UK investment will boost local zero emission travel
Public transport is vital across the region and particularly so in Wigtownshire with our many small scattered communities and large rural roads network.
That’s why I warmly welcome confirmation that a transport bid, considered as part of the UK Government Levelling Up initiative, has been provisionally awarded almost £14 million which will increase electric vehicle (EV) travel.
Subject to completion of the validation process, the scheme will fund 16 low-floor electric buses, valued at around £250,000 each, which will be operated across Dumfries and Galloway through the local authority.
This new fleet will replace almost a quarter of the current public sector buses in the region, converting from diesel to electric power, and will link in with 100 EV-friendly bus stops.
To help ensure these and other electric-powered vehicles can be fuelled with relative ease there will be a further expansion of the charging network with travel hubs, costing £1.2 million each, at a number of strategic locations including Stranraer, Whithorn, Newton Stewart and Gatehouse of Fleet.
With the number of zero emission vehicles on UK roads set to grow significantly each year over the next decade, I believe this is a well-timed and prudent Levelling Up investment which will have a positive impact across Dumfries and Galloway.
Meanwhile, funding has also been set aside for improving some south of Scotland walking and cycling routes.
Local hospital maternity services favoured option
I know from on-going correspondence from Wigtownshire there remains a significant appetite for a resumption of full maternity services within the Galloway Community Hospital in Stranraer.
Given the geography of our wide region I do not believe that is unreasonable and I would urge the devolved Scottish Government and the local NHS to do their utmost to deliver on this.
The service was lost some years ago, not least because of staff recruitment challenges, but demand for a unit which provides the option of ‘lower-risk’ births to take place in a local hospital has not gone away.
I was disappointed that an NHS Dumfries and Galloway engagement with stakeholders earlier this year was not considered conclusive and a further study began on November 20.
A three-track system with mothers in Wigtownshire having the option of a local hospital birth in Stranraer, a home birth or, particularly where there is risk of complications, at Dumfries and Galloway Royal Infirmary, would appear to be the most favoured scenario.
There is no escaping the challenges facing the NHS, locally and nationally, but I’m surprised a further consultation has proved necessary on this well debated issue before steps are taken to reduce the need for expectant mothers to make a gruelling 70-mile plus journey in sometimes traumatic circumstances.
I would, however, still encourage would-be parents and other stakeholders to engage with the latest survey as quickly as possible to hopefully accelerate the decision-making process. The online consultation is due to go live from Monday at https://dghscp.co.uk/maternity-consultation
There will also be face-to-face consultation sessions in the coming weeks including at Stranraer, Wigtown and Newton Stewart.
Support for remembrance appeared as great as ever
I was pleased, but not surprised, to see Remembrance and Armistice Day services and ceremonies as well supported as ever this year in Wigtownshire.
In the current troubled world, and with the well-reported conflicts in Eastern Europe and the Middle East, I’m sure most people locally are reminded of just how important the role of our highly skilled and professional armed forces remains in maintaining the defence of the United Kingdom.
It was also notable that in some communities, in the build up to Remembrance Day, a number of imaginative displays were on show including some using knitted poppies made by volunteers from school age upwards. These added to the interest in the ceremonies and also encouraged people to support Poppyscotland’s vital annual appeal.
Whilst Scotland Office duties sometimes require me to attend ceremonies in Edinburgh or London, I welcomed the opportunity this year to again mark the occasion in the constituency.
My wife Ann and I attended a church service and later laid poppy wreaths on behalf of the UK Government and the House of Commons at Dumfries War Memorial and it was excellent to see such a large turnout of local people and so many organisations represented.
Like everyone attending such events, my thoughts were very much with those who were lost in the service of their country and, during this difficult time internationally, on those around the world caught up in conflicts, often outwith their control.
Jamie’s role in helping shape young lives
There can be few professional roles as important as helping encourage, educate and inspire young people to work towards achieving their life goals.
Whatever pupils’ abilities and potential opportunities, teachers and other school staff play an important and influential role in helping shape the lives of upcoming generations.
It was good to see that a former pupil of Stranraer Academy, Jamie Farquhar, has been appointed head teacher of his old school.
As well as knowing the community so well, he has already completed a successful two years as acting head teacher of the school.
I wish Jamie, who was selected unanimously by the appointment panel, and his team well in the months and years ahead.
Cracking entries in schools’ Christmas card competition
It is hard to believe but the festive season is fast approaching and I was delighted to see such a strong and large entry from schools for my annual Christmas Card design competition.
My wife Ann and I enjoyed looking through the fantastic sketches and colourful front cover paintings and, because of the high standard, it was extremely difficult to select our 10 prize winners from across Dumfries and Galloway constituency.
The overall winner, who receives a £100 spending voucher, was Avah Houston of Springholm Primary, whose cover picture features a robin wearing a scarf.
Runners-up, who each receive £25 vouchers, were: Carlin Ramsay, Drummore Primary, robin and a Highland cow; James Anderson, Sheuchan Primary, Houses of Parliament; Abigail Ross, Heathhall Primary, Santa and Reindeer; Mamie McMillan, Colvend Primary, a robin sitting on holly twig; Zara Hamilton, Drummore Primary, farm animals wearing Santa hats; Estere Deksne, Penninghame Primary, night scene with house and Christmas tree; Katie Walls, Troqueer Primary, candy cane house, snow globe and Christmas tree; Iris Crosbie, Troqueer Primary, Rudolph with striped background and Ruby Leigh McCubbin, Heathhall Primary, mug and a cake.
My thanks and seasonal best wishes go to the pupils who participated in this year’s competition and all the staff at the schools involved. Your interest, time and effort was greatly appreciated.
Attractive south-west hailed as a cool place to hang out
As most people in south-west Scotland are very much aware the beauty of our hills, forests and stunning coastline are greatly appreciated by residents and visitors alike.
It seems justified, therefore, that the Galloway and Southern Ayrshire Biosphere has recently been singled out as top Scottish location in the 2024 National Geographic Traveller (UK) ‘Cool List.’
Our near-neighbours across the North Channel, the City of Belfast, are also worthy winners of the accolade and perhaps the listings could inspire some visitors to take in both contrasting destinations.