Westhill is not for moving!

As previously commented on here, the UK Parliament constituencies are being redrawn. Scotland as well as the rest of the UK will have less constituencies (therefore less MPs). The Boundary Commission for Scotland has made recommendations and these are open to public consultation at the link here. There’s still time for you to send in your comments – you have until Monday 27th March.

I have sent the following submission to the Boundary Commission consultation on the back of suggestions by Lord McInnes of Kilwinning to pluck Westhill and District out of its natural habitat and move it in to the Kincardine and Angus East constituency. Please make your views known over the next few days and send a strong message to the Commission that we’re not for moving!

I wish to record my strong opposition to the suggestion made by Lord McInnes of Kilwinning that the Commission examine whether an alternative solution is available by replacing Banchory with Westhill in the new Kincardine and Angus East constituency.

The council wards are numbered to coincide with their location within the local map and their proximity to each other. It makes no sense whatsoever to group Westhill and District (Ward 13) in with wards 17, 18, and 19 in the new Kincardine and Angus East and have Banchory (ward 16) in with wards 8,9,10,11,12 and 14 in the new Gordon and Deeside constituency.

Ward 13 has a strong historic link with Gordon and West Aberdeenshire. My Westhill and District ward is surrounded by wards 10, 12, 14, 15 and 16. To remove ward 13 would be like picking out the middle piece of a jigsaw puzzle to leave a gaping hole rather than have wards flowing through constituencies logically.

Please resist Lord McInnes’ proposal and ensure that Westhill and District remains with its rightful close family in the Gordon and Deeside constituency.

Iris Walker

Councillor

Westhill

 

MSP now based in Westhill

Mike Rumbles MSP

North East Scotland

Westpoint House

BlueSky Business Space

Arnhall Business Park

Westhill, Aberdeenshire

AB32 6FS

01224 766959

Mike.Rumbles.MSP@Parliament.scot

SP 

I visited Mike Rumbles, Regional MSP for North East Scotland, this week at his office in Westhill. Mike’s office is ideally located to serve his constituents. I look forward to regular meetings with Mike to catch up on local issues. Mike can be contacted via phone or email as above.

Unelected body wins the day on how council spends your money!

The administration of Aberdeenshire Council (made up of SNP, Labour and the Progressive Independent Group) delayed setting the annual budget yesterday where savings of some £18 million have to be made, yet agreed to spend more money to help the Bord na Gaidhlig promote the Gaelic language in North East Scotland.

I am sure that it was not the intention of those who sealed the Gaelic Language Act 2005 – whatever political hue they were – to place additional financial burden on local authorities and other public bodies when the Act itself handed over not only the future of the language, but a handsome sum of some £5 million per annum in recent years, to a then new, unelected body – the Gaelic Board.

In September 2014, members of Policy & Resources Committee (P&R) were recommended to agree the content of the council’s draft Gaelic Language Plan and were told that the only areas where we had not met with the high level expectations was with respect to road signage and corporate identity (we had refused to change our logo and road signs to include Gaelic). The recommendations on this basis were agreed by P&R at that time.

In a report to P&R one year later, just this last September, we learned that the Gaelic Board were not content with our “balanced, well-measured plan that met the spirit of high level expectations and the Act” and suggested areas where we might want to reconsider. That committee report stated that 514 responses were gathered from a consultation but omitted to say that only 54 responses had been returned from residents, stakeholders and partner organisations. P&R narrowly agreed to conform to the Bord’s further demands hence the paper came up again in full council yesterday for all members to vote on – if the Bord na Gaidhlig had accepted our measured and proportionate response put forward in 2014 and had not threatened sanctions, our Gaelic Language Plan could have been in place.

Although I have written tongue-in-cheek about this subject here before, for me this was never about pitting Gaelic against Doric; we have a duty as parents and grandparents to keep local languages or dialects alive for the next generation; it is not the duty of cash-strapped councils.

Amidst claims of being disrespectful to Scottish history, we lost the vote.

You can read the full report here (item 12).

 

 

Picking fights with Westminster

Alex Neil 1

Before the ink was dry on local newspapers and before Alex Neil had set a muddy foot in Westhill, he had already put the boot in to Westminster a couple of times.

The Secretary for Social Justice and Communities unveiled plans for more homes across the north-east, visiting Westfield at Broadshade, Westhill where Aberdeenshire Council is providing 30 new council homes as well as mid-market properties; not because of the Scottish Government’s housing strategy, but in spite of it. Alex stated that “efforts to meet demand for low-cost housing has been hampered by budget decisions at Westminster.” Housing is devolved to Scotland and the responsibility lies with Holyrood ministers to prioritise.

Further, before he embarked on his tour as part of a nationwide consultation on how to create a fairer Scotland, Alex Neil had already been having a conversation with himself about the “poverty time-bomb” caused by Westminster cutbacks.

I was privileged to be part of the conversation which took place in reality, after his press release had been sent out. Granted, there were concerns raised about benefits and how to access information.

I was grateful to be able to highlight the concerns of many in-work residents about the inequality facing Scotland over the lack of affordable housing due to housing grants to councils and housing providers being slashed by the Scottish Government some years ago; an act of folly from which smaller registered landlords won’t recover, if indeed they are still around.

Others raised the issue of the council tax freeze which is preventing councils being able to provide the level of services required to the most vulnerable; the removal of local accountability of police and fire services; the removal of decision-making of local authorities; money spent on providing free prescriptions and cuts to further education were all cited as barriers to equality.

Alex took all these comments on the chin, making no promises, as he quoted in the press “because we don’t know how much money we will have”.

