MSP David Stewart raises demise of Wick air routes in aviation debate at Scottish Parliament today

Highlands and Islands Labour MSP David Stewart brought up the position of Wick air routes today in a debate led by Scottish Labour which called for ministers to secure a sustainable post-Covid future for a sector that has been thrown into crisis by the pandemic.

Mr Stewart asked Transport Secretary, Michael Matheson: “Does the Cabinet Secretary support my campaign and that of the Chamber of Commerce from Caithness to ensure that we have a Public Service Obligation from Wick to Edinburgh and Wick to Aberdeen? Currently there are no flights from this airport at all and it needs a PSO and needs the Government support to get this up and running.”

Mr Matheson gave a short reply which reiterated that the Scottish Government was still evaluating Caithness Chamber of Commerce’s business case and highlighting that MSP Gail Ross had also been pressing for action.

The Transport Secretary added: “I can assure you we will give that fair consideration”.

Afterwards Mr Stewart commented: “The Government has had plenty time to consider what action it is going to take to aid Caithness and Sutherland and restore its connectivity with Scotland, the UK and the rest of the world.

“The situation at Wick John O Groats airport was fragile before Coronavirus hit and the Government should have been looking ahead long before the beginning of this year to how it could ring-fence and protect the area’s flights for the future.

“Instead of fair consideration, it should now be a fast consideration taking into account the future development of Caithness and the fact that it is suffering from the centralisation of services.”

  • Mr Stewart has been supporting the campaign for a Public Service Obligation (PSO) to protect the Wick Edinburgh and Wick Aberdeen routes following Caithness being left without scheduled air services.

In a July PQ, lodged by Mr Stewart, Mr Matheson replied that a PSO “would likely take around nine to 12 months for services to start due to the regulatory and procurement processes required”. Mr Stewart called for rapid movement on the air routes to keep the Far North’s connectivity and to aid development for the future.

Mr Stewart wrote to Mr Matheson, and First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, after Loganair announced the axing of its Edinburgh-Wick service on Friday, March 27.

The MSP had previously asked the Scottish Government for swift action following the collapse of Flybe when the Wick-Aberdeen route was taken over by Eastern Airways which previously ran it under a franchise for Flybe. Mr Stewart argued that the Wick-Aberdeen service was fragile due to falling passenger numbers. Eastern Airways has now withdrawn this route.

Mr Matheson previously said it was considering carefully the business case submitted by Caithness Chamber of Commerce.

MSP: Financial Conduct Authority’s test case good for businesses

Highlands and Islands Labour MSP, David Stewart, has applauded today’s High Court judgement backing the Financial Conduct Authority’s (FCA) business interruption insurance test case.

Mr Stewart has continued to raise the problem of the insurance sector failing to pay out for business interruption insurance due to Coronavirus and thus “wriggling out of their obligations” to businesses in his region and throughout Scotland.

The FCA brought the case “in order to resolve the lack of clarity and certainty that existed for many policyholders making business interruption claims and the wider market”.

The court found in favour of the arguments advanced for policyholders by the FCA on the majority of the key issues.

Mr Stewart said: “Early on in this pandemic I began to realise just how devastating it was for companies who had their claims for business interruption insurance turned down.

“Companies were at risk of going under sooner and that put the whole local economy at risk.

“This judgement is a win for all those small and medium businesses who had no chance of taking on the big boys of the insurance world. I do hope that insurance companies will now reconsider some of the claims they rejected, and I would advise businesses to get back to their insurers in the light of this judgement.”

Mr Stewart added that he hoped there would not be an appeal by the insurance sector but if there was that it was dealt with swiftly and without lengthy delays.

The FCA said that most small and medium sized businesses policies were focused on property damage and only had basic cover for Business Interruption as a consequence of property damage. But some policies also covered Business Insurance from other causes, in particular infectious or notifiable diseases (‘disease clauses’) and non-damage denial of access and public authority closures or restrictions (‘denial of access clauses’). In some cases, insurers had accepted liability under these policies. In other cases, insurers had disputed liability while policyholders considered that it existed, leading to widespread concern about the lack of clarity and certainty.

