Convention of the Highlands and Islands minutes: March 2024

Minutes from the meeting of the group on 18 March 2024.

Attendees and apologies

  • Shona Robison, Scottish Government
  • Richard Lochhead, Scottish Government
  • Robin Currie, Argyll and Bute Council
  • Ealasaid Dhòmhnallach, Bòrd na Gàidhlig
  • Sandy Bremner, Cairngorms National Park Authority
  • Paul F Steele, Comhairle nan Eilean Siar
  • Malcolm Mathieson, Crofting Commission
  • Euan McVicar, Crown Estate Scotland
  • Alastair Dodds, Highlands and Islands Enterprise
  • Ranald Robertson, HITRANS
  • Calum MacPherson, Inverness & Cromarty Firth Green Freeport
  • Kathleen Robertson, Moray Council
  • John Cowe, Moray Council
  • Roddy Burns, Moray Council
  • Nikki Yoxall, NatureScot
  • Sarah Compton-Bishop, NHS Highland
  • Fiona Davies, NHS Highland
  • Gary Robinson, NHS Shetland
  • Alan Hill, North Ayrshire Council
  • Heather Woodbridge, Orkney Islands Council
  • Mike Cantlay, Scottish Funding Council
  • Alisdair McIntosh, Scottish Government
  • Martin Reid, Scottish Government
  • Douglas Ansdell, Scottish Government
  • Erica Clarkson, Scottish Government
  • Judith Young, Scottish Government
  • Chris Brodie, Skills Development Scotland
  • Emma MacDonald, Shetland Islands Council
  • Adam Giangreco, SRUC RAVIC
  • Raymond Bremner, The Highland Council
  • Bill Lobban, The Highland Council
  • Alastair MacColl, University of the Highlands and Islands
  • Vicki Nairn, University of the Highlands and Islands
  • Neil Murray, Scottish Forestry
  • Derek Brown, The Highland Council
  • Chris Taylor, VisitScotland

Items and actions


  • 10:30-10:45   Welcome / Review of Outcomes
  • 10:45-11:15   Regional Economic Partnership
  • 11:15-12:00   Social Care Services  
  • 12:00-12:30   Gaelic  
  • 12:30-13:00   National Islands Plan
  • 13:00-13:45   Lunch Break
  • 13:45-15:15   Green Freeports
  • 15:15-15:30   Forward Look and Close

Start of Transcript

Kathleen Robertson        

Good morning, everybody. I am pleased to welcome you to Moray and it is my pleasure to open our convention today. In recognition of International Women's Day held just a few weeks ago, I thought it is also of note that for the first time since CoHI has existed that this is the first time that both the DFM and the host leader have been women. In fact, for the first time, three out of seven of the leaders of CoHI are women. This does reflect the changing demographic of political leadership across the span from local to national government and should be recognised.

Fàilte gu Moireibh. Tha mi an dòchas gum bi an turas agaibh inntinneach agus tha mi a’ toirt taing dhuibh ro-làimh airson na bhios sibh a’ cur ris an tachartas.

(Welcome to Moray. I hope your trip is interesting and I thank you in advance for your contribution to the event.)

We are delighted to be your host for the next couple of days and welcome the opportunity to return hospitality to the CoHI partnership, which we have enjoyed in the past. As is the tradition, we have a packed agenda today and hope you go home well fed and informed. Working in partnership with Scottish and UK governments is vital in delivering for our communities and we have superb examples of this in Moray. Examples would be the Lossiemouth footbridge, generously funded by Scottish Government, to the Moray Growth Deal which you will hear more of later, and the recently announced Long-Term Plans for Towns. The Moray Growth Deal exhibits how local authority and both governments can come together for the benefit of many.

Over the past 30 years, CoHI have been working in partnership to address our common aim, which is to support sustainable economic growth. However, in the past 30 years, this year has provided many of us with the toughest budgetary challenges to date. Like you, Moray has had and will have millions of pounds to take off their budget. Reducing our funding is not to maintain a standing-still position. It must actively reduce service provision in a time when our communities need us most. Yet we cannot rely on service reduction to achieve our savings. We must transform our services. There are a few papers on today's agenda which address that very issue.

Today, though, we're addressing some key sectors that impact our residents - social care, economic challenges such as accommodation and childcare, National Islands Plan Review, transport and the green freeport, as well as maximising the opportunities from the energy sector and an update on our population or maybe repopulation strategy. I am very much looking forward to the discussions today on how we can accelerate our support for these issues by empowering our communities, giving a voice to those who champion sustainable development and collaborating creatively to share our collective, the skills and expertise.

As a new chapter of CoHI begins, DFM, we look forward to hearing what you can offer to our region. We hope we can reset our CoHI priorities with a focus on the issues that really affect us, such as infrastructure, childcare and social care, and housing. There has been a lot of work done in these areas that we need support to create tangible outcomes and delivery the actions. I am anticipating a lively discussion around the looking-forward item on our agenda where perhaps a shared vision and purpose can be explored to move forward. I am sure that you, like myself, will use our time together today to inform and learn from each other. After all, sharing our concerns, finding common issues and solutions to those issues is at the heart of CoHI.

With such a detailed agenda, I know you'll be anxious to get started, so thank you for your attention and in advance for the contributions you will make to our discussions. I hope you enjoy your day and I now welcome and pass on to Shona Robison, DFM.

Shona Robison

Many thanks to Councillor Robertson for her words and thanks to UHI for hosting us here today. Can I first of all agree with you, your comments about International Women's Day? There's an important phrase of “you can't be what you can't see”, so seeing more women in politics and indeed in leadership roles in all of our organisations is very, very important. You also said about being well fed and informed. Well, we've not even really got off at the start and I've got a bag here with some amazing Walker's Shortbread and ‘To Be Informed’, a wonderful, beautiful book on the fabric of Scotland. Thank you very much. There's also something else in the bag there, which may have come from a local distillery. I won't be partaking of that during the course of the day, but thank you very much. Very generous.

I want to welcome all attendees to spring 2024 meeting of the Convention of the Highlands and Islands. Really happy to be here in person, given we were forced to hold our last convention virtually, so it's nice to see you all. Also joined by my colleague, Richard Lochhead - Minister for Small Business, Innovation, Tourism and Trade - for the discussion around green freeports in the afternoon.

Just before we get into the agenda, there's a few housekeeping details. There's no fire alarm planned for today, so if the alarm goes off, you should proceed directly to your nearest fire exit and then to the nearest fire assembly point. Catering for lunch will be provided in the café area where tea and coffee was provided this morning. The convention is being livestreamed and recorded to transcribe. A link to the publication of the transcript will be circulated prior to the next meeting. For those of you who are on Twitter/X, there's live tweeting or posting from the convention hashtag which is #SpringCoHI2024.

We've got a packed agenda. Very much looking forward to gaining more insight into the economic and social priorities here in the Highlands and Islands. Today we'll get an update on the Regional Economic Partnership before hearing about social care services. We'll hear about developments in the Gaelic language, analysis of the consultation on the National Islands Plan and, last but not least, an update and discussion on green freeports.

First, though, I want to invite members to note that outcomes from the previous conventions were included in the papers for today's meeting, which are papers 1 and 2. It's open to members for any comments on any aspects of the paper, so if there's anything that jumps to mind following the meeting, can I ask you to contact the secretariat team? Is there anything urgent at the moment before we move on? I am not seeing anyone indicate. Thank you for that.

While on the subject of outcomes, at the last meeting, we didn't run through the outcomes at the end of the event, but they were circulated for comment post-convention. The secretariat feels, and I agree with this actually, that this approach really allows for more time for the substantive discussions. It allowed the secretariat team the time to accurately reflect the comments made. With that, I'm suggesting we won't review the outcomes at the end of the session, but rather we'll do that by correspondence post-convention if that's all right. That means we're not having to rush to do that part of the agenda. Okay. Thank you for that.

Okay, so moving on to the first substantive item which is the update from the Regional Economic Partnership. I want to thank the partnership in continuing to pull together this important update. I'm pleased to note the ongoing work and the plans to develop a Regional Economic Strategy defining the key areas of opportunity and challenge and where we can get better outcomes with better collaboration. The themes identified by stakeholders are all areas important to the region's economy, significant potential for growth in energy areas in particular, also boosting innovation in traditional sectors and taking advantage of the amazing natural capital to create new opportunities, products and services.

The work of the REP aligns very much with our view as a government that renewable energy represents a key economic opportunity for Scotland. Of course, it's crucial that we support the enablers of growth, so I welcome the inclusion of elements such as housing and childcare being highlighted in the approach to economic development. I want to thank again members for their work on this paper. I'm going to pass to Councillor Raymond Bremner, Leader of Highland Council, to speak to the paper.

Raymond Bremner

Good morning.

Madainn mhath dhuibh uile. Tha mi uabhasach toilichte a bhith ann an Eilginn. Mòran taking.

(Good morning everyone. I’m very happy to be in Elgin. Many thanks.)

 Folks, in front of you, the report before CoHI gives an overview of activities that have been carried out over the most recent period. Highland Council has taken on the role of the Chair of the REP. Thanks very much, Paul, for handing me the task. I'd like to thank Comhairle nan Eilean Siar and also HIE for enabling the smooth transition. We've had a couple of catchups since then as well and they've gone really well.

I just wanted to highlighted, firstly, the progress made on the vision and the action plan in the REP area. HIE has taken a key role in the initial engagement on this. It is shaping up to be a key document that will be both a reminder of our challenges in the region but, more importantly, an action plan for dealing with the biggest opportunities that the Highlands and Islands have in front of us and where we will need continued support from the Scottish Government.

Community benefit for renewables is an area where the REP members are unanimous in their view that a more sustainable legacy from the huge investments in transmission infrastructure, onshore and offshore renewables, we need to capture that. Work's underway to prepare a new model for community benefit. My key message is that the current voluntary arrangements may need to be reconsidered by government or that local authorities are empowered to make their own binding guidance. I know that that's been something that we have all talked about. It's a common theme across all of our areas.

The relationship with housing provision is also a key focus for our work with the REP. Along with other areas highlighted in the report, I am pleased to say that the level of cross-agency working that is enabled through the REP is positive. It's productive and can only be a positive for our region moving forward. But as I've said already - and you've heard me at various forums saying this - that local effort needs to be backed up with action at the Scottish and UK government levels. You'll not be surprised to hear me say that. I look forward to that engagement both at this forum and at the REP's forum as well. Thanks very much for the ability to be able to make that representation today. Thanks, Minister.

Shona Robison

Thank you very much, Raymond. I think you've highlighted a number of critical issues. Really quite keen to hear more around the idea of the new model. I'm certainly open to looking at as part of the - empowerment of local government in terms of additional powers. I don't know the detail, but I'd be keen to hear more about it. As a follow-up, let's have a look at that. Thank you for taking on the leadership here as well, incidentally. Most appreciated.

I'm going to open up. You've fleshed out a number of issues - community benefit, sustainable legacy, potential new model, housing is a key issue and really focusing on action and the action plan. I think that's absolutely right. I have a few additional comments, but I'll make those after I've brought other people in. Just indicate in the normal way. Alastair.

Alastair Dodds

Yeah. Thanks, DFM. I'd just really like to thank Paul and Raymond for the work they've done on the Regional Economic Partnership. I think it's really focusing on things that will make a difference to the Highlands and Islands. It's focusing on the action as well, so there's already good work being done in childcare and housing and community benefit to name but three. I'd fully support the effort that's gone into this, the partnership that's gone into it going forward.

One suggestion I was going to make was that Raymond spoke about the regional vision and the action plan which is probably even more important. It'd be really helpful, I think, to have a significant portion of the October CoHI meeting to be devoted to that plan and action plan if CoHI members were happy to take it forward, but I think it'd be really helpful to have that discussion with government here.

Shona Robison

Yeah. Thank you, Alastair. I'll come back to that suggestion in a minute, because I think it's a good one. Anyone else want to come in at this stage? Oh. Sorry, Emma. In you come. Councillor MacDonald.

Emma MacDonald

Thank you very much, DFM. I just wanted to follow up on some of Councillor Bremner's comments around that community benefit. I think what we're experiencing in Shetland is that real need to try and find ways to engage with our community better on this so that they see the benefits, because if we want to take them with us on this journey - and we recognise that there's a real future there in Shetland for these developments, but we can't do that if we don't take the community with us. I think having a look at how we deliver community benefit in a better way that's more meaningful would have a real impact on that, so that's something that I'd very much support and welcome. Thank you.

Shona Robison

Thanks, Emma. Yes, Vicki.

Vicki Nairn

Thank you. Thank you, DFM. I think I'd support Alastair in really welcoming further discussion about this as we move forward into, later in the year, the agenda, but also to make a plea really that we also include education within this specifically and specifically university education. I'm really keen that UHI takes its place as an anchor institution for the region. Obviously, we have tertiary education, 36,000 students. We have 70 learning centres spread right across the UHI region. Really just to make that request and ask if that could be considered in the wider thinking. Thank you.

Shona Robison

Thanks, Vicki. Does anyone want to catch my eye? Yes. Councillor Currie.

Robin Currie

Thanks very much, Deputy First Minister. This is a subject I'm really, really excited about. Those who know me will know I keep going on about it. I think there's a tremendous opportunity here for local communities. As you probably know, I'm from the island of Islay. There's the Machair offshore just off Islay, off Colonsay. Maybe I'm exaggerating a bit, but I keep comparing it to the time oil in Shetland. You're talking about mega monies and community benefit to me. It's not your 5,000 here, 10,000 there. You're talking about joining up the local grid. There's so much more that - there's so many jobs in the construction, so many jobs in servicing. It just goes on and on. We need to keep that as local as possible. Why should we have people when it's built coming in, working offshore on these projects for two weeks and then going away home to England or Wales or wherever? Why do we not have their homes or we could supply homes locally?

I'm really interested in SSEN now. When I met with them a couple of weeks ago, they're now - for every substation that they're building in Argyll and Bute, they're talking about £200,000 benefit each. They're also talking about building houses or acquiring houses and for them to use it for next five years. Then when they're finished with these houses, they get passed on to an RSL or council. I think there's great opportunities and we need to just work together.

Shona Robison

Thank you. Yes, Paul.

Paul F Steele

Thanks very much. Yeah, and thanks to Raymond for the work he's doing as Chair. I appreciate you taking it on. Yeah.

Just coming back to Robin's point there, one of the issues - I don't know if it's a danger or a challenge. We've got all these offshore works going to be happening over the next few years. Are we going to be able to support them as local authorities? We're struggling financially. The capital money isn't there. We want to put infrastructure in place to support it. But how do we get there so we're an enabler, not a blocker to these developments that are coming? Because like Robin said, they're a huge potential benefit to our region and areas in terms of community benefit. But if we're not able to get there with the finances that we've got to enable this, then it's a really, really awkward place for us to be. Planning, we've discussed planning in the past. There's potential blockages in the system there. Yeah, there's ways that we can be supported, I think. I'm looking at Scottish Government. [inaudible] Crown Estate. I don't know who cut it off at Crown Estate there. There's a chance there for us to do something.

The other thing is I think we need some market intervention tools in terms of housing. There's a lot of houses available, but they're lost to second homes. We're doing things around the edges with council tax, but I think we'd have some interventions in place, actual help, not just investments. There's definitely something we can do there.

Addressing depopulation was covered at the last REP as well. It should really be addressing repopulation. I think it needs to be a bit more positive. If it's an action plan, it's got to be more positive. We're looking to get more people to move and also retain so keep people in the area as well. No, this is not on our agenda for CoHI, but I think it might be something that's overarching to everything else we're doing in terms of economic. Someone's desperate for me to leave, so I'll leave it at that.

Shona Robison

Thank you. Thanks, Paul. Anyone else? Yes.

