Friday, 23 July 2010

Gibson attacks Feudal style Crown Estate

News release
Immediate release

The Crown Estate cost Highland and Orkney councils a combined cost of over £80,000 last year whilst one Port Authority has been charged on average £24,000 a year by the Crown Estate since 2003.

The figures have come to light following an investigation by North SNP MSP Rob Gibson who said that the taxes of the Crown Estate amounted to a feudal tax and an attack or coastal communities and livelihoods.

Mr Gibson wrote to all harbour owners and pier owners in the Highlands, Orkney and Moray to inquire about how much they were paying to the Crown Estate and what dealings they had had with them.

He received several telling responses in which were detailed the charges imposed on them by the Crown Estates. It emerged that Orkney Islands Council paid out £61,851 last year which included charges for buildings which are situated on a pier.

The Crown Estate even charged a lease for the seabed for St Margaret's Hope Pier.

The cost to Highland Council came in at £18,883, whilst Scrabster Harbour trust  was charged on average £24,000 a year since 2003.

People's dealings with the crown estate painted the organisaion in a bad light too. One respondent said that they had 'nothing positive' to report about their dealings with the Crown Estate, they continued that they pay rent for life line and marine services which are crucial to the financial well being of the area yet receive nothing in return.

One other said that whilst they had reasonable relations with the Crown Estate ultimately they were only interested in how much money they could get. Others said that they were grateful to have no dealings with them at all.  

A long standing critic of the Crown Estate tax collection Mr Gibson says that the charges from the Crown Estate are excessive and grossly unfair. He referred to it as a feudal tax on growth and improvement .

"I was shocked by the maritime tax that councils and other ports have to pay to the Crown Estates. To echo one response I received, it is purely a tax on infrastructure, growth and improvement. They charge exorbitant fees for such menial tasks as dredging the seabed. To hear that they charge for buildings on top of piers would be laughable if it wasn't so serious."

"The recession is getting worse and Council and others will have to make cuts. I think one cut they should make is by not having to pay the Crown Estate anything. The Crown Estates major remit is to accrue tax for the UK treasury. This money is taken from hard pressed ports and piers around Scotland and disappears. It is not reinvested in the communities or the ports which could improve their facilities therefore creating more opportunities for jobs.

"The Crown Estate's  unaccountability knows no bounds. Ports are vital for the well being of the Highlands and Islands. Marine activities will be crucial for coastal communities to kick start our economic recovery."

"I was interested to learn that if a port, such as Inverness, is situated on a river bed then they pay nothing. I am relieved that the Crown Estate cannot raid Inverness harbour for money but they are happy to do so elsewhere in the North and West."

"Their attitude seems to me to be one feudal landlords of the worst kind who are uncountable. It has to changed."

"The Lib Dems were vociferous when in opposition against the dealings of the Crown Estate. However now they are in power in London and have the chance to change the system (as it is a reserved issue)  they have gone strangely quiet on the subject. I shall be writing to the new Government with these findings to push for the devolution of the Crown Estate.  I know that the Scottish Government has reservations about the Crown Estate too so shall be presenting my findings to Rural Secretary Richard Lochhead."

"This is just a snapshot of what is happening in the north of country, no doubt throughout Scotland the situation is as bad. It cannot be allowed to continue for another financial year."


Thursday, 22 July 2010

Gibson congratulates Inverness Gaelic choir

News release
Immediate release

Highlands and Islands MSP Rob Gibson has lodged a motion congratulating Inverness Gaelic choir on their recent appearance at the Llangollen International Musical Eisteddfod in Wales.The City choir were the first Gaelic choir to appear there in recent times and their performances and the performers were well received by the public and other competitors.

The choir also premiered a tune written by Inverness composer Stuart MacRae that was set to the words of the poem of the murder of the Keppoch children in 1688.

Mr Gibson said ….

"By all accounts the choir went down extremely well both during and after the formal competition. This is borne out by the fact that whilst they were there they were invited to perform at a music festival in Germany. So all credit to them."

"It is great to see Scottish and Gaelic culture getting an airing in an international event. Gaelic and Scottish cultures travels the world very well and is something that we can all be proud of. So the more that the likes of Inverness Gaelic choir can be put on an international stage the better as the music camaraderie and culture will sing and speak for itself."



Copy of motion:
S3M-06745 Rob Gibson (Highlands and Islands) (Scottish National Party): Congratulations to Inverness Gaelic Choir— That the Parliament congratulates Inverness Gaelic Choir (Coisir GhĂ idhlig Inbhir Nis) on its performances at this year’s Llangollen International Musical Eisteddfod; notes that it is the first Gaelic choir to perform at the Eisteddfod in recent times; commends the choir’s performances, which included the world premier of a tune from Inverness composer Stuart MacRae that was set to the poem of the murder of the Keppoch children in 1688; believes that the choir did a great job promoting Scotland, Gaelic language and culture and that this is evident by its invitation to perform at a music festival in Germany, and wishes the choir the best of luck at its next gig at this year’s Belladrum Tartan Heart Festival and in the future.

Thursday, 8 July 2010

Gibson welcomes bogging great news for Flow Country

News release
Immediate release

'Bogging great news' is how Highlands and Islands SNP MSP Rob Gibson reacted to announcement that the Flow Country, once called the Amazon of the north, is to be submitted as one of the six Scottish bids for UNESCO world heritage status.

