New Year, superfast broadband and local government funding

21 Jan 2024

Another year is upon us and it has been a case of hitting the ground running on the return of the Parliament after the festive break. This week though has seen great disruption across Shetland with wintery weather. Travel disruption meant I was unable to make it to Holyrood, instead joining Parliamentary proceedings remotely.

I would like to thank all those who are maintaining essential services during this challenging time. The closure of schools and other services across the islands, and transport disruption both within Shetland and to and from the Scottish Mainland has been rooted in safety, and volunteers have been making sure the most vulnerable in our community have been supported. A special thanks to the gritting crews who have been doing sterling work in difficult circumstances.

I kick started my 2024 standing on Saxa Vord looking at arguably one of the best views in Shetland as I met with the Wild Skies committee following their Sky Trail project winning Scotland’s Regeneration Forum 2023 SURF Awards for Best Practice in Community Regeneration. The trail is run by passionate community volunteers in Unst who care about the natural wonders of their island and want to share its sights and sounds.

I also attended the re-dedication service of the County War Memorial, which went to Plan B given the wet weather conditions. I joined around 100 people for what was a poignant and informative occasion in Lerwick Town Hall.

In the Chamber I took the opportunity to question the Scottish Government on the significant challenges domestic abuse victims in Shetland face in getting legal aid lawyers with the Minister for Victims and Community Safety. You can watch the clip here. I also impressed upon the Cabinet Secretary for Education the importance of swimming lessons for young children, particularly in island contexts. You can see my question here.

I spoke in in a members’ debate about mobile bank branch closures, highlighting the disproportionate impact of such changes on older people and rural and island communities across Scotland. You can see my full speech here.

I attended the Cross Party Group on Crofting, which heard updates on agriculture reform work; and I spoke with representatives from the Royal College of Physicians about recruitment and retention of NHS doctors, as well as businesses in the Scottish Renewables Supply Chain at an event in Parliament.

This past Tuesday I responded on behalf of the Scottish Liberal Democrats during the Stage 1 debate on the Visitor Levy Bill. My party will conditionally support the bill but want to see amendments. I highlighted that cruise ship visitors would not be covered by the bill as currently drafted and outlined this unfairness. You can see my full speech here. On Thursday I also spoke for the party highlighting the work of the Scottish Rural and Islands Youth Parliament. You can see my contribution here.

In questions to the Scottish Government I put a number of questions to Ministers including on the local authority funding gap, see the clip here; and the future of further education in Shetland, my question can be seen here. I also questioned the cost of certification to local contractors for heating system installations, which can be watched here. Finally this week I was able to quiz the First Minister on the voucher scheme and the R100 programme for super-fast broadband. I will continue to press the Scottish Government on digital connectivity which is one of today’s essential utilities; you can watch the full exchange here.

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