Council running a lockdown? On their track record so far, no thanks

by Colin Campbell

HIGHLAND Council want to have much more input in how future lockdowns are managed in this area, in the event that they become necessary.FRIDAY COUN

Depute council leader Alasdair Christie and his colleague Gordon Adam this week urged the local authority to press the case that they should be allowed to tailor measures to suit “local circumstances”.

They urged the council to agree on a motion: “As a result of its unique remoteness and scattered population, the Highlands have suffered a low incidence of Covid-19, with fortunately fewer fatalities than other areas of mainland Scotland. However, our fragile economy is likely to suffer disproportionately as a result of lockdown restrictions that are aimed at heavily populated areas.

“The council calls on the administration to consult urgently with NHS Highland, the Scottish Government and Cosla so in future councils and local NHS boards have more responsibility for deciding how lockdowns are managed, and tailoring measures appropriate to local circumstances.”

On the face it, there is some obvious sense in this – decisions being made directly by people in an area affected.

But they would be big decisions to make. And the problem is that the council have had responsibility over the past few weeks for managing the re-emergence from the current lockdown and they’ve not exactly covered themselves in glory.

The bollard and barrier strewn city centre which greeted the public when the shops re-opened was little short of chaotic. In the time since there have been growing demands for a complete rethink of the measures in place which would almost seem to have been designed to deter shoppers from going into the centre rather than encourage them back.

Changes are now being made but if it had been left to the council the place would still be in what we described here at the very outset as “a hell of a mess”.

You could add to that the inexplicable move to elevate building the riverside Gathering Place to “priority project” status and the even more crazy decision to spend thousands on expanding the footpath on the wide-open Ness riverside for “social distancing”.

Neither is it irrelevant that council estimates of the budget deficit they would face as a result of the coronavirus reached an utterly baffling pinnacle of £97 million a couple of months ago, only to fall back to £32 million last week. Even allowing for the morass of confusion generated by the virus the length and breadth of the country in recent times, that £70 million gap takes some explaining.

So while in theory it might be sensible to have more localised decision-making in relation to any future lockdown, confidence is not sky-high that councillors and officials would be the right people to make the decisions necessary.

In fact on their track record so far, public confidence in them would be minimal. It would be less a case of trusting them to apply their local knowledge sensibly than waiting apprehensively to see what blunders they would commit next.

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