Agendas, reports and minutes

Lochaber Committee

Date: Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Minutes: Read the Minutes

Minutes of Meeting of the Lochaber Area Committee held in the Council Chamber, Lochaber House, High Street, Fort William on Tuesday, 25 November 2014 at 10.30 am.


Mr A Baxter, Mr B Clark, Mr B Gormley, Mr T MacLennan, Mr B Murphy, Mr B Thompson

In attendance: 

Mr D Haas, Inverness City Manager
Mrs D Ferguson, Senior Ward Manager (Ross, Skye and Lochaber)
Mr C Kemp, Area Community Services Manager, Community Services
Mr M Leary, Assistant Area Manager, Community Services
Ms N Young, Area Education Manager, West, Care and Learning Services
Mr S Graham, Project Manager, Chief Executive’s Office
Ms L Lee, Committee Administrator, Corporate Development Service

Also in attendance: 

Miss M Scott, Remote and Rural Programme Manager, Skye and Wester Ross, NHS Highland
Mr R Muir, Area Manager, Lochaber, Skye and Wester Ross, Highlands and Islands Enterprise
Ms L Benfield, Chief Executive, Fort William Chamber of Commerce 

An asterisk in the margin denotes a recommendation to the Council. All decisions with no marking in the margin are delegated to the Committee.

Mr T MacLennan in the Chair



1.  Apologies for Absence

An apology for absence was intimated on behalf of Mr A Henderson. 

2. Declarations of Interest
Foillseachaidhean Com-pàirt 

The Committee NOTED the following Declaration of Interest:  

Item 4 – Mr B Murphy (Financial)  

3.  Overview of Inward Investment Activity plus Related Recruitment Activities
Sealladh Coitcheann de Ghnìomhachd In-Thasgaidh a bharrachd air Gnìomhachdan Fastaidh Buntainneach

Presentations were given by Miss M Scott, Remote and Rural Programme Manager, Skye and Wester Ross, National Health Service Highland (NHSH); Mr R Muir, Area Manager, Lochaber, Skye and Wester Ross, Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE); and Ms L Benfield, Chief Executive, Fort William Chamber of Commerce, providing an overview of inward investment and related recruitment initiatives. Information provided by Miss Scott included the proactive steps being taken by the Health Service to recruit and retain GPs and other health professionals in rural areas. Mr Muir and Ms Benfield updated the Committee on actions being taken to attract and support businesses. All three speakers were experiencing similar obstacles, including:- 

  • the availability of skills and talents that businesses located in, or thinking of locating in Lochaber, were looking for;
  • accommodation in the short and the longer term;
  • broadband and mobile phone connectivity – in particular this had serious implications for GPs on call as they could not always be contacted and could not always obtain advice from specialists. It was also important to reducing social isolation; and
  • potential disruption to children’s education if professionals needed to return to urban areas to progress their careers.  

NHSH, HIE and the Chamber of Commerce focussed on advertising the quality of life and the environment when attracting staff and businesses to the area but were also careful to portray a realistic image of rural life, which was different in many ways from urban living. Information was provided on the roll out of Next Generation Broadband (84% of premises should be able to access this by 2017); training needs and opportunities; engagement with school children to inform them of the types of skills needed locally; and the benefits of business clusters. The speakers also commented that key worker housing would be useful. All were keen to work with partners to make best use of solutions that had proved effective elsewhere.  

In discussion, the Chair expressed the view that a single platform, where all groups could share what was being done and what had worked, would help maximise recruitment and retention of workers. It would also be useful for a representative of the Caithness and North Sutherland Regeneration Partnership to present to the Committee information on their activities and the outcomes.

In response to questions raised, Members were advised that:-  

  • the NHS campaign would in the future include targeting mountaineering and photographic clubs; gathering information on the age profile of GPs to inform succession planning; and would look at how a package including employment for spouses of key health workers could be provided; and
  • some local employers incentivised employees by offering education bursaries for their offspring.  

Points made in discussion included:-

  • the importance of partnership working – the NHS had had some success with their advertising because they were selling a package to the community and this approach could be used by others;
  • the need for a strengthening of “vertical” links between the Lochaber and Highland Community Planning Partnerships and local communities;
  • UHI was very keen that local children be enabled to remain in the area after they left school;
  • the importance of broadband and mobile connectivity for business, health and quality of life;
  • communities increasingly accepted that there would be changes in the way services were provided and were more open to creative solutions;
  • the difficulties experienced by specialists maintaining their skills to meet medical standards. Professional bodies needed to take this on board;
  • key worker housing could be provided if the Government allowed greater flexibility between budget headings; and
  • the need for employment opportunities for spouses of key workers. 

