Local News for Thursday 11th February 2016

Better fitted Loch Portain to return
The Sound of Harris ferry, MV Loch Portain, is set to return to the route with a new passenger lift and safety systems, when she comes back at the end of February after an extended period away in dry dock. Her long absence has been caused as a state-of-the-art life saving system is fitted on the passenger deck, designed to speed up evacuation in an emergency. CalMac's director of operations, Drew Collier said: "Safety is our number one priority and we are anxious to fit the most up to date safety equipment on the market. This new system can give passengers and crew reassurance that they can rely on the most technically advanced system in the unlikely event of an emergency." For its everyday service, the Loch Portain is also being fitted with a new passenger lift from the car deck to the upper decks. The MV Loch Bhrusda is filling in on the Berneray Leverburgh route and, with a smaller vehicle capacity, needs passengers to book well ahead if possible. Drew Collier said: "The winter annual refit period is always a challenge for us and the upgrade work means it is off-route longer than usual. We thank people for their patience while this improvement work is done. I'm sure passengers will notice a difference to their sailing experience particularly with the new lift being installed when the vessel returns."

Leverburgh residents ready to push ahead
Residents of Leverburgh have taken up the challenge of producing a working business plan to present to Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, following a very well-attended open meeting about the future of Leverhulme Memorial School on Tuesday. The packed meeting voted to support plans for a new community facility based in the old block of the school. The council’s plan is to extensively refurbish one of the school buildings, and a steering group formed in October last year said this plan was welcome, but the Comhairle’s preferred option of demolishing the old block denies a ‘fantastic facility for the entire community’. The steering group believe this would not only benefit the people of South Harris, but would save the public purse the £400,000 cost of demolition. Plans drawn up and put to residents include a tea-room, laundrette facility and gym.  The steering group also believes that the building – built by Lord Leverhulme himself – would be a fantastic home for South Harris historical society.  Steering group chairman Angus Macleod said: “South Harris being the birth place of the now world-famous Harris Tweed, is just one example of the many stories that can be told about the island and its people.  In addition to providing new facilities and preserving the island’s rich history and culture, it is hoped that such a facility would have many educational benefits, especially for pupils in the new school next door”. Of 73 people at Tuesday’s public meeting, 64 voted to support the Steering Group’s plans. Angus MacLeod said:  “Now that the Leverhulme Memorial School Steering Group have shown their plans to the community, they are ready to present them to Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, along with what they believe to be a viable business plan. The deadline for this submission is 18th February”.
Broadband everywhere – MSP
Highlands and Islands MSP Rhoda Grant spoke in Parliament this week in a debate on broadband connection. A recent report identified the Western Isles as having the worst broadband service of all 650 constituencies in the UK. After this week’s debate Mrs Grant said: "The Highlands and Islands are extremely poorly served. Yes, we are now seeing the main centres of population in the Highlands and Islands get connected to superfast, but to make the target meaningful, it needs to be across much smaller units of population, even smaller than council areas. We need to utilise all the technologies to ensure 100 per cent coverage. Access to next generation broadband is no longer a luxury; it is essential. There are businesses in my region that are looking to relocate because of their poor broadband connection; that is simply wrong."

Pregnant women risk lives
More than half the pregnant women in Western Isles have not taken up the offer of the seasonal flu jab, leaving themselves and their unborn babies at risk from flu. Recent figures show that 52% of pregnant women in the isles have yet to be vaccinated, even though statistics show flu as the cause of death for one in 11 women who died during, or shortly after, pregnancy. Pregnant women who get flu are also five times more likely to have a stillborn baby, or for the baby to die in the first week following birth. Women can have the flu vaccination at any stage of their pregnancy and evidence shows that the vaccine can help to protect the baby for up to three months after birth. Director of the Royal College of Midwives Scotland, Gillian Smith said: "It has now become critical we stress to pregnant women that flu is a really serious illness – it can have a serious impact on those expecting a baby. The flu vaccine is free to all expectant mothers in Scotland, is safe to have at any time during pregnancy, and it only takes a few minutes”. Pregnant women can contact their midwife or GP practice to ask any questions about the flu vaccine, or to book an appointment. The vaccine is available until the end of March as part of a national programme. If you would like to find out more, contact NHS Inform on 0800 22 44 88 or log on to www.immunisationscotland.org.uk/flu