Liam McArthur MSP

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Meeting of the Parliament 02 October 2014 : Thursday, October 02, 2014
Liam McArthur (Orkney Islands) (LD)

I, too, congratulate Hugh Henry on securing this debate.

Hugh Henry and Jenny Marra have rightly set the context of the special place that Royal Mail has in the affections of people across the UK. After two minutes of Hugh Henry’s speech, I thought that he was going to break the all-time record for references to Britain in a speech in the Scottish Parliament. However, that reflects the importance of Royal Mail to all our constituents. Hugh Henry was also fair to acknowledge the particular significance that the universal service obligation has for constituents, such as those whom I represent, in the islands and in rural areas—and not just individuals in households but small businesses. If I have time I will perhaps touch on the related issue of high delivery charges, which is a touchstone issue for my constituents.

The motion outlines very fairly the concerns that quite demonstrably exist, and the proposals are reasonable. As Kenny Gibson and Gavin Brown indicated, a review is planned for the end of next year. However, given what we are seeing in the development of the market and the aspirations of Whistl and possibly others, there is now a pretty compelling case for accelerating that review. That view seems to be shared by Community, whose briefing was very helpful, although I disagree with some aspects of it.

I think that there is now evidence of direct delivery competition putting a strain on Royal Mail’s ability to honour the universal service obligation. Whistl argues that the agreements are subject to negotiations with the Royal Mail on the basis of cost, but I do not think that those costs reflect the costs of delivering to places such as Orkney and other rural communities across the UK. In addition, and as Hugh Henry indicated, Whistl is not bound by the requirements that Royal is bound by as the universal service provider.

The universal service obligation is critically important as a principle in spreading and socialising costs across customers throughout the UK. However, it is more than just a principle for people in Orkney and other rural areas. For small businesses in my constituency, for example, it is vital and often leads to the levelling of the playing field in relation to competition from businesses in other parts of the country.

The issue goes beyond businesses. The recent Citizens Advice Scotland report on delivery charges highlighted the extent of the problem in that area. A third of the respondents from Orkney said that they had been subject to surcharges for goods sent to Orkney and a quarter found that some businesses refuse to deliver to Orkney at all—I think that the same applies to many other parts of the Highlands and Islands. I have taken up that issue with a number of the companies concerned and, to be fair, when confronted with the evidence, some are prepared to review their charging policies and delivery charges. Some have removed the delivery surcharges entirely and others will often reduce them, but some will just be more up-front about the costs at the outset. However, in too many cases there is still an unwillingness to look at alternatives.

That issue is distinct from that of the universal service obligation and the concerns that Hugh Henry highlighted in his motion, but I think that it is related. We need to avoid a similar situation emerging in the letters market.

Royal Mail has adapted to the challenges that it faces in terms of new technology, competition and even affordability of pensions. However, we cannot expect it to continue to do so while requiring it to undertake that fight with one hand tied behind its back.

I again congratulate Hugh Henry on bringing the debate to Parliament. The call for an urgent review by Ofcom is an entirely reasonable one that appears to be garnering support across the political spectrum and within the industry itself. I hope to see some progress made on that in the months ahead.

12:59  

Meeting of the Parliament 02 October 2014 : Thursday, October 02, 2014
Liam McArthur

Given that this is a members’ business debate, there will not be a vote on the motion. However, I am sure that Ofcom is watching our proceedings with great interest. Perhaps there could be a cross-party approach to Ofcom with the Scottish Government to make the case for accelerating the review. That would reflect the sentiments that we have heard.



Meeting of the Parliament 25 September 2014 : Thursday, September 25, 2014
Liam McArthur (Orkney Islands) (LD)

I join others in welcoming the presence of BSL signers for the debate. As a member of the corporate body, I reflect on the fact that the Parliament has a good track record on accessibility. It is a key guiding principle of the institution, but that is not to say that we cannot keep on learning and improving.

I also welcome the debate and congratulate the minister on his motion and Jenny Marra on her helpful amendment, which draws attention to the accessible tourism project in particular.

I declare an interest because, as colleagues may know, my brother has been a wheelchair user since a serious rugby accident 18 years ago. In my remarks, I will draw on some of the first-hand experience that he has had and that we as a family have had.

This is an issue of principle. It is a question of fairness, equity and social justice. The minister quite rightly asked why those who have a disability should have any less of a right to a holiday or to a break than the rest of us.

These debates are often in danger of lapsing into discussions around the cost and practicality of adaptations, the cost of preparing materials and so on. It is therefore important that we emphasise the significant opportunities that we have. As other members have said, tourists who have disabilities contribute £370 million to our tourism industry. The trend is on the rise, which perhaps reflects the loyalty of those who find destinations and accommodation that meet their needs.

