Argyll and Bute Council seem to be failing to understand or support island communities according to local MSP Michael Russell who has spoken out in defence of those living on the island of Coll who believe they were wrongly criticised in a Council press release on Friday.

The release urged local people to apply for part time fire service jobs at the local airport in order to save it from imminent closure yet the Council knew that the community had already rejected the changes being forced on that facility by the Council itself and had pointed out that it would be impossible for the Council to find anyone willing to take on what one local resident called “double the work for half the pay”. 

Commenting, Argyll and Bute MSP Michael Russell said:

“The impasse on Coll, which threatens the very survival of the airport and with it the vital air link to the mainland, is only the latest in a series of problems on islands within Argyll and Bute precipitated by the Council.

The dropping of “Bute” from some of the Council’s marketing materials including on its crucial growth deal has caused great offense on the island yet nothing has been done to address the issue. Many Bute residents believe that their island will suffer if its visibility is not maintained.  

The imposition of a traffic regulating order on Mull, despite unanimous local opposition and a massive local campaign, resulted in the Council having to withdraw the order when they were faced with a legal action by the community which they suddenly realised would have succeeded. Yet the Council, after apologising, refused to permit an independent examination of what had gone wrong and has still to publish its own internal report on the fiasco. 

On Islay the Council refused to listen to local residents concerns about the destruction of the character of historic Port Charlotte with the erection of bog standard street lights in prominent places.

On Lismore there has been substantial concern about a suggestion by the Council that it might withdraw the passenger ferry service which appears to have been accompanied by a crude attempt to blame the Scottish Government for the proposal. This idea may still feature in the final budget package put forward by the current administration despite fierce opposition from the community and its rejection by local Councillors. 

And now on Coll there is an imminent and real threat to the vital air link. Some local Councillors are again active in trying to avert such an outcome but instead of sensible negotiation about the issue the Council chose to issue an inflammatory press release from Kilmory, adding insult to injury.

Argyll and Bute has 23 inhabited islands and their needs should be at the heart of the Council’s concerns given their fragility and the special needs of their residents. However it sometimes seems as if the Council at a central level does not understand them, has no strategies to support them and regards them as something of a nuisance.

The Council need to pause, think again about Coll and in addition look at their processes with the Scottish Government’s Islands Act firmly in mind which mandates them to consult on policy and service changes in good faith in order to “think island” in all official actions. 

I am happy to help and support such actions, but they need to become an urgent priority for the current administration and officials.”