Rural and Island Economies (Impact of Covid-19)

– in the Scottish Parliament on 11th June 2020.

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Photo of Alasdair Allan Alasdair Allan Scottish National Party

1. To ask the Scottish Government what assessment has been made of the likely impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on rural and island economies. (S5O-04388)

Photo of Fergus Ewing Fergus Ewing Scottish National Party

The impacts of Covid-19 on the Western Isles have been substantial; in particular, the impact on tourism on those islands has been devastating. The Scottish Government is working hard to address those matters.

Photo of Alasdair Allan Alasdair Allan Scottish National Party

There is an obvious concern that the economic impact of the pandemic will exacerbate the long-standing trend of island depopulation. Recession tends to result in working-age families moving to the mainland in search of work. If that happens, the islands could take a long time to recover demographically. Can the cabinet secretary say more about whether the Government will commit to ensuring that an assessment of that issue is made, and that all interventions will be considered?

Photo of Fergus Ewing Fergus Ewing Scottish National Party

Yes, I can. I hope that Dr Allan’s constituents will feel that the Government is a friend to them and to the islands, through its introduction of the road equivalent tariff and policies including delivery under the croft grant scheme of 1,000 homes, many of which have been built in his constituency.

Our concern is that impacts on population pre-Covid were expected to lead to a 20 per cent decline in population by 2041. There is now an even greater need to consider the issues, so a population task force has been established to do just that.

Photo of Rachael Hamilton Rachael Hamilton Conservative

What discussions have there been about moving self-catering businesses into phase 2 of the plans for easing lockdown, and what action has the Scottish Government taken to ensure that grant funding is now reaching self-catering businesses after their initial exclusion from it?

Photo of Fergus Ewing Fergus Ewing Scottish National Party

Self-catering businesses were not excluded. However, we did make the initial package more generous as a response to having listened very carefully to people including Fiona Campbell, who represents that group in the tourism sector.

Yesterday, I covered the issue at great length and answered the question several times, but let me repeat the position now. We believe that all accommodation should be reopened for business in phase 3 of lockdown, and with an indicative date—subject to the science being with us and the virus being tackled—of 15 July. Although I absolutely agree that self-catering fixed static units in caravan parks and second homes provide relatively safe methods of enjoying holidays, in comparison with other types of accommodation, the key issue is general travel, which can go ahead only in phase 3, not in phase 2. I gave that answer on at least four occasions in the chamber yesterday, and have repeated it now.