Free Caithness Now
IF YOU GIVE A FLYING TOOT ABOUT CAITHNESS - READ THIS BLOG NOW: (Alternative title: "Continuing in that vein of being angry and disappointed") Let's all reflect on that time Caithness (and indeed much of the Highlands) was meant to benefit from a £315 MILLION POUND deal from the Inverness City and Region Deal in 2017. £315 MILLION POUNDS. Take that in for a second. That's a lot of money isn't it? You'd think Caithness would really benefit from that. It would probably help towards, say, roads or schools or unimportant things like maternity wards. Well, did it? Let's examine how: Of that - and it is incredibly difficult to find information about how it was spent in the area, and may have been massively vague on purpose - Caithness seems to have benefited from projects which were Pan-Highland, worth around about £5 million. So, projects that are not Caithness-specific, but spread across the Highland region.
Oh, but we got a Newton Room! That was worth about £180,000! Oh I still remember the cheers of jubilation which rang out from across Caithness about this news. Hurrah!
Celebrations in the Streets of Thurso
Here's a little comparison: Moray received £65 million. If the deal was to be done in terms of population, then Caithness should have received £16 million. If the deal was to be done in terms of population proportion in the Highlands, then Caithness, with 10% of the population, should have received something like £30 million. If you add to that the fact that Caithness is one of the (few) areas in the Highlands with a predicted (> 20%) drop in population, then one would presume Highland councilllors would look to protect the area.
Worrying figures for Caithness and Sutherland
This was not the case. There seems to have been serious concerns about the accountability and governance of the deal: https://www.inverness-courier.co.uk/news/weaknesses-found-in-council-handling-of-city-region-deal-176078/ https://www.johnogroat-journal.co.uk/news/jamie-stone-highlights-lack-of-accountability-over-inverness-and-highlands-city-region-deal-189831/ https://www.pressandjournal.co.uk/fp/news/highlands/1706236/financial-governance-of-315m-city-region-deal-criticised-for-serious-failures/ The recent unveiling of a "City Deal 2", which sounds like the worst movie ever, perhaps demonstrates that the first deal was poorly administered and handled: https://www.pressandjournal.co.uk/fp/news/highlands/1915053/christmas-new-regional-funding-deal-could-target-depopulation-in-rural-highlands/ Of course, there's not been much movement on this - most likely due to Coronavirus - but who's to say whether this deal will ever be implemented. And so today I read with great interest that Orkney, Shetland and the Western Isles are to become beneficiaries of a £100 million island deal, invested over the next 15 years. Which is great news, obviously - but I'm gonna shout it out, loud and clear, and FOR THOSE AT THE BACK: 🏝️CAITHNESS 🏝️IS 🏝️AN🏝️ISLAND🏝️IN🏝️ EVERYTHING🏝️BUT🏝️A 🏝️ NAME🏝️ Think about it: travel to and from the county, after all, is notoriously sketchy, and with little investment planned: in terms the duelling of the A9, nothing is planned for at least another decade, north of Dornoch (and the upgrades at Berriedale seem to have been a token gesture at most); or that services from Wick airport have been completely downgraded; public transport too, is much maligned: why not play 'Exploding Bus Bingo'? Or why not re-enact Snowpiercer, simply by boarding the Far North train?
(And of course, we have beautiful tropical beaches) This is what happens when you lump Caithness into a Highland council, with a staggering geographical scope and its own limitations and restrictions. And while we're muntin' - pity the poor Caithness councillors (often the subject of much ill-tempered and probably mis-directed flak) who have to put up with the booming majority of Inverness-based councillors - anything we want in Caithness can easily be stamped out. Reminds me of an excellent tweet by CBP's very own Magnus Davidson:
To make matters worse, plans are afoot to remove another councillor from Caithness (having already lost 2 in 2017), so that Inverness has a majority in the Highland Council chambers, and our voice in the north is even more muffled: https://www.pressandjournal.co.uk/fp/news/inverness/2353106/proposed-boundary-changes-favour-more-councillors-for-inverness-at-expense-of-rural-areas/ This is based on population - which is probably fair enough - but is not helped by the fact that Caithness faces a huge decline in population, as mentioned. Orkney, Shetland and the Western Isles all have council representation - why shouldn't Caithness? I strongly believe that a return to eh good owld coonty cooncil days is what's needed, helping to give Caithness more representation and a stronger voice. TL;DR: #FreeCaithness 'Free Caithness' Photo by Gordon Mackay, and Thanks to Matthew Reiss and Bill Mowat