Euan McVicar

Yeah, just maybe emphasise of joining up the dots on all of this to make sure that the advantages from the offshore industry can be realised. I think it's important to make sure that local infrastructure is there, the skills piece is thought about as well in the round of this and the housing piece brought in as well, because without all of those things coming together, realising local benefits on a sustainable long-term basis, the opportunity may well be lost. There's lots of good work going on around that, but more connectivity I think would be welcome on that.

Shona Robison

Thanks, Euan. Anyone - yes. Bill, Councillor Lobban.

Bill Lobban

Thank you, Deputy First Minister. I think one of the things that we need to consider is that community benefit needs to be strategic and long lasting. It needs to be infrastructure based. There are only so many flowerbeds and hanging baskets we can put up. We need to wean communities away from that to think of things that are long lasting and of benefit to their community. I think that's a big point that we - it is difficult to get across to communities.

Shona Robison

Thank you, Bill.

Anyone else? I think it goes off itself. I think it just takes a few seconds. I'm not seeing anyone else. Okay. Let me just summarise then, because I think some really important key points have been made.

In terms of the point Alastair made - and I think that it's important to note that HIE leadership role in supporting the development of this strategy. I think your suggestion of a more detailed discussion at the next meeting is a good one. I think what we, from the discussion we've just had, would want to focus on, is some of that more detailed discussion around community benefit, sustainable legacy, the housing element of that, the potential role of local authorities and what exactly the opportunity there is and what is perhaps holding back some of that.

I think also remembering other institutions, so Vicki's point about UHI, not least in terms of the skills opportunity, hugely important. That appetite, I think, for more local community benefit beyond - I think it was Bill who mentioned hanging baskets, not that there's anything wrong with hanging baskets per se, but I think our aspiration for communities is more than that. But there's then the point that Paul made about, well, are there blockers to that in terms of infrastructure? I think we could usefully get into some more detail.

Planning was mentioned. There are a number of discussions happening within Scottish Government and partners around what might a planning solution look like that helps support local planning decision making. There's also a lot of appetite from the private sector around that. We've just got to work through, though, how that would work in practice.

A lot of discussions. I think what we could usefully do is to bring a bit of an update of where we think we can get to to the October meeting. The role of Crown Estates, Euan, you were making is really, really critical here. I think where my head is at is looking to bring a more detailed discussion around some of these key opportunities but also some of these key challenges and how we might work through them, so getting into perhaps some action points from that meeting that can begin to work our way through them. Scottish Government has a key role in helping that to happen. If people are content, we will get some work done in advance of that meeting so that we've got an update to you around all of the discussions that are happening, not least in the planning space. We'll make that a key item for our discussion in October.

I think what will be really important - and I've only chaired a couple of meetings so far - is that we find a way of monitoring our progress maybe a bit better. What we don't want to do is to be talking about some of the same areas and come round in a cycle. We want to have made some progress. Now we won't be able to make progress on everything all at the same time, but I think we need to have a sense of momentum of things that we have discussed, action points taken. Has that changed how things are operating and working? If not, why? I think let's bear that in mind. Does that sound a reasonable way to proceed? Yeah.

Raymond Bremner

Yes, we do. I also think though, given the fact it's the REP that's actually giving the feedback on this, the REP will also have been meeting between now and then. I would suggest it would be key for the REP to actually feed into the very process that you're talking about so that when it comes to CoHI - because a lot of us here - this isn't new. We have been talking about many of the things that have been collated there just now. We already have our mindsets and our considerations in terms of what we would like to see as possible outcomes. We are not actually starting at this from a ground-zero basis. This has been on the agenda of many of the organisations at the table here just now, so I don't think we should be actually looking to review that that's already in our mindset.

We need to be taking something to the table in October that's actually part of a vision for going forward and part of an action for going forward and something that we can actually tangibly work on. I would suggest that the REP will have that on their agenda to be able to review and possibly facilitate that. Thanks.

Shona Robison

I agree. I agree with that, Raymond. What we don't want is just an analysis and description of the problem. We want to be moving things on to actually how do we begin to address some of those issues? Some of them are challenging. The planning one in itself is a major challenge, but I think the recognition of the need for that national support - what does that look like? How does it operate? What's the role of the private sector? All of these things are bubbling about and are opportunities. So I agree. If we could get that taken forward in that manner for October, that would be very helpful.

Thanks again, Raymond, for kicking us off on that session. I think I will now move on to the next discussion which is on social care services. As a former homecare organiser back in the day, it's a subject very close to my heart, albeit not in a rural setting, but nevertheless some of the same issues pertain. We are absolutely aware of the pressures faced by the sector and how this impacts  on the delivery of sustainable services in rural Highland and Island settings. I should say I very much appreciate the efforts of providers and indeed the workforce themselves who continue to go beyond in delivering care and support to their communities. I want to thank Highland Council for the paper which outlines some of the unique circumstances of delivering social care in remote, rural and island communities and to draw attention to the excellent work being undertaken by partners to adapt to pressures.

The Scottish Government's national workforce strategy for health and social care was published in March 2022 so two years ago. It looks at the whole workforce journey and how we can plan for, attract, train, employ and nurture our health and social care workforce. I think part of that is about career pathways, when someone comes into social care, that there are potential career pathways for them should they want that. As part of that work, we're developing a remote and rural workforce recruitment strategy for health and social care, which is due to be published by the end of this year. We are continuing to engage with the sector and other partners to look at how we build a more sustainable workforce, one that feels truly valued and properly rewarded for their work.

Of course, you'll be aware we've taken some steps to improving pay and conditions for the adult social care workforce, although it's a journey and there's more to be done, I hasten to add. You'll be aware that we have announced for adult social care workers delivering direct care and commission services and those working in private, voluntary and independent sector that we'll be increasing pay to a minimum of £12 per hour from next month. But as I say, that can't be the end of the journey. It's a staging post. We know that, in and of itself, it's not going to resolve all of the issues, so we want to continue to improve those terms and conditions. I think the work on introducing sectoral bargaining and progressing ahead of the National Care Service through the Fair Work in Social Care group, in line with the recommendations of the Fair Work Convention, is going to be important in that direction of travel.

Enough from me. I'm going to pass over to Derek Brown, who is the Chief Exec of Highland Council, and Fiona Davies, who is the Chief Exec of NHS Highland, to talk to the paper.

Derek Brown

Thank you very much, Deputy First Minister. I welcome my colleague, incoming Chief Executive of NHS Highland, Fiona Davies, to join me this morning. This was a paper that's been developed by Highland Council and its partners to try and, as you say, identify and describe some of the issues which we're currently facing in delivering adult social care and to start to articulate what some of the solutions would be. In this presentation, obviously we'll look at care home sustainability which is a major challenge in the Highland area. We'll also, as you have indicated in your introduction, talk about some of the specific workforce challenges and skills gaps that we're dealing with and attempt to describe some of the potential solutions we might have there and also try to think about what the future model needs to look like and how we shift the balance of care and move to a more person-centred care home strategy. This is a sort of double act between me and Fiona, Deputy First Minister.

On the care home sustainability, the paper has a lot of statistics really about the preponderance of smaller care homes in the Highland area, which obviously leads to some issues in terms of how the National Care Home Contract works and the financial viability of those care homes and therefore the risk that we have of market failure and that then creating other potential pressures. I think we've seen that in terms of care homes going to the wall and then the NHS having to step in and the council having to be part of that solution as well. The current model of the National Care Home Contract doesn't necessarily adequately recognise the needs of the Highlands and Islands where there are smaller care homes in play. I'm going to pass over to my colleague just to talk about delayed discharge and how that is affected by that picture.

Fiona Davies

Thank you, Derek. Good morning, DFM. Just a minor correction. I'm the incoming Chief Exec of NHS Highland. I'm currently employed as the Chief Officer in Argyll and Bute Integration Joint Board. I'm actually having a view really right across that part of our region, which hopefully will contribute helpfully to today's discussion.

I suppose it's what people expect of somebody in an NHS leadership role to talk about delayed discharges. We're well known for talking about it quite readily. But for me the words there that I'd probably draw out more strongly is around unmet need, because that unmet need can manifest itself for our communities, people that are at home, people who are in need of services at home. The impact of the social care challenges are as evident for people at home as it is in hospitals. But saying that, the number of people who are delayed in hospitals across the Highlands and Islands is considerable. Highland has a particular challenge with that. That does cause us issues at a systemic as well as an individual level, which causes great consternation to our workforce. I appreciate your comments of gratitude to our workforce in adult social care. I would extend that to our health staff who are working in an integrated way to manage the pressures that are being felt across the system at the current time.

I think the issue I would want to just pull out is that final point about the outcomes for people who are experiencing either unmet need in their home or in a hospital setting that, as the experience of delay lengthens, their skills and [confidence] reduces and then the need, of course, increases for greater input. You'll know that yourself from your own background as you've just described. It's a real particular challenge where we really are trying to get on the front foot and to stop these downward spirals for individuals and for the broader system. Thank you.

Derek Brown

Yeah. Moving on and just to illustrate some of the detail that's perhaps not in the paper, just in terms of staffing pressures and recruitment, we currently in Highland Council are running with a 35 per cent vacancy rate for children services social workers. Partly that's a knock-on consequence from the way in which funding works in the national health service for adult social workers in the Highland context, because obviously that allows social workers to have higher levels of salary payment as part of the Agenda for Change approach. That therefore has knock-on consequences for the system as a whole in Highland. Obviously, that means our model therefore has to be rethought and redeveloped, so that's definitely one specific example of how there are unintended consequences to policy decisions.

Then obviously recruitment becomes more challenging in that context. One of the things I would say just around about recruitment - and it connects to that previous discussion on the economy and what was said there - is that this is about the conditions into which you can bring a workforce. Do we have adequate housing? Would they be able to have the type of childcare they would require at the scale they would need it, responsive enough locally to them in remote and rural areas of Highland and Island areas? That's really the challenge that we're wrestling with. We do have one or two thoughts about how to do that, which I'd be happy to talk about in a bit more detail. But I really think that the issue around recruitment is more about the conditions in terms of [what's your workforces coming into]? All the things like growing your own, redeploying people into social care, trying to find ways to enable the third sector to pick up the slack by investing in them and trying to find more community-based solutions are the types of things we're about to talk about.

Again I'm just going to pass to my colleague to talk a bit more about the NHS side of the equation.

Fiona Davies

Thank you, Derek. I think a couple of the examples that are just referenced on the slide, you'll pick up more detail in the paper. They're relatively innovative ways that people have been trying to think about addressing some of the issues. In the paper, there's a case study from Argyll and Bute about the implementation of mobile teams, which was something that was quite effective at bringing an alternative employment model that helped us with capacity around delivering care-at-home services. Within the Highland area, the NHS reserves idea has been very popular about the equivalent of a staff bank idea, the idea of people that can't commit to a career in social care but may be able to give time once a week, once a fortnight and to do that on a much more flexible basis. That's been well received by the public and is being implemented and tested and evaluated, because it's not something that's been a traditional model of delivery. That's sitting within the NHS because of the lead agency model within the Highland area.

Derek Brown

This is our last slide, Deputy First Minister. We're really here talking more about the transformation. You'll be aware that Highlands as an area has the second-lowest balance of care in the country. That's obviously something we wish to address. That therefore means that people are more likely to be cared for in an institutional setting than those across the country who are similar in need to them might be. Obviously, our challenge is to try and generate more of these community-based solutions and to move the model.

One of the things the paper's arguing is that what would be helpful to Highland is a greater flexibility around direct payments to families, [the option 1] of Self Directed Support. What that would therefore help us to do would be to help them be enabled to use resource more immediately and directly. Some of the things that perhaps during COVID we were able to do more immediately, some of the things - if you wouldn't mind me saying, Deputy First Minister - the promise aspires to in terms of how the care system operates, in terms of moving the spend, human economic cost modelling, directly to the family we think is part of the solution in terms of adult social care. We think SDS would definitely help, especially in that transition between children's and adults' significant need when we're really talking about really significant health need.

The housing issue is definitely connected to this discussion, so it's part of the economic piece. It might well be one of these things we have to consider as part of the community wealth building approach as well, obviously from the previous conversation, but obviously housing is a condition in which you can bring in your workforce. I'll just make the point - and we've obviously got the leaders of Highland Council here today - that 42 pence in every pound that Highland Council grows through its Housing Revenue Account is paid in historic debt to the Treasury around housing, housing debt from building social housing way back. That's a thing that we continue to advocate about. That doesn't help obviously. But the challenge really for us just generally I think in Highland is building enough housing to support and sustain communities and bring that investment into areas that require it.

The community-led support is important. NHS Highland and Highland Council are doing an awful lot to try and build a single care model that brings into play intuitively, more responsively our third sector partners to make sure that we enable those community solutions. Obviously that ties into the whole family wellbeing approach. Again I'm just going to pass back to my colleague at that point.

Fiona Davies

Thanks, Derek. Just picking up that final point about the National Care Service, one of the challenges within the Highland and Islands is the range of models as outlined in the paper, that the starting position is very valuable across the area. That brings significant challenge in bringing us to a more standard or single way of considering what the model of delivery is through the National Care Service. I think that it would be fair to add that some of our areas are concerned that the gains that they've made during the period of integration since the Joint Working Act that there's a risk that some of that could be lost. Now we're reassured often that's not the case, but it wouldn't be fair not to reflect that that's at least a fear from some of our areas. But there is a need to show that the national board within the NCS will add value to the Highland and Island context, that they'll be sensitive to remote and rural issues and that the solutions and models will meet the planning and delivery challenges that are outlined in the paper for our region. Thank you.

Derek Brown

I think my final point if it's okay, Deputy First Minister, is just to simply say we are definitely seeing the challenge here about reducing some of the demand we have for a sort of care bed approach that's been historically part of the equation in Highland Council, but we also need new supply solutions. We think that the Scottish Government could do a bit to offer some flexibility around care, national care contracts and indeed how we deploy the SDS solutions and indeed to enable some of these housing solutions and workforce solutions for us in due course. Thank you very much.

Shona Robison

Thank you both to you, Derek and Fiona. Should have said interim position, but I have to say I think your background and bringing all of that to bear is going to be really important.

Just a couple of reflections from me and I'll open up. First of all, let me say I want to try and be as helpful as I can. I'm a believer very much in tests of change and trying things out. I think sometimes we can all be a bit guilty of talking about things without actually maybe just testing out the theory. I'm keen to support tests of change where that's possible. You've mentioned a few areas of potential innovation. I think the social care staff bank is a good one and one that you wonder, why have we not done that before? It seems an obvious - particularly where people will be able to more flexibly perhaps - we think about how the staff bank works in the NHS. People can get the online rotas and they can sign up for things. Having that maximum flexibility, there's definitely opportunities. It could be something of interest to the rest of the system. If you want to look to trial and test, I would be very supportive of that.

You've then mentioned a number of other things like the mobile care-at-home teams, the issues of international recruitment, although I think what you're saying is that some of the barriers there, in many ways, some of the solutions lie within communities themselves. You mentioned SDS. Again I took the legislation through, so I feel quite a close connection to the principles of SDS. Again if you want to be pushing forward and if there are barriers that sometimes Scottish Government has control over, then I am very much up for a conversation with colleagues about how can we support and try to remove barriers where they can be removed? There are some that are more challenging, terms and conditions in terms of Agenda for Change and social care staff. Those are more challenging to reconcile. The housing issue as well for staff, more challenging to reconcile as well.

We'll take back the point you made about NCS national board and how it relates. Obviously in Highland its lead agency model is the only one like that, so we need to think. I'm assuming you've had discussions with Maree Todd as the Lead Minister around that. That's an offer to follow up with how can we help to make some of these happen as a bit of a test of change that could have wider application if it works if you guys want to get on to model it and look at how it could work? I've been very supportive of that.

