For the first time since lockdown began we have had a full set of council committee meetings. They were held online as we cannot yet all meet in the council chamber but at least the system is back in place and there was a full agenda at each meeting. There are four what we call ‘service’ committees through which the regular business of the council is conducted.
The Transportation & Infrastructure Committee is chaired by Uisdean Robertson from North Uist and the Vice-chairman is Kenny ‘Flip’ Macleod from Ness. Uisdean has had a busy three years as Chairman which has included liaising with Scottish Government around the many challenges thrown up by the ferry building debacle and the ongoing debate around HIAL’s controversial air traffic control plans.
The Communities and Housing Committee, chaired by Kenny John Macleod from Barvas, assisted by Vice-chairman Paul Steele from South Uist, has many important areas to cover, not least the ever present home care issues, and one of the significant roles of this committee is to oversee the delivery of the largest house building programme in the Comhairle’s history. The completion of the new Care Facility at Goathill is another first for the council and a long held ambition.
Donald Crichton from Tong chairs the Sustainable Development Committee and his Vice-chairman is Norrie ‘Tomsh’ Macdonald from Point. This committee will play an important role in ensuring we deliver our economic recovery plan in the months ahead.
The fourth and final ‘service’ committee is the Education, Sports and Children’s Services committee chaired by retired teacher Angus McCormack from Sandwick assisted by his Vice-chairman, Paul Finnegan from Scalpay. This committee has oversight of a huge budget, almost half the Comhairle spend, and will continue to have a crucial role in maintaining the delivery of a quality education provision for our islands (and nationally via e-Sgoil) in these troubling times. There will be meetings of Audit & Scrutiny, Policy & Resources and full council next week.
Whatever committee councillors sit on, whatever district they represent or whatever their political persuasion, I know that you will expect us all to put our shoulder to the wheel and do the very best we can to keep delivering services across the islands, despite ever reducing budgets and ever increasing costs. That’s our job and as we enter a period of consultation and discussion with communities around what our spending priorities should be over the next couple of years we really value and welcome your input and feedback as it will help shape our plans going forward.
The work of the council in liaising with both the UK and Scottish Governments continues, of course, and over the past couple of months we’ve engaged with a range of Ministers to make our case for ongoing support and proposing new ways in which they can invest in these islands. We have begun work on the proposals for innovative new ideas around an Energy Hub at Arnish which will be a fantastic development facilitated by the exciting Deep Water Port proposals being driven forward by Stornoway Port Authority with our full support and backing. The work in developing the Barra & Vatersay Community Campus is continuing and we hope we are able to secure the funds to deliver this ambitious project in the near future. Plenty of challenges but also plenty of opportunities. So whilst COVID-19 has disrupted all our lives, we have to stay focused on delivering the very best we can for our islands.
Stay safe, stay positive and let’s all appreciate how fortunate we are in living where we do.