Orkney’s SNP candidate has expressed surprise that OIC leader James Stockan feels that there has been a lack of consultation with the council over proposals to ease Covid-19 restrictions in the islands.
Robert Leslie said: “It may well be that OIC and other local authorities didn’t have a say on what proposals were put to communities, but they have certainly had plenty of opportunity to put forward their own views on the matter of easing restrictions. Meetings have taken place over the past few weeks with ministers including Cabinet Secretary for Communities and Local Government Aileen Campbell, Islands Minister Paul Wheelhouse and Deputy First Minister John Swinney, as well as officials, including National Clinical Director, Professor Jason Leitch.
“In their meetings with OIC and the other island authorities, ministers made clear the need to engage directly with communities as well as with local authorities. Therefore Councillor Stockan’s assertion that there was a lack of consultation would appear to hold very little water, although it may be that he didn’t like the options that were presented.”
The Scottish Government Islands Team consultation, which closed on 26th March, gave two options. The first would see island communities move in lockstep alongside the rest of the mainland on 26th April, and therefore be part of the relaxed freedom to travel across local authority boundaries. This would mean islands currently in level 3 would remain in this level and those currently in level 4 would move to level 3 at the same time as the rest of the mainland. The second would see island communities move individually to a different lower level of restrictions, and therefore continue to restrict travel to and from islands for essential purposes only.
Mr Leslie said: “While the results of the Scottish Government survey are still to be published, from the responses on social media around the time of the consultation there wasn’t widespread support for Councillor Stockan’s preferred option of relaxing restrictions and opening up Orkney to visitors at the same time.
“From what I could gather, there was much more support for relaxing restrictions locally to allow a wider range of economic and social activity, but to keep tighter travel restrictions.
“If that turns out to be the wish of the majority, this would be in line with Mike Russell’s comments at the final meeting of the Scottish Parliament Covid-19 committee, when he said ‘the level system will come back, we will be able to move as a nation but there will be flexibility within it’.