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Caithness campaigner withdraws complaint about way his evidence was heard after Scottish Parliament explanation

By Gordon Calder

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A CAITHNESS campaigner, who spoke at the Scottish Parliament on the need for the far north to have its own council and health board, has withdrawn a complaint he lodged about the way his evidence was heard.

Billy Sinclair from Thurso was "disappointed and frustrated" that after travelling 300 miles to Edinburgh he was not given the opportunity to outline his concerns about how services are delivered by Highland Council when he appeared before the Citizen Participation and Public Petitions(CPPP) Committee on June 8. Two other local campaigners – Maria Aitken from the Caithness Health Action Team and Rebecca Wymer from John O' Groats also gave evidence on rural health care to the committee as did Dr Gordon Baird from the Dumfries and Galloway area.

Mr Sinclair stated: "Other than the chair (Jackson Carlaw) mentioning the title of my petition at the start of the meeting I was given no opportunity to provide the evidence I had collated or to answer any questions from the panel.

"In my opinion it was wrong to amalgamate these four petitions into one session as I feel that other than Dr Baird none of the other petitioners were given the opportunity to provide evidence, we just ended up answering questions.

He added: "Three other petitions were being discussed regarding rural health care in Scotland and that was what was discussed and although I contributed to the discussion I was disappointed that the issues raised in my petition were ignored.

"I feel the issues raised in my petition are supported by a large proportion of people in Caithness who want to see a change in how our NHS and council services are provided at a local level."

Billy Sinclair with the Caithness flag at the Scottish Parliament
Billy Sinclair with the Caithness flag at the Scottish Parliament

In response to his formal complaint, a public information office representative at the Scottish Parliament, explained the committee decided to consider all four petitions together under the theme of rural health care.

"As you have indicated, the clerks recognise that this did create some challenges in making sure that each petitioner felt that they had a fair hearing, given the wide range of topics petitioners were keen to cover."

However, she stressed as a result each petitioner was given the opportunity to provide a further written submission which was considered at the committee meeting on June 15.

"The CPPP Committee clerks have confirmed that the additional written information that you provided was shared with the committee members in advance of the meeting."

She said the evidence heard at the session on June 8 and the written submissions were considered by the committee and it was decided to refer all four petitions to the Health, Social Care and Sport Committee which is " carrying out some work around health inequalities. It will then be up to that committee to decide what to do next."

In his reply to the parliament representative, Mr Sinclair confirmed he is now "closing the complaint" but added: "However, I do wish I had been given the opportunity to present my evidence regarding the Highland Council verbally as I believe this would have had a much better impact."

Mr Sinclair wants Caithness to have its own council and claims local government, health and other services have deteriorated in the far north over a number of years.

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