MSP seeks to keep up momentum on The Haven

Highlands and Islands Labour MSP, David Stewart, who has been supporting The Haven campaign said “It is fantastic news that The Haven has received this £1.1m grant from the Big Lottery Community Fund, hot on the heels of receiving planning permission for the building of the centre.

“This centre will transform the lives of children and young adults with complex needs throughout the Highlands but additionally, it will provide construction jobs for one year and social care jobs thereafter. It is a win, win, win for the Highlands.

“The project organisers are now half way to securing the total amount needed, £4m, and I am today contacting the Scottish Government to encourage them to also back the project financially.

“The Highland community wants the project, the Highland economy needs the project and the Scottish Government has a role to play in delivering the project. I will do my utmost to make sure it becomes a reality.”

Stewart congratulates business on its award for innovation and excellence

Tony Lister has thanked MSP David Stewart for his “lifeline”support.

Inverness-based estate agency Remax Elite was given national recognition through the Corporate Livewire Awards.

Judges on the platform which provides business professionals with latest news and developments chose Tony Lister’s firm as clear winner in the Estate Agency Small Business of the Year for Scotland category.

And now, Highlands & Islands regional MSP David Stewart has praised the firm for its win. It comes after Mr Stewart successfully appealed on Mr Lister’s behalf for Covid-19 grant funding of £10,000.

Mr Stewart said: “I am delighted to see a small company like Remax Elite recognised for its innovative work. Mr Lister deserves something positive after the difficult period he – and others in his field – have been going through. I know the firm puts innovation and excellence at the centre of everything it does. I congratulate Mr Lister on his success and wish him the best for the future.”

In April, Tony Lister turned to David Stewart after Highland Council said he did not qualify for a £10,000 government grant.

Due to an error when registering his business lease, Mr Lister’s firm was not eligible for a £10,000 handout from the coronavirus Small Business Support Grant Scheme.

The stressed-out businessman insisted an “honest mistake” had been made. But the council, which was administering the scheme for the government, said its hands were tied.

However, the decision was reversed when Mr Stewart put the merits of Mr Lister’s case to local authority chief executive Donna Manson and to Scottish Government ministers.

Mr Stewart, who is also helping businesses denied insurance interruption insurance pay-outs during covid-19, said: “It took two attempts to get this decision overturned in which time another constituent contacted me with the same problem. The council said modifications were made to the qualifying criteria for the small business grant scheme which meant both constituents could qualify. I understood the council was following government guidelines but no business should be penalised for admin errors, especially in the current climate.”

Mr Lister, who lives in Nairn, said: “I want to thank David for his kind words and more importantly for supporting us when we needed it and I feel the award underlines the efforts that he has gone to in order to help save the company.”

 

 

Cancer screening – it could take at least 12 weeks to access once restrictions are lifted

A health authority has told an MSP that cancer screening services could take 12 weeks to restart prior to a decision to reopen the service.

Highlands and islands Labour MSP, David Stewart, wrote to NHS Highland’s Chief Executive, Paul Hawkins, on behalf of a health professional concerned that patients were not receiving access to screening.

Mr Stewart said that during the COVID-19 pandemic, there had rightly been a focus on the need to protect the most vulnerable from catching the virus and saving lives.

“Cancer, however, hasn’t gone away and remains Scotland’s biggest killer,” said Mr Stewart.

“I want to see non-COVID-19 services restored with clear strategies for how patients will be protected and how to the backlog of demand will be addressed. Providing cancer services must be an absolute priority.

“Scottish Labour supports Cancer Research UK’s campaign for COVID-19-free safe spaces for cancer services and the Scottish Government must work constructively with health boards to achieve this within the existing NHS estate, while also ensuring staffing can be maintained at appropriate levels.

“As lockdown is eased we cannot return to business as usual. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the NHS was already in crisis due to long waiting times, resource pressures and unsustainable vacancy levels.

“In the meantime, I echo the health authority’s plea for anyone having worrying symptoms to contact their GP.”

Mr Hawkins told the MSP that National Services Scotland (NSS) which delivers services critical to front-line patient care to support NHS Scotland, paused breast, bowel and cervical screening programmes on March 30 due to Covid-19.

NSS was consulting with national and local officials to assess how these services could be safely recommenced, and this included looking at the risks, patients’ willingness to attend and infection, prevention and control measures.

