in the next 3 years I hope the Scottish Government can gain agreement for our unique geographical circumstances to be met by Public Service Obligation provisions for their air connections."

"Business and tourists coming into these communities will be very welcome additions to the cheaper flights for local residents."


Notes for Editors
The Full Text of Alasdair Allan's Parliamentary Question on the future of the ADS and the Answer:

Alasdair Allan (Western Isles) (SNP): To ask the Scottish Executive what the conclusions are of its review of the Air Discount Scheme.

Mr Stewart Stevenson: I am pleased to announce today that, following our review, the Scottish Government will now seek the agreement of the European Commission for continuation of the Air Discount Scheme (ADS) from 1 April 2008 for another 3 years at the existing discount rate.

The ADS gives residents of Orkney, Shetland, the Western Isles, Islay, Jura, Caithness and North West Sutherland a 40% discount on the price of core air fares.

An analysis conducted on our behalf by Halcrow shows that there have been significant increases in patronage on some ADS-related services, and significant increases in the frequency and capacity of these services since the launch of the Scheme in May 2006. The analysis has also identified large reductions in average journey times for ADS members, as well as broad satisfaction with the Scheme's administration. From the analysis it is clear that the Scheme has performed very effectively and Ministers have concluded that it should continue.

Halcrow's analysis accords with our own statistical and other evidence built up since May 2006. ADS membership levels are in general very high and well over 200,000 discounted tickets have been purchased since the Scheme began. Over the next 3 years, we believe that the Scheme will make further progress and that increasing numbers of residents in the Highlands and Islands will benefit. We will continue to monitor the ADS' performance during that time to ensure that the Scheme continues to fulfill its key aims.