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Politics / Regional MSP stresses need for Highlands and Islands to be supported in budget

Highlands and Islands list MSP Jamie Halcro Johnston. Photo: Chris Cope/Shetland NewsHighlands and Islands list MSP Jamie Halcro Johnston. Photo: Chris Cope/Shetland News

THE IMPACT of coronavirus on the Highlands and Islands must been taken into account in the upcoming Scottish budget, according to a regional MSP.

The Conservatives’ Jamie Halcro Johnston said the budget – due to be announced on Thursday – “must support local public service and protect jobs across the Highlands and Islands”.

“No part of the Highlands and Islands has escaped the impact of the pandemic,” he said.

“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.”

Scottish finance secretary Kate Forbes said the budget will “create the conditions for Scotland to recover and renew”.

“The budget will include ­innovative, targeted measures to help businesses and families get back on their feet and bolster our vital public services,” she added.

Locally eyes will be on what financial support there may be in the budget for running Shetland’s inter-island ferries.

A few years ago extra funding started being included in the budget for Shetland and Orkney’s council-run ferries, but the total amount coming Shetland’s way has repeatedly fallen short of the total ask.

Last year the council launched the #MyFerry social media campaign to support the case for greater investment in ferries.

Shetland Islands Council leader Steven Coutts said at the time: “What we’re asking for is sufficient funding to preserve the service we have, to upgrade those routes which need it with new vessels and infrastructure, and to take advantage of new technologies to develop our internal links into the future.”

It comes as a new Audit Scotland report published today (Tuesday) highlights that funding received by councils from the Scottish Government increased by £500 million in 2019/20.

However, much of the additional funding was ring-fenced for specific purposes, such as more than £200 million for expanding early learning and childcare.

Audit Scotland also warned that the coronavirus pandemic will “drive large rises in costs and spending, combined with falling income”.