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Gordon Young, Head Teacher Lionacleit School

On the 23rd May 2001 Tony Blair (in his publishing of the Labour party manifesto) said: “Education, education, education.”

It was meant as an indication to the nation that education would be the main focus of their next term, with year on year investment and recognition of the worth of the teaching profession.
At the time, I was in 3rd year of university, on my way to completing a teaching degree and these words meant a lot to me. As a young man from a single parent family, with a mother who worked every hour she could to ensure that I was well provided for, education had done right by me. Education was then and still is, a route to better prospects, a way of securing employment and developing a career that would be unavailable without the right qualification.

I mention my family circumstances to highlight that I am no stranger to the financial struggles that families can face. I was in primary school in the days when free school meals meant a different coloured lunch ticket, an embarrassment that I eventually refused to endure, which meant Mam had to find the money to feed me a ‘home dinner’ rather than a free school lunch. The system that was meant to be supportive became a barrier. I have never forgotten how it made me feel to be treated differently when I needed support. I have never forgotten how fiercely my mother fought against any suggestion that, as a single parent, she was less capable of taking care of me. But at the same time, looking back as an adult, I recognise how tough things must have been at times.

Thankfully, things have changed significantly for the better. Electronic payment, where free school meal entitlement is automatically added to the balance, is a hugely positive step forward. Clothing and uniform grants, where you can send the forms centrally to Stornoway rather than hand them in, are all steps in the right direction. Unfortunately, the current economic climate means that families are going to be feeling the pinch more than any time I can remember as a teacher.

Helping families who may be having a tough time is difficult for schools as sometimes people either don’t want to ask for help or don’t know what help they are entitled to. This can sometimes be made worse in a small community as people want to preserve their right to privacy.

I would like to use this platform to reach all of our families. Some people manage all of the time, some manage sometimes and others are really struggling to make ends meet – the vast majority of families will move through all of these stages at some point. If there is anything that we as a school can do to help you then please do not hesitate to get in touch. Some examples would be: helping to fill in forms, making sense of what benefits are available or helping to provide some new school uniform.

I find it very difficult to think that some families may be struggling and have no-one to turn to. This is made worse for families who are mostly managing (and do not qualify for other benefits) but can face an unexpected cost that has an effect on their budgeting. If this is you, then please recognise that we are here for you; we will help and support you in any way we can.

If you would like to discuss anything that is mentioned above then please call in to the school office, contact your young person’s guidance teacher or, if privacy/confidentiality is a worry for you, then contact me personally.

Schools have become more than places of learning; we offer stability for young people and routines and a safe space for others. Teachers are aware of the needs of young people and want to help them achieve at a level that is suitable for them.

Education has moved on from a focus on five Highers and an endpoint of a university degree. Scottish Higher qualifications used to be referred to as ‘the gold standard’.

I often wonder what pathway I would have taken in today’s world of education rather than the late 90s/early 2000s. You see, the pathway I was on then got me a good job in a career that I love and have prospered in. However, it also brought me tens of thousands pounds of debt and four years of struggling to make ends meet in a community that was not my own, far from my family.
Young people today have different options available to them.

Our academic results this year at Sgoil Lionacleit have many success stories. We have young people who achieved six As at National 5, or five As at Higher; we also have young people who completed foundation apprenticeships and have moved into employment working towards modern apprenticeships. We have young people with vocational course qualifications and work experience with local firms that has led to employment. There are many pathways for young people – the days of five Highers and University being viewed as the only way to be successful are gone. At Sgoil Lionacleit, staff encourage young people to access the path that is right for them. For some that will be an apprenticeship, or straight into employment, for others it will be college or university.

When I was asked to write this piece, the good exam results were mentioned as a positive news story that I might want to discuss. In fact, the exam results (good as they are) only make up a small part of the success story of our schools in the last three years. The main indicator for me is the positive destinations for our leavers:

2019 – 97.8%
2020 – 100%
2021 – 98.2%

Especially when viewed against the National picture:
2019 – 95.05%
2020 – 93.36%
2021 – 95.48%

With all of this in mind, for young people in Sgoil Lionacleit, education is doing right by them.

