Job losses and the feared impact of deep public spending cuts on the Western Isles was driven home to the Treasury yesterday.
Danny Alexander, Chief Secretary to the Treasury, was in Stornoway to consult with island politicians, unions, the health board, business representatives and voluntary sector over the UK government’s curb on public spending.
His two-hour whistle stop trip was squeezed between the island’s afternoon plane timetable.
At a session in the Western Isles Council chamber he immediately received an impassioned verbal onslaught from former Labour candidate Donald John Macsween
Mr Macsween slammed the Liberal Democrats for “the most dramatic conversion ever seen since St Paul on the road to Damascus by jumping into bed with the Tories” and falling “hook, line and sinker for their nonsense” that the public spending cuts was a result of the previous Labour administration and not the bankers
“People were angry at bearing the brunt of the cuts,” said Mr Macsween.
Mr Alexander retorted: “I didn’t come here for a political row but for ideas and suggestions.”
He added that Labour was in “denial” and let things get out of control.
The minister who spent three years of his childhood in West Geirnish, South Uist, near the rocket range base said he was conscious of its importance to the island economy.
Fuel costs were a burden on the islands, he acknowledged, and the government was “working as hard as we can” on a lower fuel priced pilot scheme. He indicated that it was aimed to protect the poorest and most vulnerable in society, and on those regions heavily dependent on the public sector.
It was stressed to him that included the Western Isles where public bodies such as the council, health board and Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) are major employers as are other organisations reliant upon government spending such as Qinetiq.
The severe constraint in exporting all the renewable electricity the islands are able produce prompted council leader Angus Campbell to urge a review of energy regulator Ofcom.
At a behind-the-scenes discussion with the council, HIE, police and Scottish Natural Heritage representatives he was urged to change the stranglehold the Crown Estate has on the seabed which cuts out benefit payments to local communities from marine energy developments.
The need for better and faster broadband was also pressed upon him and the council indicated it would make a financial contribution for a improved network.
He was interested in an idea to adopt one large payroll system, and use the same travel agency, for the council and health board and other public bodies.
Later council convener Alex Macdonald said: “He was in listening mode.”
Danny Alexander is to address more than 100 business leaders at an Inverness Chamber of Commerce lunch in the city today.
The capacity event will be hosted by Inverness Chamber of Commerce at the Glenmoriston Town House on the city’s riverside.