High as that figure is, it could and should be significantly higher. Research commissioned from the University of Surrey and published earlier this year suggests that the European tourism sector is missing out on around €140 billion per year because of the lack of support offered to travellers who have special access needs.

That does not surprise me. My first family holiday after my brother’s accident was to Barcelona 15 years ago. I was interested in Mark Griffin’s comments about Spain being an exemplar because, certainly 15 years ago, there was a lack of information, and although there were facilities, there were not many. Patricia Ferguson made the same point that Inclusion Scotland brings out very clearly in its briefing: the facilities are at the higher end of the market and perhaps not financially accessible to many who wish to travel.

It is not just a question of accessibility when travelling. Those who have disabilities are often required to travel with particular clothing, medication or equipment, and those who are flying—as we did—might not be able to keep their equipment and so on with them at all times. The risks associated with that were rammed home to us when British Airways lost my brother’s shower chair on the flight on the way out. I spent the first 48 hours of that holiday pushing my Spanish language skills to the absolute limit in pursuit of a replacement. Members should not labour under the misapprehension that that was a bit unfortunate for us, because BA managed to lose two of the wheels on the return journey a week later. Significant improvements have been made since then, but the Commission-sponsored research suggests that we have a way to go yet.

The question is often one of providing information for travellers, and the Scottish Government-sponsored project during the Commonwealth games drilled down into that aspect. I entirely agree with the minister that hotel access statements are not gobbledegook; they are absolutely essential, as, indeed, is the training for volunteers. The feedback shows that they are being seen as part of the success of the games that were held earlier this summer.

A lack of facilities is a frustration, but it is as nothing when compared with the frustration felt by those who arrive at a destination to find that the facilities are not as advertised. Chic Brodie and Jenny Marra referred to Euan’s Guide and the service that it provides. It is absolutely critical that people who have disabilities test out facilities, provide their feedback and make that feedback as widely available as possible. The more input and feedback there is, the better the service will become.

I will conclude with a couple of examples from my own constituency. Buchanhaven cottage is a self-catering cottage in Kirkwall for people who have dementia. Given the increase in the numbers of dementia sufferers that we have seen and the projections for those numbers in the future, I welcome the fact that that part of the market now appears to be being catered for. Buchanhaven cottage is owned and managed by Marilyn Buchan, who was, for 25 years, a nurse who supported those with dementia and other mental health issues. In the cottage there is a focus on things such as lighting, colour and signage. For example, the doors are brightly painted and labelled. The facility recognises the particular needs of dementia sufferers as well as those who have autism and other mental health issues. That example highlights that there is a need for not only overall improved provision and information but more specific and tailored provision.

The motion talks about the importance of the public and private sectors working closely together. That point has been well made. It has been illustrated to me by the visits that my brother, who is based in Edinburgh, continues to make up to Orkney.

In addition to good self-catering accommodation and more accessible facilities, the support from the occupational therapy team—from hoists to expert advice—has been invaluable. If it were not for the contribution from the public sector, what is on offer from private providers and local businesses would be far less accessible. That is probably reflected nationwide.

I welcome the debate. Raising public awareness and improving the information that is available are critical to removing many of the physical, mental and other barriers that continue to exist. It is a simple question of fairness and equity, but by reinforcing the message about the economic benefits we improve the chances of improvements being made more quickly.

15:45  

Meeting of the Parliament 25 September 2014 : Thursday, September 25, 2014
Liam McArthur

I listened with great interest to what Stewart Stevenson said. The point that Jenny Marra makes in relation to ferries is valid, but I recall that, not long ago, taxis were required to be wheelchair accessible. For some, that was a practicable option and we have moved in that direction; however, for minicabs it was frankly impossible. The risk is that we would choke off businesses that cannot adapt for no benefit, either to those who are able bodied or to those who are not. As Jenny Marra said, we need to be careful about how we transition from where we are to where we aspire to be.



Meeting of the Parliament 24 September 2014 : Wednesday, September 24, 2014
Liam McArthur (Orkney Islands) (LD)

In considering areas where improvements might be made, will the cabinet secretary examine concerns that some of my constituents have raised with me about possible capacity issues with the road ambulance fleet in Aberdeen that appear to be delaying the transfer on to Aberdeen royal infirmary of patients who arrive by air ambulance from Orkney and the other island groups? I am in correspondence with the Ambulance Service directly about that, but I would welcome any intervention that he might be able to make on the issue.



Meeting of the Parliament 20 August 2014 : Wednesday, August 20, 2014
Liam McArthur (Orkney Islands) (LD) On a point of order, Presiding Officer.

You will know that this afternoon’s programme of business includes a statement from Mr Russell on innovation centres, and you will have seen this morning that the cabinet secretary invited the media to accompany him on a visit to Inchinnan, where he made a number of announcements concerning innovation centres. I have the report from The Scotsman here.