Uist’s grid connection at risk as Ofgem push back on sub sea cable replacement

Local renewable energy producers have raised concerns that the undersea cable connecting Uist to the national grid is at risk if urgent replacement works do not go ahead.

Under current arrangements, the energy regulator ofgem must approve all network operator business plans before any major projects can proceed through a system known as RIIO2 (Revenue=Incentives+
Innovation+Outputs).

Scottish & Southern Electricity Networks’ (SSEN’s) business case for this next five year period prioritised replacing the current 46.1km Uist-Skye subsea cable with two shorter cables, running from Skye to Loch Carnan in the south and to Lochmaddy in the north, improving capacity and resilience for the islands.

Ofgem has pushed back to SSEN, rejecting plans to replace the cables and demanding further information is provided to justify the spend.

The undersea cable is the only means by which Uist connects to the national grid; without it we cannot import power to, or export power from, the islands. If the cable were to fail, the islands would be reliant on the limited capability of Carnan power station and costly, environmentally damaging back up diesel generators.

The situation is of concern to community renewables companies Uist Wind and Storas Uibhist, who are fearful of a repeat of the situation two years ago, when the cable connecting Harris to Skye failed, restricting power export and leaving Lewis and Harris reliant on back-up generation for a full year.

As a result of the Harris failure, insurance companies are no longer prepared to cover business losses associated with undersea cable failures, which leaves local community companies unable to recover lost income should the Uist cable fail. This in turn requires substantial reserves to be maintained and putting millions of pounds of community investment at risk at a time when the communities of Uist are facing extreme financial hardship.

The current health of the 31 year-old Uist cable is deemed to be worse than the Harris cable was at the point if its failure in 2020, and by 2028, is expected to present more than four times the risk of failure. In its business case submissions, SSEN said: “The probability of failure is 1.8858 in 2023/24 rising to 6.1268 by the end of ED2, 2028. The Skye – Harris 33 kV subsea cable had a Probability of Failure of 1.3126 and failed in October 2020.”

An Ofgem spokesperson told Am Pàipear: “Ofgem has not rejected the needs case for replacing the Uist supply cable. However, proposals by developers need to fully demonstrate how they meet that needs case. Ofgem is focussed on ensuring the resilience of infrastructure connecting the Scottish Islands.

SSEN confirmed that they were working with Ofgem to justify the need for funding, adding: “We are hopeful of a positive outcome when its Final Determinations are announced at the end of November.”  
Community renewable projects across the Western Isles have issued a joint letter to Ofgem Chief Executive, Jonathan Brearley, saying: “We believe that this decision questions the Government’s and OFGEM’s commitment to Net Zero and decarbonisation targets, as well as the importance they place on remote communities within the network. The overall drastic impact this decision could have on the quality of life of the communities these networks serve should not be underestimated. We ask that OFGEM work with SSEN to find a solution to this issue as soon as possible, and we would welcome a response to detail how this can be done.”

Comhairle nan Eilean Siar has issued a statement blasting Ofgem’s decision: The Comhairle is engaging with OFGEM over its shortsighted approach to asset replacement, which could have catastrophic consequences for the Uist and Barra community in the near future. In light of OFGEM’s failure to regulate electricity prices or to enable grid connection to the islands, the Comhairle will now consider whether OFGEM is fit-for-purpose as an energy sector regulator for the 21st Century when the planet is plunging into climate crisis and island households are having to choose whether to heat or eat due to rapidly escalating electricity prices.”

The fragility of our grid connections and the soaring cost of energy has raised the question of whether Uist could be self sufficient in terms of power, supporting its own electricity needs on-island. Figures given to Am Pàipear by SSEN show from Barra to Berneray, we typically import and consume 8.43 MW of power from the grid, and produce and export around 11.4MW.

