Diary of an MSP: Alex Fergusson

Julia Muir-Watt with Alex Fergusson MSP at a basket tea in Whithorn recently.
Julia Muir-Watt with Alex Fergusson MSP at a basket tea in Whithorn recently.

It has come to light that over the past four years that there has been a 39% fall in the number of patients across Scotland receiving continuing health care support.

That comes something of a surprise given people are living longer and that comorbidity is becoming an increasing challenge for the NHS. What is even more concerning is that there appears to be widely differing numbers of Category A patients receiving continuing health care in the various health board areas, and I think we need to find out why the Western Isles area has 38 Category A patients per 100,000 population when Dumfries & Galloway has just one. I find it hard to believe that we are 38 times healthier than our fellow citizens in the Western Isles!

The inference is that there are a significant number of people out there who should be receiving ongoing care on the NHS, but aren’t. The issue has been raised at Holyrood and, despite the Scottish government’s initial reluctance to accept these figures at face value, it has finally announced a review into whether people are being denied funding for care.

Several years ago I led a local campaign when we discovered that many people were being charged for care services that should have been free. I hope we are not back in that same situation.

Armed Forces Day

In the same month that the 1st Battalion, the Royal Regiment of Scotland, marched through Dumfries in a ceremony that had been postponed due to the death of Margaret Thatcher, it was a real pleasure to be able to attend two flag-raising ceremonies to mark Armed Forces Week. In both Dumfries and Castle Douglas, simple ceremonies were attended by small but committed numbers of people who stood silently to attention as Armed Forces Week flags were raised. These will remain flying for the duration of the week which ends with parades in Stranraer and Dumfries. It is a relatively recent ceremony, and it is a very simple one, but I believe it is right that we should recognise those who serve in our armed forces once a year, just as we annually recognise those who paid the ultimate price on Remembrance Day.

Broadband

Access to a decent and reliable level of broadband is becoming an increasing frustration for many of my constituents, and no wonder. It is a common problem across rural Scotland and is caused because the thinner the population, the less attractive it is for IT companies to invest in their networks. The council has announced a welcome £12 million to be added to BT’s investment package, but even that will only ensure decent access for 85% of Dumfries and Galloway – eventually. So what about the other 15% – commonly known as “not spots”?

At a recent briefing in the Scottish Parliament, I learned that Northumberland has a similar problem but, having identified the areas and communities it would not be able to cover, it has come to an arrangement with a satellite company, which is now visiting those communities and is in the process of getting them connected.

I have discussed this with the council, and have been assured it will “work with these communities, and Community Broadband Scotland, to bring forward innovative solutions”. While I am pleased to hear that, those in the remotest areas might want to explore what is currently available – the technology is getting more affordable all the time.

Hall closures

It is one thing for the council to seek to close a village hall. It is quite another for it to do so without any consultation with either the communities or the user groups involved. Yet that is exactly what council officials have sought to do in the case of both Sorbie and Whauphill and both communities are understandably up in arms over the way this has been handled. We live in an age of consultation and the days of dictatorial decision making are over – especially when the impact of those decisions is detrimental to the people who pay for the decision-making body in the first place. Those who live in remote rural locations receive little enough for their council tax. They deserve to be consulted on decisions that would leave them with even less.

Summer recess

The parliamentary stint from Easter to the summer recess always seems a long one. And, as ever, there is usually a plethora of Bills to finalise right at the end of the session. Thus it was that, in the last week of the session, we passed Bills on Crofting Reform, Land & Buildings Transaction Tax, Post 16 Education, and the Scottish Independence Referendum Franchise Bill. However, I suspect the one Bill that will interest more of my constituents than any of those was passed earlier in the session – the High Hedges Bill. This has been long-awaited, and has now received royal assent. Simply, it gives people the right to seek help from the council if they are unduly affected by a neighbour’s high hedge. I intend to find out how the council intends to play its part, and will report back.

Summer Surgeries

I will be undertaking a surgery tour of the constituency during July: details should shortly be in your local shops and noticeboards, as well as in the local press. It would be good to see you if you have any issues to raise with me. Otherwise, I can always be contacted through my Freephone number 0800 028 7260.