Presiding Officer, you and your predecessors have frequently taken a strong line when ministers choose to make announcements to the media rather than to Parliament. You rightly consider it a discourtesy to inform Parliament only after the media have been informed.

Is not this an occasion on which Parliament can take the cabinet secretary’s remarks as read and move on to other business? If you are concerned that that might leave a gap in this afternoon’s programme, I suggest that you invite the First Minister to come to the chamber later to make a statement on his currency mystery, which has deepened overnight given the remarks of Crawford Beveridge, which have largely hung the First Minister out to dry on the issue.



Meeting of the Parliament 20 August 2014 : Wednesday, August 20, 2014
Liam McArthur (Orkney Islands) (LD) The assertions about independence aside, I very much agree with the content of the cabinet secretary’s statement, particularly his point that Scotland is disproportionately excellent in this area thanks to collaboration. He will have seen the Wellcome Trust’s observation that

“Differences in the regulations and governance systems that introduce additional burdens, or that are perceived to be burdensome, can restrict international collaborations and make countries less competitive.”

Does he agree with the Wellcome Trust? If so, why is he determined to create borders in an area that gets its strength from being borderless?



Education and Culture Committee 19 August 2014 : Tuesday, August 19, 2014
Liam McArthur (Orkney Islands) (LD) I re-emphasise my support for the general principles of the bill. I also acknowledge the cabinet secretary’s willingness to engage constructively on the bill’s provisions and thank colleagues on the committee for including a visit to Orkney in our evidence-gathering sessions. Probably few other parts of the country can lay as much of a claim to being directly impacted by the implications of the bill as the constituency that I represent.

Although we have heard no real opposition to the principles of the merger, it is fair to say that we have heard consistent anxiety about the need to ensure that the new body is equipped for and tasked with dealing with the wide range of needs of stakeholders throughout the country.

Invariably, if not inevitably, merging organisations can lead to a more centralised approach that looks good on paper and has the benefit of simplicity but that, in practice, fails to represent the interests of all those that the merger has been set up to serve and/or struggles to reflect the complexity of the issues and tasks for which it is responsible. A number of my amendments are born of a desire to ensure that historic environment Scotland does not fall into that category. To be fair to the cabinet secretary, I think that she recognises and accepts some of those risks. We will come to those amendments in due course.

We have already discussed the mechanics of putting in place the new board. The concern behind amendment 6 is to ensure that HES embodies the geographical diversity for which it is responsible. I accept that, in appointing a board, it is not straightforward to ensure that it has the necessary mix of skills and that it balances appropriate male and female representation and any other factors that might be relevant. Nevertheless, the integrity and legitimacy of HES could only be enhanced if its board were to be seen to be drawn from the talents of individuals from across the country rather than simply those who are already within easy striking distance of Edinburgh, however well qualified they may be.

I do not underestimate the challenges that the amendment might present, particularly if the numbers on any future board are to be kept manageable. However, some of the concerns that have been felt, particularly by people who live outside the central belt, about the consequences of the merger could be allayed by a move along those lines.

I look forward to hearing what Fiona Hyslop has to say, and I move amendment 6.



Education and Culture Committee 19 August 2014 : Tuesday, August 19, 2014
Liam McArthur I thank the convener and Clare Adamson for their contributions to the debate. I fully accept the reservations that have been expressed about the potential straitjacket that amendment 6 could create in establishing the board, and I think that those who are responsible for the selection process will have heard what has been said about that.

It is inconceivable that the organisation would not have expertise in the area of archaeology, and it would only enhance and strengthen the board if it was seen to be drawing from the wide representation of that expertise throughout Scotland. Nevertheless, I am reassured by the provisions that ensure that those who come from areas that are furthest away will not be disadvantaged as a result.

We will come on to some other amendments that may be more appropriate for the context of the bill, but I seek to withdraw amendment 6.

Amendment 6, by agreement, withdrawn.

10:15

Education and Culture Committee 19 August 2014 : Tuesday, August 19, 2014
Liam McArthur The two amendments touch on an issue that arose during the committee’s visit to a sun-kissed Orkney all those weeks ago, although it might be of less concern than other issues that we will discuss.

The purpose of amendments 7 and 8 is to maintain standards of accountability and quality when work is delegated or contracted out to, for example, local authorities. That would be achieved through the bill’s placing a general duty on HES. As colleagues who were on the Orkney trip might recall, Orkney Islands Council representatives highlighted the potential risk of technical processes that were undertaken objectively by HES becoming susceptible to politicking in a local authority environment. I suspect that the cabinet secretary might feel that the assurances that I am seeking are already covered in the context of the general operation and accountability of public bodies, but it would be useful to hear how that is expected to work in practice.