Sector stakeholders including Community Energy Scotland, Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, elected members and our community owned renewables companies have signed up to support Power for People, a campaigning group seeking to introduce a local electricity bill that would make it easier for people to buy the electricity produced within their own communities.

Temporary reprieve on the cards for Lochmaddy ferry service

Hopes have been raised that the closure of Uig Pier will be delayed to the end of January, and reduced to a period of 14 weeks. If agreed, the new plan would see the original six month outage replaced by two shorter route closures running from 30 January to 27 March and from 30 October to 11 December next year.

The proposal has been put forward by Highland Council and pier operators CMAL but comes with a warning from Calmac that construction works could impinge on safe berthing and therefore risk unplanned closures during the busy summer period.

MSP Alasdair Allan described the outcome of the meeting as ‘significant progress’, saying: “I welcome this new proposal which will very significantly reduce the number of weeks that Uig pier will be out of action. It is my view that this disruption, while still far from ideal, will be easier for local businesses and passengers to work around. The Minister for Transport has put a lot of work into coming back with these alternative proposals.”

As of the end of August, contingency plans had still to be confirmed and the timetable was still unavailable for bookings after 10th October.

Previously published contingency measures included the possible charter of MV Arrow and MV Pentalina, a rerouted service to Ullapool, and additional sailings on the Lochboisdale Mallaig/Oban and Sound of Barra routes.

Cllr Uisdean Robertson was cautious in his assessment of the new proposals, telling Am Pàipear: “The opportunity to shorten the timetable of works is attractive but we need to see the full detail of what is on offer to fully understand the potential for disruption in the period between the two outages. Meetings are already scheduled with that in mind.”

Uist sailings were cancelled a total of 18 times during August, including the Lochboisdale – Mallaig service on Thursday 25th, which impacted the Askernish Open, scheduled to start the following day. Stòras Uibhist CEO, Darren Taylor said: “The Askernish Open brings tens of thousands of pounds to our fragile economy every year. Hundreds of visitors stay in our hotels and B&Bs, spend money across the island and enjoy one of the finest golf experiences in the world. Today’s cancellation has caused immense problems for golfers and their families travelling for this weekend’s event. Sadly, it is just the latest in the long line of problems caused by ferry disruption. How much longer are we expected to put up with this, how much longer can our businesses survive and how much more disruption is our community expected to take before CalMac and the Government accept enough is enough and fix the problem once and for all.”

As Am Pàipear went to print, a meeting to discuss ferry service failures with John Swinney had been scheduled for Thursday 1st September, when the Deputy First Minister was due to be in Uist to officially open Cnoc Solleir.

Uist fuel poverty figures soar as energy prices rise by 80%

Stories about the rising cost of fuel have been a regular feature in Am Pàipear, with each new article setting out an alarming ‘new high’.

When we covered the issue back in November 2021, the standard tariff cap had risen to £1277, with pre-paid tariffs rising to £1309; when we looked again at the issue in the spring, the picture was more shocking still, with bills rising 54% to take the standard tariff to £1971 and pre-paid tariffs to £2017.
Last week’s Ofgem announcement of a further energy cap rise has made those figures look almost reasonable. The new cap sees the standard tariff cap rising 80% to £3,549, and further rises forecast to take average bills well over £6,500 by April of next year.

For households in the Western Isles, a worrying picture is made bleaker still by below average wages, the fierceness of our climate and some of the least energy efficient housing in the country.
Tighean Innse Gall’s last housing stock survey detailed that more than a third of island homes relied on electric heating, many using Total Heating Total Control systems that are costly to run and difficult to manage.

Scottish Government’s own figures for the period 2017 to 2019 evidenced fuel poverty rates of 40% for the Western Isles, the highest in Scotland and substantially higher than the 24% national average, with a quarter of our people living in extreme fuel poverty. In March this year that figure was reported to have risen to 57%, and is only set to get considerably worse when bills rise again in October.

