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Gail Ross's push to help rural communities


By David G Scott

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NORTH MSP Gail Ross has launched a consultation on a proposed bill to address the needs of rural areas.

She is calling for feedback between now and the end of January with the aim of giving remote mainland communities the kind of protection Scotland's islands already have.

The main chamber of Wick Town Hall was filled with business leaders and other interested parties who came to hear about Mrs Ross's draft proposal for introducing a member's bill in the Scottish Parliament called Safeguarding Scotland's Remote Rural Communities.

After the meeting at Wick Town Hall in which Gail Ross invited consultation on her proposed Bill to 'safeguard Scotland's remote rural communities'. From left, Tom Barnes and Charlotte Mountford from Lyth Arts Centre, Joan Lawrie from Thurso Community Development Trust, Thurso and northwest Caithness councillor Karl Rosie, Gail Ross MSP, community activist Alexander Glasgow and councillor for north, west and central Sutherland Kirsteen Currie. Pictures: DGS
After the meeting at Wick Town Hall in which Gail Ross invited consultation on her proposed Bill to 'safeguard Scotland's remote rural communities'. From left, Tom Barnes and Charlotte Mountford from Lyth Arts Centre, Joan Lawrie from Thurso Community Development Trust, Thurso and northwest Caithness councillor Karl Rosie, Gail Ross MSP, community activist Alexander Glasgow and councillor for north, west and central Sutherland Kirsteen Currie. Pictures: DGS

Speaking after Monday's meeting, Mrs Ross said: "This is a consultation and I'm looking to get as much feedback as possible. There's a specific website people can visit or they can go through the Scottish Parliament website.

"I welcome anyone to email me too. I want to know from people in remote rural areas what they would like to see different and are there things they would like to see change?

"It could be as wide-ranging as from bank closures to bus routes. What we really want is an overview of how remote rural Scotland feels."

The SNP MSP for Caithness, Sutherland and Ross called this initial process towards creating the bill a "listening exercise". She added: "I'm here, I'm listening and I want the feedback."

The session at Wick Town Hall on Monday morning in which Gail Ross MSP introduced her new bill on Safeguarding Scotland's Remote Rural Communities. Pictures: DGS
The session at Wick Town Hall on Monday morning in which Gail Ross MSP introduced her new bill on Safeguarding Scotland's Remote Rural Communities. Pictures: DGS

The proposed legislation would offer protection for mainland communities in a similar way to the 2018 Islands Act. Public bodies would also have to take the impact on remote rural communities into account when making policy under the proposed guidelines.

In her consultation document Mrs Ross highlights the sense of isolation that can be felt within the rural setting and how this can impact upon mental health. She also highlights Highland Council's corporate plan prediction that the population of Caithness will continue to decline unless work is done to stop it.

Eann Sinclair, area manager from Highlands and Islands Enterprise, asks Gail Ross to clarify a point.
Eann Sinclair, area manager from Highlands and Islands Enterprise, asks Gail Ross to clarify a point.

The document says: "It has also been stated in the past that large local authorities that cater for some of our most remote communities and also urban areas, such as Highland Council, cannot possibly apply a ‘one size fits all’ approach to their decision-making.

"A policy that fits Inverness may not be suitable in Durness or Applecross. Even within council regions, some policy decisions need to be tailored for a specific area."

Mrs Ross said that she could not stress enough how important it was for the public to give feedback.

Gail Ross MSP (centre) opens the session for debate at Wick Town Hall on Monday morning.
Gail Ross MSP (centre) opens the session for debate at Wick Town Hall on Monday morning.

Kirsteen Currie, SNP councillor for north, west and central Sutherland, was at Monday's meeting in support of Mrs Ross and said: "I think we need as much support for remote and rural communities as possible.

"I'm worried that the main benefits we've had from the EU are going to be lost to us in the next few weeks or months. It will have a major impact on our public services and communities."

Karl Rosie, SNP councillor for Thurso and Northwest Caithness, said the Islands Bill from 2018 had made a huge difference to the communities affected by it and Mrs Ross's bill will "emulate and replicate" it for the rural population of the far north.

"We have got to act with urgency to support the bill so we can address the challenges ahead," Councillor Rosie said.

SNP councillor Karl Rosie was at the meeting to support Gail Ross's proposal.
SNP councillor Karl Rosie was at the meeting to support Gail Ross's proposal.

Mrs Ross admits that the process for a member's bill is "quite long" and she doubts if it will get through at this session of parliament.

She said: "The consultation ends on January 31 [2020] and we'll collate all these results and make them available to the Scottish Government and anyone who wishes to see them. We will then look at taking forward a draft bill."

An online survey is available at www.smartsurvey.co.uk/s/RemoteRuralCommunities/ and further information can be found at https://remoteruralcommunities.scot/

Gail Ross can also be emailed at gail.ross.msp@parliament.scot


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