Likewise, I note that a later group of amendments proposes specific safeguards whereby a change to the system of delegation of properties in care would require bodies other than HES to be on a list of approved organisations. I understand that that would allow for quality, accountability and so on to be vetted before any body would be permitted to take responsibility for properties in care. Such a system seems sensible, and it might have mileage for application to other situations.

I look forward to what the cabinet secretary and others have to say, and I move amendment 7.

Vote DetailMSP VoteResult

S4M-11123 Joe FitzPatrick on behalf of the Parliamentary Bureau: Business Motion—That the Parliament
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Not VotedCarried

S4M-11114.2 Kenny MacAskill: Policing—As an amendment to motion S4M-11114 in the name of Graeme Pear
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Not VotedCarried

S4M-11114 Graeme Pearson: Policing—That the Parliament acknowledges that policing in Scotland contin
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Not VotedCarried

S4M-11116.1.1 Patrick Harvie: Scotland’s Future—As an amendment to amendment S4M-11116.1 in the name
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Not VotedCarried

S4M-11116.1 Nicola Sturgeon: Scotland’s Future—As an amendment to motion S4M-11116 in the name of Jo
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Not VotedCarried

S4M-11116 Johann Lamont: Scotland’s Future—That the Parliament recognises the result of the independ
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Not VotedCarried

Amendment 61 moved by Elaine Murray on motion S4M-11101 Kenny MacAskill: Courts Reform (Scotland) Bi
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Not VotedDefeated

Amendment 62 moved by Margaret Mitchell on motion S4M-11101 Kenny MacAskill: Courts Reform (Scotland
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Not VotedDefeated

Amendment 63 moved by Margaret Mitchell on motion S4M-11101 Kenny MacAskill: Courts Reform (Scotland
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Not VotedDefeated

Amendment 64 moved by Margaret Mitchell on motion S4M-11101 Kenny MacAskill: Courts Reform (Scotland
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Not VotedDefeated

Search for other Motions lodged by Liam McArthur
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Motion S4M-10777.1: Liam McArthur, Orkney Islands, Scottish Liberal Democrats, Date Lodged: 12/08/2014 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-10718: Liam McArthur, Orkney Islands, Scottish Liberal Democrats, Date Lodged: 04/08/2014 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-10717: Liam McArthur, Orkney Islands, Scottish Liberal Democrats, Date Lodged: 04/08/2014 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-10263: Liam McArthur, Orkney Islands, Scottish Liberal Democrats, Date Lodged: 09/06/2014 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-10417: Liam McArthur, Orkney Islands, Scottish Liberal Democrats, Date Lodged: 19/06/2014 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-10320: Liam McArthur, Orkney Islands, Scottish Liberal Democrats, Date Lodged: 12/06/2014 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-10147.2: Liam McArthur, Orkney Islands, Scottish Liberal Democrats, Date Lodged: 28/05/2014 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-10148: Liam McArthur, Orkney Islands, Scottish Liberal Democrats, Date Lodged: 27/05/2014 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-10116: Liam McArthur, Orkney Islands, Scottish Liberal Democrats, Date Lodged: 21/05/2014 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-09916.2: Liam McArthur, Orkney Islands, Scottish Liberal Democrats, Date Lodged: 02/05/2014 Show Full Motion >>
Search for other Questions asked by Liam McArthur
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Question S4W-22637: Liam McArthur, Orkney Islands, Scottish Liberal Democrats, Date Lodged: 30/09/2014 Show Full Question >>
Question S4W-22636: Liam McArthur, Orkney Islands, Scottish Liberal Democrats, Date Lodged: 30/09/2014 Show Full Question >>
Question S4O-03539: Liam McArthur, Orkney Islands, Scottish Liberal Democrats, Date Lodged: 15/09/2014 Show Full Question >>
Question S4W-22418: Liam McArthur, Orkney Islands, Scottish Liberal Democrats, Date Lodged: 19/08/2014 Show Full Question >>
Question S4W-22417: Liam McArthur, Orkney Islands, Scottish Liberal Democrats, Date Lodged: 19/08/2014 Show Full Question >>
Question S4W-22419: Liam McArthur, Orkney Islands, Scottish Liberal Democrats, Date Lodged: 19/08/2014 Show Full Question >>
Question S4W-22416: Liam McArthur, Orkney Islands, Scottish Liberal Democrats, Date Lodged: 19/08/2014 Show Full Question >>
Question S4W-22035: Liam McArthur, Orkney Islands, Scottish Liberal Democrats, Date Lodged: 02/07/2014 Show Full Question >>
Question S4W-22034: Liam McArthur, Orkney Islands, Scottish Liberal Democrats, Date Lodged: 02/07/2014 Show Full Question >>
Question S4W-22033: Liam McArthur, Orkney Islands, Scottish Liberal Democrats, Date Lodged: 02/07/2014 Show Full Question >>

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