Highlands and Islands MSP Jamie Halcro Johnston has called on SNP ministers to ensure this week’s Scottish Government budget recognises the impact of the pandemic on his region.
The Shadow Cabinet Secretary for the Rural Economy and Tourism said the Budget, due to be announced on Thursday, must include measures to support under-pressure local health, care and council services, as well as the impact of Covid-19 restrictions on local businesses.
The Scottish Conservative MSP said SNP ministers had been slow to support key sectors, with the region’s important tourism industry left waiting on cash for months with promises – but little detail – of support. He claimed local councils had also seen greater calls on their services, with additional responsibilities put on them by central government, and were now seeing existing funding issues getting worse.
He said the Budget must support local public service and protect jobs across the Highlands and Islands.
Mr Halcro Johnston said: “No part of the Highlands and Islands has escaped the impact of the pandemic."
“Health and social care services are under pressure. Local councils have seen responsibilities increase, stretching already stretched resources. As our economy has taken an absolute drubbing, with the hospitality sector in particular - so important for jobs and livelihoods here - left reeling."
“Even with the remarkable and broad support of the UK furlough scheme protecting thousands of jobs, unemployment is on the rise, with some parts of the region particularly hard hit. That’s why it is imperative that the Scottish Government recognises the real issues facing the communities across the Highlands and Islands and, for once, acts. Unfortunately, their record isn’t good”.
Mr Halcro Johnston said: “One of the major impediments to encouraging investment in the Highlands and Islands is the repeated failure of the SNP Government to deliver on its infrastructure promises."
“Where are the ferries they promised us? Not built, years late or rusting in dockyards. Why are so many of our trunk roads prone to closure?"
“What’s happening with broadband roll-out? Many communities are still struggling with poor connectivity. And why is so much of the money provided by the UK Government to Holyrood still unspent and sitting in Scottish Government coffers in Edinburgh?”
Mr Halcro Johnston warned of the danger that the post-Covid recovery could be derailed by continuing arguments over the constitution, instead of working with the UK Government to deliver economic growth.
He said “Frankly, if the SNP has time to waste developing an 11-point plan for independence, why isn’t there an 11-point plan for reviving the economy of our region?"
“We need to see evidence on Thursday that ministers are not allowing their political obsessions to get in the way of using all the resources available to them to focus on protecting public services, jobs and livelihoods in communities across the Highlands and Islands."
“Anything else would be a shameful dereliction of their responsibilities.”