The FCA’s aim in bringing the test case was to urgently clarify key issues of contractual uncertainty for as many policyholders and insurers as possible. The FCA did this by selecting a representative sample of policy wordings issued by eight insurers. The FCA’s role was to put forward policyholders’ arguments to their best advantage in the public interest. 370,000 policyholders were identified as holding policies that may be affected by the outcome of the test case.

In April Mr Stewart found widespread frustration and concern from Highlands and Islands firms over delays in accessing loans and a refusal to pay out on business interruption insurance.

The MSP wrote to business groups across his area asking if banks were making it harder to get business interruption loans and if insurers were refusing to pay out for claims on business interruption insurance policies.

Among those to respond to the MSP’s request, were Chambers of Commerce in Caithness, Moray, Lochaber and Mid-Argyll.

In May Mr Stewart raised the issue at First Minister’s questions asking the Scottish Government Finance Secretary, Kate Forbes, to have direct discussion with the insurance sector about companies who were “wriggling out of their obligations” to Scottish businesses.

more info at:
https://www.fca.org.uk/firms/business-interruption-insurance#latest-updates

Health and Sport Committee: David Stewart MSP asks questions about delayed discharge

The transfer of care from hospital to home care sector was one of the items on the agenda for debate at this week’s Health and Sport Committee.

The Committee meets at 10am each Tuesday in a virtual meeting broadcast on www.scottishparliament.tv

As part of its Pre Budget-Scrutiny this week, the Committee took evidence from Judith Proctor, Chief Officer, Edinburgh Health and Social Care Partnership, Vicky Irons, Chief Officer, Dundee Health and Social Care Partnership and Eddie Fraser, Chief Officer, East Ayrshire Health and Social Care Partnership.

MSP David Stewart MSP asked some questions around delayed discharges, which occurs when a patient, clinically ready for discharge, cannot leave hospital because the other necessary care, support or accommodation for them is not readily accessible or funding is not available, for example to purchase a care home place.

Here is a clip of Stewart’s questions:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

MSP David Stewart calls for Healing Process remuneration committee to be more independent

Highlands and Islands MSP David Stewart has asked NHS Highland and the Scottish Government to rethink how the Healing Process remuneration committee has been set up in the light of concerns from those who have been bullied.

Mr Stewart, who is also Scottish Labour’s Shadow Public Health Minister, has been contacted by members of the T-Party group, formed before the Coronavirus hit, to help victims of NHS Highland bullying and harassment get together for support over a cup of tea and a chat.

The group, which has members throughout the Highlands, has continued to keep in touch with each other and with Mr Stewart virtually and by email.

The Healing Process allows current and former staff of the health authority to talk to an independent panel about their experiences of being bullied or harassed. This follows whistleblowers, union representatives and Mr Stewart calling for action on a culture of bullying at NHS Highland, a review carried out by QC John Sturrock and intervention by the Scottish Government.

T-Party members say the NHS Highland Remuneration Committee which will discuss compensation for some of those involved in the Healing Process, is not independent enough and could have members, or those sitting in on the meetings, who have been involved in individual cases of staff or former staff.

“I can see exactly where members of this group are coming from,” said Mr Stewart.

“An analogy might be an Employment Tribunal where someone on the panel has prior knowledge of a case. With the best will in the world that person cannot be impartial no matter their best intentions.

“I have seen how affected many of the members of this group have been by bullying and harassment and how it has taken courage for them to step forward and relive their experiences. They are not being awkward – there are real concerns from those who have been damaged by their experiences.

“Looking at the sensitives here, I feel it would be best for NHS Highland and the Scottish Government to have a rethink, especially as John Sturrock highlighted in his report that

‘the preservation of independence and perceived impartiality is crucial in any mediation provision’.”

