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Na h-Eileanan an Iar SNP MSP Alasdair Allan recently sponsored an event in the Scottish Parliament aimed at helping MSPs protect their constituents from scams.

The islands’ MSP hosted the reception on behalf of Advice Direct Scotland, which runs the consumeradvice.scot service. MSPs joined Trading Standards experts and Advice Direct Scotland staff – including Sean Harrison, Manager of at the Advice Direct Scotland contact centre in Stornoway.

Common scams include bogus callers who are offering services such as landscape gardening or maintenance work in a bid to gain access to properties; online marketplace traders selling fake goods; and fake emails claiming to be from companies including Amazon, banks, or government departments.

Scams cost the UK economy up to £10billion a year, and 53% of people over 65 have been targeted by scams. However, only 5% of scams are reported. If more potential scams are reported to consumeradvice.scot, the organisation can work with Trading Standards and Police Scotland to raise awareness and prevent more people being scammed.

consumeradvice.scot was launched in April this year with financial support from the Scottish Government following the devolution of consumer powers, and is operated by the charity Advice Direct Scotland. It provides free, impartial and practical advice directly to consumers in Scotland.

Alasdair Allan MSP commented:

“Sadly, I know from my own caseload that a significant number of people in the islands fall victim to scams every year.

“Advice Direct Scotland has a significant presence in Stornoway and I was delighted to be able to sponsor this reception aiming to spread awareness of the problems and offer practical guidance to MSPs.

“By following advice from Scotland’s new consumer advice service, people can spot the tell-tale signs and avoid being left out of pocket. But there is no shame in being conned as scammers use sophisticated techniques to trick people, so it’s important to report any suspicions to consumeradvice.scot so that action can be taken.”

Andrew Bartlett, chief executive of consumeradvice.scot, said:

“Realising that you may have been the victim of a scam can be extremely upsetting and worrying.

“As Scotland’s new consumer advice service, we are working hard to make people more aware of scams, and advise those who are scammed.

“It’s very important that any potential scams are reported to us as soon as possible so that we can raise awareness with Trading Standards and the police.”

Na h-Eileanan an Iar SNP MSP Alasdair Allan recently hosted a meeting in the Scottish Parliament between representatives of the community in Barra and Vatersay and Islands Minister Paul Wheelhouse MSP.

The islands’ MSP requested the meeting with the Islands Minister, who is the Scottish Government Minister with responsibility for ferries, to discuss the disruptions to the Castlebay-Oban service and the alternative arrangements made.

Alasdair Allan MSP commented:

“This was a really useful opportunity for community representatives from Barra to engage with the Minister directly on the unacceptably frequent periods of disruption the island has suffered in recent months.

“I am grateful for the Minister’s attention to this issue. We discussed the need for CalMac to take a much more pro-active approach when bad weather or technical issues arise, the total unsuitability of using a vessel like MV Isle of Arran to replace MV Isle of Lewis on any route as long as that between Oban and Castlebay, and the need for more opportunities for community engagement with Transport Scotland.

“Barra’s lifeline ferry service is the longest and most challenging in CalMac’s network. Ultimately, there needs to be much wider recognition of that fact, and Barra needs to be treated on a much more equitable basis when it comes to future vessel re-deployment decisions.”

Cllr Donald Manford commented:

“I was very pleased with the tenor of our discussions and the understanding of our concerns. I look forward with confidence to exploring new innovative ways of delivering the service.”

COMHAIRLE TO BE OFFERED NEW POWERS TO TACKLE UNREGISTERED LETTINGS MARKET

Na h-Eileanan an Iar SNP MSP Alasdair Allan has backed an announcement from the Scottish Government that local councils will be given new powers to licence and limit the number of short-term lets, such as AirBnB. 

The number of short-term lets in Scotland has risen dramatically in recent years – but evidence shows that in many tourist hotspots, people are finding it increasingly hard to find homes to live in. 

Speaking in Holyrood on Wednesday, Housing Minister Kevin Stewart outlined the SNP’s plans to establish a licensing scheme for short-term lets and a review of the tax paid by the properties – as well handing councils the power to introduce ‘short-term let control areas’ where the number of AirBnB and similar properties can be restricted through planning permission.

In a question to the Housing Minister, Alasdair Allan highlighted the regional discrepancies in the issues associated with short-term lets and said that further regulation was needed for parts of the Western Isles. A recent study commissioned by the Scottish Government into AirBnB showed that the Western Isles had the second greatest increase in registered properties behind only Edinburgh.

Commenting, Alasdair Allan MSP said:

“It is important that we strike a balance between the economic benefits of tourism to Scotland and the impact on local communities.

“In parts of the Western Isles short-term lets are having an impact on the local housing market and restricting the number of properties available for those looking for a home to live in. The proposals announced by the Scottish Government will give Comhairle nan Eilean Siar new powers to control the number of short-term lets in the local community and ensure they make a fair contribution to the services they use.

