Peter Peacock urges council to secure future of music school swiftly

25 February 2011

Highlands and Islands Labour MSP Peter Peacock has urged the Council to secure the future of Plockton Music School swiftly otherwise it risks losing funding from the Scottish Government.

He asked Education Secretary Mike Russell written Parliamentary questions about funding for the school, which was earmarked for closure as part of Highland Council’s recent budget cuts.

The centre survived but still faces an uncertain future.

Mr Russell indicated in his replies that were the Council to withdraw its own funding then the Scottish Government‘s annual grant would also be withdrawn and this money could not be spent on other services by the council.

Mr Peacock said: “The clear implication is that if Highland Council ends the funding to the school, it will lose the grant from the Scottish Government.

“That would not only leave the council without the school, with all the benefits that arise from that for the local economy, the benefits to the reputation of the Highlands and the benefits to the individual pupils and to Scottish traditional music but it would also mean that the Council would be financially worse off .”

He added: “The answers confirm what I have been saying to the Council about the financial risks they were running when they embarked on this course of action.

“However, I welcome the positive meeting that was held earlier in the week between the Council and the school and I hope the answers to the questions will confirm to the Council that they need to resolve the matter quickly.”

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Labour Move to Secure Future for Plockton Traditional Music Centre

17 February 2011

Scottish Labour has moved to secure the future of the National Centre for Excellence in Traditional Music at Plockton.

The future of the centre was placed in doubt following a decision of Highland Council to include the removal of funding from 2012.

Labour’s cultural affairs spokesperson, Pauline McNeill MSP has written to Highland Council leader Michael Foxley seeking an assurance that it is the Highland Council administration’s intention to guarantee the future of the centre.

She has made it clear that she is asking for this assurance to enable her to consider, “whether it is necessary for me to make clear how my Party will ensure its continued financing in the absence of any
such assurance from the Council”.

Pauline McNeill said,

“The National Centre for Excellence in Traditional Music is widely regarded as an outstanding success.
“Labour gave the extra funds to create this centre in 2000 and maintained special grant to the Council when in office.

“That money was then rolled into its overall grant aid on the basis that it provides this national facility.

“I know the Council are actively looking at what they should now do to respond to the clear expressions of support for the centre and have committed to seeking to secure its long term future.

“But uncertainty remains at the very time when potential new pupils are having to make the choice of whether to go to Plockton for the rest of their school career.

“That is a big choice and they need a guarantee they will be able to complete their education at Plockton.

“I would very much welcome the council giving the guarantee that is needed, then we can all move on without any further action being necessary.

“This needs to be fully resolved, and quickly.”

Peter Peacock, the Highlands and Islands MSP who was schools minister at the time the centre was established, said,

“I am delighted my senior colleagues recognise the significance of this wonderful national asset at Plockton and are prepared to signal they will act to secure the centre’s future if the Council doesn’t feel able to.

“The future of the centre is too important to have any doubt remaining that it will continue.

“I have spoken to the Council Leader, Michael Foxley, about the issues and I believe a satisfactory solution can be found at the Council’s own hand, and quickly.

“But if that proves not to be the case, other options will need to be considered.

“There are a number of options for any incoming government and I am absolutely confident the future of the centre can be secured one way or another.”

Peter Peacock urges Transport Minister on the problem of unregulated and unmonitored Hill Tracks

18 January 2011

 Highlands and Islands Labour MSP Peter Peacock is urging the new Transport Minister Keith Brown to deal with a major issue affecting Scotland’s mountains as soon as possible.

Mr Peacock has repeatedly been in contact with Mr Brown’s predecessor over the last year in relation to the problem of unregulated and unmonitored Hill Tracks that have been appearing across the Scottish uplands increasingly over recent years.

These tracks currently enjoy permitted development rights under the Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) (Scotland) Order 1992 (the GPDO) and as a result there has been a proliferation of such tracks which Mr Peacock says have caused “great visual damage” to uplands.

The issue was the subject of a Members’ debate held on June 9 as well as an online petition that to date has attracted over 2,500 signatories.