Enough from me. I could talk about care all day, so I will stop and open up to anyone else that wants to come in. Vicki, I'm going to be a bit - come to you just to get your thoughts around are we doing enough around those pathways, those career pathways? We've looked and there are some examples of career pathways into regulated professions through social care. A young person wants to come in. They want to end up in nursing, but they don't necessarily want to have to go away to Aberdeen or Glasgow, wherever for your practice. How is UHI supporting potentially those career pathways where young people or not-so-young people can come into social care? They're getting paid as they work, but they're able to develop that career pathway. Is that something UHI are involved in or is it - yeah. Sorry. Sorry for picking on you.

Vicki Nairn

Hi. I think my microphone's got a mind of its own. Yeah, so we are involved in that. We've been having some discussions with the leadership team at NHS Highland and look forward to having more with Fiona and her team very soon. It links to the skills planning piece which is where we all need to focus on on what that future pipeline is.

The world of education is changing. The days when people wanted to come and do a sort of traditional degree as I would have done when I went to university - quite a lot of our learners want to do apprenticeships so graduate apprenticeships, modern apprenticeships. They want to what we call learn and earn or they might want to dip their toe in the water. We're currently looking at our curriculum to understand how we can link in that, how we can link in [within] employers. Are there any particular hotspots that we need to start training up? We're already delivering nursing out of UHI, optometry, but actually there may be entry points. There's some really innovative work going on in education across the UK at the moment, which is actually allowing young people to come in and try education or perhaps try a nursing-type environment or a care environment. Then it helps them decide about what career path.

I think the other thing, DFM, it's really helpful to look at is the remote and rural healthcare agenda, so I was a board member of Education for Scotland for just under four years. Again if you look at the work that's being led on the National Centre for Remote and Rural Medicine or Care I think it is, how that links in with the pipeline as well, because what you need in terms of remote and rural is going to be quite different in terms of perhaps a more populated area. I think the whole thing links together. I also think it's part of that bigger piece that we talked about in the first agenda item in terms of what that comes together.

Delighted - Derek Brown and I have had some initial conversations around how we can join up resources and reserves. We need to widen those and include the major public sector bodies, but certainly we're really keen to be involved and really keen to play into that agenda.

Shona Robison


Alastair MacColl

Just to add to that a little bit, as a non-exec, I can't talk about the forensics of the question that you asked, but I think this issue will come up again and again, the need for skills planning on a regional basis right across Scotland. It'll come up during our discussion about the green freeport today. I think it's one of the biggest issues that we face, making sure that we have a steady supply of the right kind of skills where and when we need them. I think that needs a joined-up plan in each region. Again maybe one for later on when we pick up the discussion about the green freeport. It covers small businesses, not just the big corporates as well.

Shona Robison

Yeah. Thanks. Thanks, Alastair. I think to be blunt, using our digital capability, it would be good to reach a point where all potential healthcare roles can be delivered through training and education in the Highlands and Islands. I know there's some early discussions around potential for medicine as well to be. I think you could end up being quite groundbreaking in some of this, which I think is great, because if we want to encourage a whole new range of people to come in, which I think is good for medicine in its widest sense rather than the traditional routes which I think can narrow down - quite often we've got a family history of being in healthcare. I think to widen that out, you've got a big opportunity to do things differently and using technology and digital to be able to do that, so I again give you every encouragement to do that. Chris, were you wanting to come in?

Chris Brodie

Thank you, Deputy First Minister. Thanks to Derek and Fiona for their paper and also the introduction this morning. I just wanted to pick up on some of the discussion around skills and the workforce.

Last summer, in conjunction with an industry steering group, we actually commissioned a piece of work looking at some of the skills challenges facing the adult social care sector. I've not rehearsed the detail of that, but maybe just pick out a couple of points I think of interest. There is lots of work underway at a national, regional level to try and encourage people into the sector. I think what the work found is there's possibly an issue over consistency, shared good practice, particularly those areas of youth engagement. The focus on attracting people in the sector is really important but so is retention. I think the average length of time on the SSSC register is something like two years, three months, so that focus on pay and conditions and improving pay rates I think is a really important part of the mix.

I think there is a challenge for us at the moment in terms of thinking about how we best prioritise, incentive provision to come on at a time when we're all facing a really challenging fiscal environment. I think, in that respect, the work that government's leading at the moment on skills reform and in particular skills planning reform becomes quite important. To borrow a phrase that you used, DFM, there may be an opportunity for a test of change, looking about how we can wrestle with some of the specifics of the adult social care sector in the Highlands and Islands. Stephen and other colleagues in my team would be really keen to work with you to see whether there's an opportunity to see how we could practically address some of those issues around both recruitment and retention.

Shona Robison

Yeah. Thanks. I think a reminder of the [Wether's] review and the opportunities for skills reform and how you get ahead of that and how you want that to work on a regional basis is really important. Yes, Emma.

Emma MacDonald

Thank you very much, DFM. Thank you very much to Derek and Fiona. I really enjoyed reading the report and seeing your presentation here today, but it really got me thinking about just how different all our areas are. I think that needs to really be considered that what works in one area won't necessarily in another. In Shetland, one of our biggest challenges that we face at the minute is our ageing demographic, so we're really facing a point where our workforce is becoming quite concerning. We just don't have enough young people leaving school every year. Even if we encouraged everybody that left school to come into adult social work and social care, we still wouldn't have enough people to look after our ageing communities. The level of need is becoming increasingly challenging.

It's an area that I think we really need to start making some real big transformational change about how we deliver our services. Our care homes are really small. We don't have good economies of scale. They say that the best numbers are about 50. We have 10 bedded units that are currently only housing six residents, because we can't staff them. It just doesn't work. I think we really need to look at how we can deliver care better to people in their homes, because we know that that's what people want. That's what gives people a better outcome. But we need more people to allow us to do that. We're [really] looking at how we can shift our model and how we do that, but it needs that real sense of big change which is what we're trying to do. But I think that recognition that what works for one area won't work for another is really important. Thank you.

Shona Robison

Thanks, Emma. Yes.

Sarah Compton-Bishop

Thank you, Deputy First Minister. Thank you to colleagues in the Highland Council for pulling together a really comprehensive paper. I think those case studies really help lay out the range and complexity and the different solutions. Thank you to the Deputy First Minister for your comments around supporting that test of change and looking at how we can remove barriers. I think NHS Highland have a bit of a reputation, putting our hands up and saying we'll try something. It's maybe not always a good idea, but we see where it gets us.

Just to pick up on your comments, Emma, absolutely we - even across the NHS Highland area, we see a huge variety, some really small care settings with just a few beds that we can't staff and again, particularly in the Argyll and Bute area, that challenge around our ageing workforce. Like you said, even if we could get every school leaver to come into the profession, it just wouldn't do what we need it to do.

I really welcome having this on the agenda here today, because I'm seeing a lot of connections. This is my first time at CoHI, so it was great to see all the different topics. To pick up on a point that Derek made around looking at how do we work differently, true partnership working involving our third sector, other partners, stakeholders and our communities - and I'm thinking back to the comments that our two leaders of the Highland Council made around the REP. I think there is some really strong connections for us to look at in the Highland area around that, thinking about the community benefit. I really liked what Bill was saying about the hanging baskets. How do we have those good conversations with our communities about what is possible locally? How do we facilitate that through things like community benefit and community wealth building? Where can we remove the barriers?

Just lastly, I wanted to say some really exciting stuff coming up on the agenda later on. We talk a lot about the ingredients that we need to make our rural and island communities sustainable, to help them to thrive - and to Councillor Steele's point about sustainability and how - we can do things now, but can we keep doing them? We talk a lot about housing and childcare. Those are really, really important. But to pick up on the phrase around that whole-family approach, we have to remember that these are multigenerational communities. Whilst the housing, the childcare and the education stuff is really, really important, so too is the sustainability of our care for older people in the communities. Like Emma said, we want them to keep them in the communities, because that will be so important for making sure that they can survive and thrive in the long term and that we're not losing people when their older people have to go away. Just wanted to say that and thank you to Derek and Fiona for the presentation. Thank you, DFM.

Shona Robison

Thanks, Sarah. Welcome to your first meeting. Just before I bring Kathleen in, I very much believe in the coalition of the willing. I think if you will till everybody comes to the table, then it takes too long for things to happen. If there are areas that want to get on and try something, as long as it's doable, deliverable, sustainable, then I think we should be far more open to encouraging some of that. I think that's something again I would want to leave with you as an invitation, I think. Thanks. Kathleen.

Kathleen Robertson

Thank you. Yeah, just picking up on a few points. I think a holistic approach to social care is really important and that we have good examples in some of the Scandinavian countries where we have people who are more in social care for the elderly but also childcare. We're talking about childcare being an issue and we've got social care, so maybe some kind of training and bringing people into the career that they can have a much wider approach to social care.

The other thing that I was going to pick up on, the £12 per hour is very welcome, but actually job satisfaction is massive and we're already hearing that there's a turnover. My own experience from my father is the carers, when they're in for 15 minutes, they basically slam a meal in the microwave, put it in front of the person, make sure they don't choke and leave. That's not job satisfaction. There needs to be a lot more work done in actually how we deliver our social care.

Transformation, we're all trying to transform services, but how can we do it when we've got no carers? We've got no housing. How is transformation actually going to be possible? On the care home issue, are we actually using our care homes to their maximum potential? We are looking at residents who are staying in there, but there's space in there during the day. They're putting on activities for people. Can we actually take people from the communities in for care during the day and actually return to their own homes in the evening so that we can free up some capacity for some of our carers round and about? It's another idea of bringing income in for care homes. There must be some transformational out-the-box thinking that we can do to really help take the pressure off the system.

Shona Robison

Thanks, Kathleen. Again I think there's some really good ideas there. I'm aware of some areas that have dementia daycare during the day to support families to help people remain living at home for longer. I guess it's again thinking about what your assets are with being able to potentially do something like that. I think these are all ideas that are absolutely worthy of further exploration. Yes, Raymond.

Raymond Bremner

Thanks very much. Again something that has been on our agenda for quite some time, certainly in terms of - and this forum again is not the only forum where this is raised. How many of us have been at COSLA? The shaping of how this looks going forward is very much to the forefront of our agenda there as well.

Thanks for the paper, but there's a lot in here that we are already acknowledging. Some of us are closer to the coalface than others. I absolutely welcome the support that the Deputy First Minister has mentioned there just now and very much would like to see how that's going to actually manifest itself, because while we're talking about the various ideas that we can try, shape, form, as you say, it's within the gift of the willing. Believe you me, we are very unique in the Highlands. We have said that at COSLA. We have said that at every forum that I'm on about the fact that there's something hugely unique about the challenge that we've got. Emma, you mentioned it there just now in Shetlands, but it's the same right across the Highlands and Islands. We all recognise that. There are different initiatives being taken. We've just opened up the [step-up beds] in Caithness. That is an initiative that supports the ability to be able to stop having those who need that kind of support actually having to access it through primary healthcare and secondary healthcare.

The one thing that we are skirting around about the need and that is that often, when we're looking at this, it needs funding. It need finance. It needs that kind of initiative to be able to support it. I think that that is more of what we need to actually talk about at forums like this. How do we recognise that? How do we expect government to be able to support that given the challenges that government have as well? We've seen initiatives that we've been working on here in the Highlands and Islands for - ooh, crikey - since I was elected back in 2017 where challenges to government funding are actually challenges to the actual full vision going forward. That's why the [Belford], Craigmore, the community hub, the hubs that we were looking for in Caithness, these are all part of the vision that we see as being supportive to social care within the community and how it interacts in terms of the pressures that we face in terms of the demographic challenges that we've got.

I'd like to see more about how that support is actually going to be manifest. What's it going to look like? Because while we're trying our best with the various initiatives that we've got - and I know that Derek's going to know that I'm going to probably task us at Highland Council to be able to feed into this process. But while we're trying out our best in terms of that that we've got, we need to actually look at what's possible beyond that. That will involve government support. We have to talk about finance and funding in this, because I can't see how we're going to be able to deliver our initiatives without actually talking about that as well. Thank you.

Shona Robison

Thanks, Raymond. Thanks, Raymond. Before I bring Paul in, yeah, finance, we can't ignore the reality of the challenges within all of our collective finances. I guess, though, for me part of the solution is about unlocking the resources that are in the system, so how do you do that? How do you change towards - away from - we've talked about care homes to care at home, Hospital at Home instead of folk necessarily going to be admitted through the front door of the hospital. How do you fund that in order to then help to shift some of that resource? There's a sweet spot there. I think that's recognised, but it is challenging when resources are so tight. There's no point pretending otherwise, so what can we do to try and unlock some of those resources that are perhaps not the models that are sustainable? I'm certainly up for that discussion as I know my colleague, Neil Gray, will be. He's obviously very keen to think about new ways of working as he's come into post. Paul.

Paul F Steele

Thank you, Deputy First Minister. Yeah. Just on the point you made there, I think governance, there's ways that we can free up finance and do things better with different forms of governance, so we're investigating that at COSLA and also at local authority level.

The National Care Service, I think what we've heard today already in two agenda items is we can do things slightly different in the Highlands and islands, not just because it's a better way to do it but also because we have to do it sometimes. What fits for one area doesn't fit for another. The danger of the National Care Service I think is conformity across the whole of Scotland isn't really going to work for certain areas. We've just got to be a bit wary of that.

We've got the housing with extra care model in the Western Isles, but the challenges and I suppose the challenge that everyone here has is resources in terms of the funding to make it happen in the first place and then the actual staff to run it as we're going forward. Raymond's point, totally agree. It's the funding we need to have a bit more of a discussion about, because we think there are ways of doing things better. There are ways of doing things better that we're taking forward in different areas. But it's having that resource to go ahead and do it is really key. Thank you.

Shona Robison

I do welcome some of the innovative models that are being looked around single island authorities and the kind of foothills of some of that, but nevertheless we've got to think a bit differently. For me, the National Care Service is about consistency of quality of standards so that no one, just dependent on where they live, should be - there should be qualities of standards that are common. But I think these discussions absolutely should continue. I think there's been a fair degree of compromise to try and work through some of the issues that have been raised by local government in particular, but we need to continue to work through these, absolutely. Alastair, then Vicki.

Alastair Dodds

Just to pick up an issue that has been raised and spoke about by yourself, DFM, the paper - it's probably better not recording what I say anyway.


The paper cites an example of national policy not working properly for the Highland and Islands. I think that's a really important thing to consider. Kathleen spoke about the combination of childcare and elderly care and getting a flexible model around that. That's, I think, something that's going to come forward. I think there's discussions to be held with Maree Todd about that, DFM. The government's own strategy is all about place. That's why I think there has to be some recognition when different models are brought forward that government and its agencies are prepared to be flexible provided, as you said, that there are safe working practices in there. You still have the standards, but it doesn't have to be the same model for Scotland. It's quite clear that Scotland is a very varied area, very varied country. I think that when we bring up solutions it would be really helpful to have a positive discussion rather than just say, that doesn't fit the existing model.

Shona Robison

Well, we certainly should be. Some of the issues that are being raised around the joint registration, I guess - childcare, elderly - I'd be keen, as a follow-up, to understand that a bit more and how that could work in practice. Vicki, you're wanting to come in?

Vicki Nairn

Thank you, DFM. I think just reflecting on the discussion for me and reflecting on Alastair's comments about sense of place, it seems we've got a couple of issues here.

One is actually tempting people into seeing caring and nursing and that general health environment as a main career option. I'm not sure that's the case. What we're seeing at a university level is nursing numbers are down in terms of people wanting to come into nursing as a career. I think that's a post-pandemic effort. But if you think about how to address the actual cause of the problems rather than the symptoms, there's two things. One is persuading people of all ages that either it's an education choice for them or they can re-enter and there might need to be some incentives around that. But secondly then it's about how we deliver the programmes to upskill, re-skill or actually provide foundation training and doing that in a way that it actually meets the needs, because it is very different. We see that across UHI. It will be very different, as Emma says, in Shetland, as in Perth, as it is over in Orkney for example. There isn't a one size fits all. There might be some commonality and a base [for us which] to use.