Low income island households also lose out on Cold Weather Payments, which are offered when average temperatures fall below zero for seven consecutive days but don’t take account of the wind chill factor that has such a marked effect on the warmth of our homes.

The home energy crisis is set against the fastest ever fall in real pay and the inflation rate passing double figures for the first time in 40 years, pushing more and more households into debt. For those on the basic Universal Credit payment of £334.91 per month, (Just £265 for those under 25) it is difficult to see how that outcome can be avoided.

As the cost of living crisis grows, so do the number of people seeking help.

Uist CAB has seen an increase in the number of clients using its service and anticipates a steep rise as more and more people struggle with the cost of living.

Uist and Barra Foodback has seen the numbers using its services rise from 128 adults and 40 children in 2018, to 626 adults and 119 children in 2021, with over 570 emergency food parcels already distributed so far this year.

Local CAB Operations Manager Lynda MacLean has encouraged anyone who is struggling to meet their bills to get in touch: “Island folk are proud and there’s often a feeling that there’s always someone else worse off than yourself. But the situation is going to be very bleak for many people this winter. The best thing you can do is seek advice. It’s important if people are struggling with the cost of living that they reach out as there may be entitlement to additional benefits or grants. The CAB network offers free, impartial and confidential advice which is open to everyone regardless of background or circumstance.”

Uist Citizens Advice Bureau, Liniclate, Benbecula, HS7 5PJ
Telephone: 01870 602421
Money Advice: 01870 603807
bureau@uistcab.casonline.org.uk

Uist and Barra Foodbank will never turn people away and can be contacted on facebook, by phone on 01870 603819, or by email at uistandbarrarfoodbank@gmail.com. Food is available 24/7 outside the foodbank doors byTagsa Gardens at East Camp.

Tighean Innse Gall operate the Home Heat Support Fund for households struggling with energy costs – call them on 01851 706121 or email info@tighean.co.uk.

The Comhairle’s Financial Inclusion Service can provide information on financial and other support services, and has a dedicated Uist based officer. 01851 822654 – inclusion@cne-siar.gov.uk.

Samaritans operate a free, confidential 24hr support line for anyone, whatever they are going though. Contact them by phone on 116 123 or email them at jo@samaritans.org.

South Uist helicopter survey

Community landlord Storas Uibhist has commissioned a helicopter count of all deer on the 93,000 acres under its management.

At the last count, undertaken in 2018, there were 194 stags, 347 hinds and 105 calves, giving a total of 646 beasts, down 132 on the previous 2015 figure of 778.

The Estate’s current deer population estimates suggest those numbers have reduced, with around 433 beasts in all. Their current deer management strategy has set out a target population of 500 across the estate area.

The count will tie in with a similar operation on Harris, and was scheduled for the end of August, weather permitting. The route covered every corner of the estate, and was expected to take around five hours to complete.

As Storas Uibhist Head Gamekeeper, Lorna Macleod explained, it’s a thorough operation: “The count is led by NatureScot, who have been delivering independent, professional counts for many years. The onboard team include an experienced NatureScot deer coordinator, as well as a recorder and photographer.  Two of our own experienced estate gamekeepers are in the helicopter to age, sex and record the beasts.”

“The helicopter allows us to access the most difficult to reach areas and also the most densely populated areas, such as Hecla-Uisinish, Beinn Sgalabhat, Coir an t-Sagairt / Beinn Choradail – Gleann Choradail, Gleann Heileasdail and Gleann Liadail.

“The information we have picked up over the last five years will help ensure all known locations of deer are covered, both on the low ground east of the main road on possible locations on the west.
Lorna continued: “At this time of year, classification is easier for us, with the stags still in full antler. Typically, if numbers are small, they will be identified by the recorders on board and logged straight onto the system, allowing numbers to be counted and classified at the time. If the group is too big to count onboard, the pilot will adjust position to allow for a photograph to be taken and logged with a group number and location code, allowing us to sex and count the group at a later point.”

