Nicola Sturgeon raised the prospect of local decisions on bringing islands safely out of lockdown as she faced questions over ferry funding.
The first minister said localised coronavirus surveillance data would be used to inform the easing of restrictions in Scotland’s most remote areas.
When asked at First Minister’s Questions about how decisions on relaxing the anti-Covid measures on islands would be reached, Ms Sturgeon said surveillance systems would make ministers aware of localised clusters or spikes.
“That will involve making data available to local authorities and to the public so that they can make informed judgements about any risks that they might take,” she said. “It will also involve discussions between national and local Government about localised decisions that may fall to be taken.”
Ms Sturgeon was also challenged about complaints that not all ferry operators had benefited from a Scottish Government £45 million fund to support them during the crisis.
Concerns about ferry funding
Highlands and Islands Conservative MSP Jamie Halcro Johnston said independent operators had received some support but it had been “considerably less” than the amount suggested.
He added: “Some independent firms, such as Pentland Ferries, have received indications that they will not be eligible for support from the fund at all. Why, when independent and subsidised operators are facing similar challenges, and are equally vital to the communities that they serve, have independent operators been treated so differently by the Scottish Government?”
Nicola Sturgeon said she did not have the funding details in front of her but would look at how it had been distributed.
“There will certainly have been no intention to treat particular operators unfairly, but if the rules on how the money is allocated have inadvertently done that, as with all such issues, we will be happy to look at whether better arrangements can be put in place,” Ms Sturgeon said.
Earlier she had been asked by SNP MSP for Na h-Eileanan an Iar Alasdair Allan what could be done to make sure that islanders are able to see loved ones on the mainland before the end of the tourist season.
Physical distancing rules have resulted in CalMac ferries operating at just 17% capacity.
Ms Sturgeon said plans were being put in place to manage demand for ferries with restrictions on the number passengers. They included looking at the CalMac and NorthLink ferry booking systems.
She added that Islands Minister Paul Wheelhouse was looking at ways of ensuring islanders were not at a disadvantage when it came to the easing of restrictions.