Leader’s Statement

Following on from the first full week of council service committees, which I outlined previously, we completed the ‘set’ last week with a meeting of the Audit & Scrutiny Committee, which is chaired by Cllr Angus Morrison from Balallan, assisted by his Vice-Chair Cllr Iain Macaulay from Laxdale.

This Committee primarily commissions and reviews reports from our internal audit team regarding processes, practice and procedures across the council. Policy & Resources Committee which I chair myself, ably assisted by Cllr Alastair Macleod from Point, also met, to consider all financial matters across the entire Comhairle programme. Later that day the full Council sits and it is of course chaired by the Convenor, Cllr Norman A Macdonald from Uig, and is attended by all council members. The primary focus in committees recently has been the financial challenges facing us but there is also lots of work being done to maintain, and indeed improve, services where possible.

The occurrence of a number of cases of COVID-19 in Uist has been a concern but so far –- thankfully –- there have been no severe cases and it is really encouraging to see the way the council and public health have worked together to respond quickly and effectively to this outbreak. I would like to pay particular tribute to the staff in the care sector who have worked selflessly to cope with the inevitable strain on the service.

The outbreak itself brings a reminder that we need to remain vigilant and keep observing the rules. If we behave irresponsibly then an inevitable consequence is higher risk of infection and outbreak, so we should all continue to act with a degree of common sense and not become over complacent given the low infection rates we have hitherto enjoyed. If we can demonstrate that containment and management of the outbreak locally can be achieved swiftly, it does support the case for some in-island restrictions being eased so that we can move more freely within our communities. We will see how the situation evolves and we continue our discussions on these issues with both Scottish Government and Public Health, and indeed we had a meeting with Prof Jason Leitch, the Islands Minister Paul Wheelhouse and others on this matter just last week. Ongoing business in the last week has seen myself and our Communities Director, Calum Iain Maciver, meet with HIE leadership to agree joint work in a number of areas going forward; our Chairman of Development Donald Crichton meeting with the Islands Minister to drive on the energy ambitions for our islands and to try and find improved prospects for Arnish Yard; Cllr Uisdean Robertson our Chairman of Transportation met with, amongst others, Transport Scotland, to press on a number of issues, including the challenges in the pier building projects and to ensure the Ullapool Stornoway overnight freight sailing is undertaken by the Isle of Lewis whilst the Loch Seaforth is in dry dock later this month.

Earlier this week the Comhairle embarked on another ‘first’ by starting to conduct Community Conversations online. Rather than simply abandon the community participation in the budget setting process just because we cannot meet in person, we are trying to engage online. It works, and is a good way of getting our message out and of course as it has limited access we are ensuring communities share their say in a range of other ways by submitting their views directly online or via their local council members. There are a wide range of communications and press releases and useful information items on the Comhairle website and I would encourage you to share anything you might find useful with those who you know may not be able to access it. You can, of course, still e-mail in your views via conversation@cne-siar.gov.uk. As well as the website of course there is the Comhairle Facebook page and it is good to see that many are still tuning in to the online cèilidhs and the most recent one hosted by Calum Martin was another excellent event, maintaining the great standard we have enjoyed since these cèilidhs began.

I meet many people who continue to be positive and to be thankful for so many reasons but I do also meet some who are finding it difficult and wearisome so I think, as we all did earlier in this pandemic which stopped us in our tracks, it is more important than ever that we look out for each other. Let’s try and maintain a positive outlook, and let’s ensure we encourage in whatever way we can, those who we know to be struggling.