Mr Stewart has written to Paul Hawkins, the Interim NHS Highland Chief Executive, and to Health Secretary, Jeane Freeman, asking for them to look into the issue. Mr Stewart is also aware that the new Chief Executive, Pam Dudek, will soon be taking over and may wish to get involved in the T-Party’s concerns.

One other issue being raised by the MSP is that people would like to have the choice of nominating their own lawyer to receive information from independent review panel, to preserve their identities from other staff working for NHS Highland.

 

Health and Sport Committee: David Stewart pulls Justice Secretary up on quarantine policy

Portugal is set to be removed from the UK travel corridors list, as Covid-19 cases in the country exceed 20 per 100,000. UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock said it will be announced in “an organised way” Friday (tomorrow) lunchtime. We can only hope the Scottish Government’s handling of it will be “organised”.

The Health and Sport Committee held the Cabinet Secretary for Justice Humza Yousaf to account on the importance of proper arrangements for quarantining travellers arriving into Scotland.
Here’s a clip of the clash:

 

The Elsie Normington Foundation in its bid to secure Scottish Government funding

Highlands and Islands Labour MSP, David Stewart, who has been supporting The Elsie Normington Foundation in its bid to secure Scottish Government funding for the building of The Haven centre in Inverness has today pressed Scottish Ministers again to part fund the project.

 

In July The Elsie Normington Foundation received the fantastic news that they had secured a £1.1m grant from the Big Lottery Community Fund as well as planning permission being granted for the building of the centre.

 

The Big Lottery grant took the organisers to half way to securing the total amount needed, £4m, and the Labour MSP contacted the Cabinet Secretary for Rural Economy, the Cabinet Secretary for Finance and the Minister for Children and Young people in a bid to secure a commitment from the Scottish Government to provide some, or all, of the remaining funding needed.

 

David Stewart said “While I did receive a response from the Minister for Children and Young People, Maree Todd, who appears largely supportive of the project, it was not favourable in terms of awarding funding.

 

“The Minister advised that it remains the statutory responsibility of local authorities to assess and understand need in their area and to develop services which meet local requirements. She advised that the Scottish Government would not usually provide funding for a local project like the Haven Centre but in exceptional circumstances, they would consider evidence which did present a strong case for national funding for local projects.”

 

Mr Stewart continued “I know the Highland community believe there is a very strong case for supporting this project due to the transformation it will provide to the lives of children and young adults with complex needs throughout the Highlands, let alone the construction jobs it will provide for one year and the social care jobs that will be created thereafter and I am therefore trying again to see if either Fergus Ewing or Kate Forbes will fund this from their budgets.”

 

In Parliament today: MSP David Stewart raises the importance of Highlands & Islands Enterprise and reaches for Trade Minister’s agreement its budget should be safeguarded instead of cut

NORTH politician David Stewart extolled the virtues of Highlands & Islands Enterprise in Holyrood’s Debating Chamber today – and said it was crucial its budget is spared from further cuts.

MSP David Stewart asked Scotland’s Minister for Trade, Investment and Innovation Ivan McKee to recognise the “first-class work” being done by Lifescan and the Centre for Health Science in Inverness, and in particular the focus that is being made on diabetes research and development.

The Labour politician then asked the minister to join him in congratulating Highlands & Islands Enterprise for the work they do, such as the ODx Innovations medical technology company in Inverness – and he reached for the minister’s agreement that its budget be maintained and not cut.

Mr Stewart also raised questions around what was being done to attract inward investment, retain jobs and upskill training and development.

The minister said he shared Mr Stewart’s appreciation of the “great work of Highlands & Islands Enterprise”, and he said he recognised the “great work of Lifescan and the whole cluster of work that is developing in the Inverness area around life sciences and medical devices – which is hugely welcome”.

