Scott asks for renewed urgency for answers into fatal Shetland helicopter crash

Today in Parliament, Shetland MSP Tavish Scott called on the Scottish Government to impress upon the Crown Office the need to begin a Fatal Accident Inquiry into the Super Puma helicopter crash off Shetland in 2013.

Six years on from the disaster, in which four crew members lost their lives, the Fatal Accident Inquiry is yet to start.

Speaking after the exchange, Tavish said:

“Six years of delay is simply not acceptable. Families and friends don’t yet have answers to the basic questions of what happened and why. Nor do they know whether or not prosecutions will happen.

“An increase in resources to deal with Fatal Accident Inquiries is welcome, but that doesn’t provide the families with the answers they deserve. It also means lessons can’t be learned.

“For their sake, the Crown Office should get on with it.”

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Additional freight capacity still needed on Northern Isles ferry routes, say Scott and McArthur

Northern Isles MSPs, Liam McArthur and Tavish Scott, have today repeated their calls for the Scottish Government to make additional freight capacity available on Orkney and Shetland ferry routes.  the call comes as Ministers confirm the purchase of the two freight ferries, MV Helliar and MV Hildasay, that currently operate on the routes from Aberdeen to Kirkwall, Orkney and Lerwick.

The two vessels were previously chartered, but Ministers have used existing capital ‘underspend’ to purchase the vessels outright.  With the option of leasing in freight vessels on an ad hoc basis becoming increasingly limited, a formal deal has been completed and they will now join the Caledonian Maritime Assets Ltd (CMAL) fleet.

While Mr McArthur and Mr Scott welcomed the move, they pointed out that this would not address the growing capacity issues on Northern Isles routes.  This is an issue that Mr MrArthur highlighted with First Minister last September, on the back of serious concerns in Orkney and Shetland that vital freight shipments were under threat of being left on the quayside. 

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Scott raises Fair Isle Bird Observatory Fire at Holyrood

During First Minister’s Questions today, Shetland MSP Tavish Scott raised the Fair Isle Bird Observatory Fire. He asked Nicola Sturgeon to ensure that the Scottish Government provides all assistance possible to help rebuild the Observatory as well as ensuring any lessons can be learnt for future emergency service responses to major incidents on islands where there is no full time fire cover.

Tavish also highlighted the case of the three French volunteer fire fighters from Fair Isle who find themselves having to apply to the UK Government to stay in their homes because of their European Citizenship and the “omnishambles” of Brexit.

Responding, Nicola Sturgeon told the Chamber her thoughts were with the Fair Isle community and praised the bravery and professionalism of the fire fighters. She recognised the joint response from emergency services in Shetland but understood there must be reflection on what can be done to further help islands with no full time fire cover. She also gave an assurance that the Scottish Government stands ready to do everything it reasonably can to help the community. 

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Scott: Tens of thousands of pupils in super-size classes

Scottish Liberal Democrat education spokesperson Tavish Scott MSP today said the Scottish Government must do more to restore the status and strength of teaching after new statistics showed 43,193 primary school pupils being taught in “super-size classes” – 12,000 more than in 2012.

Supplementary pupil census data, published today, shows 43,193 primary pupils being taught in classes of 31 or higher at the start of the current school year. This compares to 31,175 in 2012.

There are currently 1,353 primary school classes with 31 or more pupils, compared to 977 in 2012.

Tavish Scott MSP commented:

“The number of pupils being taught in super-size classes has soared on the SNP’s watch.

“Classes of this size make it harder to close the attainment gap. Smaller classes help pupils learn and increases the amount of contact time between teachers and those children who need extra help.

“Teachers are the backbone of our education system. However, they have lost thousands of teaching and pupil support colleagues under the SNP. They have been inundated with paperwork and diktats too. That is why the Scottish Government needs to go much further than giving them a fair pay deal if it is serious about restoring the status and strength of teaching.

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Scott presses First Minister for action on Air Traffic Control strike

During First Minister’s Questions today, Shetland MSP Tavish Scott asked Nicola Sturgeon what the Scottish Government will do to make sure planned strike action by HIAL Air Traffic Controllers is avoided. Air Traffic Controllers across the HIAL network plan to strike from 26 April, closing Sumburgh Airport to lifeline flights.

In response, the First Minister failed to set out what the Government was doing to prevent such action, and instead outlined the public sector pay policy HIAL is bound by and encouraged them to continue talks with the union.

