Friday, 20 March 2009

No folly over firefighters

ROSS-shire's retained firefighters don't need scaremongering about the invaluable service they provide, particularly those in remote and rural areas.

Setting a 48-hour maximum to the working week as currently proposed in relation to retained firefighters could greatly reduce the hours for which they would be available for duty, to the detriment of fire services. LibDem disarray and hype won't do.

SNP MEPs voted against the move in the recent European Parliament vote as we recognise the concerns raised by the Retained Firefighters Union in relation to the ending of the UK opt-out to the EU working time directive. We agree with the STUC and Fire Brigades Union that, as the issue is now subject to negotiations at European level, there is no immediate threat to fire provision, and hopes that the mature and responsible joint efforts by the Scottish and UK governments will ensure that any future changes to the EU working time directive ensure the flexibility required to allow the continuation of retained firefighters and the protection of workers' rights.


EVERY effort must be made to resist the threat to close Hugh Miller's cottage in Cromarty by a cash-strapped National Trust for Scotland.

I fully back my Black Isle councillor colleague Craig Fraser with his campaign and on-line petition.

Additionally, questions at the national level need to be raised. When the NTS was founded in 1931 the Trust began to act as guardian of the nation's magnificent heritage of architectural, scenic and historic treasures.

At that time the bequest of wild land such as Glencoe by Percy Unna was a key driver to protect an iconic area of Scotland's scenery. This was long before National Parks were established. Soon historic properties were added especially in lieu of death duties which brought castles, gardens and more mountain areas such as the Arran Hills.

A disproportionately large part of our heritage held by NTS is in the form of country mansions and castles with their gardens and policies. This inevitably leads to huge upkeep costs. Also at a time of falling entry charges the whole basis of the NTS is far from sustainable. I believe that the time is ripe for the Parliament to investigate how to fund and prioritise the uses to which NTS properties and those in the guardianship of Historic Scotland.


THE bureaucratic crawl towards freeing up the Nigg yard must speed up if it is to play its part in the national fight against climate change. The need to secure land bases to build the structures to capture offshore windpower is urgent. I am delighted that the SNP members of Highland Council started the ball rolling in mid-2007. Yet in March 2009 the much-needed Compulsory Purchase powers are still to be agreed.

I take part in the Parliament's Energy Enquiry. Its remit is to determine what type of future we want in Scotland in terms of the production, distribution and more efficient use of energy, and how and when it can be delivered to meet the Scottish Government's objectives of increasing renewable energy generation and reducing emissions. Also we are considering how energy supplies can be secured at an affordable price and how economic benefits from the energy industries can be maximised.

This week we are promised action by May by the planning chiefs in Highland Council. Meanwhile I read of the opposition to CPO procedures by major companies involved with Nigg.

I believe that the local and national interest must override any further delays.

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