EDWARD MOUNTAIN: Caithness and Sutherland get the raw end of the deal over local services
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Holyrood Notebook by Edward Mountain
Highlanders in the far north are acutely aware of the importance of local services to the future of their communities.
When services become more inaccessible and infrastructure is not maintained, then remote rural communities can feel more and more isolated from the support they require to thrive.
This is why every ageing school building that is replaced or local road that is repaired matters so much – these are the vital local services Highland communities rely upon.
For too long, Caithness and Sutherland have received the raw end of the deal, with local services under constant threat of reviews and cutbacks. It also appears that much of the council investment in the Highlands is ‘Inverness-centric’.
This has been made clear to me when I have met with multiple local campaigning groups, such as Caithness Health Action Team, Caithness Roads Recovery and No More Lost Souls. All are making similar arguments – the far north needs far more support locally, not less. I agree.
Given the concerns that constituents raise with me on a daily basis about local services, I understand that huge improvements are needed today and not tomorrow.
I also believe positive change is always possible, as long as politicians prioritise local needs first. Indeed, the return of passenger flights to Wick John O’Groats Airport in recent months is a case in point.
This huge boost for the area would not have happened without the hard work and collaboration between Highland Council, local councillors and the business community in the far north.
Everyone involved understood that this was a lifeline service and prioritised the needs of our Highland communities to secure the long-term future of air travel to Caithness.
If our rural communities are to thrive then our local politicians must be committed to working for the local good. This is especially the case when it comes to repairing and maintaining our local road infrastructure, for example.
It is no exaggeration to state that lives and personal safety are at risk given the crumbling condition of our local road network and this issue is now taking centre-stage in the upcoming local elections.
The Scottish Government’s unwillingness to provide a fair funding settlement to local authorities for road repairs has not helped the situation.
From 2014 to 2019 we saw a 26 per cent drop in spending on local roads maintenance throughout Scotland and that also coincided with a reduction of 7.5 per cent in local government funding over the same period. That level of underinvestment is simply unsustainable.
While I welcome that £1.5 million has been spent this year in Caithness on resurfacing roads, there are still roads that remain in desperate need of repair.
While I will always continue to lobby all levels of government to ensure that the far north receives its fair share to fund road repairs, this issue again needs politicians from all parties to work together and press for change.
Highlanders have a chance to ensure that happens on May 5 when they vote in the upcoming local elections.
It is essential that the candidates who are elected are fully focused on the local issues that matter most.
Securing improvements to our roads, schools and other vital services requires dedicated local champions. The far north needs them more than ever and it will be up to you ensure they are elected.
- Edward Mountain is a Highlands and Islands MSP for the Scottish Conservatives.