Tiree Community Council Makes History

First Public Meeting On Island by Teleconference

The screen was a mosaic of faces, taking turns to raise their hands to speak. This was the new face of democracy on Tiree.

Unable to hold public meetings due to coronavirus, Tiree Community Council held its May public meeting using the Zoom videoconferencing tool.

First reactions were positive. Twenty two devices tuned in from the public, some with a number of people huddled around the screen or phone; this is actually more than we get in An Talla.

One of the councillors, Ian Gillies, joined us from his lockdown in Ayrshire, while members of the public logged on from as far afield as Hampshire and Yorkshire. It had been two months since our March meeting, and they had been long months. The council had met over Zoom twice in that time to confront the threat of the coronavirus crisis, and the minutes of these private meetings are now up on our website.

Tiree Community Council had been one of the founders (along with Argyll and Bute Council, the Trust and Cùram) of the island’s volunteer group, TAIC, which is so ably led by Rona Campbell. We had set up the new Tiree food project Solar. We had helped Tiree Medical Practice in their preparations for the epidemic. And we had been part of the Trust’s ‘No One Left Behind’ project to make sure everyone can be connected to the new digital age.

Doctors Mike and Lindsay spoke about huge changes in the island’s medical practice. Numbers of coronavirus cases on Tiree have fallen to very low levels over the past three weeks, but they asked people to be patient with the lockdown as we were not out the woods yet.

The practice is starting to use Near Me, an NHS video consulting service, which allows doctors to connect to patients at home. This is proving very successful; one obvious challenge is making sure every household has a suitable smart phone, tablet or computer – and the skills to use them. They emphasised that the problem now was that some patients were worried about bothering the doctor or going to hospital at the moment, and therefore people were not getting the treatment they needed in time. Their message: we’re open for business as usual, but we’re just doing things slightly differently.

Don McKillop, CalMac’s local Area Operations Manager also joined us. He told us about the new Emergency Lifeline Timetable, giving the island three boats a week. This number of vessels was the bare minimum to cope with current levels of shop supplies, fuel, animal feed, fertiliser, and the increased volume of parcels. Cars travelling to Tiree were now stopped at ‘Box 1′ outside the marshalling area and asked for documents to show that the occupants had a valid reason for travel. This is proof of residence on the island and photo ID. Foot passengers have to do the same at the ticket desk. The staff had turned some cars away when the measures first came in, but there had been no disallowed visits over the last few weeks, and Don thought travellers were getting the message. The system wasn’t perfect; the Calmac staff had no civil powers to back up their position. But passenger numbers on the Tiree route were down 97%. The ELT is set to last until 31 May when it will be reviewed. This is a crucial question for the summer. We received a letter from a constituent who emphasised how important it was to safeguard the residents of our old peoples’ home, and asking us to endorse the Scottish Government’s advice to wear cloth facial coverings in shops where the two-metre distance might be breached. We were happy to do this.

We had also been sent a letter asking us to support an island Hardship Fund at this time. We agreed with this idea, and will take it up, in the first instance, with the Trust, which has the necessary funds. We had been asked if the Tiree waste disposal site could re-open in a limited way. On enquiry, closure was a national policy decision, and the local council staff have no discretion in the matter.

If you have any issues you want us to address, please contact me. The next public TCC meeting will be in June. You can join us with a computer, tablet, or any phone from the comfort of your living room!