He insisted “a lot of effort” was going on to attract inward investment and pointed to a new foreign investment plan being launched in the next few weeks saying it “identifies very clearly a strategic approach and the key sectors that we want to focus on to try to attract inward investment”.

He added: “I can let the member know that it’s no secret life sciences is one of the key sectors that we will be very much focussing on to attract global investment into Scotland.”

Stewart pleased to see The Financial Times’ Pensions Expert page running a piece on plumbers’ pensions scandal which is “ruining good people’s lives”

A campaign by Highlands & Islands MSP David Stewart has been highlighted in the Financial Times’ Pensions Expert page today (Monday).

Stewart was asked to contribute to the article, which is published online at www.pensions-expert.com

The piece by journalist Stephanie Hawthorne covers an issue affecting employers in the Plumbing and Mechanical Services Industry Pension Scheme.

A complex piece of pension legislation requires employers to pay a large exit charge when they leave the scheme.

Mr Stewart is campaigning for justice for his 72-year-old constituent Murray Menzies (pictured) from Inverness who has been issued with an estimated debt demand for £1.2 million and faces losing his home and assets to repay the so-called debt.

David Stewart with Murray Menzies.

Today’s Financial Times article, which viewers must register free-of-charge to read, highlights that The Pensions Regulator has been in discussions with the trustees of the Plumbing and Mechanical Services Industry Pension Scheme over governance failures.

Stewart said: “As someone who has been campaign on this issue for some time, the Financial Times asked if I would contribute to the piece.

Some of what I said was quoted. Here is the uncut version.

  1. Do you believe the plumber employers’ S75 debt has now become a human rights issue?

“I strongly believe this has now become a human rights issue.  There is a right to property under the European Convention on Human Rights. And in more general terms, this is a total misjustice and it’s having a disproportionate effect on good employers throughout the country. It’s a scandal and it is ruining people’s lives.”

  1. Have you any response from your contact with Guy Opperman MP (Pensions Minister)? What did you ask him and what was his reply?

“It feels to me like I have written to Mr Opperman a multitude of times since the start of the year when I travelled to Whitehall for talks I scheduled with him and his DWP policy leaders. I told them this so-called debt of £1.2 million was wreaking havoc on my constituent Murray Menzies’ well-being, it had frozen all his hopes for the future, put paid to any chance he ever had of a retirement. I told them he is going through what could only be described as a living hell. I said surely something could be done, surely there is a way out for Mr Menzies and those other unincorporated employers hit so unfairly with debts so massive only the sale of their homes and assets could repay them. But I was told Government had initiated a lot of work on this issue and that all stones were turned an no escape routes found. I came away with no solution but have continued contacting Mr Opperman. I have invited him to meet with Mr Menzies, I feel I am continually knocking on his door. He turned down my most recent request, which was for a five-year moratorium on the debt. He said allowing an underfunded scheme to collect a lower amount of debt would further weaken member benefit security and increase the burden on remaining employers to fund the scheme. So the law is forcing these people to pay for pensions of people who have never worked for them. They are innocent victims of flawed legislation. I will continue to call on the Government to act swiftly. It cannot let this scandal drag on.”

Do you have any other general comments on the case?

“These plumbers have been left in a horrible position. The legislation wasn’t intended to penalise these individuals for being unincorporated but the debt they owe doesn’t go away. I know the hope for the scheme was its funding situation would improve but that hasn’t happened. Every day for my constituent is a day of anticipation, wondering when the sheriff’s officers might knock on the door, hoping against hope that the pensions scheme trustees will keep putting this debt to the back of the queue and that they can, as a last resort, use the rules and legislation where is says if the money they are going to get back is lower than what it would cost for them to pursue then they don’t have to go after it. The question I want to know the answer to is can they use that in some of those hard to help cases like my constituent Murray Menzies?”