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Scott and Carmichael: Sheep ageing rule U-turn “unacceptable and unreasonable”

Alistair Carmichael, MP for Orkney and Shetland, and Tavish Scott, MSP for Shetland, have today branded the UK Government’s U-turn on sheep ageing measurements as “unacceptable” to the industry. The system favoured by the UK government involves the age of 12 months being measured at the point at which incisors erupt in the sheep’s mouth. The NFU Scotland had received undertakings that the UK Government would move to have more reliance on traceability systems and dates of slaughter in relation to the lambing period.

It is reported that the Government reasoning behind the cancellation of the changes is a desire not to add further changes at a time of upheaval with Brexit.

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Shetland Islands Council encouraged to explore bond finance for fixed links

In light of council finance pressures, Shetland MSP Tavish Scott today asked the Scottish Government whether there are any restrictions on local authorities using bond finance to support local investment proposals and whether it would encourage Shetland Islands Council to do so in order to invest in fixed links.

Finance Minister, Kate Forbes, told Tavish that it is for local authorities to decide how they want to borrow as long as it is affordable and sustainable, but agreed that bond finance has “great potential”, highlighting the new £400m conference centre in Aberdeen. The Minister agreed that bond finance should be explored further.

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Northern Isles MSPs respond to ADS announcement

Responding to the Scottish Government announcement that the ADS scheme, due to end on 31 March, will now be extended to December 2020, Shetland MSP Tavish Scott and Orkney MSP Liam McArthur said:

“We welcome confirmation that the Air Discount Scheme, first introduced by the Liberal Democrat/Labour coalition in 2001, is to continue in place. Over the years, it has been a real benefit to islanders, faced with the high cost of accessing their lifeline air services.

“For weeks, though, we have been pressing Ministers to make an announcement on the future of the scheme. There seems no good reason why islanders have had to wait until the last minute for confirmation that flights will continue to be covered under the scheme.

“Even now, the decision to roll over the current arrangements until the end of 2020 falls far short of past commitments of four years. We will seek assurances that the continuation of this vital scheme after that date is not in doubt.

“Meantime, the continued refusal of SNP Ministers to reverse their earlier decision to exclude business-related travel from the scheme is disappointing. This undermines efforts to allow isles businesses to compete on a more level playing field with counterparts on the Scottish mainland.”

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Ambitious “Islands Deal” Proposals Highlighted at Holyrood

Islands MSPs Tavish Scott, Liam McArthur and Alasdair Allan jointly sponsored a reception at the Scottish Parliament on Wednesday to make the case for an “Islands Deal” for Orkney, Shetland and the Western Isles.

Invited guests and partners heard from the three Council Leaders and Islands Deal Programme Director David Amos, about how the three authorities have worked together since 2017 to create ambitious proposals for an “Islands Deal” which would be transformational for the economies and communities of the isles. The proposals build on the unique strengths and world class assets of the islands groups and include specific and cross island proposals covering areas such as low carbon energy, tourism, housing and healthcare. Following discussions with government officials, these updated proposals will be submitted to the UK and Scottish Government in March.

The Scottish Government has committed to 100% coverage of Scotland by City and Region Deals and interest in the “Islands Deal” proposals was reinforced by the attendance of several Ministers and a speech by Islands Minister Paul Wheelhouse.

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Lib Dems demand action on attainment is made permanent and “fit for the future”

The Scottish Liberal Democrat spring conference endorsed proposals to ensure that attainment action is made a “permanent feature” and the attainment fund is used effectively in schools to ensure every child has the “opportunity to succeed and excel” no matter their background.

The triple-tiered plan calls on the Scottish Government, the UK Government and local authorities to “work together and separately” to improve Scottish education.

The comprehensive plan includes calls for:

  • Adoption of a formal UK-wide intention to end child poverty between the four UK administrations, with each committing to use their powers and resources to such an end;
  • Maintain a commitment to a nursery premium - increased funding - to make sure pre-school children from poorer backgrounds can be better supported;
  • New steps to create a government-wide focus on attainment;
  • Securely funded youth work service to allow it to reach young people who are not engaged successfully in formal education;
  • Promotion of colleges as the route to high-level technical qualifications;
  • Scottish universities encouraged to get more young people from poorer backgrounds.
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