Mr Hawkins said: “In the case of breast screening, for example, decisions will also need to be made regarding the scheduling of women to be invited e.g. whether to start from where the pause was implemented, or restart the programme where the service should have been screening if no pause was implemented.

“The issues are therefore significant and complex with NSS colleagues currently advising that a 12-week period prior to any restart will potentially be required.”

NHS Highland is advising patients to attend their GPs should they have any worrying symptoms and in recent weeks the number of referrals being received by GPs have been very close to the numbers being seen before the Coronavirus outbreak.

Cancer Research has highlighted that up to 1.2million invitations to take part in bowel, breast and cervical screening have not been sent out nationally.

More information at Cancer Research UK

https://scienceblog.cancerresearchuk.org/2020/06/22/getting-cancer-services-back-on-track-during-the-covid-19-pandemic/

Labour MSP continues to press the Scottish Government to stop dithering about future of Wick air routes

 

Highlands and Islands Labour MSP, David Stewart, is to again tackle Transport Secretary, Michael Matheson, about the dire situation in Caithness which has been left without scheduled air services as previously predicted.

This follows the news that Eastern Airways has now cut the Wick/Aberdeen route that it has operated for a number of years.

“The writing was on the wall long before this week’s announcement and still the Government appears to be dithering about what to do,” said Mr Stewart.

“I doubt whether any other areas of the UK have been left without such vital air links. In fact the UK Government and the Northern Ireland Executive have already moved to protect air links between the two countries.

“Mr Matheson needs to get a shift on to talk to his UK counterparts to make sure Caithness is in a good position to get connected again and quickly.”

Mr Stewart is lodging a series of Parliamentary Questions, including asking the Scottish Government what assessment has been made of the importance of Wick airport for the future development of Caithness and Sutherland.

The MSP also 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.

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.

“Easing of Lockdown Restrictions Not Licence To Litter” – David Stewart MSP

Highlands and Islands Scottish Labour MSP, David Stewart, has voiced his concerns about the potential increase in flytipping and littering across the region ahead of the expected further lifting of lockdown restrictions and the move into Phase 2 of the Scottish Government route-map.

After the first changes to Scotland’s lockdown restrictions were implemented taking the country into Phase 1 last month there was a spike in anti-social behaviour, flytipping and littering at a number of beauty spots in the region including at Dores Beach near Inverness which Mr Stewart contacted Police Scotland and Highland Council about after local residents raised concerns.

To coincide with restrictions beginning to lift and to help inform the public about enjoying the outdoors responsibly, organisations including the National Farmers Union (Scotland) have produced a new range of colourful posters for their members and will launch these in the next few days.

Commenting on the issue, David Stewart MSP said:

“The vast majority of the public across the Highlands and Islands have of course behaved well and have followed the guidelines to the letter, but as we saw when restrictions were lifted in Phase 1, a small minority acted totally irresponsibly leaving litter and waste at many beauty spots.

“As we move towards Phase 2 and the further lifting of restrictions it is vital that people do not see the easing of lockdown restrictions as a licence to litter.

“Communities across the region have been blighted by the irresponsible actions of others over recent weeks through flytipping, vandalism, groups holding picnics and parties, often with dangerous barbeques and failing to take litter home with them.

“I hope that people will listen to and follow the new guidelines carefully and enjoy the outdoors responsibly within the rules and with respect to the countryside and the environment.”

‘It’s a Disgrace’ says MSP David Stewart on Covid-19 health inequalities

Highlands and Islands Labour MSP, David Stewart, said it was “a disgrace” that those who live in our most deprived areas were more than twice as likely to die with Covid-19 than those in wealthy areas.

At the virtual meeting of the Scottish Parliament’s Health and Sport Committee this morning (June 17) Mr Stewart, who is also Scottish Labour’s Shadow Public Health Minister, asked Ms Freeman what the Scottish Government intended to do to reverse health inequalities.

“The Royal College of GPs concluded in evidence to our committee that the pandemic has ‘shone a light on the persistent health inequalities that continue to exist in Scotland’, he said.

“All our witnesses will know this, but those who live in our most deprived areas are more than twice as likely to die with Covid-19 than those in the least deprived communities.

“Cabinet Secretary I feel this is a disgrace. What action is the Scottish Government going to carry out to reverse health inequalities?