Ends

New Glenurquhart Road Crossing will lead to better road safety: David Stewart

Highlands and Islands Labour MSP, David Stewart, dropped by the new Glenurquhart Road crossing at Smith Avenue, Inverness.
“I took up constituents’ concerns about road safety on the road in March 2017. Transport Scotland said at first that a crossing on this stretch of the A82 ‘could not be justified’,” said Mr Stewart
“However, I joined campaigners in not giving up, even in 2018 when again the agency said it did not see a need for a crossing on this stretch. But it then went on to find out local people’s views and changed its mind and I must congratulate Transport Scotland for that.
“It was good therefore to see the first crossing at Smith Avenue last week and I look forward to the second being installed near Montague Row. (work was stalled due to Coronavirus)
I am sure these will improve safety for children crossing for school, for the elderly and the disabled.

Scottish Government now talking to UK Government on Wick air routes after MSP’s suggestion

The Scottish Government’s Transport Secretary has admitted that it is now in talks with the UK Government and with the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority about the future of Wick air routes.

Highlands and Islands Labour MSP, David Stewart, is supporting the campaign for a Public Service Obligation (PSO) to protect the Wick Edinburgh and Wick Aberdeen routes following Caithness being left without scheduled air services.

Mr Stewart was told, through an answer to a Parliamentary Question in July, that the Scottish Government had held no talks with the UK Government about the serious situation nor made its own assessment of how the future of Wick John O’Groats Airport could impact on the Caithness and Sutherland area.

Mr Stewart contacted Michael Matheson again, following the PQ answer, urging the Secretary to initiate talks with the UK Government. Mr Stewart stressed that he considered the UK Government may be willing to help given that it has an investment through the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority and the UK Space Agency.

Mr Stewart said today: “I am happy that the Scottish Government has taken this up with its UK counterparts but dismayed that it hasn’t been done before when it is such an obvious move to get everyone involved in finding a solution and hopefully finding some funding too.

“It is also encouraging that Gail Ross MSP is appealing for Nicola Sturgeon to get involved. The prospect of the Scottish Parliament elections is looming large and I suspect this centralising Government is now under increasing pressure to pull something out of the bag to show Caithness and Sutherland are not the forgotten areas of Scotland.

“I understand the argument about Covid-19 hitting the air industry but time is ticking and air routes for Caithness and Sutherland are vital for future development.”

Mr Matheson, in his latest reply to Mr Stewart, said he recognised the issues faced by the Caithness area both specifically in relation to the loss of the Wick-Edinburgh and Wick-Aberdeen air services and more generally.

He added: “It will take the aviation industry some time to recover from the unprecedented impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on route networks. The re-establishment of previously operated routes will not be straightforward in an operating environment where there are fewer airlines. The only State Aid compliant mechanism for providing ongoing subsidy for an air service is a Public Service Obligation (PSO).

“We are considering carefully the business case submitted by the Caithness Chamber of Commerce for the direct subsidy of air services to Wick and will respond as soon as possible. I have been clear that any intervention would require multiple funding partners to restore scheduled services at Wick. We have discussed this issue with the UK Government. We are engaging with the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority as a potential funding partner.”

In the July PQ Mr Matheson told Mr Stewart a PSO “would likely take around nine to 12 months for services to start due to the regulatory and procurement processes required”. Mr Stewart called for rapid movement on the air routes to keep the Far North’s connectivity and to aid development for the future.

The MSP wrote to Mr Matheson, and First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, after Loganair announced the axing of its Edinburgh-Wick service on Friday, March 27.

The MSP had previously asked the Scottish Government for swift action following the collapse of Flybe when the Wick-Aberdeen route was taken over by Eastern Airways which previously ran it under a franchise for Flybe. Mr Stewart argued that the Wick-Aberdeen service was fragile due to falling passenger numbers. Eastern Airways has now withdrawn this route.

Mr Matheson previously said it was considering carefully the business case submitted by Caithness Chamber of Commerce.
• A PSO, under EU transport law, is a permitted state aid which maintains scheduled air services on routes vital for the economic development of the region they serve.