We should remember this last quote in 2016 when we get sight of the SNP manifesto. Will the priorities highlighted by you and I over the next few months via these public conversations be their priorities or will their obsession to pick fights with Westminster continue to be the real barrier to a more equal Scotland?

Alex Neil 2

86% of Ward 13 residents say NO to separation!

Scotland flag with uk

With just under 200 days until Scotland votes in the referendum for separation, my online survey tells me that 86% of Ward 13 residents who responded are voting NO to a separate Scotland.

As both sides of the campaign marked the countdown, the Scottish Secretary, Alistair Carmichael was quoted in the media today:

“independence would have far-reaching consequences” for Scotland, as he argued the nation was “stronger and more secure as part of a United Kingdom”.

With the referendum “fast approaching” he said it was time for everyone to “turn their attention to how they intend to vote”

Mr Carmichael said: “This is not a decision to be taken lightly – we cannot afford to gamble with our nation’s future – so that means making an informed choice and to do that we all need to get the facts.

“And nobody should think that this is not a decision that matters for them.

“Crucial decisions – like whether you keep the UK pound in your pocket and who will be a British citizen – rest on this vote.”

He added: “This ballot is not won and the outcome will not be decided until the last vote is cast. Everyone who has a vote should use it – and use it wisely.”

SNP councillors refuse to back call for improved infrastructure for the North East

 
A senior Aberdeenshire councillor has expressed disappointment that SNP councillors refused to support a report calling on the Scottish Government to give greater priority to the vital infrastructure needs of the north east of Scotland.
 
At a meeting yesterday, the Council was asked to consider its response to the Scottish Government’s National Planning Framework 3 (NPF3), published by ministers on 14th January. The NPF3 document provides a framework for development across the whole of Scotland, together with the government’s priorities for the next 20 or 30 years.
 
It also identifies nationally important developments to support its approach, including carbon capture and storage at Peterhead, improvements at Aberdeen airport and the project to develop Aberdeen harbour.
 
Whilst welcoming many aspects of NPF3, the Council’s response raised concerns over the lack of detailed actions to deliver the infrastructure necessary to support the levels of growth envisioned by Scottish ministers, particularly in the north east.
 
The report also highlighted concerns previously raised by the council and by Nestrans over the priority being given to a project to develop high speed rail between Edinburgh and Glasgow, rather than to improving journey times between the north east and the central belt.
 
Commenting, Cllr Peter Argyle, chair of the Infrastructure Services Committee, said, “I was absolutely astonished that the SNP group failed to back a report calling for greater priority to be given to rail links to and from the north east, rather than this unnecessary and uncosted high speed rail project.
 
“The Scottish Government is already spending £650m on rail improvements between Edinburgh and Glasgow, to reduce journey times by an estimated 8 minutes and increase capacity. High speed rail coming on top of this investment would be a luxury Scotland cannot afford at this stage, certainly not in isolation from the wider UK high speed rail project. 
 
“We urgently need Scottish Government investment to improve journey times between Aberdeen and the central belt. Taking almost three hours to travel by rail from the economic powerhouse of Scotland to the central belt is inadequate in the 21st century. While there are still sections of single track around Montrose, including high speed rail in NPF3 as a priority National Development simply cannot be justified.
 
“It is a sad fact that of the £2.6bn of capital transport projects underway across Scotland today, none are in the north east. Indeed, the last Scottish Government project to be completed in our area was Laurencekirk station, way back in 2007. It is disappointing that the SNP failed to support the Aberdeenshire community on this issue and instead wanted to back the inclusion of this high speed project.”

Devolution and the implications of Scottish independence

Scotland flag with uk

Michael Moore has called on all of us to read his paper, participate in the debate, and not leave it to lawyers. Please take time to read this document.

www.gov.uk/government/publications/scotland-analysis-devolution-and-the-implications-of-scottish-independence

Thanks to all who have taken the time to respond to the online survey to the right of this page. Please keep your responses coming and I will publish the results at a later date!

Lib Dem response to the Scottish Budget 2012

Some good news in Willie Rennie’s letter this afternoon. Let’s hope some of the benefits will be seen in our local area soon.

Dear Iris

I am sending this short note to update you on the outcome of the Budget voted on in the Scottish Parliament today.

My colleagues and I have been in detailed discussions with Scottish ministers for some time to secure improvements to the Budget. Today saw some fruits from that work. As a result the Liberal Democrat MSPs were able to support the Budget. It’s not perfect by any means, but good enough to vote for.

You may have seen in the news that the Scottish Government has produced, at the eleventh hour, extra money for colleges to reverse their proposed cut in student support and increase the money going into colleges.

You will know that, week after week since September, I have challenged the First Minister and his government to do the ‘right thing’ for colleges. I have even shown him where he has the extra money available from the UK Government to make it happen.

This year is the year when Scotland’s colleges need us most, and we need colleges most. They give opportunity for all, they tackle social inequality and they work for every community.

That is why Liberal Democrats put them front and centre for support in this Budget. That pressure has paid off. Thousands of students will benefit.

I am also pleased to say that we have had some success in persuading the SNP to increase investment in affordable housing. This is something that many party members have asked me to give high priority to. The same is true for early intervention which has been a longstanding campaign for our party.

It doesn’t stop here. Our challenge over the months ahead is to make sure that the Scottish Government is fully focused on tackling the economy and unemployment.

I will keep you up to date as we go forward.

Best wishes,

Willie Rennie MSP
Leader, Scottish Liberal Democrats