Mr Stewart also raised the connection with obesity, conditions such as Diabetes and Covid-19 and called for cross cutting policies in the future – for example policies that cross the different aspects of housing, health and employment.

Mr Stewart said: “There may well be future pandemics, or of course regional health emergencies such as the foot and mouth crisis in 2001, but we can read the crystal ball that the poor will get a raw deal on these. How can we turn health inequalities on its head and place the disadvantaged on the top of the list?”

Health Secretary, Jeane Freeman, said Mr Stewart was absolutely right about the light being shone on those more severely impacted by Covid-19.

She detailed how there was also emerging evidence about the longer term impacts of those who have had the disease in terms respiratory, cardiovascular and renal functions and clear indications that certain underlying health conditions may make an individual more susceptible to a serious response to the infection, or the infection causing serious ill health in an individual compared to those who do not have underlying health conditions and some of those underlying health conditions related back to the circumstance of poverty and deprivation.

She added that the Chief Medical Officer and senior officials had been tasked to undertake an early piece of work looking at what was needed to tackle population health particularly in relation to health inequalities.

“There is a clear pressing demand now for us to find ways to be more effective in reducing health inequalities and reaching groups of people with important but practical ways by which they can improve their own health that we have not so far been successful in doing in 20 years of devolution. There is much more for us to do and we have already tasked the initiation of that work,” said Ms Freeman.

After the meeting Mr Stewart said he welcomed Ms Freeman’s assurance that work was underway to look again at health inequalities and her comment that it was “entirely fair to demand of this Government or any Government that as you plan for your response to any health emergency that your early thoughts go to those who are most disadvantaged in your society”.

Mr Stewart added: “However, in January, even before Coronavirus lockdown, the scale of persistent health inequalities was highlighted by Scottish Government statistics.

“In 1997, premature mortality rates were three times higher in the most deprived areas compared to the least deprived; in 2018, rates were four times higher in the most deprived areas.

“Over the last decade there has been a desperate need to plough more investment into these communities, to find better ways to tackle health inequalities. Covid-19 has brought into sharp focus that this has not happened and it’s shameful.”

David Stewart raises lack of payouts for Business Interruption Insurance in Parliament

Highlands and Islands Labour MSP David Stewart raised the issue of how companies were being affected by not having their claims for Business Interruption Insurance being met.

Meeting of the Parliament (Virtual) 11 June 2020 [Draft]
o Portfolio Question Time
 Rural Economy and Tourism
 The Deputy Presiding Officer (Linda Fabiani):
Welcome to this virtual meeting of the Scottish Parliament. The first item of business is portfolio questions on the rural economy and tourism. In order to get in as many members as possible, please could all members make questions and answers short and succinct—especially the supplementary questions and answers.
 Rural and Island Economies (Impact of Covid-19)
 Highlands and Islands (Impact of Covid-19 on Tourism)
 2. David Stewart (Highlands and Islands) (Lab):
To ask the Scottish Government what assessment it has made of the impact of Covid-19 on tourism in the Highlands and Islands. (S5O-04389)
 The Cabinet Secretary for Rural Economy and Tourism (Fergus Ewing):
The Scottish Government is keenly aware of the impact that the coronavirus has had on the tourism economy of the Highlands and Islands and is working extremely hard to address that.
 David Stewart:
Tourism is the lifeblood of the economy of the Highlands and Islands. My mailbox is full of contact from disgruntled tourist businesses that have for a variety of spurious reasons been denied business interruption insurance for interruption due to Covid-19. Will the cabinet secretary join my campaign to raise that injustice with the regulator, and ask insurance companies to think again?
 Fergus Ewing:
I entirely agree with David Stewart that the response of the insurance companies has been deeply disappointing, which is why the Scottish Government has been very active on the matter. Fiona Hyslop, who is the lead cabinet secretary on the matter, and I had a conference call with the Association of British Insurers just last week. During it, I expressed my extreme displeasure about the fact that so many insurance companies seem to be denying liability on the basis that the pandemic is the “wrong sort of pandemic”. How truly pathetic. We are campaigning on the matter and will work alongside David Stewart.
This is the first opportunity that I have had since Mr Stewart announced his planned retiral to say what a pleasure it has been, and will continue to be, to work alongside him in representing people in the Highlands of Scotland.

Highland Wildlife Park at Risk: Can you help?

