Isles FM News in association with Hebrides News: Wednesday 29th April 2020


Comhailre Nan Eilean Siar has sparked anger by restarting its controversial practice of assessing croft properties to count towards care home costs.
The practice is deeply contentious across the Western Isles for effectively forcing people to sell the family croft to meet the costs of residential care for an elderly relative.

The local authority was forced to halt a number of ongoing cases eight weeks ago following a vote by councillors at a special meeting. Now it has reversed that suspension without referring the matter to all councillors as previously agreed, after obtaining new legal advice from an eminent Scottish QC.

SNP Councillor Calum Macmillan is furious by officials apparently overruling Councillors and ignoring their decision for the matter to return to the full council for further scrutiny.
He accused council bosses of making a "mockery of decision-making in the Western Isles. Our communities deserve better.”

He added:

"Reverting to the original controversial practice of forcing the sale of croft houses is not competent and must therefore be withdrawn, as the required information has yet to be presented to councillors," insisted Mr Macmillan.

Gordon Murray, the leader of the SNP group of councillors, stated:

"I think it’s scandalous that this is now being disrespected in this way and I believe this really damages the integrity of the council and it’s decision-making.”

Western Isles Council emphasises the latest legal advice means croft assets must be taken into account. Crofting law expert Sir Crispin Agnew's opinion is that a croft or associated house "requires to be taken into account in the calculation of a resident’s capital" for the purposes of the relevant regulations. Grazing rights are also a capital asset that requires to be taken into account, he believes.



The Alzheimers Scotland Solas Day Centre in Stornoway closed on 13th March due to COVID-19, but employees quickly sprang into action to look at what could be delivered online to continue therapeutic relationships.

Employees undertook training such as Attend Anywhere for Dementia Advisor 1-1 sessions and peer group sessions for carers and families and these digital platforms are now in place. Online support is also available through activity packs for non-internet users and door step visits to those in need.

Marion MacInnes, Locality Leader said:

“We are trying our best to stay connected and to support those in need during this time. Our remaining employees are keeping in contact with people and families to monitor any changes, issues or support needs.

“We are also delivering goody bags to all Solas and Peer Support Groups in addition to supporting people through phone calls, texting and emailing. We are offering a loan of IT equipment and support with set up in partnership with the Library and low level home support is available for people in critical need.”



Highlands and Islands MSP Donald Cameron has said that local authorities in his region require greater clarity from the Scottish Government about funding.

An extra £155 million has been provided by the UK Government to pass on to councils in Scotland but, despite Scottish Government ministers being asked by the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (COSLA) about the funding, there remains a lack of guidance about how the money can be spent.

Mr Cameron, the Shadow Finance Secretary, said:

“I am seriously concerned that senior councillors I have spoken to remain unsure about how much they will receive and exactly what they can spend it on. Local authorities have a vital role to play in delivering care to vulnerable people and they work very closely with the NHS through the Integration Joint Boards which they also help to fund.

Also Donald Cameron has criticised the Scottish Government’s decision to delay the report of the OECD education review of Scottish education from February 2021 until after next year’s Holyrood elections.

Mr Cameron said:

“This announcement will be greeted with dismay across the Highlands and Islands where there is widespread concern about narrowing subject choices, which are restricting the career choices available to our young people and reducing the options for study at university.

“The Scottish education system used to be the envy of the world but, in recent years, we have been slipping down the league tables, and this needs to be urgently addressed, rather than further deferred. While I accept that the COVID-19 crisis has made assessment visits and stakeholder events more difficult, frankly such a lengthy delay seems unnecessary.”

As well Donald Cameron has welcomed the publication of a guide for retailers which provides advice on how non-food establishments can make their premises safe for customers and staff. The guide, published by the Scottish Retail Consortium in association with USDAW, has been backed by a number of MSPs, including Mr Cameron, who supported a motion submitted by Jackie Baillie MSP to the Scottish Parliament.



MSP Rhoda Grant is striving to safeguard oil jobs amid a massive downturn in the sector. It comes as leading trade association Oil and Gas UK (OGUK) is predicting up to 30,000 jobs, mainly in the North Sea supply sector will be cut in the next 12-18 months.

In the immediate term, the Highlands & Islands Labour MSP has been supporting efforts to secure the wages of oil workers whose jobs are at risk of being slashed within weeks.

She said: “I am in touch right now with industry leaders and I am supporting my North East Labour MSP colleague Lewis MacDonald’s work at a national level to secure the salaries in the short term for hundreds of oil workers through the UK Government’s Job Retention Scheme, which allows businesses to claim state money for employee salaries.

“Under the scheme, employers can apply for cash grants online and put employees on furlough, meaning their job is put on hold and they do not work, but they are still employed. The state then finances 80 per cent of furloughed employees' salaries, up to £2,500 per month. It is vital that these wages are secured even if only in the short term.”