“The whole operation should give us a very accurate picture and allows us to develop the right deer management plans. Our deer population predictions have been very accurate over the years but we will know for sure once we have the results of the count.”

Results are expected within a week of the count taking place and will be shared publicly.

Consultation launched

The University of the Highlands & Islands has launched a public consultation on its proposals to merge the three colleges under its banner into one entity, bringing UHI Outer Hebrides, UHI North Highland and UHI West Highland together as one.

UHI says the new partnership would support 9000 students and 600 staff in 19 rural and island campus locations across the north of Scotland.

In Uist the move will include the three learning centres under the UHI umbrella, Taigh Chearsabhagh in Lochmaddy, Lionacleit in Benbecula and Cnoc Soilleir in Daliburgh.

UHI has offered its assurances that no compulsory redundancies will be required as a direct result of merger, saying: “The merger is about doing more, not less. By coming together, we create a more resilient, sustainable organisation, which will continue to serve our local communities in the way we do now, but with more impact. We will have combined capacity to better meet the needs of our communities and to respond to the range of social, cultural and economic opportunities that make our region one of the most exciting places in the country to live, work and study right now. It is important people get involved and have their say.”

EIS union representative Donnie Macdonald, Lews Castle College, said: “The proposed merger is important because it will set the trajectory for further and higher education across the West and North of Scotland. It is a fundamental principle that education in Scotland remains within the public sector and we are glad that the Partnership Board and Principals have agreed with us on that issue, ensuring a key recommendation of this proposal is that the new college will be incorporated as a public sector college. ”`


Informal information sessions are being held locally at:
North Uist learning centre – Taigh Chearshabagh – Tuesday 27 September, 10.30am to 1pm. 
Benbecula learning centre Liniclate – Tuesday 27 September, 2.30pm to 5pm. 
Cnoc Soilleir learning centre, South Uist, Thursday 29 September, 9.30am to 12pm.
Online, Wednesday 28 September, 7pm to 8pm.
Full details of how to attend on the UHI merger website.
Members of the public are invited to return their views on line, or by email to rural-islands-merger@uhi.ac.uk.

The full merger proposal is available to view at www.rural-islands-merger.uhi.ac.uk
The consultation runs until Friday 14 October.

Risso’s dolphins in the Sound of Eriskay

On Thursday, 11th August three dolphins were observed swimming around on the east side of Eriskay causeway, near the bridge. One very much smaller than the others stayed close beside one of them, so almost certainly a mother and calf.

There was some discussion initially about the species; only brief views of parts of the head and back were visible when they took breaths. Initial suggestions were Atlantic white-sided dolphin; or possibly Bottlenose dolphin; but eventually close scrutiny of some good photographs and video sequences led to the conclusion that they were Risso’s dolphins (Grampus griseus). Some photographs showed pale parallel lines on the sides of the calf, the remains of ‘foetal folds’ resulting from it having been curled up inside the mother; evidence that it was probably no more than a few weeks old. Apparently Risso’s dolphins have been seen on a number of occasions on the east side of Uist recently.

There was concern that they might strand as although there is a deep channel from west to east, at low tide much of the sound is very shallow and large areas dry out, especially at spring tides as we had just then. The two larger ones did indeed become grounded in shallow water after midday on Friday, but by 2pm the rising tide refloated them to swim freely. There were no further reports of their stranding.
British Marine Divers Life Rescue (BMDLR) were alerted to the situation, and although they have no trained volunteers in Uist, could have helped if necessary. They passed the news on to the Scottish Marine Animal Strandings Scheme (SMASS), which also kept in touch with local volunteers.
The three animals stayed on the east side of the causeway, showing no inclination to pass through to the west, though at times they were close to the bridge. They also went over towards Sgeir an Fhèidh, and latterly further away towards the open waters of the Minch.

Generally’ they seemed to be swimming about quite calmly, showing no signs of distress, with only the upper parts of the head and back visible as they rose to breathe. The single animal was observed ‘spy hopping’ occasionally and also vigorously tail slapping.

