This report presents the findings of an analysis of responses to the Scottish Government's consultation on provisions for a future Islands Bill. The consultation ran from 30th September 2015 until 23rd December 2015 and explored respondents' views of:
- Empowering Island Communities.
- A National Islands Plan.
- Statutory Protection to the Na h-Eileanan an Iar Scottish parliamentary constituency.
- Amendment of the Local Governance (Scotland) Act 2004.
A total of 192 responses were received. The largest number of responses were from individuals (65%). Responses were also received from Community Councils (10%); third sector organisations (6%); public bodies (5%); representative bodies, trade bodies, or trade unions (5%); and local authorities (4%). Small numbers were also received from: private sector organisations or trusts (3%); politicians or political parties (2%); and other respondents (1%).
A large amount of detailed information was provided, and the findings on each of the issues are summarised below. Further details are given in the main report.
There was a high level of support for the Scottish Government to consider placing the concept of island-proofing in legislation through the proposed Islands Bill. Almost all (91%) of those who expressed views believed that this should be done.
Among the perceived benefits of, or reasons for a need for island-proofing, three common themes emerged, which were:
- The existence of specific issues impacting on islands ( e.g. isolation; remoteness; environment and climate issues; and population issues).
- The need for a tailored approach to legislation, policy and services (rather than "one size fits all").
- Other benefits of island-proofing ( e.g. more: joint working; equality; understanding of island issues; sustainability, accountability; empowerment; consistency with European provision; efficient use of resources; and economic benefits).
A small number of respondents mentioned drawbacks of island-proofing, which focused on a perceived lack of need for this, disagreement with the overall principle and concerns about potential negative consequences.
There was also a high level of support for Scottish Ministers to have the power to issue statutory guidance to other relevant public bodies related to island-proofing. Almost all (98%) of those who expressed their views on this believed this should be the case.
When respondents were asked to identify which public bodies and decisions the statutory guidance should relate to, a very common theme was that all public bodies and / or all of their decisions should be covered by this. A number of public bodies and decisions in particular policy areas were also highlighted. These policy areas were:
- Community safety.
- Economic development and planning.
- Education, arts and culture.
- Employment and benefits.
- Energy and power.
- Environment and tourism.
- Health and social care.
- Housing and building.
- Waste management.
Within these, many topics for inclusion were mentioned, as were specific public bodies that should be covered.
A number of additional suggestions were made for the policy of island-proofing to cover, including that it should take account of the need to consider all aspects of island life, and the impact of specific issues.
Many comments were made about the overall approach that should be taken to island-proofing, such as that it should be embedded in the decision-making process, and promote: equality; diversity; flexibility and proportionality; responsiveness and meaningful action; community empowerment; joint working; transparency and accountability.
Some suggestions were also made about types of issues to be covered in the statutory guidance or other issues for consideration in taking this forward ( e.g. clarification of terminology; extension of the focus of the Bill to include other remote and rural areas; and the need for monitoring, scrutiny, challenge and review of policy and decisions).
Empowering Island Communities
A clear majority (73%) of respondents who expressed their views stated that the current powers of island councils, and councils with island responsibilities, were not sufficient to deliver positive outcomes for their local island communities.
The main reasons given by respondents for this view focused on:
- Issues with the nature of current powers and the approach to these ( e.g. remote and "top-down" decision-making and some policy areas with a major impact on islands being outwith local authority functions).
- The need for equity between areas.
- The potential positive impact of additional powers ( e.g. on inshore fisheries; coastal zone; on and offshore energy; transport; land ownership; responsiveness to island needs; and service delivery).
A small number of respondents indicated that, in their view, existing powers were sufficient and there was no need for additional powers.
A number of issues were raised for the Scottish Government to consider in the extension of powers. Small numbers of respondents, for example, raised concerns about local decision-making and democracy, or the potential extension of powers. Some identified further points for consideration ( e.g. the potential impact on other organisations or key sectors; the potential costs; and the means of implementation).
Suggestions were also made about a need for: research; resources; clarity and definition of the proposals; a wider democratic base; and decentralisation of power.
Many respondents identified types of additional powers required, and these related to:
- Legal and fiscal issues ( e.g. the power to vary or derogate from some laws; greater fiscal freedom; and the adoption of the principles of the European Charter of Local Self-Government).
- Greater control of aspects of the environment ( e.g. coastal waters, energy production, fisheries and the seabed; and the Crown Estate).
- Greater control of transport ( e.g. strategic planning; investment; infrastructure; contracts; and external transport links).
- Greater control of economic development and infrastructure ( e.g. key public services; investment; renewable power generation; calibration of rent and rates levels).
- Other miscellaneous powers ( e.g. greater control of decision-making and priorities for education, health and social care, income generation and building requirements).
Respondents also made suggestions about ways in which any changes to powers should be taken forward. These included, for example, the need for: subsidiarity in the operation of all powers; delegation of more power to local communities; and the need for island communities to be properly represented. A number of suggestions were also made about alternative administrative structures, or models of local government.
Additions to the existing Zetland and Orkney County Council Acts of 1974
Views were evenly split on whether or not additions should be made to the existing Zetland and Orkney County Council Acts of 1974.
Reasons given for additions included the view that powers needed to be "modernised" or "updated", and that the powers available to Shetlands Islands Council should be mirrored for Orkney Islands Council. A few respondents stated that the only amendment required to the Orkney County Council Act 1974 was an extension of territorial jurisdiction similar to that in the Zetland County Council Act 1974.