The Committee NOTED the information provided and the points made in discussion, and AGREED that:- 

i. the Chair write to the Chairman of the Development and Infrastructure Committee to advise of the points made in discussion, the opportunities identified and suggestions as to how things might be improved with a view to finding solutions to the issues being experienced in Lochaber, in particular in relation to recruitment and retention of key workers, including GPs and other health professionals;
ii. the Inverness City Manager would bring the points made in discussion to the attention of the Director of Development and Infrastructure and to the Head of Policy and Reform as appropriate;
iii. information be provided to a future Committee on the actions taken by the Caithness and Sutherland Regeneration Partnership in response to the closure of Dounreay, highlighting what had been found to work well; and
iv. the Senior Ward Manager seek to arrange for the NHS to be included in the local employability network meetings with the Council’s Employability team, Highlands and Islands Enterprise and the College. 

4. Housing Performance Report: 1 April 2014 to 30 September 2014
Aithisg Dèanadais a thaobh Taigheadais: 1 Giblean 2014 gu 30 Sultain 2014

Declaration of Interest: Mr B Murphy declared a financial interest in this item as a temporary accommodation provider and left the room for the duration of the item.

There had been circulated Report No. LA/33/14 dated 7 November 2014 by the Director of Community Services providing information on how the Housing Section had performed in relation to Scottish Social Housing Charter and other performance indicators during the first half of 2014/15. The report outlined key performance statistics together with details of emergency and routine repairs, re-let statistics, rental arrears and homelessness issues. 

Following discussion, the Area Community Services Manager undertook to provide individual Members with additional information in response to specific queries relating to letting times, the reasons for the reduction in times for non-emergency repairs, external insulation timescales and the capital plan and whether existing resources were sufficient to respond to the increasing levels of homelessness. 

The Committee NOTED the report. 

5. Lochaber High School Associated School Group Overview
Sealladh Coitcheann air Buidheann Sgoiltean Co-cheangailte Àrd-Sgoil Loch Abar

There had been circulated Report No. LA/34/14 dated 12 November 2014 by the Director of Care and Learning providing an update of key information in relation to the schools within the Lochaber High School Associated School Group and useful updated links to further information in relation to these schools. Information included leaver destinations, school rolls, looked after pupil numbers, attendance/absence/exclusion data for 2012/13, staffing levels, costs per pupil and information on the occupancy, suitability and condition of buildings. Statistics from High Life Highland on usage of swimming pools, libraries, sports pitches and adult learning were also provided. The primary schools in this area served over 1100 pupils, with the secondary school serving 835 young people. 

In response to questions raised, Members were advised that:-

  • Officers were aware that the current report required to be reviewed; this would be discussed at a Senior Management Team Meeting. In addition, the Inverness City Manager would bring Members’ requests regarding the style of the report to the attention of the Head of Education; and the Area Care and Learning Manager would bring information on recruitment, feedback on how the introduction of the Curriculum for Excellence was progressing and provision of swimming lessons to the attention of Members as separate reports through Ward Business Meetings;
  • small and remote schools often had higher costs per pupil due to overheads. The variance in costs across Fort William schools should reduce as the move to the new schools progressed; and
  • there was no budget allocated to schools outwith the existing Fort William building programme; Head Teachers from other schools were able to make requests for improvements, but these would need to be considered within the existing budget constraints.

The Committee NOTED the report and the information given and AGREED:- 

i. that, from February 2015, an additional report for the Secondary Scottish Qualification results would be presented, which would cover all the West ASGs in a single report, enabling comparisons across schools; and
ii. that the Inverness City Manager would bring Member requests regarding the content of the report to the attention of the Head of Education.

6.  Integrated Transport Project Update
Fios às Ùr mu Phròiseact na Còmhdhalach Amalaichte 

There had been circulated Report No. LA/35/14 dated 13 November 2014 by the Director of Community Services updating Members on the Integrated Transport Provision Project being carried out under the governance of the Council’s Corporate Improvement Programme to examine the options for improving the integration of transport services for health and social care and social inclusion.

The project had been set up following an audit of Transport for Health and Social Care carried out by Audit Scotland in 2011, which had found a lack of leadership and integration, leading to resources not being used efficiently. The Council had worked with a number of public body and third sector partners to set up the Integrated Transport Provision project which was being piloted in Lochaber. A key aim was to work co-operatively with NHS Highland, Scottish Ambulance Service, transport providers and community representative organisations to make more effective use of existing transport resources in the area.

Activities included developing co-operative transport solutions, providing an information service and building relationships between the Patient Booking and Patient Transport Services. The Lochaber Transport Advice and Bookings Service (LTABS) had commenced in June 2014, operated by Voluntary Action Lochaber on behalf of the project partners, and this would run for a year. Whilst demand had mostly been for health-related requirements, the LTABS service also supported social inclusion needs. A progress report to the Scottish Government in September had resulted in a second tranche of funding being made available. The Project Manager reported that the project was moving forward positively.

Members stated that they were receiving positive feedback and expressed their appreciation for the hard work by staff. In discussion, views were expressed that the criteria set by the Government appeared to constrain the way that the Scottish Ambulance Service could use Patient Transport, which limited the potential for transport sharing. If the criteria could be more loosely interpreted this might allow greater flexibility and efficiency in transport provision while the current criteria appeared not to help the NHS in meeting its wider health goals. 