“I would urge the Comhairle to make use of these powers. We are already approaching the situation in some parts of the islands where whole villages could be full in the summer and virtually empty for six months of the year. We need to ensure that villages are not transformed from communities into resorts in the space of just a few years.”

Na h-Eileanan an Iar SNP MSP Alasdair Allan has raised the issue of the upcoming closure of Connected Communities (Hebnet). The publicly-funded wireless network, which has operated in the Western Isles since 2005, is set to shut down in March 2020.

Since the roll-out of superfast broadband across the islands began in 2015, more and more households and businesses have been transferring to mainstream broadband services. HIE have indicated that the high fixed costs of the Connected Communities network mean it is no longer viable to continue the service for a declining number of customers.

There are around 500 remaining Connected Communities users and the local MSP has received a number of enquiries from them about how they continue to access broadband after March. While fibre, 4G or satellite services may be an option for some, a number of people will be left without any broadband after March.

Alasdair Allan MSP commented:

“The Scottish Government’s rollout of superfast broadband across the Western Isles has made huge strides over the last few years with more than 80% of island households now having access to superfast broadband. This means there are now significantly fewer people using the Connected Communities service than in the past.

“However, many of the remaining customers are in areas where fibre has not yet reached and the 4G reception is poor. I have raised this situation with HIE. It is disappointing that the company operating Hebnet does not seem to have given its customers more notice. I would urge people still using this service to get in touch with HIE and find out what alternative broadband options are available in their area.

“I have also written to the Scottish Government Minister for Connectivity, Paul Wheelhouse MSP, regarding this situation and have asked what can be done to ensure that those customers affected by the Hebnet switch off are at the front of the queue when it comes to the next stage of fibre broadband roll out.”

Na h-Eileanan an Iar SNP MSP Alasdair Allan is urging local people aged 55 and over to respond to a leading charity’s new national housing survey.

The national charity for older people, Age Scotland, is seeking the views of older people about their housing needs and household energy usage to help shape future Scottish Government policy.

Scotland’s population is ageing at a faster rate than the rest of the UK and a quarter of Scotland’s population set to be over 65 by 2043. The Scottish Government has pledged to build 50,000 new homes by the end of this Parliament, and Age Scotland wants to ensure the government have as much information as possible about the housing needs of older people to ensure the right kinds of homes are being built.

It is hoped that the findings from this survey will help to shape the Scottish Government’s housing policy as it relates to older people, with a view to how to help people live well and independently in their own or new home for as long as possible.

Alasdair Allan MSP said:

“The age profile of the Western Isles means few other places in Scotland have such a pressing need to ensure their elderly are properly taken care of.

“With an increasingly ageing population, we need to ensure that there are enough homes in the right places, suitable for older people.

“I would encourage anyone over 55 to take part in this survey as it will help provide the Scottish Government and the Scottish Parliament the information it needs to better plan for the future.”

Adam Stachura, Head of Policy and Communications at Age Scotland, added:

“The quality of the housing you live in has a profound impact on your health, especially as you reach older age. We want everyone to live well in their home and be able to use it to its full extent.

“Often people discover far too late that where they live is no longer suitable for their needs. It can become unaffordable and inefficient to heat, more inaccessible and harder to access the routine local services they need. This survey will not only help highlight how suitable homes are for an ageing population but give us great insight into at what stage people make decisions about their future.”

As an added incentive, there are five £50 cash prizes available for randomly selected participants.

Copies of the survey are available from Alasdair Allan’s local office at 20 Kenneth Street, Stornoway or online at www.age.scot/housingsurvey

Na h-Eileanan an Iar SNP MSP Alasdair Allan has today announced the winner of the annual schools’ competition to design his Christmas card.

The winner is Zoe Leparoux, a Primary 7 pupil from Sgoil Uig, whose design featured festive highland cattle with Santa in the sunset. Alasdair Allan presented Zoe with an array of Scottish Parliament-themed prizes when he visited the school earlier this morning to announce the competition’s winner.

The island MSP has run the schools’ competition since he was first elected in 2007 and receives many hundreds of entries from schools across the Western Isles every year. The winning entry is sent out to over a thousand individuals and organisations across the constituency and across the country.

Alasdair Allan MSP said:

“As always, it was very difficult to choose a winner from among the many wonderful and imaginative designs submitted by school children from across the islands. However, I am very proud to have Zoe’s design as my official Christmas card and I hope she enjoys her prizes.

“I would like to thank all of the pupils and schools who took part this year, as well as this year’s sponsors Horshader Community Development Trust, Hebridean Energy, Bob Golland Plumbing and Heating, Ken MacDonald & Co and The Blue Pig Studio in Carloway for their generous donations towards the cost of printing the card.

“I would also like to take this opportunity to wish all of my constituents a very happy and peaceful Christmas with their families.”

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