Q&A Election Candidates Q3.

HERE for Caithness

Our final question for today, more tomorrow!

Question 3. Caithness is predicted to have a 21% decrease in population within the Caithness in the next 20 years, far greater than anywhere in the Highlands.

What actions would you take to prevent Caithness losing one fifth of its population?

Thurso & Northwest Caithness

Iain Gregory

I recently wrote an article entitled “The New Highland Clearances”, which I may well publish shortly, and it refers to what is happening in Caithness as a result of many years of neglect, and lack of investment in jobs and infrastructure.

A 21% population decline is disastrous. And what is worse is that the greatest losses will be amongst our young people. Caithness was very attractive indeed to the Government in the 1950’s. A new Nuclear Power Station, military establishments, a huge injection of capital. In 2022, we appear to be less attractive.

Are we suddenly no longer “on the map” or no longer “useful”? The only way to reverse this trend is to attract – substantial – inward investment, new major employers, better facilities, improved roads and public transport, and to encourage local business. Once again, we need to raise the profile of the county, and engage at Governmental level to make sure that our voices are heard.

I believe that local Cllrs need to tackle the major issues, as well as the more local ones, and they need to understand how economies work – I have a very clear understanding, and know precisely how to lobby senior politicians, and I will do just that.

Ron Gunn

This is yet another serious issue. I am currently a member of Dounreay Stakeholders Group (DSG) and serve on its Socio Economic Group, which, along with other organisations, is working hard to try to address this problem. If elected I will remain on this group. There are three things that an area needs, to keep, and even more importantly, attract new folk to the area. Good education, good local health services and good infrastructure (public transport and roads). We have one of them, it is essential we get the other two.

As a councillor I will be fighting for better health services and will engage with transport operators to try and improve local services. The roads are a huge challenge and I believe that the new Highland Council will have to work together to address the problem and approach Scottish/GB governments for extra cash.

Matthew Reiss

A really important question, and there are some simple answers. These include a proper maternity service, strong broadband and good schools to attract folk to settle in the county. We already have fantastic staff in the NHS and our schools.

Dounreay is our largest employer and we need to reverse the “brain drain”- this needs immediate attention and a courageous change of policy by the SNP.

A small sum of money would pay to widen the worst sections of the A9 and A99. Transport Scotland have told me there are no plans to significantly improve either road for the next 20 years.

R100 broadband is up to six years late- this needs to be massively accelerated.

A proper Tourist Information Centre would help promote small scale tourism, bringing more employment. Above all, the Scottish Government needs to start listening and taking the Far North seriously.

Struan Mackie

In my previous role as a consultant, I worked across the UK from my home in Thurso, taking early morning flights from Inverness to get to where I was needed in every corner of the country.

For many of my former school colleagues, staying in the community they grew up in was not a viable option and most of my fellow classmates have left the Highlands altogether.

The lack of job opportunities in our area and the reduction in frontline public services are linked. More and more of our daily lives are being forced through Inverness or Edinburgh, with the valuable jobs orchestrating the local delivery of government services have been diminished or removed.

It is regrettable that there is not a collective political will to see new opportunities created. The Highland Council is focused on Inverness building the infrastructure it needs to sustain its growing population, when here in Caithness… we are fighting to keep what we have!

The Caithness and North Sutherland Regeneration Partnership contains an array of new projects in the private sector that will create new jobs and opportunities for our region. It is a great asset to our area but currently not front-and-centre of the collective efforts to create opportunities. Until recently the Scottish Government failed to even attend regeneration meetings, let alone contribute financially to these efforts. And the City Region Deal, led by the Highland Council, contributes a derisory 0.5% of the budget to Caithness. When this fund was targeted at enabling vital infrastructure and growth, it is shameful that not one CNSRP project was considered for the City Region Deal funding.

In short, the Highland Council has failed. If we want to seriously tackle depopulation and create opportunities for our people we need to break-up the local authority and deliver real local government in the Far North. That is why I have been campaigning to do just that.

Alex Glasgow

Firstly, such figures are open to doubt. The newly built Wick High School, whose catchment area lies partially in Ward 2, already is at 90% capacity and is anticipated to be at >100% by 2024/5; as do primaries which feed into it. All the primaries feeding into Thurso High School are anticipated to have static rolls over the next decades.

This may be related to urban flight during Corona or to the regeneration of Wick in particular attracting more than expected. It also credibly could be linked to births by Caithness mothers in Raigmore being recorded there not Caithness. Putting it simply, there is every possibility the data are flawed.

As welcome as this is, this was highlighted during school reports, not where it should have been: forecasting by HC for a major building project. As well as the possibility of Wick pupils being in portacabins, it could affect ASN provision.

This is not to say we should be complacent or that there has been population decline. Thurso High School is well below capacity. We have an aging population.

I would promote further town centre regeneration and better leisure and social activities for young people and families to remain. It is telling that at recent open air puppet events, children of all ages thronged the streets to see… there is a hunger for such entertainment in rural areas.

Skilled and technical industries also would attract. Nuclear is not the only scientific endeavour in Caithness, as the world-renowed Environmental Research Institute shows.