I'd be really up for having a conversation about how we can possibly run some funded pilots around this area and then actually link it to the health and prevention agenda as well, because these are really critical roles, whether we're caring for the youngest in our society or the oldest in our society. But actually if we don't start feeding that pipeline, we're going to constantly have the problem. I think one of the things that UHI was formed for - and we are slightly different to many other institutions. We're a young university. But we were formed to have a transformational impact on the communities and the people and the economies of our region, so I think we've got a real part to play in this. It's just really to say I'd be up for those discussions. We've started them but happy to link in with colleagues from the Scottish Government as well. Thank you.

Shona Robison

Thanks, Vicki. Very helpful comments. Emma, you want to come back in.

Emma MacDonald

Thank you for letting me come back in. I really enjoyed listening to all the discussion around this this morning. But I think we also need to make sure we don't lose sight of what can we do to keep some of our older people well for longer so that in future years we don't see such a demand on our services? We know things like loneliness can have a real impact on people's health. I think we need to focus some of our energies on that preventative element about how do we ensure that we're working with the third sector, our community groups and making sure that we use everything that we have around us to give people the best possible opportunities to have good outcomes?

I think we need to focus more - as well as all the other things that we have to deal with now, because we know that we're facing real challenges, but unless we make changes further upstream to capture people, all we're going to do is keep facing these challenges as we have this older demographic going forward. What can we do to give people better outcomes I think needs to be part of the conversation.

Shona Robison


Derek Brown

Fiona and I have one or two other concluding points or asks just in light of the way this conversation's going, Deputy First Minister. The first is just around the National Care Home Contract, consideration could be given around the rural weighting potentially, just in recognition of the fact that so many of the rural settings contain care home providers with lower numbers of beds. The viability of the contract is therefore more threatened by the margins that the operators are working on, so consideration of the rural weighting would be extremely welcome. I think Fiona wishes to make a point about social work.

Fiona Davies

Thank you. DFM, like you, I could talk about this all day, so you might have to turn the mic off in a couple of minutes if I go on too long. But the conversation's been fascinating as it's progressed round the table. With my NHS hat on, it's really welcome to think of social care as being a route to attract people into broader health professions. As Vicki said, we know that nationally nursing application numbers are significantly down this year. I think should be a concern to us all. I'm a registered nurse myself, so I'm particularly thoughtful about that. But I think that within our health professions, each profession has a distinct identity and a pride in that identity. It's important that, picking up Chris's point about the duration that people spend working in social care, there is a risk that we see it in that way of being a pipeline into something else. There has to be a distinct identity and a pride in that job in and of itself.

But I think we should also just not forget - and I'm putting my IJB hat back on - that it's also a pathway into social work, as a really critical profession for us in Scotland with such a broad range of functions and again its own proud history and identity. And again an area that I know that in Highland and in Argyll and Bute and I'm sure in other authority areas, an area we're struggling to recruit and attract a sufficient number of social workers to do those core functions, whether that's with children, with adults with learning disabilities, with other vulnerable groups. That's another really key profession that we need to be thinking about within this broader sphere. I wouldn't be allowed back in Argyll and Bute IJB if I hadn't said that this morning, but treading my divide carefully there.

But that distinct identity for people that deliver social care, and a career pathway that's valid in its own right, is also I think really important for us to think about. But I would acknowledge that the depopulation discussion that we're having across the whole agenda today, picking up Councillor MacDonald's point, that is probably the most critical point that - in Argyll and Bute, there's one working-age adult for every older adult. That is not a sustainable demographic model for us to deliver sustainable social care services, so that larger conversation absolutely has to wrap itself around this specific conversation about health and social care.

Shona Robison

It definitely does, Fiona. Thanks for reminding us about it's not just a pathway into healthcare professions but into social work as well, for those who wish to have that career pathway. Not everyone would, but it's important to have those options.

Your point about that wider depopulation and repopulation ambition to bring more people into Highlands and Islands is absolutely key, but also to retain people that are here and the young people in particular and having a wide range of options available to them, all of these things are very important.

Emma's point as well about prevention, the longer people can remain active at home and reducing the requirements on health and social care, I think that is absolutely key to making sure that we are slowing down the impact of that demographic change on our services.

We're in the process of - digress slightly - coming up with our key asks of any change of UK government. Some of that work we're undertaking ourselves as the Scottish Government. Some of it is in collaboration with the Welsh and Northern Irish around what are our key asks?

One of our key asks is likely to be the rural visa pilot. If we had the ability to encourage people to come to Scotland with the specific intent of going to live and work in rural Scotland, then I think that could be a lever that could be hugely beneficial. Cross-party support for it, but that's different from actually making it happen. We would need UK government agreement to that. But these are the opportunities that we're really, just to reassure you, trying to scope out to be very front footed with saying, look, these are things that could make a huge difference. Can we test it? Can we try it out? I'm not saying it's a magic bullet, but it's one - there's not one magic solution here. We need to do a number of things. But it is one that I'm very much a supporter of, because I think it could have huge benefits on not least the sector we've just been talking about.

Right, I am going to pull this together. I think that was an extremely useful discussion which has surfaced some immediate things that you've asked could we look at and we will. I will take on to make sure that we get something back on some of the flexible asks. We've got a note of those. Then there's the longer-term work that we need to do around some of the systems, around the financing and shifting that finance, around prevention and the pathways so all of the issues that are longstanding but are absolutely recognised. But I think there could be some quick wins in some of the things that have been raised, so we'll take that forward. Thank you. That was a very good discussion. We'll come back to you on that before October definitely.

I'm going to move on to the next discussion which is on Gaelic developments. Just to say - first of all to thank the Bòrd na Gàidhlig and the Scottish Government Gaelic and Scots team for their work on the paper which was circulated to members ahead of the meeting. We recognise that good progress is being made with a number of Gaelic developments in different sectors, but the paper has a focus on two, the National Gaelic Languages Plan prepared by Bòrd na Gàidhlig, and the Scottish Languages Bill introduced to the parliament in November last year. I'm going to pass over to, first of all, Bòrd na Gàidhlig CEO, Ealasaid MacDonald, and then Douglas Ansdell from Scottish Government who will give a brief presentation. Then we'll get into some discussion about it.

Douglas Ansdell

If it's all right, I'll just kick off with a little bit...

Shona Robison

My apologies. Sorry.

Douglas Ansdell

No, we just made that arrangement just one second ago.

Shona Robison

That's all right. Keep me on my toes.

Douglas Ansdell

Keeping me on my toes as well, I think. My input will just be to offer some comments and a little bit update on the Scottish Languages Bill. Just as you said, DFM, there's a lot of other positive things happening in Gaelic and Scots. Just thinking of even the last month, we had the FilmG short film awards. We've had World Gaelic Week. We've had the launch of the VisitScotland Gaelic Strategy. In Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, we had the very positive GLP or legacy activity. Lots of things going on and lots of things that are very positive.

Turning just to the item I want to offer some comments on, we have a Scottish Languages Bill going through the parliament. Currently it's stage 1 and the bill is sitting with the Education Committee. Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills introduced this bill to the Scottish Parliament on 30 November. The committee has taken written evidence. Next, the committee will invite Gaelic and Scots representatives to give evidence at the parliament. The thing that we're looking forward to, I think, Gaelic and Scots interests, are looking forward to the stage 1 report from the committee. That will probably be early summer before recess, which is an important stage for us.

I think just to say one of the important things of this piece of legislation, it's viewed as making progress by building on the measures and the initiatives that are in place. We did a piece of legislation in [2005 Gaelic Act]. We had an Education Act in 2017, important for Gaelic. This piece of legislation, Scottish Languages Bill, will build on. There's a strong message of continuity in what is being done. I won't draw out all the examples of continuity, but let me just give one example. We have guidance. There's guidance on Gaelic language plans. There's guidance on Gaelic education. We're taking this a step further. The bill is proposing that there will be regulations on standards, so very much the information that is in the guidance will move into standards. In this, we're building on a consensus that is there among local authorities and public bodies and also learning from the Welsh and the Irish.

A couple of comments on Scots. There is no legislation on Scots language. There is recognition in the Council of Europe Charter for Regional and Minority Languages. But we're doing something. It's a little bit of a first, legislation for Scots, recognition of Scots, a strategy for Scots, guidance on Scots and promotion of Scots in schools and in education. Also ministers may also propose standards for the Scots language.

These are new things. I think we've had good engagement with both communities. I think we're looking forward to the information that will come from the committee and, as I mentioned before, the stage 1 report to see what the comments, considerations, recommendations of the Education Committee will be on this piece of legislation.

I'm just going to finish with one comment. One of the interesting elements in the bill is the proposal for areas of linguistic significance to be established, for local authorities to designate areas of linguistic significance, again learning from Ireland, learning from Wales in this. Trying to balance the wish that Gaelic should be something for all of Scotland, that came across very clearly in the consultation that we did. Gaelic should be all of Scotland, but it should be delivered in a proportionate manner, special measures where there might be a higher percentage or density of speakers. Again that'll be interesting to see the comments that come from the committee. I'll stop there on comments on the language bill and hand over to Ealasaid.

Ealasaid MacDonald

Taing mhòr, Douglas. Tha e uabhasach math a bhith còmhla ribh an-diugh agus na gabh dragh tha mi a’ dol a shioftadh gu Beurla a-nis.

(Many thanks, Douglas. It’s very good to be here with everyone today and, don’t worry, I’m going to shift to English now.)

It's really lovely to be with you all today here in Elgin. It's an exciting time for Gaelic. I think that at Bòrd na Gàidhlig we welcome the legislation that's coming to parliament. We certainly welcome the debate. It was really heartwarming to see how many people have involved themselves in responding to the bill up to this stage. We think that the conversation will keep going right the way through the progress. It's a really important piece of legislation. As Douglas said there is we don't get legislation very often when you're a minority language. 2005 was the last time.

I'll take you on to the fourth National Gaelic Plan just now. The impact that that's had has been quite significant. It's really important that we draw and we take that forward in a really positive manner that's really inclusive of our communities. We look forward to taking that forward.

I'm just going to take you through the key points of the National Gaelic Language Plan. You'll all be familiar. I only started in post six months ago, but I see lots of you already have Gaelic language plans and things in place. It's really good to be working with everyone and I look forward to carrying it on. The fourth National Gaelic Plan was published in December 2023. We took it to the wire, it's got to be said, in terms of getting it out there, but it's well worth it. It sets out the need [where] action is needed to strengthen the language in Scotland.

One of the things that I think is really important in it is that Scottish Government's key ambition to it is actually quite wide. It's for people speaking, learning, using and supporting the language. I think that's a slight shift, because as a Gaelic speaker, ever since I ever left the islands years back and went off to university, people would speak to you so warmly about it and say I don't know any myself or I speak a wee bit or I'm really supportive. It's really important that people feel that the National Gaelic Language Plan is for them and it's for the whole of Scotland. I think that's a really important element of this plan.

It's prepared with a wide range of stakeholders. Many of you were involved in the consultations. With a different hat on, I attended the consultation in Stornoway. That was a great hour and a half of community engagement. My understanding is that that was mirrored right across Scotland and that the written submissions were there. It's really important that communities are right at the heart of this and organisations. It really was an effective consultation that was there. After that, the Scottish Government and Bòrd na Gàidhlig worked together to produce what we think is a realistic list of measures and targets that will come in.

The key opportunities - it is a time of opportunity. It's always underpinned by the fiscal concerns. I'll say it as well, as everybody else does. But actually that's not what we're focusing on. In terms of the plan, we've got five years to do this. The key opportunities are there. One of the most important focuses for this national plan - it's always been the focus, but it is much more of a central focus - is the community, is taking it right into the heart of the community so they've got ownership. The way that we work forward - and this is also building on the things that have already been done. The Gaelic language plans are there as a really good foundation and as we take them forward, but they're there. People can see the difference that a Gaelic language plan can make.

We've got community-based Gaelic language plans. In fact, colleagues are today in South Uist where they're meeting with a group there who are looking at a Uist-wide Gaelic language plan. That's a community base. That's a real shift. We're also looking at one in Lewis. The interesting thing there is how different they will be and they are both in the Western Isles. I think that that mirrors the conversations you were having earlier about, oh, a one size doesn't fit all. Well, it doesn't fit all in terms of Gaelic development either. I think it's important that we take that forward. There's really key things in terms of opportunities here, in terms of the legislative framework here with the languages, with the bill.

We also have put on there the expansion of GME and adult learning opportunities. People want to learn Gaelic. They want to be connected to it. We must give them the opportunities that they're seeking out. Sorry, my screen doesn't move at the same time as the clicker up there unfortunately.

But we'd be lying if we didn't say that we've got challenges. There is a wide range of challenges that are facing us all as public organisations. A number of the challenges that you were discussing today, they affect our communities and our language in a disproportionate degree actually, I would argue. It's important that we find more encouragement and support. We've got there at all levels of education, but I'd actually widen that out to say all of the society issues that we've got [is] we need to take Gaelic into the communities, right to the heart of these. There needs to be a better understanding of how Gaelic is a social, economic, cultural asset for the whole of the country. It's a driver. If people open their scope when they see it as a driver, we can all work together to take advantage of what it's got to offer.

We do have challenges to maintaining the use in homes and communities. The world is changing. Our communities are changing. I've got children. Getting them to do anything in the way that I used to do it is very, very different. We have to take account and be cognizant of the changes that are happening and how they can impact. It'll be really interesting to see the census information that comes out later on this year in terms of Gaelic. We're all looking forward to it, dare I say, because I think it'll show some interesting changes in demographics and things. But it will show a focus of people wanting to engage and being proud of the fact that Gaelic has some impact in their lives.

The social and economic challenges there, you've been discussing them all this morning. You know what they are. We're part of the discussions. We're [strong] members of the REP. Anybody who wants to discuss how Gaelic can be part of the work they're doing, we're very open to doing that.

Now to take the plan forward, it's quite difficult to know how best it is to do this. It's funny how you can get yourselves all mixed up, but we've broken it down into some key areas here. The priority areas are set out in the National Gaelic Plan. I advise you all to go and have a look. It is an interesting document. But the priority areas we've mapped out there probably won't come as a surprise to everybody. There's community. There's the home, the creative industries, business and the economy, public authorities, education - well, school education, post-school and adult learning.

I'm not going to take you through all the key targets we have there. But for me some of the most exciting things that I've - the work that I've got ahead of me is there's going to be a National Art Strategy. We're all going to work together on that. Now that's long overdue. There's going to be an Adult Learning Strategy which we're going to work with key partners across. We've already started discussions at a very light stage with some of the people who - the organisations that will be involved in that. There'll be a Youth Strategy as well.

The very fact that these things are written down in this National Gaelic Plan shows you how far we've come, how far we've taken the language and taken its ability to integrate itself in with the key work that's going on across the country, because these are moments when you have national strategies to deal with these things which were very localised in their outlook. I understand that, but it is a certain point. The openness with organisations like UHI, Creative Scotland, it's a - there's a wide range of organisation that we're speaking to. Have come to us and said that they want to be part of it. I think that really takes us forward.

The plans will be based on targets. We're confident they've got broad support. I will say the consultation exercise was - it was very warming to go and read it. I wasn't part of it, so I went back to have a look. It was a very thoroughly enjoyable couple of hours, I've got to be honest, reading the positive statements that people will make with a realistic expectation of where we sit and the challenges that we face. Now we've put targets throughout the life of the plan, but there's a broad approach here. Bòrd na Gàidhlig's next step will be to publish our corporate plan. This will be quite different to the corporate plans that we've produced in the past. I should say we do note that this is probably the last National Gaelic Plan, because in the new bill, it will be a Gaelic strategy that comes from the government, Scottish Government. We will then be marking the homework, Douglas. Is that what it will be?