The blanket peat bog which is the largest in Europe (Measuring around 1500 square miles) stretches across Caithness and Sutherland will join the Forth Rail Bridge, Arbroath Abbey, Iron age settlements on Shetland, the buildings of Charles Rennie Mackintosh, and the town of St Andrews in an attempt to win the prestigious accolade of World Heritage Status.

Mr Gibson who has long championed the cause of the Flow Country says that World Heritage Status would make a positive difference to Caithness and Sutherland and the rest of the world.

"Whilst it may not have the architectural splendour of a Charles Rennie Mackintosh building or a Forth Rail Bridge, or the historical prowess of Arbroath Abbey, the Flow Country also deserves to be on this list and deserves World Heritage Status."

"The Flow Country is vitally important for the future of Europe and the rest of the Northern Hemisphere for environmental and bio diversity reasons. It has rightly been described as the Amazon of the North given its importance in locking away carbon. The Bog acts as a natural carbon sink which also supports a rich and diverse habitat."

"Greater recognition of the importance that the Flow Country will play in the future of the world, especially during the climate change era, is a must. World Heritage Status would bring this about. It would also heighten the status of both Caithness and Sutherland on the world stage. If it gets the go ahead then the Flow Country would sit on a list which include the Pyramids and the Great Wall of China, not bad going I'd say."

"The fact that it has made the short list is bogging great news should it achieve the ultimate goal of World Heritage Status would be bogging excellent news for Caithness, Sutherland, Scotland and the world."


Gibson welcomes blue badge consultation

News Release
Immediate release

Highlands and Islands SNP MSP Rob Gibson has encouraged people throughout the region to take part on a Scottish Government consultation on the future of the Blue Badge scheme.

The Scottish Government are looking to update and improve the blue badge scheme, which was first introduced in the 1970s so that it is fit for propose in the 21 Century.

Among the changes which are proposed are; widening those that are eligible, making it available to children under 3 with specific medical conditions, severely disabled service personnel and war veterans who are in receipt of an a ward under the Armed Forces Compensation Service as well as people with severe forms of autistic spectrum disorder.

There are also proposals to give local authorities new or amended powers to tackle those that misuse the scheme. A new database is also proposed to make sure that the fraudulent use of blue badges can be rooted out, as well as a new code of practice to those that administer the scheme.

Mr Gibson welcomed the consultation (which runs from the 5th of July till the 1st of October) and proposals....

"This is a welcome move from the Scottish Government. As Stewart Stevenson the Transport Minister says in his opening remarks the scheme needs to be fit for purpose in the 21st century. Recently Highland Council has caused furory by charging for the badges, they say it is because the system is been defrauded. The plans by the Scottish Government will help root out those unscrupulous individuals who seek to defraud the system."

"I think it is wholly unfair to make those who genuinely deserve blue badges have to pay for them. It is clear that the system at the moment is abused. Therefore the new ideas for dealing with it by the Government will make a difference and bring fairness back into play."

"I am also pleased by the proposal to widen access to those who are eligible for such badges. This scheme needs updating and the Government are proposing this, input form the public is key to making it a modern scheme which will serve the community."

"It is vital that as many people who are interested or affected by the proposed changes respond as possible. I think that the reforms are positive and will help make the scheme easier to manage and fairer."



To view the consultation document from Scottish government:

Thursday, 1 July 2010

Gibson welcomes funding for council housing in Orkney

For immediate release

Highlands and Islands SNP MSP Rob Gibson has welcomed an announcement from the First Minister which will see further new council housing in Orkney.

Building on last year's initial two rounds of Scottish Government 'kick-start' funding, today's announcement means a total of £300,000 will be made available to build 10 new council houses in Finstown.

The total joint package from the Scottish Government and Local authority means that there £2million worth of funding has been made available to create 78 new units shared between, Kirkwall, Andersquoy, Finstown, Stromness, Dounby and Orphir.

Mr Gibson said…

"This announcement will make a real and positive difference to the housing situation on Orkney. When the Liberal Democrats and Labour were in power in Scotland they managed to build a total 6 council houses (all of which were in Shetland). For them it just was not a priority"

"So the new approach from the SNP Government (working with local authorities) which will see many more houses built in Orkney and the rest of Scotland is a refreshing change."

"This announcement will not only provide more families with a safe and secure roof over their heads, but it will also delivers another timely boost to the construction industry during the time of a recession. It is a win win situation, there will be many related trades which will also benefit from this funding."



Today’s Round 3 announcement takes to £80 million the amount of Scottish Government funding to incentivise council house building. Local authorities were invited to apply for funding for specific council housing projects and the individual allocations announced today were agreed by the Scottish Government and Convention of Scottish Local Authorities based on criteria including housing need, affordability and the readiness of councils to take forward projects in the near future.

The allocations from the Scottish Government, and number of units supported, in Orkney are:

Round 1 & 2:Andersquoy, Kirkwall and Finstown, Stromness, Dounby & Orphir - £1.7 million, 68 units

Round 3 : Finstown - £300,000, 10 units

Gibson welcomes passing of Crofting Act

News release
Immediate release

Highlands and Islands SNP MSP Rob Gibson has hailed the passing of the Crofting Act as a blow for proper regulation, rooting out neglect and democratising the Crofting Commission.

Mr Gibson also welcomed the unanimous support in Parliament (at the Third Stage of the bill today) for his amendments which calls for a report on the condition of crofting in every township of the Crofting counties. This would be provided by the Grazing Committee and take a simple format.

Speaking after Rob said,

"I have long believed that the local crofters can kick start proper scrutiny of crofting in general by the commission. This will help communications with the regulator by active crofters on the ground. It is part of the break through to sustain crofting in this century."