Cost of living, Scottish Fishermen's Federation and Digital Voice - eNews 3rd April

Our calendars may now say that it is April but we have had all seasons in one week! I had thought not to bring my winter coat to Edinburgh earlier this week, but I am glad I did. Edinburgh was bitterly cold and witnessed a few snow flurries but nothing like Shetland’s experience.

My week kicked off at Sandwick Junior High School answering the questions of S1s – S2s pupils, some of whom are taking Modern Studies. There are so many aspects to being an MSP that it wasn’t possible to cover everything, but I love the questions that young people raise. They don’t sugar coat anything and view things differently so it’s always good to hear what they find of interest. Thank you to the staff and pupils at Sandwick JHS for the invitation and warm welcome.

This week the energy price cap rose. After urging everyone to take a meter reading of Thursday, so that all energy used under the cheaper rate was accounted for, it became apparent that energy company systems crashed due to the volume of input from customers. I’m not sure what the energy companies expected given the eye-watering increases that are kicking in. The rise in the cost of living makes many of us feel as though there is little we can do to combat the rise in prices. Liberal Democrats across Holyrood and Westminster are pressing for more action from the UK and Scottish Governments to help alleviate the pressure on squeezed household incomes such as:

  • Reversing the £250m cut to councils
  • Cutting VAT to 17.5%
  • Investing in insulation
  • Boosting disability benefits
  • Funding the new fire alarms requirement
  • Cancelling the National Insurance hike

On Tuesday I met with Professor Marc Turner, Director of the Scottish National Blood Transfusion Service. As giving blood in Shetland is not currently an option Professor Turner was keen to stress that this was under review and he would update me when this exercise was complete.

On Tuesday evening I welcomed guests to an event hosted by the Cross Party Group on Women Against State Pension Inequality (WASPI) in the Parliament. The event highlighted the work of different WASPI groups across Scotland about the injustice of changes to women’s state pension age for those born in the 1950s with little notice and information about the requirement for more working years before entitlement to their state pension. Liberal Democrats continue the call to address this injustice, and I am pleased to work with WASPI volunteers and colleagues across the Parliament for fair compensation. The outcome of the next stage of the process, following the Ombudsman’s decision on the DWP maladministration, is keenly awaited.

On Wednesday Scottish Liberal Democrats met with the Scottish Fishermen's Federation (SFF). The SFF outlined the many obstacles and upcoming issues they face, highlighting issues at a national level. Fishing is at the core of Shetland’s identity and for every job at sea it is said there are five on the land. Issues around fuel costs and the squeeze on fishing areas due to more marine activity (offshore wind farms and marine protected areas for example) are issues local fishermen and the Shetland Fishermen’s Association have raised with me, and I in turn have pressed the Scottish Government on. At a time when there is concern about food security, what could be better than freshly landed quality fish from the North Sea. And it has a low carbon footprint too.

Finally this week there was an announcement of a pause in the BT Digital Voice Programme. The programme moves traditional landline phones that use copper cables powered through their own connection, to digital broadband lines which require household power supply. It was an issue I had raised back in the summer of last year.  In the aftermath of Strom Arwen at the end of last year I raised the issue again. Many in the North East of Scotland had already been switched under the scheme but found that after Arwen had hit they were unable to use their landline due to a lack of power and broadband connection. Many were left without a connection to the outside world for days while efforts to reconnect power were underway.

Shetland was scheduled to be switched under the Digital Voice programme by 2025 despite the delayed timetabled rollout of high-speed broadband connections in the isles being set for completion in 2026-27.  I haven’t yet been given a clear answer as to how that circle would be squared. Remote, rural and island communities rely on robust communication. It is concerning that the issue of households being without power and connections to the outside world was not considered more closely before the programme was launched. What is clear is that Shetland is not yet ready for this change. Apart from power cuts, areas with no broadband or mobile signal would be impacted, along with anyone relying on a landline for use of a health alarm. I hope that this pause does not delay the roll-out of high-speed broadband connections we have long waited for, and for which the devolved nations have responsibility to deliver. I also hope the pause allows for reflection and answers to some of the open questions before Shetland is switched.

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