Strengthened broadband also would encourage remote works in technical fields as well as allow pupils in rural areas better access to course materials.

Karl Rosie

The consequences of this crisis are frightening, and it angers me to think about anyone in Caithness facing the choice of being warm or hungry in the 21st century. The real solutions sit with national government rather than local government. The contrast between Scottish Government policy and UK Government policy is glaringly obvious with the recent SG increase of a further £5 to the ‘game-changing’ Scottish Child Payment – bringing the total payment to £25 per week per child at the end of the year.

This means the SNP Government’s package of five family benefits for low-income families, including the increased Scottish Child Payment, now totalling over £10,000 to low-income families by the time a first child turns 6, and £9,700 for subsequent children. In contrast, families in England and Wales receive less than £1,800 for the first child and under £1,300 for subsequent children.

State pensions levels in the UK are in the lower third of modern democratic countries across the globe and ordinary men and women that have worked all their lives face increasingly difficult choices. So, we need to expect national policy change and that was not forthcoming at the last UK Governments budget statement.

If elected I will be pursuing my recent call to establish a Highland renewable energy group and one simple aim of that will be to reduce energy costs for our Highland communities and businesses.

I will also support local groups such as CAB, Caithness Poverty Action Group, and our Caithness community partnership to combat and mitigate these circumstances in any way possible.

Wick & East Caithness

Bill Fernie

The depopulation of Caithness and Sutherland has been predicted for many years as Dounreay decommissioning goes ahead. We need to lobby for jobs to come north whether that is from the council, health services and indeed government as a whole. Lots of small measures help but it will take a much bigger effort considering the loss of so many government jobs in the last 20 years.

Scottish Government needs to send civil service jobs to replace the ones that used to be in Caithness. If we do not soon begin to see a reversal of the population decline other things will suffer such as schools and other services.

Many other factors need to be considered such as Air B and B taking over more and more rural homes making it more expensive for any young people to afford to buy a home here. I would press the council could set up a group to look at measures to move this forward.

Willie Mackay

I have lived and worked and I’m still working in Caithness for now 52 years and know the beauty it has to offer extensively. It is a beautiful County but very shy to say the least in promoting itself as a place to come to and live. So lets do just that you all know the song “ Now come all ye people come over the Ord , there’s a welcome awaiting that you can afford “ .

Recent indications around our New Wick High School is that they are heading to capacity owing to the influx of new residents and their children arriving which will help to stop the decline. Furthermore houses and property is changing hands in Caithness very quickly which is a sign that people are on the move and want to come as I said “ Over the Ord “ .

Neil MacDonald

In order to stop depopulation we need to provides jobs, homes and opportunities to our young people. There is substantial investment happening in Wick which is very welcome servicing off shore wind, however we must create other jobs and build homes too.

The Council in itself has massive spending power, I want to see that spent in our communities and to use it for community wealth building, spreading that spending throughout the whole area. I am very interested in how we can use co-ops to boost the local economy, again keeping the wealth locally. I would also work with other organisations, housing associations, the college, HIE to make Wick and the north a place that is attractive to live and invest in.

Jan McEwan

We are experiencing 21st century Clearances. The elderly and young are leaving so as they can access better health care. People are moving for better job prospects, with the young that go on to further education choosing not to return. I will fight to support our economy and do what is needed to secure investment into the infrastructure required to create jobs (and retain jobs) and encourage new business opportunities.

I would fight for a restructure of local services by opposing Scottish Government centralisation agenda including their latest plans to take over social and children’s services, community justice; and alcohol and drug services.

Andrew Jarvie

New nuclear development, it’s that simple. Keeping Dounreay and the jobs which it brings is the best hope Caithness has of averting the catastrophic population decline. The UK Government wants to build more nuclear reactors and the Scottish Conservatives previous passed a vote in the Council whereby the Council declared itself pro-nuclear and openly calling for new development.

The SNP Scottish Government needs to drop their absurd anti-nuclear, windfarm loving energy policy so that Caithness can prosper.

Raymond Bremner

Caithness is predicted to have a decrease in population if nothing is done about it. The responsbility lies in multi-partnership working. Housing, employment, education and health services, social services, council services, transport, connectivity and infrastructure are all part of the focus in reducing population decline and reversing it.

We all have a part to play, including communities themselves. It is hugely multi-facetted.

I’m keen to ensure that we secure as much investment in the county as possible; from Council but also from both Scottish and UK governments.

We lost access to European Funding – this needs to be replaced and not just tokenism – I’m talking about real commitment to investment and actively leveling up our county to the levels of other local authorities. We need to think differently about how we provide access to service – improved public transport to our rural areas and strengthening Thurso and Wick as transport and service hubs. I’ll work with NSH Highland to secure improved health services – especially the commitment from the Scottish Government to invest in Caithness General Hospital and the two health hubs in Wick and Thurso.

We need to make it easier for investors, including developers, to provide housing and jobs. Those jobs are likely to be connected to future industry and that provides the focus for the future workforce skills that we need to concentrate on creating.

At a Council level, I’ll lobby ministers and governments as well as work with other partners to put strategies in place that will provide as much opportunity for jobs and service improvement as well as community empowerment to reduce and reverse population decline if re-elected.

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