Douglas Ansdell

Yeah. Yeah, yeah.

Ealasaid MacDonald

We look forward to taking all that. But in actual fact, it's a natural progression that's taken on here about integrating work into where it's best - the best leadership is there. We will publish our corporate plan. We'll put it out to public consultation very shortly. We welcome anyone's comments, support. What I would say is that the National Gaelic Language Plan, like so much like we've been talking about today, won't be able to deliver unless we do it in partnership. We'd be really open to discussing how we can help you and you can help us, because I don't think the model will work without that.

Agus ma bheil ceistean sam bith...”.

(If anyone’s got any questions…)

If anyone's got any questions, Douglas and I are happy to answer.

Shona Robison

Thank you very much, Ealasaid, and to Douglas as well. Very interesting and a lot of good work going on, so thank you very much.

I think some of the things I picked up around the connections with - well, the work of HIE in terms of the economic opportunities. Areas of linguistic significance, clearly there are opportunities there around tourism as well, I would have thought. I think the work that SDS is doing with a number of partners around skills and Gaelic apprenticeships is really interesting too. The fact that you've - those areas, you're trying to influence every part of work, society and seizing those opportunities for the language. The bill will be interesting. I think it will gather again attention from the wider public and media, which will be important itself. Good. I'm going to open up to see if - yes. Alastair.

Alastair MacColl

Just checking that's on. Thank you, DFM.

At UHI, we're really encouraged by the legislation and by the latest Gaelic Language Plan and to the energy that Ealasaid is bringing to the role. At UHI, for context, we've obviously got our own Gaelic language plan. It's very practical. In there, we've got 50 really specific commitments. They range across research, the curriculum, staff development. I think as we move from having Gaelic language plans to strategy, maintaining that practical edge is going to be really important. But we really welcome the inclusivity and the partnership-based approach that underpins this plan.

The other thing, which we've always talked about when we're talking about Gaelic, is the dearth of Gaelic-medium teachers which is fundamental to the long-term development of the language. I think it's worth noting that at UHI we've just introduced a new four-year undergraduate degree for primary and secondary school teachers. We'll continue to focus on that. Going back to what you say, Ealasaid, about that community-based approach, through UHI North, West and Hebrides, we're very much focused and have built the whole programme - you'll know this, others may not - to ensure that we've got community-based learning right across the Highlands and Islands. All of the work that we're doing, of course, is channelled through the Sabhal Mòr, our academic partner, but through that wider UHI estate as well.

Final plea from me, for some time now, we've been engaged in research through the work that [Crocker, Gilligher] and others have been doing. That ranges across not just language but history, culture, sociolinguistics. It's really important that we maintain that as well given the wider role that Gaelic has in maintaining the culture, the history and all those things that sit alongside that and are crucial to underpinning language as well. We'll be working with the SFC and, I hope, Bòrd na Gàidhlig to ensure that that funding for research continues as well.

Shona Robison

Thanks, Alastair. Very excited to hear about the four-year undergraduate degree programme as well, I think, to try and address the gap of Gaelic-medium education teachers. That will be, I think, very exciting development. It's obviously going to take time, but I think supporting that pipeline of additional teachers will be critical. Yes. I don't know who had their - Robin, you go first and then Raymond.

Raymond Bremner


Robin Currie

Yeah, I'm not sure where to start though. All come out muddled. I appreciate greatly the tremendous amount of work that has been done to promote and help Gaelic by many partners here. Really good and education-wise as well. But what really bothers me is it seems to be - there's a lot of Gaelic in schools. There's a lot of Gaelic in certain places, but it's not the way it - I must be getting old. It's not the way it used to be.

Up till I was 18, it was always, always Gaelic spoken in the house. I didn't have one word of English till I went to school. Every house I went to up to the age of 18 and 20, visiting people, it was always Gaelic. Now I - I'm not sure that much of that happens, maybe in certain places. I would love to get back to that situation where it was used as an everyday language out there in the community and not just for certain times of the day, et cetera. Then maybe what I'm leading on to as well, I'm a great believer, a supporter of a Gaeltacht area. I've been to the one in Donegal a number of times and I found that really good. Even people working behind the bar, which I didn't go to very often, they had to speak Irish Gaelic before they got a job. To me that was good. I suppose the same kind of thing applied when Iain Noble had the place in Skye. That was along similar lines. I think a Gaeltacht area or Gaeltacht areas would be really good and very good economically I would say as well. I think people would come to the area because of that.

Shona Robison

Thanks, Robin. I guess there's so many impacts on what goes on in the home in terms of the advent of social media, Netflix, all of the things that impact on the dialogues that happen within the home. It'll be interesting, when we come back to yourselves, to hear your thoughts on that and the suggestion you're making in terms of Gaeltacht areas. Whether that could be something that could be part of the area of linguistic significance, I don't know, but I'll come back to you in a second. I'll bring Raymond in first and then come back to you.

Raymond Bremner

Tapadh leibh agus tapadh leibh airson an aithisg seo a th’ againn an-diugh. Chuala mi gun d’ thuirt thu ‘na gabh dragh – tha mi gu bhith a’ bruidhinn ann am Beurla’. Na gabh dragh, tha mise gu bhith a’ bruidhinn ann am Beurla cuideachd.

(Thank you and thank you for the report we’ve got today. I heard you say ‘Don’t worry – I’m going to be speaking in English’. Well don’t worry, I’m going to be speaking in English as well.)

Thanks very much for the report. If you don't mind, I will address Ealasaid if that's okay. A lot of this excites me, but you can - some of the things that we need to do are actually look at this. You asked for our ideas on some of the things from our experience. The Highland Council, we are the lead authority at the moment, just ahead of Glasgow, in terms of our GME programme and the creation of first-language Gaelic speakers as well as bilingual Gaelic speakers. What for me is really interesting in this is the vernacular communities, because that I think, Robin, is what we are - as you're leading to there just now, understanding that the investment that we've done over years is not going to be lost.

When you're talking about the Gaelic Language Plan now becoming a Gaelic Language Strategy, I would really like to see that - not waiting until the GLP 4 is delivered by local authority but for us to actually parallel any Gaelic strategy that is going to take over after that. If that means - Highland Council, I'm going to volunteer us again as being a pilot area, because why wouldn't we be if we're the leading authority in terms of delivery on GME? Those vernacular communities are widespread across the Highlands. When you look at Glasgow where they're on our tail - and this goes back to what Robin's saying there just now - the vernacular community is in Partick. It's in Bishopbriggs. It's in Tollcross in Edinburgh. We have them all over the whole geographic expanse of the Highlands as you do in the Western Isles where you've got vernacular communities trying to establish English in amongst it all over there. Sorry for those of us that can get that little bit of a flippant remark.

But you can see where I'm coming from on this, Ealasaid. When we are trying to support our communities to create the vernacular areas for them to speak in - we have 27 Gaelic community officers. It wouldn't be CoHI if I wasn't going to speak about any funding and especially where it might be cut. For us we're just about to - we have a third of them actually. Sorry, there are 27 Gaelic community officers. Ten of them are employed in the Highland Council area. My plea to you would be where we need to establish sustainable vision and sustainable support to create these vernacular communities right across the geographic expanse of the Highlands and Islands - because it's much more challenging to be able to create and sustain these vernacular communities in this area than it maybe is in other areas that are looking to deliver on the GLP 4.

In terms of the [Scots] Languages Bill, for me this is welcome because of the fact that many areas throughout Scotland and the variable forms of Scots dialect that we have are all starting to become very much a general Scots accent similar to what the Canadians have in terms of what they call their [GA]. It would be good to understand how we can actually see, in each of the areas, how the Scots Language Bill will actually support the greater diverse contribution that all our accents make in terms of the Scots language being sustained.

Finally and probably most importantly for me, in terms of - you've got key targets up there. What I didn't see - and I'd love to have a lot more information on - is about the measurement of those targets. I didn't see a lot of that up there. I think that that might be a challenge for us to be able to understand. For me GLP 4 is now at the position where we have created lots and lots of speakers from the age of zero to 18. We can measure on that, but how many of these zero to 18s have now then gone on to speak Gaelic in the house? It's become a whole life experience for us. If we can't show that we've delivered on that, then what has GLP 1 to 4 actually delivered us? What return is there on the investment that's gone into that over the period of time that those four plans have been delivered?

I'm really, really keen to understand how are we going to measure against those targets? Particularly for me, I'd love to see what has happened to all the speakers that we have actually created, those new language, first-language speakers? The first part of that, I absolutely believe, is going to show us through the census. But we also need to make sure that - when we're funding organisations, we've got to make sure that - or for me, we have to fund it in a way that we can show that those organisations are delivering on the creation of new Gaelic speakers. It's not just about - and I don't mean to be flippant about this. It's not just about learning songs in Gaelic and learning about parts of the culture and the history, although that massively helps us sustain Gaelic in the broader sense. It's about becoming a Gaelic speaker. It's about changing your life. It's about you having a family and being able to take them on in Gaelic.

Ealasaid knows I could speak about this for the rest of the day and so does this man next to me.

Shona Robison

But in a very well-informed way if you don't mind me saying, Raymond. That was an excellent contribution and quite thought provoking, so thank you for that. I'll come back to you in a second. I'm going to bring Paul in.

Paul F Steele

No hablo inglés. Thanks very much Ealasaid. I like a lot of the points that are made by Raymond and Robin. Areas of linguistic significance I think is going to be really, really important. Whenever we see a map of Gaelic speakers over the decades in Scotland, you see it receding across the country.

I always get a row for speaking quietly [laughs]. I was just saying you see that map retreating towards the Western Isles where we are. It's really key. In our community, Gaelic is spoken daily.  Raymond says they're number 1. I think per capita we're probably number 1. The things that we do and can do is actually to support our communities to speak it. My two boys are in school just now. They speak Gaelic in school. They don't speak Gaelic at home. Gaelic, in the culture, has flipped. It used to be the language of the community and you weren't allowed to speak it in school. It's now almost the other way. The kids are speaking in school, but they're not necessarily having the outlets to speak in the community when they're outwith school. There's something around that that we need to get right. I think you're right. The census data's going to probably show that we [kind of get so far]. Hopefully, that's going to continue. We've got that pipeline of Gaelic speakers coming through. Hopefully, that'll increase across the country.

One of the key areas, I feel, is creative industries. I think there's a huge part to play in that. If you can see and hear your language, your culture being portrayed at a national level, that's going to encourage you. Having been involved in FilmG in the past for a number of years and also working in Gaelic media with the BBC, the amount of people I worked with that I now see on national television - so it's not just for the good of the Gaelic community. It's also for the good of Scotland. These people are learning these skills in the creative industries and it's broadening their representation. You'll see them dropping little Gaelic words into their bits and pieces, which raises the profile. I think there's a lot that can be said for that. But I don't know if you're going to touch on it or if you did mention a wee while ago, the funding for BBC Alba. It's absolutely ridiculous that it's not got that level of funding. It's stayed the same since the channel started, I believe. That's not right. When you're looking at ways to raise the profile of it, I think that's one really good way of doing it.

Legislation, it's great to see that kind of thing - obviously, Gaelic was an oral language. It was passed on orally rather than written down, so the fact that we're now getting it written down and having it put in legislation, it's there for the whole country to see that it's an asset. Also it's good for the rural and island areas.

One final point, just on the education side of things, we always talk about ageing demographics. We portray it as an issue more often than not. We're having to support them. If one thing we've got in the Highlands, we've got a lot of Gaelic teachers who retired, are good Gaelic speakers. There's actually assets there that we could be utilising. Instead of seeing the elderly as - not a problem but something that we have to help out, they can actually teach us. There's Gaelic in the communities that can be [portrayed] through the courses. Actually being in the community is going to be a really key way of taking that forward.

Shona Robison

Absolutely. I wonder, have they been asked if...

Paul F Steele

I like the question.

Shona Robison

Sorry, I'm putting people on the spot now.

Paul F Steele

That might be a question that we do ask after today. That's a great idea.

Shona Robison

As an asset, they're...

Unknown Male

Yeah, huge assets.

Shona Robison

Yeah, absolutely. I'll come back to you.

Ealasaid MacDonald


Shona Robison

There's a lot there.

Ealasaid MacDonald

Okay. I concur. I live in a Gaelic community. I was brought up in one Gaelic community, the same one as Paul. I live in another one in Lewis. It's changed. You can't deny it's changed. The way we use Gaelic has changed. But if you heard me screaming at my daughter and the mess of her room the other day and the very interesting reply she gave me back in Gaelic, you'd know fine her Gaelic skills are as good as it gets on occasions.

The other thing I'd say is I had a lovely day on Saturday. I went into town in Stornoway and I didn't speak English all day. I think it's really important people know that. I didn't go to anything specific. I went to the butcher's. I went to the nail shop to buy nails. We have a - whatever you would call that. I call it the nail shop. I was in the Co-op and I was in Tesco's.

Cha do bhruidhinn mi facal Beurla.

(I didn’t speak a word of English)

I didn't. People who see me don't speak English to me anymore. They speak Gaelic to me. That's really positive. Even if their Gaelic isn't great - and we'll have a word, Paul, about you later as well as for the two boys, because We’ll have a word, Paul, about you later as well, as for the two boys, because

tha a’ Ghàidhlig agad-sa nas fheàrr na tha thu a’ leigeil air....

(your Gaelic is better than you’re letting on…)

That's it is part of it is about confidence. It's about the confidence in your community. When you're surrounded by people who are speaking Gaelic or who are willing to try as well, it's really important.

When you've got people who were brought up with the language, be confident enough to speak it. One of the key aspects of SpeakGaelic, the creative industries focused, the media-focused digital platform made for learning was to bring back lapsed speakers as well, as we all know people that are really important to keeping the language going and things but who just don't have that confidence anymore. You just need to give people safe spaces and to make it a natural thing.

There has been a change of events. I think things are changing. When I was 17, I wouldn't have spoken Gaelic particularly either outwith the home. Gaelic was the language of my home, but with my friends, no. My daughter is different. It's not just her. It's other children. We are seeing a shift back just now. It's how you capitalise on that shift. You make sure that they're able to make that shift in a way that's...

Interesting earlier talking about careers and skills. A young person said to somebody - we have people who go to the careers fairs which are very effective. Oh, I want to work in Gaelic, but I think I want to become a nurse too. They hadn't made the connection. They hadn't joined the dots there to say actually what we need are Gaelic-speaking nurses. We're crying out for them across - they're crying out for them in Glasgow even, when they get patients through and things. They hadn't joined up their thinking there as to how [it would] - and part of that is our job. Our job is to make sure it's very easy for them to join up that thinking and to know that Gaelic will take them as a part of their lives. I'm proud I'm bilingual. I'm proud my children are bilingual. It's not one over the other. They're multiskilled. It's a great asset, a great asset that they have.

To get on to the specific point about measurement and targets, Raymond, I think you're absolutely right. It is exceptionally important. Hopefully, the new corporate plan that comes out from Bòrd na Gàidhlig will go some of the way to helping reassure you in terms of the way that we are looking forward. There will be much more measurement going on and there will be a focus on how the outcome relates to the initial objective. Where are we? We won't we winning all the time, because we're on a path. But I think it's important to be able to see how that pathway is impacting. I think GME figures are one of the ways for measuring. We've got a whole cohort now that have gone through. In fact, we've got ones that are older. I'm trying to figure out how old my sister is, but mid-30s. So all went through, who all came in on the first. Where are they now? What are they doing? What can that tell us about the language and the skills that they've got?