I’m supporting the Highland Wildlife Park at Kincraig in their bid to re-open early, such as is planned in England. The Park is also desperately looking for support to weather the COVID financial storm. Can you help?

 

You can donate via the following link:- https://www.justgiving.com/campaign/HelpYourPark

 

Stewart seeks early opening and financial support for Highland Wildlife Park

Highlands and Islands Labour MSP, David Stewart, asked today if the Highland Wildlife Park at Kincraig in his region could be permitted to open early and also be given financial support to weather the COVID financial storm.

After the Ministerial Statement on COVID-19 and tourism was delivered by Fergus Ewing in the Chamber this afternoon, Mr Stewart said “One jewel in the crown for tourists is the Highland Wildlife Park at Kincraig.

“They are desperately looking for two things; early opening such as is planned in England, and financial support. Will the Cabinet Secretary look urgently at these two matters?”

The MSPs intervention came after he was contacted by the Park’s owners seeking support for their drive to safely reopen and prevent the ‘financially disastrous’ implications of being closed over the summer months.

The Park authorities advise that a wide range of safety measures to protect visitors and staff is being put in place by the wildlife conservation charity, which has had to borrow £5 million due to the coronavirus pandemic and the closure of the Highland Wildlife Park and it’s sister operation, Edinburgh Zoo.

Chief Executive, David Field, advised that Edinburgh Zoo and the Highland Wildlife Park have large outdoor spaces and they can re-open safely by introducing social distancing, closing indoor areas, limiting visitor numbers and selling tickets online with time slots.

The Cabinet Secretary said in the Statement that an ‘indicative date’ for some tourism sectors to reopen would be 15 July however this won’t apply to all tourism related ventures. The Highland Wildlife Park was hoping to open by the end of June.

The Cabinet Secretary responded to Mr Stewart’s questions that his colleague, Rosanna Cunningham, is looking urgently at providing financial support and that there was a very strong case which has been accepted in England. He said there are very strong animal welfare reasons, the Highland Wildlife Park has a wide, attractive collection of different species of animals and we need to consider the animal welfare considerations as well as the need for reopening.

He said “I would stress that our judgement and our cautious approach in Scotland is that it is not right just yet to open all visitor attractions to have people from all over the county travelling to enjoy them. That’s the predominant reason that the opening can’t happen sooner than it is.”

Speaking after the statement, Mr Stewart said “I welcome the fact that financial support may be forthcoming and I hear the animal welfare considerations that must also be taken into account. However there is support for early opening of animal parks in England and I will continue to press for this in Scotland in a bid to ensure the Highland Wildlife Park in my region makes it through this financial crisis.”

David Stewart highlights ion ionisers and Covid-19 role in Parliament

Highlands and Islands Labour MSP, David Stewart, highlighted the role that the use of negative ion ionisers could have in the continued fight against COVID-19 during First Minister’s Questions in Holyrood today (10 June 2020).

Mr Stewart said “The First Minister will be well aware that to conquer COVID-19 requires scientific collaboration, initiative and innovation. Will the First Minister join with me in congratulating my constituent, Pete Gavin, from the Highlands and Islands in his work highlighting the positive role that negative ion ionisers can play in fighting the virus, preventing infection and setting Scotland back on the road to recovery.”

The First Minister replied “Yes, I will congratulate Pete Gavin for the work he is doing and we should all, in circumstances none of us would have chosen to be in, take great pride in the way that Scottish scientists are at the cutting edge of the global efforts to both understand COVID-19 and also find ways of tackling it.

“That is true in terms of the trials to hopefully develop a vaccine, is true in terms of some of the scientific work that was reported on yesterday about genome sequencing of the different lineages of the virus to help us understand more about how it spreads and transmits and a whole range of different ways Scottish scientists are leading that work in partnership and collaboration with scientists across the UK and indeed globally and it is right and proper that we draw attention to that.”

David Stewart said “I have been supporting Pete Gavin in trying to raise awareness of how negative ion ionisers may be able to help fight the virus. He has been working tirelessly to get this information into the public domain and I was pleased therefore that the First Minister responded so positively. I will continue to raise the scientific endeavours on this in a bid to support our health workers in caring for patients with the virus.”

The First Minister concluded that it is right and proper to note that that Mr Stewart had announced his own retirement from Parliament this week and she took the opportunity to wish him well and thank him for the contribution that he makes.