Covid-19 Restrictions (Monitoring Island Economies)

– in the Scottish Parliament on 2nd September 2021.

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Photo of Jamie Halcro Johnston Jamie Halcro Johnston Conservative

1. To ask the Scottish Government what monitoring it has undertaken of island economies following the easing of Covid-19 restrictions. (S6O-00081)

Photo of Mairi Gougeon Mairi Gougeon Scottish National Party

We have been monitoring economic conditions across Scotland throughout the pandemic and will continue to do so as and when restrictions ease. Our new 10-year national strategy for economic transformation will set out the steps that we will take to deliver a green economic recovery and support new green jobs, businesses and industries for the future for all Scotland.

Photo of Jamie Halcro Johnston Jamie Halcro Johnston Conservative

Recovery from the Covid restrictions across island communities has been mixed. Some islands have been able to benefit from the process of opening up, while others, such as some of those that the summer ferry crisis has affected, have not. I raised that issue with the cabinet secretary yesterday and did not get an answer. In her role in cross-Government co-ordination of islands policy, what has she done to address the on-going issues? Will she support the Cabinet Secretary for Net Zero, Energy and Transport coming to the chamber to make a statement as a matter of urgency?

Photo of Mairi Gougeon Mairi Gougeon Scottish National Party

I hope that the member has raised those particular points on ferries

, which he raised today and in yesterday’s debate, with the Minister for Transport, Graeme Dey. We realise how critical those lifeline services are. That is why the Minister for Transport has made addressing those issues his absolute priority. I hope that the member will raise the matter with the relevant minister.

Photo of Alasdair Allan Alasdair Allan Scottish National Party

Does the cabinet secretary agree that while we are coming out of the pandemic is the worst possible moment for many island businesses to have to cope with staff shortages caused by the Brexit deal? Does she agree with many island businesses that emergency Covid work visas for European Union citizens would at least alleviate some of the mess that Brexit has created?

Photo of Mairi Gougeon Mairi Gougeon Scottish National Party

Scotland has to be able to attract talented workers from across Europe without excessive immigration barriers. Under the new points-based system, the main visa routes are for high earners, with almost no route at all for those who come below the threshold, who are so desperately needed across many sectors. That, along with the United Kingdom Government’s decision to delay the implementation of the majority of regulated qualifications framework levels 3 to 5 roles eligible for the shortage occupation list, risks continued labour shortages, particularly in areas such as our islands.

The scale of the situation that is faced by island businesses is a direct consequence of the UK Government’s approach to Brexit and its refusal to listen to the repeated warnings of the Scottish Government and sector stakeholders.

Last week and this week, we have heard calls from across the food and drink industry as well as NFU Scotland for urgent action to address those problems. I have also followed up on that in my correspondence with the UK Government. The crisis situation is of the UK Government’s making, through the reckless Brexit that it pursued, and the UK Government now needs to fix it.