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RHODA GRANT: A9 inquiry evidence is an 'indictment' of the Scottish Government

By Scott Maclennan

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This month, we saw large parts of the Highlands receive a month’s average rainfall in just a two-day period, over the first weekend of October.

With road closures, journey delays and cancellations, flood damage to properties, and large areas of farmland impacted, it was a sobering reminder of the impact of extreme weather.

The help and support offered between neighbours in affected communities has shown the benefit of community connections in these moments. It is important to know there is help available to those affected, with relevant information available through the Scottish Flood Forum website.

Moving on to issues at Holyrood, where there has been talk of roads also. It has been fair to say that the road to understanding the SNP’s failure to dual the A9 remains a pathway of more discussion and blame.

Blistering testimony from former Cabinet Secretary Alex Neil at the Petitions Committee, suggested that the Highlands and Islands was viewed, by some in power, as ‘peripheral’ is an indictment of the government’s view.

Through the evidence given, there seems to have been more interest in duelling between Transport Scotland and the government than dualling the road.

I submitted a motion to parliament to highlight the £4 million in budget cuts and mandatory job losses at the University of the Highlands and Islands. I urged all senior management at the university to actively consult with staff and union members to find a sustainable solution.

UHI has 12 colleges and research institutions across the Highlands and Islands, which have a central role to the local economy of their area as well as providing high-quality education.

Finally, many readers will have received their routine vaccine letter in the post. Many of whom are having to travel lengthy journeys to access their vaccines, are unable to book a suitable appointment and are struggling to access phone lines.

This all happened last year, and elected representatives were promised by NHS Highland that lessons would be learned. The issue was raised again recently at a regular MSP meeting with NHS Highland.

NHS Highland stated that they are frustrated too and are in discussions with the Scottish Government regarding improving the service. They have experienced problems on the national booking system and that digital delivery in a rural context was proving to be a problem. This again shows that processes designed for urban areas seldom work well in rural areas – but the Scottish Government continue to fail to grasp this.

I have been advised that there are more clinics being established and those eligible for vaccination should check back regularly to the website to see if more local options are added.

This is welcome; however, I still feel lessons have not been learned from last year and this will lead to difficulty for many people to receive their vaccines.

What is even more disappointing is that problems with delivery of vaccines centrally by NHS Highland was anticipated years ago when changes to the GP contract were proposed.

This further demonstrates the requirement for Government to have a rural perspective when implementing change.

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