RHODA GRANT: We can only battle depopulation if there is suitable infrastructure
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From WhatsApp messages and iPad roaming bills to ferry statements, it has been a busy and eventful time at Holyrood.
Down south too, there has been a reshuffling of the UK Cabinet. David Cameron is now the Foreign Minister despite not being an MP since he resigned as Prime Minister in 2016. The new boss of the Foreign Office is the same as the old boss of the country. The Conservatives being the party of change does not wash but hopefully this time, we won’t get fooled again.
Moving on to Parliament this month, I have been focussing on issues around depopulation of the Highlands and Islands. According to recent data from the Scottish Fiscal Commission and National Records of Scotland, the population of the Highlands and Islands could decrease by up to 16 per cent in the next twenty years unless effective steps are taken.
The SNP/Green Government want to introduce rural work visa schemes to attract more workers to the area and they also argue for more devolved power from Westminster over migration policy. However, this approach misses the fundamental point: attracting businesses and retaining families can only be successful if there is suitable infrastructure and access to services in these communities. Put simply, if there are not enough jobs, not enough houses, unreliable transport and public services in these communities, people will not stay.
Retaining businesses and attracting skilled workers is key to this. I have raised the closure of the BT site in Alness twice with the Scottish Government, to spotlight the importance of the employer to the area. As BT have received millions of Government funding, I asked the First Minister for his intervention on the issue. Similarly, with threats to jobs across campuses of the University of the Highlands and Islands, I will continue to represent staff and important employers across the north.
Increasing the quality and quantity of houses available, as well as linking our communities with reliable transport services will attract families. Earlier this month, I urged the Government to take on board recommendations in a damning report on ferries, to ensure we can have a reliable service fit for the future. This goes too for improving the roads, rails, and air links. Overall, stemming depopulation requires local interventions that understand the needs of families in Highlands communities.
Lastly, I would like to highlight an important service for many people who are required to care for a family member.
There are 800,000 unpaid carers in Scotland, with three in five of us likely to become a carer during our lifetime. Breaks from caring make a huge difference to the health and wellbeing of unpaid carers, yet many report being unable to access a break from their caring role when they need it most.
The Shared Care Scotland Short Breaks Directory is a valuable online resource designed to support carers to access respite and short breaks. During a time of the year when many carers face more responsibilities, it is important to get information of help and support, which is available on this platform.