In a letter to Mr Brown Mr Peacock states: “At the debate the Minister promised to update the Parliament “immediately after the summer recess” about the Scottish Government’s plans with regard to the review of the non-domestic elements of the GPDO, and specifically hill tracks.

“Sadly no such update was forthcoming and following a subsequent letter the Minister responded that it was now the intention of the government to publish a consultation paper in “early” 2011.

“Unfortunately this is not the first time that the timescale for action has slipped with this issue and it was extremely disappointing to see yet another delay.”

Mr Peacock said he was unsure of the need for this further consultation, particularly in light of the 2007 Heriot-Watt report which considered these issues and suggested recommendations.

He went on: “Those who have signed the petition and organisations involved have expressed to me their deep disappointment that the Scottish Government has consistently promised action and to date there has been no such action taken.

“I hope you will be able to take a different approach and ensure that swift action is taken on this important matter. “In particular I hope that if there must be another consultation you will be able to give me a specific date for the publication of the consultation so that there is no further slippage of dates.

“I hope you will be able to reassure me of the importance of this issue to the Government and that you will be willing to take a “hands on” approach to this issue as has been your stated intention for your new post.”

Response to UK Government announcement on the delivery of Broadband

 8 December 2010

Responding to the UK Government’s announcement on Broadband delivery today, Highlands and Islands Labour MSP Peter Peacock said:

“This is welcome news in so far as it goes.

“The sum of money available is disappointing as it is much less than was planned by the last government.

“The UK Government needs to prioritise the Highlands and Islands as this is where market failure is most marked.

“Everyone needs to focus on ensuring more of this money comes to this region, and I will be asking the Scottish Government to make sure they have a strategy for achieving that, as this is something they don’t have at present.”

MSP fears for future of unemployed in Kintyre

6 December 2010

Highlands and Islands Labour MSP Peter Peacock fears the unemployed face a grim future in Kintyre even if the troubled Skycon wind turbine factory at Machrihanish survives.

He was responding to a shocking study by the GMB Union which found that more people are chasing every job in Campbeltown than in any other town in Scotland, and that the Kintyre community has a claimants-to-jobs ratio more than three times the Scottish average.

A total of12.9 unemployed workers are chasing each unfilled job vacancy in south Kintyre and Campbeltown, Mr Peacock said: “This is terrible news for those individuals and for Kintyre as a whole.

“It is vital that the Skycon’s wind turbine factory is retained if the situation is not to become a whole lot worse.

“The LibDem inspired cuts in the UK Government’s public spending can only add to the difficulties as public sector workers lose their jobs. “To make matters worse, these cuts come on top of the SNP having already cut teacher and classroom assistant numbers.

“The people of Kintyre and Scotland deserve better.”

Winter Energy Bills : Consumers urged to check

24 November 2010

Highlands and Islands Labour MSP Peter Peacock has urged consumers in to check their energy bills and see if they can save money this winter.

His call comes as Consumer Focus Scotland launches a new campaign to save Scottish consumers money on energy bills by encouraging them to compare suppliers and switch if necessary.

The Energy Best Deal Scotland campaign, which is supported by Ofgem, was launched after research conducted by Consumer Focus Scotland showed that:

* around a million households in Scotland could be missing out on an average saving of £100 a year by switching, with many able to save much more.

* almost half (46 per cent) of people who switch energy supplier, save more than they expect to, while nearly a third (28 per cent) save in line with their expectations.

But nearly half of all Scots (48 per cent) have never switched their energy supplier and could be missing out on big savings this winter.

The campaign aims to encourage thousands of Scots – especially those on low incomes – to check they are getting the best energy deal.

Mr Peacock said: “While many people are happy with the service their energy company provides, they may still be able to save by changing their tariff, or paying by direct debit.

“I’d encourage anyone who has never switched, or hasn’t done so recently, to compare suppliers and check their bills.

“They are likely to find the biggest savings.”

Marieke Dwarshuis, Director of Consumer Focus Scotland, commented: “With winter fast approaching and energy prices set to go up again it’s important that consumers know how they can save on their energy.

“People who haven’t switched before can save an average of £100 a year on their fuel bills by switching supplier or tariff.