By the morning of Wednesday 17th our visitors had departed.

News had got around quickly and over their few days’ stay, the dolphins attracted a lot of attention from residents and passing summer visitors, who gathered on the causeway to watch them, hoping they would be all right.

Many people contributed to this note, not least Chris Brooks, Peter Keiller and Donald Iain Campbell, who had very helpful observations, photographs and video sequences, Mariel ten Doeschate of SMASS for discussion of the species and age of the calf, Dan Jarvis of BMDLR, Mary Margaret Morrison, who saw them from her bus and other residents for keeping in touch and reporting their observations, and David Steele for his observations in the Minch.

Photos by Peter Keiller and Carla Brooks

Easier appointments for patients with dementia

The issues surrounding access to GP services for people with dementia will soon be tackled at surgeries across the Western Isles, thanks to the pioneering work underway at Benbecula Medical Practice.

New guidelines for making GP surgeries more dementia friendly have been developed by Healthcare Improvement Scotland and Alzheimer Scotland, which should make accessing medical care easier for the estimated 90,000 people living with dementia in Scotland. With GP surgeries often being the first port of call for people with dementia and their families, the guide aims to help staff ensure this experience is as easy as possible.

One of the earliest examples of implementation can be found at Benbecula Medical Practice, where GP Dr Kate Dawson is already seeing a significant increase in patients coming forward for memory checks as a result of these efforts. Dr Dawson spoke to Am Pàipear about the work: “With our older population, identifying and managing dementia well is important. Because of this, I agreed to contribute to the new ‘dementia friendly general practice’ tool, and then to test it out in our practice. I had thought we had a good understanding of our patients in our small practice, but using the tool has helped us find where we needed to improve, and guided us to making changes collaboratively. We have identified lots of good practice in our team along the way as staff members have revealed hidden talents and implemented good ideas.”

The difficulties that people with dementia face when trying to access GP services are varied and can include remembering to attend appointments, navigating the physical environment of the practice, struggling to express their concerns in short appointment times and forgetting details of discussions regarding their care. 

Among the measures that have been put in place are a dementia information board in the waiting room outlining the aims, offering double appointments, informing carers about changes in medications, dementia awareness training for staff and dementia specific information on the website.
The Practice has sourced training for staff around the protection of vulnerable adults and the ways in which dementia affects communication. They have also made contact with Tagsa Uibhist’s new post-diagnostic support worker and hope to link people up to dementia friendly community activities, services and facilities.

Following the great work done at the Benbecula Medical Practice, similar changes will soon be rolled out elsewhere.

Ruth Glassborow, Director of Improvement at Healthcare Improvement Scotland, said: “As the work in Benbecula Medical Practice shows, this is a very practical guide that can be used flexibly. It provides a structure for identifying what to focus on and resulted in several improvements to ensure people with dementia and their carers can be supported in the community for longer and with a better quality of life.”

With the number of people affected by dementia across the country predicted to increase, and the serious impact that difficulties in accessing GP services can have on quality of life and health, Dr Dawson is keen to state the importance of early recognition: “Seeking help early allows for early diagnosis. Many of the treatments for dementia work best during the early stage. We have 12 patients on our list with dementia at present. This is the lowest number for some time. We suspect that the pandemic has meant that people have not been in contact with others so often, and as a result, memory loss has not been noticed.”

The Practice will continue working through the guide over the next year and their next step will be to ask families involved in caring for someone with dementia for their ideas.

Cllr Paul F Steele

It’s fair to say that our ‘summer’ is over. There was a heatwave on the mainland last month and, like polite Uist drivers, we waved back – albeit longingly from the draughty comfort of our relatively midge and sunburn free islands.

Will our Autumn weather be more of the same ‘windy and overcast with a slight chance of your ferry sailing’? Time will tell but there are real concerns about what the next few months will bring in terms of transport, economy and the cost of living.