Comments on the nature of the additions seen to be required related most commonly to aspects of the environment, particularly the need for greater control of the seabed, coastal waters, harbours and the Crown Estate. A small number of suggestions were made about additions relating to other policy areas ( e.g. economic development; planning; and taxation).
Extension of powers to the Western Isles
Over three quarters (77%) of those who expressed their views of whether the powers currently set out in the Zetland and Orkney County Council Acts of 1974 should be extended to the Western Isles and other relevant councils believed that they should.
Many suggested that this should be done in order to have parity with Shetland and Orkney, or to be fair, and some identified similarities between the Western Isles, Shetland and Orkney.
The nature of powers suggested for extension related to:
- Coastal waters and the seabed.
- Crown Estate powers.
- Other specific issues ( e.g. planning and licensing; development control; compulsory purchase; works licensing; and financial powers, including borrowing).
A small number of respondents made comments on the means of taking forward the extension of powers ( e.g. where these powers should lie, and the areas to be covered).
A National Islands Plan
There was a high level of support for the Scottish Government to introduce a National Islands Plan. A large majority (85%) of those who expressed views of this believed that such a Plan should be introduced.
Among the perceived benefits of, and reasons for a National Islands Plan, common themes were:
- General positive views of such a development (including examples of other successful plans).
- The potential to address issues facing island communities (as well as to keep a focus on these, and tackle changing needs).
- The provision of a structure and clarity ( e.g. a framework for identifying goals, objectives, actions and responsibilities; and enabling monitoring, review and accountability).
A small number of respondents identified drawbacks, or reasons why there should not, in their view, be a National Islands Plan. The most common theme was that islands should be empowered to make their own decisions. A few disagreed with the overall principle, or expressed concerns about potential negative consequences of a Plan.
Three main areas were identified for a Plan to cover and report on:
- Overall challenges affecting island areas (particularly population, overall sustainability and service delivery issues).
- Specific policy areas (the same as those identified for coverage by the statutory guidance).
- The general coverage and approach of the Plan ( e.g. to cover and report on: all relevant areas, bodies and proposals; measures and activities; empowerment and inclusion; and equality).
Many respondents commented on what they saw as additional requirements for a National Islands Plan ( e.g. that it should recognise the overall context and existing work; that local communities and relevant organisations should be involved in preparing and monitoring it; and that there should be mechanisms for accountability, reporting and review).
The most commonly suggested lifespan for a National Islands Plan was five years, although other suggestions were made (particularly three years, and over five years). Among the perceived benefits of a five-year period were that it would align with the timescales for parliamentary and political cycles, other local plans and strategies. It would also allow time for strategies to be put in place, and for monitoring and reporting.
Statutory Protection to the Na h-Eileanan an Iar Scottish parliamentary constituency
There was a large majority (86%) in favour of giving statutory protection to the Na h-Eileanan an Iar Scottish parliamentary constituency among those who expressed views on this issue.
The reasons provided for such protection included a need for fairness and equity, and parity with Orkney and Shetland. A further theme was the distinctive nature of the Western Isles and the need for provision of a "voice".
Some additional suggestions were also made for the Scottish Government to consider in giving statutory protection ( e.g. that: the protection should be extended only to the parliamentary constituency, not the local authority; there should be scope for future flexibility; and the statutory protection should be extended to other islands and remote rural areas).
Amendment of the Local Governance (Scotland) Act 2004
There was a high level of support for the Scottish Government to consider amending the Local Governance (Scotland) Act 2004 to allow the Local Government Boundary Commission for Scotland ( LGBCS) the power to make an exception to the usual three or four member ward rule for use with respect to populated islands. A large majority (86%) of those who expressed their views of this were in favour of such an amendment.
Many respondents identified perceived benefits of, or reasons for amending the Act, and a number of common themes emerged:
- Provision of an "island voice" and representation of the diversity of Scottish islands.
- The need for "local" representation and understanding of local issues.
- Promotion of fairness and democracy ( e.g. to address an existing "democratic deficit" and strengthen local democracy and accountability).
A small number of respondents identified drawbacks with the amendment of the Act, focusing on: a lack of need; potential unfairness; cost; the impact on governance; and the potential for the same issues to affect other communities.
Respondents also made some suggestions or raised additional points about the way forward. Comments were made about the specific nature of the changes required ( e.g. having one or two member wards; or allowing councils to vary the ratio of councillors to electors on islands). Suggestions were also made about the overall principles and approach required ( e.g. the need for: community empowerment; locality planning; flexibility and equality). A few respondents suggested having a minimum population threshold.
Other issues for consideration in a future Islands Bill
Respondents were given a further opportunity at the end of the consultation questions to give additional views, and many further comments were made. There were three broad themes: the consultation itself; the proposals overall; and areas already discussed at other questions.
Comments on the consultation itself included details of the nature of respondents and / or their response, and a small number of comments were made about the consultation overall ( e.g. positive comments on the opportunity to respond; and a few concerns about the nature or focus of the consultation or specific questions).
Comments on the proposals overall included general positive comments from several respondents ( e.g. welcoming the proposals or specific aspects of these). Several respondents also raised general issues or concerns ( e.g. expressing overall disagreement with the proposals or their coverage).
Many comments were also made on areas already discussed at previous questions, particularly to reiterate the challenges facing island communities, and the overall approach that should be taken to a future Islands Bill.
All of these findings, along with the detailed material within the full report and the individual responses will help to inform the Scottish Government's consideration of the way forward.