You talk about the Gaeltacht and stuff. I think areas of linguistic significance has a real potential here to change the way we think about things. But I will stress that Gaelic is a Scottish - we're the body that represents Gaelic across Scotland. There's a reason for that, because there's Gaels across Scotland. There's Gaelic speakers. There's Gaelic enthusiasts. There's supporters who don't have a word, but they still need to be represented. It is a Scotland-wide thing. But I think if we engage in the debate in a positive fashion about areas of linguistic significance and all the other elements of the bill as well, before we even get to the legislation coming out, that these conversations will be a really good point for us to take things forward and have an understanding of what's going on. I think that it is. It is that sense of just making sure that you're part of it, that we're all there and that we're all engaging, because we'll get so much more out of it if we do.

Shona Robison

Thank you, Ealasaid. That was a very good way of pulling it all together. Just by way of anecdote, I visited a high school in Dundee couple of weeks ago. I was challenged by a young woman doing her [Nat 5] Modern Studies from a Gaelic-speaking background or home. As Gaelic speaking, she was saying, what is there for me in terms of being able to speak with other young people? I wasn't able to answer very well, so perhaps there's some resources that you could make me aware of. I can ensure that's passed on to her. She was keen to make her high school a Gaelic-speaking medium. I think you're probably a little bit far off of that ambition, but nevertheless it did make me think. How do we bring young people together to make sure that they're able when they're in communities where there's very few other Gaelic speakers? But thank you.

Douglas Ansdell

There is not Gaelic-medium education in Dundee and so she's a little bit adrift at the moment. But one of the things that could help is the capacity, the facility offered by Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, e-Sgoil. The colleagues at e-Sgoil deliver, throughout the country, many subjects. In her situation, e-Sgoil and getting in touch with Western Isles would probably be the way to help what sounds like an isolated learner there.

Shona Robison


Bill Lobban

Thank you, DFM. As Raymond would tell you, Gaelic is not one of my language skills. But I have a good Scots tongue in my head. It's actually really good in this paper to see them mentioning the Scottish language. A Scottish language strategy coming forward is really something that we should be welcoming right across Scotland.

Now it's not too many years ago, DFM, that your own party conference had its agenda in three languages. I don't see that anymore.

Shona Robison

I'll put a note in for that to headquarters.

Bill Lobban


[Over speaking]

I remember it. I think it's important that - in Highland in particular, we're very, very supportive of the Gaelic language, but I don't see anything particular. Until the Scottish language strategy comes forward, I don't see the same effort being put on Scots. Thank you.

Shona Robison

I will take that comment back to those who need to hear it, so thank you, Bill. Derek.

Derek Brown

Sin sibh fhèin, Ealasaid…

(Well done, Ealasaid…)

I'm not going to try and do too much Gaelic speaking. I'm just learning. But I thought your presentation was excellent.

Just on the teacher training point, Deputy First Minister, what I've started to see - I'm actually quite optimistic about the creation of future economic Gaelic pathways spinning out of the Gaelic-medium education that we have. In Portree Gaelic Primary recently, I saw two PSAs who want to embark on the teacher training pathway, who had been through the primary school and who were coming back into the workforce, because we've created those Gaelic pathways to teach. I think there is optimism. I probably feel like Ealasaid that those pathways aren't as well described as they could be. Probably people need to see what the economic pathway in Gaelic is. I think we could do a lot better there, because actually I think if the economy leads, I think the education can follow.

Then also I do think the partnership with UHI and others to create those teacher training pathways is critical to the success of this. I actually think that we see population drift of Gaelic teachers towards Glasgow. It doesn't always help us in Highland do some of the things we want to do to sustain our Gaelic communities, so I think that's just another factor here. But I think overall I feel pretty optimistic about the future of Gaelic-medium education and how it can then create those economic opportunities for people.

Shona Robison

Thank you, Derek. On that very positive note, I'm going to move us on to the final agenda item which is the review of the National Islands Plan and the consultation analysis. As you'll be aware, that consultation took place last year as part of the review of Scotland's first National Islands Plan. In 2019, the development of the plan was informed by a lot of consultation, engagement with many local communities and organisations, some of which of course are around the table today. In that same spirit, we are of the view that this review should be informed again by the views of those on our islands. That's why, alongside an online consultation, officials from the Scottish Government's Islands Team held a number of in-person workshops across island communities, covering each of the six island local authority areas. While these were open to the public, we did target people who live on or have an interest in Scotland's islands. We wanted to ensure that as many people as possible had the chance to share their views.

We wanted really to use this opportunity to give you a first flavour of the interim results. I want to thank the Islands Team and partners for their work on the paper. I'm going to pass to Erica Clarkson, who is the Head of the Islands Team, to introduce the paper, set the scene and then I'll come to comments. Thanks.

Erica Clarkson

Thank you, Deputy First Minister. Thank you, everyone, for having me here today. I know many of you, some behind me, some in front. It's good to see you all, familiar faces.

I'm really happy to be able to come today to share, as the Deputy First Minister said, some key findings from an independent analysis of our National Islands Plan Review consultation process which we carried out between July and November last year. I hope that the short paper that we've just referred to was helpful. I really do look forward to some lively thoughts and reflections after I've just given you a small overview of that paper. Some of you, as Ms Robison said, have very kindly contributed to the consultation exercise and so thank you for that. I am very pleased, as I say, to be here to give you some early insights into what we're finding. You will have read in the paper that the review was required under the Islands Act as it's almost five years since we published the original National Islands Plan. I can't believe that it's almost five years, but there we are. I won't go into the mechanics of the legislation today, because we don't have time for that. But the review was required as part of the act.

You will also, I hope, have read in the paper that this was a smaller-scale exercise than our 2019 one but that we did succeed in receiving some 170 written consultations, responses and had input from around 250 individuals at our events. As the DFM said, that was 16 workshops over 12 islands. We did work really hard to target those people that live, work and study on the islands to hear their real-life experiences. I should just say that 92 per cent of our written responses were from island-based residents, which was really great to see.

In the paper, we've drawn your attention to five key themes which have emerged from our work on the consultation process. These are firstly to improve communications. We found that just 52 per cent of all respondents knew a little about the National Islands Plan, the current National Islands Plan. Only 20 per cent knew a lot, so we need to get better at talking about what we're doing and what the plan can do for communities.

The second theme that is emerging is prioritisation. We are finding that the majority of all respondents feel that there are just too many strategic objectives in the current National Islands Plan. There are 13 at the moment. Underneath each of those strategic objectives are many commitments. There's a requirement from participants to prioritise what we're putting into the plan. That will help us achieve better outcomes, maybe to prioritise based on a local need, which segues into the third theme which was localisation. That's the third theme with many participants asking for a more island-specific approach so a more localised approach rather than a national one. But that said, participants did recognise that there are some challenges with such an approach due, for example, to capacity on islands or for people to deliver at a local level.

The fourth theme concerned governance and resources. Feedback was quite clear that we need a plan with smarter objectives, better measurable objectives and clearer timeframes and better presentation of who our delivery partners are also. There was, I should just say, a bit of a recurring message in the review for multiyear funding also, so again worth mentioning that today.

The final theme kind of draws all of the others together. We found that 41 per cent of all respondents feel that a new plan is needed and a quarter feel that something new is needed, so that's quite a clear message for us.

We are still digesting the input from the review and providing advice to our Cabinet Secretary, Ms Gougeon, and to her cabinet colleagues. We'll be looking to work with her for a launch date perhaps late March, early April. That should be coming soon so that you'll be able to read the findings in full. Once we've concluded this step of review and deeper thought, we will publish the consultation analysis alongside some commitments about our future plans, about what we're going to do next in the Islands Team and across SG.

We weren't really taken by surprise by any of the input in the consultation review. Many of us in the team are islanders or have island experience, so we understand what the issues are. Also we see it in our day-to-day work. We are reflecting on the strength of feeling that remains around some of the longer-standing issues such as depopulation, housing, transport and those challenges. We anticipated those to be there, but they are still there. We're reflecting on that.

There's much to do, much to learn from the review. I should just obviously say also that there have been many challenges in the five years since we published the National Islands Plan. It didn't go quite to plan when we published the original one on 27 December. There have been many things that have come along that derailed us a little bit, but we are back on track. This review has given us a wonderful opportunity to reflect on the work that we have done and the work that we need to do going forward.

If I may, just before we move on to discuss the review here today with everyone, I just wanted to take an opportunity to say that this really is just our starting point, this review, this reflection of what we've done in the five years since we published. If a new plan is required, then we're going to be working with many of you here today and others to make sure that we meet the needs of islanders in any new plan if that's required.

I'll just reiterate then really that the clear themes, the five themes that we've touched on and the ones that are in the paper are the ones that we'll be focusing our attentions on. Just to remind you, those are improving our communication, prioritisation, localisation, governance and resources, and then the need for something new. Thank you again to those of you who participated. Many of you here did. I'm really happy now to hear from you and to try and answer any questions that you might have.

Shona Robison

Thank you very much, Erica, for setting the scene and again for all the work that's gone on with this important piece of work and review. I'm going to open up for comments. Raymond, over to you first.

Raymond Bremner

Thanks very much and thanks very much for the report. [I notice it is for us noting], so I take it that the comments that we make are purely for consideration in terms of what the outcomes will be leading to. It's good for us to see this report here, because at the Convention of Highlands and Islands, where better than to garner these kind of views? But for me obviously there are a few things. One, it goes without saying that in this modern world the challenges of connectivity - and that's both physical and digital - leave - in terms of having our island communities connected, goes without saying and how we face those and incorporate those challenges in the National Islands Plan going forward.

Also in terms of local authorities, we have, at the table here, unitary local authorities but also local authorities that have islands - they are mainland local authorities with islands as opposed to unitary local authorities that are islands. For me, I tend to think that we see them as being different, but I would like to suggest to you that the island communities that we're talking about here are no different. Whether they are part of a unitary authority or whether they are part of a mainland authority, the connectivity, the challenges - whether it's health, whether it's community wellbeing, whether it's sustainability - they are seen from an island perspective within that authority. I would like that to be considered in terms of the National Islands Plan going forward. Sometimes it can be thought that it's easier to provide for island communities if you're a mainland authority. I think that sometimes it can be as challenging, if not more challenging, to be able to recognise that these islands are unique in their own way and the needs that they require.

The last point I'd like to make is, in terms of supporting these island communities going forward and relating to my last point, if and when we look at how we support these through grant funding or grant award, it's one of my pet hates. I can't stand having to bid into a pot. I think that we need to recognise that each of the islands that are involved in this must have their own recognition in terms of the grant support that they require. Let's not have a bidding system or what ends up just becoming a bidding war. Let's recognise them for what they are and give them the support that they actually need directly. Thanks very much.

Shona Robison

Thanks, Raymond. Some important points made there. I think your point actually about the mainland authorities and island authorities, if you're on an island, you're not really too concerned what the makeup of your authority is in terms of the experience. I think that's something we should reflect upon. It's a point well made. Okay. Alan.

Alan Hill

Thank you. Thanks. Just to echo Raymond's point, certainly in terms of North Ayrshire, I think our island communities represent about four per cent of the total population, so this process has been fantastic in terms of ensuring that they get the attention that they deserve. We've got individual island plans for the two islands as well. Very much look forward to growing and developing these and continuing to embed them in the planning processes. But I would agree with Raymond obviously - and it's not for the first time today, I suppose - that we're needing resource to accompany these in terms of developing and taking forward projects and things on the ground. A number of us will be going to the UK Islands Forum next month. Some Levelling Up money has reached some of our islands, but again in terms of asks of incoming new UK governments, a better method of distributing funding across all of the UK's islands actually would be something that would be welcome.

Shona Robison

Yes. The Levelling Up Funds more generally, I think there are huge issues with the way that there's - I think there's just been a committee report from one of the House of Commons committees about, I think, the opaqueness of how decisions are made, so I think there's definitely some improvements to be made there. Thanks for that, Alan. Yes, Vicki.


Emma MacDonald:

No, no you’re alright.

Shona Robison

Sorry. Sorry, I'll come back to you in a second, Emma.

Vicki Nairn

Thank you, DFM. I guess it's just to make a comment around governance and resources. What we're finding is to make sure that we have equality of provision and especially equality of education provision to young people - and it links back to the various conversations we've had about the skills agendas - what we're finding is the cost of delivery to island locations is significantly higher. We're fortunate in the fact that we are able to recruit staff, but what we are struggling with are student numbers. That's mainly because of the strength of the economy, especially in certain areas after Brexit and after labour migrated. Young people have a healthy choice for them in terms of do they go into industry, business or do they come to learn? We're having to adapt to offer more and more part-time courses. That in turn is resulting in a more expensive delivery model for us. I think we are trying to actually navigate that at the moment and especially where we have to pay additional costs such as Distant Islands Allowances which are currently unfunded.

If we want to have a basis of equality for education in all of our areas, whether you might be in Inverness or you might be in Stornoway, then actually that has to be funded. There has to be a recognition that it's more - we struggle with that at the moment. The funding models that we have don't necessarily recognise that. Bizarrely we end up looking at ways to cut provision to actually preserve provision. That is very true with the national bargaining and potentially unfunded pay rises. You end up in a bit of a vicious circle, so if any future consideration of the strategy could consider that, we'd be very appreciative, because it would be entirely helpful, especially where we don't necessarily have the same access to numbers of students. Education funding works on volume models, so if you're in a place that doesn't have the volume, you actually need to level it out in a different way. Thank you.

Shona Robison

Important points made there, Vicki, which I'm sure Erica will be noting. Emma, I'm going to come to you.

Emma MacDonald

Thank you. Thanks very much, Erica, for this report. Thank you for all the work that the Islands Team have done with engaging with us on this.

I think for me, in the themes that are in this report today, prioritisation is really the key one for me. Thirteen strategic objectives and all the ones under it is just too many for us to be really, truly focused on. I think that's what we need to do. If we want to deliver on the islands plan and we want measurable outcomes, we want to really be able to show that this is what we're trying to achieve, I think we have to really narrow it down. We need to really focus on what are the priorities for the Highlands and Islands? We need to do that in a way that - we can have things under it, but I think we need to really take a serious look at that. That would be my request. Thank you.

Shona Robison

Thank you, Emma. I will come back to Erica in a second once I've got, yes Robin.

Robin Currie

Just very quickly, DFM, I think the - and I keep saying this. I think the work that the Islands Team, or whatever they were called at that point, did before the plan where they went round all the communities and islands - they did a great job. People were excited. They were listened to. They were expecting a lot then when the plan came. There may be some disappointment now, because I think you say in the report there is 13 strategic objectives. Well, am I not right in thinking there's about 130 other action points in the plan? It goes on and on and on, so I think it's far too many. We need to cut that right back.

Maybe it's just me, but I remember the days when we used to have the initiative at the edge areas in some of the islands. That really worked well. Sarah will know from Jura. We had one there. That was organisations working together. We used to have a meeting in the village hall, probably once a year or something. The hall was packed out, 40-odd people at those meetings. They saw organisations working together. It wasn't a call all the time for money from the council or money from the government. It was just people putting in their tuppence worth. I think it worked really well. I'm not saying we should call them [inaudible] areas. But I think if we had a similar sort of working in the islands and a person that took all these organisations together, I think it would go a long way to making things a lot better.

Shona Robison

Thanks for that, Robin. I'll get Erica to come back on all of these points in a second. Yes, Paul.

Paul F Steele

Thanks. Just to agree with what Robin was saying and Emma as well. I think prioritisation's really key. I wrote a piece recently. Everything we're doing can be boiled down to three things from an island context. You need to be able to get here and a way reliably, regularly and affordably. You need to be able to live here in accommodation that meets your needs at a price that's affordable. You need to be able to work here in well-paid jobs in a varied economy. So everything we're doing...

Unknown Male

You don't want much, Paul, do you?

Paul F Steele

Not much, no.