“We’ve approved several price comparison websites which make it easy for consumers to shop around for the best deal and if necessary, switch.

“However, people on low incomes are least likely to have switched suppliers according to our research, but they’re also the ones with most to gain. “Because they are also less likely to have access to the internet and most likely to need extra help to switch, our campaign will aim to provide the advice, information and support that these consumers need to switch.”

The Energy Best Deal Scotland campaign will provide information, advice and support about energy switching during the winter.

Information materials will be available through a wide range of outlets including Citizens Advice Bureaux, libraries, post offices, housing associations, health centres and local authorities.

Consumer Focus Scotland has therefore commissioned Money Advice Scotland (MAS) and Citizens Advice Scotland (CAS) to train frontline advisers so that they can advise consumers on switching.

Factbox: how to switch in five easy steps

1. Find out how much you pay now – get a copy of your most recent gas and electricity bill

2. Consumer Focus has accredited several price comparison websites through its Confidence Code. You can find a list of these sites at http://www.consumerfocus.org.uk or call Consumer Direct on 08454 04 05 06

3. Choose a deal that meets your needs and helps save you money

4. The new supplier will organise the changeover – they’ll ask you for meter readings

5. Switching can take around six to eight weeks – your supply will continue as normal.

If you’re over 60, on means-tested benefits or on a low income you might qualify for a social tariff.

Call your current supplier to find out.

Hill Tracks Campaign : MSP seeks progress report from Scottish Government

2 November 2010

Highlands and Islands Labour MSP Peter Peacock has written to the Scottish Government asking what progress has been made on his campaign to stop landowners damaging Scottish mountains by bulldozing tracks across them.
He has written to Transport Minier Stewart Stevenson following the Members Debate held on June 9
that he sponsored on the issue of Hill Tracks in the Scottish Uplands.
Mr Peacock writes: “In this debate we discussed the Scottish Government’s plan to review the permitted development rights as suggested in the Heriot Watt review of the General Permitted Development Order 1992 that was published in 2007.
“As you are aware the response of the Scottish Government to this issue that has been dragging on now for some time with an initial plan to review non-domestic permitted development rights in 2009 pushed back into 2010.

“I was pleased therefore with the assurance that you will recall giving to Parliament of your intention to bring forward your next thoughts ‘immediately after the summer recess’. ”

The MSP continues:”I have been disappointed, therefore not to have seen or heard those ‘thoughts’ (unless I have missed them). As we approach the winter and with the parliamentary session approaching its conclusion in the spring it is important to see progress on this matter.

” I hope you will be able to reassure me of the Scottish Government’s commitment to reviewing these development rights in a speedy manner and will let me know your current thoughts in your response to this letter and honour the commitment you gave to Parliament and not allow this issue to be delayed any longer.”

Nearly 2,600 people have signed an online petition supporting a Motion in the Scottish Parliament to have greater control of unregulated hill tracks.
It was launched by Labour MSPs Sarah Boyack and Peter Peacock, and has cross-party support.
Hill tracks are constructed for the purposes of easing vehicular traffic in upland areas of the Scottish countryside.
Currently, their construction does not require planning permission as long as the tracks are claimed, but not evidenced, to be constructed for land management purposes such as agriculture and forestry.
There is grave concern about the increasing number intruding into wild landscape and damaging the environment.
There are no restrictions of hill track constructions at different altitudes, no clear definition of maintenance such as the widening to change the use from footpaths, no baseline map against which to assess claimed repair as opposed to construction and no penalties if the regulations are not followed.
Mr Peacock first took up the issue after receiving complaints from constituents about the impact of a hill road constructed on the north slopes of Beinn Bhuraich above Loch Mor in the Monadhliath Mountains, but many other examples have been reported through other channels.
While accepting that farmers and crofters have a legitimate need to construct, maintain and develop tracks constructed in lower lying land for their purposes of land management, the MSP saw that a problem had developed through the lack of regulation of hill tracks.
Mr Peacock has discussed the issue with Landowner groups who have readily admitted that not all tracks are well constructed.
The Petition can be read and signed at :

www.hilltrackscampaign.org.uk

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