Despite the summer of discontent with the ferries and no disco tents for EDF, we managed to make our way to the machairs of Daliburgh, Liniclate and Hosta for music, dancing, running and jumping. 
Following the upheaval of the Covid pandemic it was great to see the return to our summer schedules of events like the Highland Games and Cattle Show and the Hill races.

There were many highlights for me, especially the hastily organised South Uist Games and the Thursday night of EDF, which brought back great memories of nights out in the ‘90s, unfortunately many of us there are now closer to having nights out in our nineties.

Our volunteers managed to put on some great events and are a credit to our community.

There’s a lot happening in Uist. So when asked by Am Pàipear to write a column sharing my thoughts on a wide range of subjects, the first in a series from your local Councillors, I felt it was appropriate. I hope you find it interesting and informative.

It is an honour and a privilege to be returned as a Councillor, being able to represent your community’s views and helping decide how local services are provided, funded and prioritised is a responsibility that I don’t take lightly.

My responsibilities increased when I received the backing of the majority of my fellow Councillors across the Western Isles to become the new Leader of the Comhairle, the first Leader from Uist since the Comhairle was formed around 50 years ago. This was a very proud moment and I am determined to justify the faith and trust that has been shown in me. 

I’ve been kept busy recently and on top of the day to day work, my Leader responsibilities have meant meetings with the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, COSLA, Island Leaders, Regional Economic Partnership, Island’s Growth Deal, OHCPP, HIE, HIAL, Alasdair Allan MSP, Rhoda Grant MSP, UHI, MOWI and the Uist and Barra Housing Group, to name just a few.

Engaging with Ofgem around energy costs and renewables and making the case to both UK and Scottish Governments for new measures around population retention will continue to be key themes through this Comhairle term.

The job itself is enjoyable, so far anyway, and full of variety which makes it really interesting despite the many challenges and hurdles to be overcome for our islands. 

We will do our best to overcome them, we are a resilient community, we’ve had to be. Despite all the well-intentioned policies that are being put in place to help the islands, the way they work in practice often means we have to fight for equity. I can say that the councillors and officers of the Comhairle fight their hardest to benefit our community because, after all, we are all very much a part of the community. 

It’s been said there are not many places where the Elected Members are closer to their electorate than here in the islands; that’s a good thing. Our representatives need to be able to appreciate the consequences of their decisions. The cost of living, affordable housing, childcare, education, jobs, the economy and connectivity are things that I worry about, not just because I’m a councillor, but because they directly affect me, my family, friends and neighbours. 

When we have a chat outside the school, in the shop or at the local football matches, we share our concerns, hopes and ambitions and we can act on them; that’s how communities should work. 
If the Islands Act, Islands-proofing, Island Community Impact Assessments etc are to be seen as more than just lip service, we are going to need the views of islanders and those representing them to be acted upon. There are a lot of clever, capable people living here and we’re well placed to advise on what’s best for us. 

I’ve been involved in a number of meetings with different group over the summer about the upcoming closure of Uig harbour. The Minister for Transport, Jenny Gilruth, has attended some of those meetings and I would suggest that she wouldn’t go wrong listening to the wise words from my colleague Uisdean Robertson who, amongst other island voices, has helped inform the debate and portrayed the seriousness of the situation facing those of us on this side of the Minch, as well as offering constructive solutions. 

The saying ‘You’re hearing me but you’re not listening’, seems quite appropriate.
Transport across the Minch is currently undermining our economic future, is it time we mined under the Minch? Are ferries our long term future or will they be the albatross around the neck of the Western Isles for the next 50 years?

We need to have that discussion and although some find the talk of tunnels boring, I believe it’s getting to the point where we need to rule them in or out and that needs to be part of the conversations we have in our communities about policies, strategies and priorities for our islands into the future.
The sea, the people, the land and the culture are all interconnected here, for our islands to thrive those connections need to be nurtured and developed.

Despite all the challenges we face, there are also so many opportunities and I firmly believe that by working together and strategically, we can achieve tangible results which will have a positive impact on our island communities for many years to come.