It's only three things. But I think there's a way we can change the priorities to fit those three areas. At the end of the day, those are the things we're looking at, so I think there's a good opportunity just now to do it with the review. It's good to see the feedback. The engagement's been good. I really like Robin's suggestion about having that one person resourced in the local community to take these things forward, because that's always what we lack. There's lots of volunteers, lots of different organisations. There's that one focal point to drive these things forward. Thanks for that.

Shona Robison

Thank you. Anyone else want to - yes, Heather.

Heather Woodbridge

Thank you, Deputy First Minister. I'm not going to repeat what my colleagues have said already, because I agree with a lot of the contributions that have already been made. But I think I just wanted to go back to actually what Kathleen said in her initial opening speech was actually what are our priorities? They are social care, infrastructure - whether that's digital or physical infrastructure for transport - and it's housing. These are far too many strategic objectives. Can we narrow it down? Actually what I would make a plea for is can we have measurable outcomes? We can have a way that we can track our success. Actually going forward we can hold ourselves to account on that plan and say, well, are we actually progressing here? Because when you have really vague objectives, actually nothing moves forward. That's my comment. Thank you.

Shona Robison

Thank you, Heather. I think a bit of a common theme of less is more, so fewer objectives. The meetings I've attended, the themes have very much been around connectivity, housing, economic support, social infrastructure. That's not to say there are not other objectives that are important, but I think there's perhaps a sense that we need to be really clear about what the top objectives are and how we measure success of delivery against those. That will be the job of everybody in this room and beyond to hold ourselves and each other to account for delivery. I think there's quite a strong view which I'm sure you were aware of, Erica, from the discussions you've had already. But I'm going to come to you to just get a bit of feedback from what you've heard and then we'll break for lunch.

Erica Clarkson

Just working out the technology. Thank you. I wish we had longer so that we could talk about this more. We'll come back to many of you in the weeks going forward.

The team and I, just going to what Councillor Currie was saying there, we do really want to reignite the enthusiasm that we had in 2019 across the islands and within Scottish Government also. This review is really giving us an opportunity to do that. Like many people, over the past four years, we've had to deal with Brexit. We've had to deal with the energy crisis. We've had to deal with COVID. That's just a few things. We are doing our very best to respond to those through initiatives such as the Cost Crisis Emergency Fund that we're - we've been giving additional funding to local authority partners to try and address some of those issues. Like you, we're very keen to reignite that energy and to come back out to the islands and work closely with people there. The review has given us a foundation to do that, I think, and has helped us to strengthen our response to those desires, those legitimate desires and wishes from island communities.

I do recognise that there are a number of commitments within each of the 13 strategic objectives. It is a very ambitious plan. We're a very ambitious team. We all want the best for our islands. But we do recognise that they could be streamlined. At the moment, they are interlinked, so there are, for example, a number of commitments in the National Islands Plan that will help to, we hope, improve population but also address housing issues or connectivity. There is a lot of interlinking and we'll give that some thought as we go forward.

The other thing really I've taken from that is that we understand and hear the plea for measuring our success. We do publish every year an annual report on our progress of delivery of the current National Islands Plan. That's a requirement under the Islands (Scotland) Act also. That will be something perhaps worth taking a look at. It's a bit of a tome but might give you some answers. I think if we can bring all of our partners together, all of our stakeholders together to work out what we need to measure and how we can measure it, then maybe we can improve that going forward.

I just want to really just reaffirm that we will work really, really hard to make this a reality and to take all of the really helpful feedback that we've had from everybody that's participated in our review and in delivery of the National Islands Plan to date and continue to work super hard to deliver it.

Shona Robison

Thank you, Erica. Thank you all for that discussion and indeed all of the contributions made throughout the course of the morning. It is now time for lunchbreak, so you can see we can have until 1:45. If you could be back here at 1:45, that would be much appreciated, because we then have our discussion on green freeports that Richard Lochhead's going to chair and steer. Look forward to seeing you back then. Thank you.


Richard Lochhead

I hope everyone enjoyed their lunch. We are about to move on to the final agenda item, so it's now over to me to chair this bit of the day's proceeding. The subject, of course, is green freeports where everyone will have a chance to chip in to give us their views on where we're going in terms of making the most of the opportunity of our green freeports.

I just want to start off by just thanking everyone who's been involved, particularly people around this table, in the partnership approach, working also with the wider business community to support the delivery of the Green Freeport Programme in Scotland. That partnership approach is crucially important, especially going forward. It's been really important to get us to where we are now, but going forward it's going to be even more important.

I think we can all recognise the big, big opportunity that green freeport brings for our regional economy as well as, of course, the contribution it's going to make to Scotland achieving our net-zero targets in 2045 and the just transition. I am not the Just Transition Minister. I was up until this time last year. But the just transition of course, you all should be aware, is about creating good green jobs as we go through the transition towards a decarbonised society and making sure people are not left behind and there's good jobs. Clearly the green freeport has a big role to play in delivering that just transition.

You've got the paper. It's been circulated. That describes the tax and the funding incentives associated with the freeport. We were very pleased today and you may have read, your Press and Journal and the DFM's comments in that story where Scottish and UK ministers have reached an agreement to extend the window for the tax reliefs that come with the freeports from five to 10 years. We've now got that 10-year window.

Clearly again it's all about making the area in this region more attractive to investors to stimulate activity in new sectors - and the word new is very important there - new sectors as well as creating clusters in innovation around that and taking the cluster approach so that we [grow out] supply chains and all the jobs that go with that at the same time. Again it's all about long-term growth of the region and tackling depopulation and some of the other challenges we have in this part of the country.

At the heart of it is obviously the fact it's a green freeport, but also important principles is part of that. Fair work, for instance, is embedded in the freeport process to make sure we have good levels of pay, good jobs, good-quality jobs, good working conditions and everything that goes with that as well. The fair work agenda is at the heart of this as well in terms of the freeport in Scotland.

We've got a couple of speakers who are going to give us some presentations. We've got Alisdair McIntosh who's the Director of the Scottish Government's Green Freeports Programme. We've got the irrepressible Calum MacPherson who is our Chief Executive of Inverness and Cromarty Firth Green Freeport which is the freeport we're discussing today obviously. They're going to tell us about where we've got to, the impact and how we've got to this stage and where we're going next. Thank you for coming along. Without further ado, I'll hand to - I think Alisdair's going first and then, after that, Calum.

Alisdair McIntosh

Thank you very much, Minister. I'm very, very pleased to have the opportunity to speak a little bit about the programme today and also very pleased that Calum is able to join, fresh I think from discussions with the UK government's Office for Investment about the exciting pipeline of potential investments that may come to this region. I'll talk a little bit about the programme. Then Calum will bring it to life by describing the Inverness and Cromarty Firth Green Freeport's plans, the challenge that they're seeking to address, which the minister has already alluded to, and the opportunities they're seeking to realise for the region and indeed for Scotland's wider strategic goals. Though I must say that for editorial balance I will need to say just a few words about the complementary plans under development for the Forth Green Freeport.

You, I think, have a short briefing note. But things are moving so fast in the programme that there are at least three updates to make, the first of which the minister has alluded to and that is covered in the P&J this morning, which is the agreement between Scottish and UK ministers to extend the tax window to 2034, which will make the green freeports more attractive to investors and will support businesses to grow and to employ new staff over a longer time period.

The second update on the note is that Scottish and UK ministers have now given their formal approval to the outline business case for Inverness and Cromarty Firth Green Freeport. They are well on the way to approving the outline business case for the Forth Green Freeport. Now that's not, by any means, the end of the story, because both consortia have quite a lot of homework to do at pace to complete their full business cases. It's only when the full business cases are approved and the governments have concluded a formal agreement with the green freeports that the capital funding for enabling infrastructure to support the green freeports will begin to flow.

But importantly approval of the outline business case triggers the designation of the specific tax sites, which will mean that businesses landing there, businesses constructing their facilities there and businesses taking on new employees will be able to start claiming tax reliefs, which in turn brings me to the third update on the paper, which is a few hours ago the UK government laid the statutory instrument in the UK parliament, designating the tax sites for the Inverness and Cromarty Firth Green Freeport, which means that they will go live from 8 April, which is fantastic news and will make a lot of difference to some of the early investment prospects and no doubt Calum will allude to very diplomatically when he comments on state of play at Cromarty.

I'll say a few words about the objectives of the programme, the policy model, the levers and then a little about fair work and net zero - which the minister's already referred to, which are of particular importance to the Scottish Government - a little bit about the process from bidding to delivery and a thumbnail about the plans of the Forth Green Freeport. Then Calum will give you a taste of his plans and the opportunity they're seeking to unlock. We'll then be very happy to take any comments or questions, either in discussion or bilaterally after today.

Before I launch in, though, I think it's worth pointing out that this is a rather unusual programme with lots of moving parts and lots of moving partners across the private and public sector, between the consortia and the agencies, between the local authority and their partners, between the Scottish Government and the UK government. It's a fairly complicated programme. Its impact and its success will be very strongly influenced by the quality and strength of the partnerships that support it and how they align the very specific interventions and investments in the green freeports with other programmes and other supporting interventions to ensure that the programme can actually achieve a transformational effect. It's extremely good to have so many of the public sector partners, who have a part to play, around the table here today.

It's worth recapping briefly the objectives for the Green Freeport Programme, which were jointly agreed between the Scottish and UK governments. They're slightly different from the objectives for the English freeports when they first were launched back in 2021. The first thing to emphasise is the lead objective is a regeneration and high-quality job creation. The emphasis on high quality is extremely important. We'll come to talk about some of the fair work aspects of that in a moment. We agreed with the UK government that that was the lead objective and so, when we were looking at the bids for green freeport status, that was the dimension which was most closely scrutinised of the four key objectives.

Second objective was decarbonisation and just transition to net zero. Important to make the distinction here, both in relation to what the green freeports will do and how they will do it. It's in terms of the sectors they will support but also the way that they will approach the challenge of decarbonising their own operations. The third objective is to establish hubs for global trade and investment with particular emphasis, I would suggest, on the investment aspect. The fourth is creating poles of innovation by essentially creating clusters of high-value, advanced manufacturing capability in particular places.

On the basis of those key objectives, the two governments selected the strongest bids which were complementary in their activities. I think it's important to stress here that we're not simply talking about two individual green freeports. We are talking about a programme of coherent investment into different locations in Scotland.

This slide illustrates the basic policy model which the minister has already alluded to. Other more complicated diagrams are available on request. In essence, this is about using a series of targeted interventions to get particular businesses in particular sectors to locate, to grow, to employ people in high-quality jobs, creating clusters which will in turn generate more opportunities for high-value manufacturing.

The incentives supporting the programme can be - I mentioned in the briefing note but just quickly to run through them again here. Important to stress that some of the incentives are provided by the UK government in terms of the seed capital funding, in terms of the capital allowances, the structures and buildings allowance and the National Insurance contribution reliefs. Some are provided directly by the Scottish Government in land and building transactions tax relief. Some are provided by the local authorities, compensated by the Scottish Government in the form of nondomestic rates reliefs and also the ability to retain nondomestic rates revenue above a baseline level for an extended period in order to reinvest in the interventions in the wider area.

There is also a programme of support for the green freeports across both governments from mainstream programmes, for example trade and investment support from SDI and the Department for Business and Trade and also the Office for Investment, and interventions from sectoral programmes such as the [Offshore Wind Supply Chain Programme] which will have an important bearing on the success of the green freeports' own specific investments.

We sought, from the bidding consortia, clear commitments in relation to fair work, including the payment of the real living wage. We required the consortia to set out their strategies for how in practice they would embed fair work practices across the footprint of the green freeports. Now both consortia responded very positively to this challenge with a number of particular specific tools and measures to secure commitments from landowners and from businesses and also to secure financial contributions to support complementary investment in skills provision. I know that we'll come back to the issue of skills investment and the collective effort to support the skills agenda around the green freeport at a later point.

By the same token, we also chose bids for green freeports that would support renewables technology to accelerate Scotland's journey to net zero, but we also asked them to submit outline plans for how they would support the decarbonisation of their own operations. That was an important part of the business case appraisal process. There is more work needed on this front. There will be a further round of detailed discussion in the context of the full business case. But we are very confident that two consortia have made a very serious attempt not only to prioritise investments that will support the transition to net zero but also in their own operations to seek every opportunity to take a structured and strategic approach towards decarbonisation of their own footprint.

Following the selection of the winning bids, there are a number of steps to delivery, on which I don't think it's necessary to dwell today. But just to outline, some are administrative. Some are legislative. A lot of moving parts. But in a nutshell, we're working to get from the submission of the outline business cases in Inverness and Cromarty Firth case in October 2023, in the case of Forth Green Freeport at the end of November 2023, through to formal memoranda of understanding with the two governments in the second half of 2024 with tax sites up and running for both green freeports significantly before then. In parallel we are establishing a wide-ranging, robust and independently run monitoring and evaluation framework in partnership with the green freeports so that we can begin to track the investment, the activity, the outputs and the outcomes over time and report back on them to local stakeholders, to the two governments and to the parliaments both at Holyrood and at Westminster so that we can monitor the impact that the programme is having.

Before Calum tells you about Inverness and Cromarty Firth plans, I'll just give a quick snapshot - and possibly not a very legible snapshot from that slide - of the other one. The Forth Green Freeport will have three poles of activity, at Grangemouth, at Rosyth and Mid-Forth. Its goal is, in a nutshell, to achieve a step change in the reduction of carbon emissions in the Forth Estuary, focusing on clusters of offshore wind, alternative fuels, modular energy component manufacturing and advanced manufacturing including shipbuilding. Its ambitions are over time to attract about seven billion in investment and to create some 38,000 new jobs, 18,500 of those directly. It has plans to implement fair work and net zero charters and to create a dedicated skills fund to generate nearly £600 million in retained nondomestic rates revenue for reinvestment in the region over a period of 25 years.

A little benign competition, I think, for Inverness and Cromarty Firth. But I'm very pleased that the two consortia are working very closely together to exchange information and insights as they develop their plans which are distinct but we think complementary. At this point, I will hand over to Calum to make it real, I suppose.

Calum MacPherson

Hello. Hope you can hear me loud and clear, everyone. First of all, thank you very much for the opportunity to come today. It's great to see just so many familiar faces round the table, which tells us firstly what a close group we have in this region working together but also how old I am and all the different places I've worked. It's fantastic to be here today. What I'd like to do, further on to what Alisdair was saying, was just to try and articulate a little bit around the opportunity that is presented before us, not just for the Inner Moray Firth area but I think for the wider region - but also actually in the interests of collaboration and public sector, private sector working. I know these are words all of us have used over the years many times, but having been involved in many of them, I think this one is truly different.

Just why a freeport? Now I'm going to put out some numbers here. Sometimes the reaction to some of these numbers is almost disbelief, but I can absolutely guarantee you that we've been really rigorous, if anything pessimistic, on the interpretation of some of the numbers I'm about to present. I'm very happy to speak to anybody in the room afterwards on the basis on which these numbers were generated. We will be scrutinised on this closely by the Scottish Government and UK government, I am sure.

You'll know that offshore wind is bringing opportunity. There are 20 projects with a value of 28.8 billion. Almost certainly it's going to be more than that. Almost certainly not all of them will be built out, but even if the majority are, it still represents an amazing opportunity for the area. In terms of what that means onshore, that's about £1 billion per gigawatt. These are significantly expensive projects. If I say that for the 20 lots that have been allocated to date, estimates range that before a single pound is earned, those consortiums will have spent between 150 and 200 million on licences, consenting studies, work. You'll understand that these are big numbers that are being played in a serious game. So what it is also is, is an irrefutable fact that if the UK as a whole is to enjoy this boom is that we already have a real deficit in quayside capability.