Having been advised that the Scottish Government was understood to support the Patient Transport criteria, the Committee NOTED:- 

i. the advent of the Transport Programme and its focus to generate savings over 2015-19;
ii. the progress of the Integrated Transport Provision Project; 

and AGREED:- 

iii. to support ongoing endeavours through the Lochaber Transport Advice and Bookings Service; and
iv. that the Project Manager explore with the Scottish Ambulance Service (Patient Transport Service) whether their patient eligibility criteria could be interpreted more flexibly, with a view to increasing sharing of transport by partners, to provide an improved response to wider demand.

7. Winter Maintenance Plan for 2014/15
Plana Cumail Suas a’ Gheamhraidh airson 2014/15

There had been circulated Report No. LA/36/14 dated 10 November 2014 by the Director of Community Services which provided information on winter maintenance preparations and arrangements for the 2014/15 winter period and invited Members to approve the Winter Maintenance Plan for the this Area. The report provided information on the legislation and Council policy which underpinned the Plan; the hierarchy for treatment of roads (Primary, Secondary and Other), target times and hours of operation; length of road and the resources available; where the public could find information; forecasting and decision making; arrangements for schools, care homes etc., plans in place for extreme conditions; and community resilience arrangements.

In discussion, Members argued strongly that the Glen Garry road should be categorised as “Secondary” rather than “Other”. Members believed that the road met the criterion that it connected smaller communities to the primary network; there was little difference between the Glen Garry road and the road from Strontian to Polloch, which was classed as Secondary. In response to points raised in this regard, Members were advised that whilst the Area Committee had powers to alter categories, it did not have powers to increase budgets and an increase in service on one road would likely have to be balanced by a reduction in provision elsewhere. The legal position was that the Council was required to do what was reasonable within the resources available.

In light of the views expressed, Officers undertook to revisit the Plan and bring information to the next Ward Business Meeting detailing the costs of categorising the road as Secondary and how this would impact on other roads, on the feasibility and costs of the road being cleared using plant from Fort Augustus and on the vehicle used to transport school children. If Members were not able to find an acceptable way forward within the options open to them, additional funding would need to be requested from the Community Services Committee.

In response to questions on other matters, Members were advised that:-  

  • future winter maintenance reports could be brought to the Committee in the summer, so that issues could be resolved before the winter set in;
  • there were no proposals to rationalise the salt depots at Ballachulish;
  • four communities in Lochaber had requested to become self-reliant and had been provided with basic equipment;
  • snow clearance at the Glencoe ski centre was assisted by BEAR and the centre owners who cleared the public car park;
  • the school road at Ballachulish was now cleared before 9am;
  • local farmers did not currently help clear the roads in Lochaber; and
  • the length of time “Other” roads had to wait to be cleared depended on the amount of snow.

Members observed that a review of Community Services would be taking place in the near future. This would provide an opportunity to air the Committee’s frustrations and to promote the role Members wished the Lochaber Area Committee to have.

The Committee APPROVED the Winter Maintenance Plans for the Lochaber Area for 2014/15 which included the priority road maps presented in Appendix B, subject to:-

i .officers looking at the costs and options for classifying the Glen Garry road as “Secondary” (rather than “Other”) and bringing a report to the Ward Business Meeting on 8 December; and
ii. in the event of the options suggested being not acceptable, that additional funding be requested from the Community Services Committee to implement the change referred to in (i) above.

8. Landfill Community Fund
Maoin Choimhearsnachdan Tiodhlacaidh Sgudail 

There had been circulated Report No. LA37/14 dated 22 October 2014 by the Director of Community Services inviting Members to approve an application to the Highland Council Landfill Community Fund.

At its meeting held on 15 May 2014, the Community Services Committee had agreed that the Council distribute the Landfill Communities Fund to local biodiversity conservation projects, with a maximum contribution of £10,000 to any one project annually, subject to approval by the appropriate Area Committee. The application before this meeting, from the Sunart Community Company, aimed to restore a healthy and ultimately self-sustaining salmon population to the Strontian River, improving the biodiversity of the area and creating an asset to be enjoyed by the local community and visitors. The project would involve community volunteers and primary school pupils and would promote environmental education.

Officers having undertaken to provide information to Members outwith the meeting as to whether play areas were included in the project categories, the Committee AGREED that the application from Sunart Community Company be submitted to ENTRUST for their consideration.

9.  Minutes

There had been circulated and were NOTED, Minute of Meeting of the Lochaber Area Committee held on 26 August 2014, which had been approved by the Council on 4 September 2014.

Arising from the Minutes, concern was expressed by Members as to why a number of reports, which it had been indicated in the minutes would be brought to the Committee, had not been presented. The Chairman undertook to look into the matter with a view to ensuring that this did not happen again.

The meeting concluded at 1.15pm.