Island businesses pen letter to local MSP

A view down the Sound of Mull to Oban.

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More than 120 businesses across Mull and Iona have called on the Scottish Government not to ‘isolate’ them in the recovery from coronavirus.

In a letter signed by business owners in tourism, food, construction and farming, the message is that the islands face ‘unique’ challenges as Scotland moves forward.

Joe Reade, owner of the Island Bakery at Tobermory, stressed that the letter should not be interpreted as either a call to reopen the islands immediately, or any criticism of the government’s approach.

Businesses, said Mr Reade, simply wanted to provide ministers with a ‘good, balanced, unified and coherent’ message as the country’s ‘route-map to recovery’ moves up the national agenda.

The letter to Argyll and Bute MSP Michael Russell, said: ‘Island communities pose unique added complications in the face of a challenge such as COVID-19, but do offer the opportunity to verify controls at our ferry access points.

‘However, it is unrealistic to consider long-term isolation as a viable strategy. The damage already done to the island economy since March will pale into insignificance if economic activity remains stagnant.’

An estimated 250,000 visitors head to Mull, generally between March and October, with tourism its largest sector and employer.

Businesses there have backed the government’s ‘test, trace, isolate and support’ strategy.

But the letter added: ‘What we strongly reject is a long-term isolation policy that differs from the general, science-based, trajectory of the rest of Scotland. Given clear unified rules from Edinburgh, we are sure that we will find the practical means to apply them in our own workplaces and public spaces. We are all in this together.’

Iona, which requires a two ferry, three-hour journey from the mainland and is accessed via Mull, has 170 year-round residents and attracts at least 125,000 visitors per year, according to CalMac figures.

Iona Community Council has told the government that COVID-19 ‘confronts’ many businesses with 17-months of closure from winter 2019-20 to the end of winter 2020-21 – hitting many when they were already at their lowest financial point.

Dr Shiona Rhuemann, of Iona Community Council, said: ‘Our core position is that Iona has to be in lockstep with – not isolation from – the mainland as we carefully navigate our way forward out of lockdown guided by the best available technical expertise, which is clearly at the national level.

‘Iona is deeply integrated with the mainland, including our high school children being educated in Oban, and they must stay in step with their peers, not fall behind them.

‘We need to proceed with the mainland – not isolated from it – in adjusting to an open-ended crisis and a long haul, in protecting our children’s education, our community initiatives such as the village hall project, our businesses, and our community wellbeing.’

Mr Russell said he agreed that a ‘careful, science-led’ approach was needed and pointed to the recently-published government route-map as setting out the way forward.

Mr Russell said in his reply: ‘I can assure you that the position of all the islands in my constituency is something I bring to the attention of my colleagues on a frequent basis and I am – as you know – very aware of the strong views on Mull about these matters and the desire to ensure that there is an orderly, safe and successful process being followed which allows the island to recover strongly, along with the rest of Scotland, from  this unprecedented crisis.’