Why? Why are we doing this? Why is the region - why have so many people, and their organisations round this table, really put their heart and soul into this? Ladies and gentlemen, I know any room I would have had to speak to on this subject, I know that you know more than most that we have a real challenge, a real crisis in fact. The last census demonstrated that we lost 3.7 per cent of our working-age population in the Highlands as a whole. Apologies, these are Highland figures. I'm sure some people in this room could show me even worse figures. We have an opportunity here to address that once and for all, for reasons I'll explain in future slides, but we cannot allow this to happen for another 10 years. We just cannot. We certainly can't allow it to happen for another 20 years.

If we lose another seven per cent of our working-age population in an area the size of Belgium in Scotland, then we are in serious economic bother, I would suggest. But rather than be too negative about that, it just so happens that at a time when this depopulation is becoming particularly acute, we have an opportunity and one that I'm glad to say that we're in pole position to grasp.

It's somewhat amusing to me or ironic in some ways that for a very long time being in the windy, wet end of Europe with all the mountains and all the sea lochs that prevent you building roads has been a significant disadvantage. It's now turning into the single best advantage in European terms. But the picture you've got up on the screen there, an innocent map of the Inner Moray Firth but, in actual fact, a configuration that's unique in Europe. One of our main investors at Ardersier, Quantum, a big American fund, has already spent 11 months looking around every nook and cranny in Europe from Norway to Spain. They decided, without any doubt, that was the location. Further to that, they said if it doesn't happen in this location, then offshore wind isn't happening in Europe. That's not a sales pitch by me. That's by somebody who spent many tens of millions doing their due diligence. For that reason, I think we're at a unique place and a unique opportunity.

We have three main clusters. We have, I'm pleased to say, Ardersier which is the largest brownfield development site in the UK. We have Inverness and the Campus, which is a real focus and a real trust port but our main population centre. Then in true Highland style, we stretched our third location into a sort of elongated point, but we've got two or three well-established, very large yards there already. That little sea inlet up there is again uniquely capable of taking about 50 or 70 of the largest marine infrastructures ever built. There's not many places - well, in fact there's no other places that have those three magic ingredients. We have deep water. We have existing harbours and ports. Then we have a port where unlike Rotterdam you can get in and out without having to fill in an air traffic control form and wait for your slot that lasts one hour. We add those three components in. It makes us truly unique in Europe context, so it's no wonder that there are billions lining up to come to do what we need to do here.

I think just to exemplify that, this is Ardersier which has sat vacant for 25 years and has been brought to life just now. I've said to you that's already the largest brownfield site in UK. I'll come on to this throughout my presentation. But I want to leave you with this, because I've said it a few times. I've said it in London and I've said it in Edinburgh and I'll keep saying it everywhere I go. Outside Sizewell B, this is the biggest industrial development in our lifetimes in the UK. It's truly huge in European scale. We're only just beginning to get the message out there, but thankfully quite a lot of people in this room already know this and have a strong belief in that fact.

That there is an image of what's happened. I have to say that you'll see in that image a lot of components that have been laid down. Of course, our ambition for Scotland and our ambition for the UK goes beyond just marshalling and assembly. It goes to manufacturing. If we don't get manufacturing, we've lost a big piece of this, so we will do that absolutely in going forward. That's just one of our four or five key areas. There's another one as well that was Nigg. It's a very large area that we have to recognise is probably the busiest site at the moment in terms of offshore assembly and marshalling and engineering, so we've already got that. It's got the largest dry dock site in Europe. They're already attracting significant interest.

This is a graph by a not-so-skilled economist, i.e. me. But I wanted to convey something as well. First of all, before I go into that - and I mentioned earlier about the public, private next year. I think we've seen lots of private, public initiatives in the past in lots of areas. This involved about 30 organisations, driving it in some ways from the ground up.

I have to say one thing that really impressed me when I came back from 12 years in the private sector in infrastructure is that around the table, first of all, we had our public sector partners. I'm going to name specifically, if I may, Highland Council, Skills Development Scotland and Highlands and Islands Enterprise. They put staff into this who, with the private sector people, were around the table, burning the midnight oil on many occasions. You would not know who was working for who. Everybody believed in it, absolutely. That's come through in the submission we've made. Every time I've gone, I was down in Whitehall last week, the DBT, and one of the things that really came across was that this area is really focused and passionate about this. We really mean it.

One of the other things I convey as many times as I can is that there are a few sceptics who say, 10,000/12,000 people working in the Highlands? I don't believe it. That's not really going to happen. I point towards the graph that you see there now. I think it's always important to look a little bit back into history. In the 1950s and '60s, after the war, it was determined that we would have hydropower. If the same hydropower infrastructure was built today, it would be about £5 billion worth. This region geared up to do that. In that time, there were many, many areas of the Highlands which were heavily populated by people dedicated to delivering hydropower, including my grandfather.

If you go into oil and gas, in the 1960s and '70s, we had 12,000 people on two locations alone in Ardersier and Nigg. That legacy remains to this day in terms of that infrastructure and what was there. As somebody reminded me the other day there, there was a local guy called [Rapson] who bought a few minibuses to ferry people back and forward. That became Rapsons Coaches which has evolved into many other big businesses since then.

This one's different in that we don't necessarily expect a spike up and a spike down. It's going to take a good few more years to build up, although I have to say the pace is picking up faster than even I imagined. We're going to have a boom in terms of construction and what happens here. But then this is a programme that's going to take 50 to 100 years to build out, so this is an opportunity for multigenerational change that, for once and all, will make this part of Scotland and this part of the UK a strong economic contributor rather than, as it was said in the formation of HIE, something in the conscious of the - the Highland had been the conscience of the country. That's really a prize to go for. We had 700 kids last week in Alness Academy, all fourth years from across the Highlands coming in to really learn about the opportunity, because for the first time in a generation, in many generations, they don't have to leave here to get a good job. That's sinking in slowly but surely.

Those are the positive sides of it. You'll see we've done it before, but this time we're going to do it better and it's going to have a longer-term impact.

Having given you the positive sales pitch and the opportunities there - and by the way, just to be absolutely clear is I think a year from now if you're here, we'll see that the amount of investment that's been announced surpasses what we've suggested, because all being well, in the next three weeks, we hope the tax site will go active. We've already had commitment, if not final sign-off but commitment, for about 600 million to 700 million before we've actually become active. I should say that in all the years I've been involved in economic development and looking up here in this part of the world, the amount of visitors from across the world to this site is unbelievable. SDI, [UKT], DBT and others have recognised the volume of particularly Asian, North American and European investors coming to have a look around. It's a conveyor belt. If you don't believe me, ask the owner of the Kingsmills Hotel in Inverness who is a very, very happy man.

What are some of the challenges in this? I'm going to say the first two. If the offshore wind developers and others were in this room, they would make this plea, so I think it's important that I convey this. I mentioned that I know at least one and probably more spending 150 million to 200 million before they earn a brass coin. This is not oil and gas. I asked recently one of the consortium who's an oil and gas guy through and through. He said it's not untypical, in exploiting a new oil and gas well, to put half a billion in. You may or may not get some black stuff coming up. Obviously, they try and minimise that risk by doing their geo-surveys and everything before.

In this industry, £150 million to £200 million for each of those 20 sites. Now they're going to get wind, because they know the wind's coming, but nevertheless it's a long burn. If we can in any way and if anybody in this room can do anything to help accelerate the consenting process and the correspondent grid connection - for every six months that's shortened, it means billions for our economy. I'll say that again. For every six months we can cut off this process means billions for our economy.

The two other areas which again will be extremely familiar to everybody in this room, people retention and attraction are key. But what I would say is that since we've started doing this, we - working with Skills Development Scotland and other colleagues, we know that we haemorrhaged about 2,500 young people from our area every year. To be clear, 8,000-odd leave, only [six-and-a-bit thousand] come back. We're losing that many people on a recurring basis. The fact that we have a University of the Highlands and Islands and other academic partners, the fact we've got so much to offer now is starting to build all the blocks to mean that doesn't need to happen. Instead of people leaving, we can retain them.

There's a huge amount, including me for 12 years, of people who drive along the A96 or down the A9 every single Monday morning. If they're lucky, they come back on the Friday. I'd love to do more stats on that, but I'm absolutely certain it's thousands. I know at one point in Moray they reckon it was 2,000 to 3,000 people left to go and work in Aberdeen on a regular basis. That's a huge amount that's here, so I have every belief that we can - a huge proportion of that, 10,000 new workforce that we're looking for can be rescued from our own population.

Also I'm particularly pleased that Derek's here from Highland Council, because I know it's something he's passionate on around - the amount of young folk I'm speaking to all the time - and I coach young kids at shinty and other sports. The amount of them that are saying, I think there's a traineeship or apprenticeship. Excellent, because those are the people we need to start thinking that way that higher education is a big part of it, but there are also other options. In fact, they can do higher education now in a vocational setting as well. We need to get that brainset going.

But the last one - and I might even hit the table a few times, sorry - housing, housing, housing. Why? We're in the most sparsely populated area in Europe. We've got a burning demand. I think there's about 5,800 people on the waiting list in the Inner Moray Firth for housing. It's the top two questions I get asked by any inward investor is housing. What particularly frustrates it all, what particularly animates me around this is that - when I was brought up, I lived in Strathpeffer. There were three or four streets. They were all hydro housing. If you go to all sorts of corners of the Highlands and Islands, there's hydro housing.

This is not new. We knew this was coming. We know this is coming. I know it's not a simple black-and-white issue. I don't believe it's about money, because I believe that there's enough investment coming in here now that they would help compensate that. I know, because we're having conversations, there are investors who would be open to buying 200, 300 houses if that's what's needed. Let's just do this. Let's make it happen. There's a huge opportunity to make this roll forward.

I might throw out an ambition. I would really like to think we get to the situation where in two or three years' time we really agree that we need to be putting out - and by the way, when I say keyworker accommodation, I don't just mean energy workers. Across the whole of the Highlands and Argyll and Moray, I suspect that keyworker accommodation is becoming, in my opinion, the core building block to future sustainability, because we need nursery school nurses, nurses, doctors, posties. We need agricultural staff. We need the hospitality staff. Unless you offer them somewhere to put their head down and have a bit of pride about, then it's a real challenge.

For me, I think the tempo in this should change. Personally, I think we should be aspiring to have 500 to 1,000 new affordable rental units in the, across the Highlands and Islands annually, that kind of scale. If we are here in three years' time and we're still talking low hundreds of affordable houses and flat units, my own personal view is the numbers I've talked about earlier will start to crash, because what we'll have and is already the case, we'll have temporary work camps with hundreds if not thousands of people working in them. They'll go as soon as they're finished. I think we have the ability around this table and an ambition to make that happen. But I also know, because the Highlands are loved for the way they are, that getting people to change their view on housing is not easy. But that's something I see the freeport and other parts of government to help drive through. I'll stop wittering on about housing now, I promise. Well, until next year.

My last slide and then really open to questions on this. I truly believe that if we work and if we work hard on this that we'll be in a situation whereby, in the next 10 to 20 years, we will undoubtedly have Europe's largest main engineering hub. We're already most of the way there. Just to give you one idea, on Ardersier alone, they're talking about one-and-a-half kilometres of quayside. The folks at [Ezburg] and Denmark and other places like that are over here quite a lot to try and understand what we're doing, because they see it as the main competition.

Green hydrogen is huge. Discussions with UK and Scottish governments are progressing around this. But if we unlock the way in which transmission is charged, if we did that, I'd get you 200 million or 300 million investment in the next year. Promise you, because they're lining up to do it. But at the moment, if you add a gigawatt of power onto what's happening north of Beauly, it's regarded as a gigawatt of problem where, in actual fact, it's a gigawatt solution. But the way that you calculate transmission cables at the moment, that's a problem. We have a huge opportunity to drive this forward, but because of the way it's calculated, because of the linked pricing - again the counterfactual I would suggest to you is that for every - sorry, I'll put this matter. For every year we don't get that sorted, it's costing billions of economic development and thousands of jobs. I understand it's a complicated area.

The last one I'd leave you with is that what's been talked about here just now is, by some quantum, Scotland's largest industrial development in our lifetimes. Just so you think I'm not throwing unresearched facts around, it's about four or five times a St James Centre. Right now there's an estimated two billion of transmission work, an estimated 2.5 billion in pump storage and an estimated three billion - and that's a careful estimation - of this in the freeport zone [we have]. That puts us at second rank in the UK after Sizewell B in terms of scale of industrial development driving forward. You can see why I'm excited about it.

I know why our partners round this table have committed significant resourcing and the vision that was given by those at the very start, Raymond and others, to help get this where we are is I think something that in generations to come people will say, an opportunity came and we didn't miss it. But I also would like everybody's support in broadening this opportunity out beyond the Inner Moray Firth. I've lived in Skye. I've lived in Lochaber. I know the concerns there are in some ways that this is a magnet which will maybe damage some of our areas. Be assured we're speaking to every port and harbour in Scotland, because the opportunities here go beyond just what's happening in our region. There are lots of fabricators, welders, electricians and tradespeople across the whole region who will have benefits to this. We owe it to ourselves and we owe it to the wider area to make sure the benefit isn't just in our small, confined area.

As I say, hopefully that's conveyed the reason why we're extremely grateful for the support we've had from everybody round this table, why I think in generations to come this will be regarded as the biggest opportunity we've seen in our lifetime and why the numbers tell us it's the biggest industrial development in our generation. Thank you very much.

Richard Lochhead

Thanks, Calum. You can keep going for another hour if you want. That was quite positive. I like the positivity. We need a lot more of that. Yeah. Thanks very much to Alisdair and Calum. I think Calum, in his very powerful remarks, outlined that we're talking about, with the freeport being combined with the green energy revolution which affects all organisations round this room, not just Cromarty Firth, with it being multigenerational and not just a boom which is then going to unwind in a few years but is here for a long, long time, [is] a very powerful point. Obviously, the scale and ambition and the potential but also the urgency of doing the right things to make it all happen was a point you made very clearly. Thank you for that. Does anyone want to ask direct questions to Calum or Alisdair or make a comment? Do you want to go first?

Raymond Bremner

Yes, absolutely. I think Calum probably knew I'd be one of the first hands up in here.

Richard Lochhead

Yeah, we all knew that.


Raymond Bremner

This is an example of what you can achieve if you really put your mind to it and if you really have the foresight and the vision to believe in yourself, because many of us who were involved in this - when I was a director right at the start. To try and think that could we ever get it over the line - because the competition was fierce. The competition was scarce - the competition was fierce and the competition was lined up there. But for all that we had heard that we were technically the best bid that was ever going to be on the table, you just never knew about it until it actually landed. Then when it lands, that's when the reality actually hits you. It becomes a very scary thought, Alisdair, then. All the agencies and everybody that bought into it actually then thinks, crikey, this might become a reality.

When I met Calum for the first time in a long time - our paths crossed many, many years ago. Ealasaid will be delighted to know that it was because of Gaelic that Calum and I's paths crossed many years ago. But to hear Calum and the enthusiasm that he's put across there just now, that's how many of us felt when we were discussing this in the council chambers and understanding how transformational this could be. That's why I have to say we were more than just a little disappointed when this was the brief that we got on the green freeports as an update, because there's a number of - as you say, it's the urgency and the understanding of how we need to move forward with this to be able to realise everything and not to miss the boat, because it will be a catastrophic opportunity missed.

The first thing is we met with the Minister for Housing, Paul McLennan. Some of our officers met. There was a consideration or there was a very positive consideration for us in terms of a ministerial oversight group in terms of all the ministerial portfolios that would be looked at in terms of housing, in terms of infrastructure. It would be good to get an update on where that is and what the consideration of that is now and to have that fed back to us, because that to me is a very important factor in being able to take a lot of the points that you've made there just now.

If we're going to make this move, Calum, as you said, it needs to move with power behind it. That has to come in terms of ministerial and departmental support. The recognition and the support from national government agencies to promote a joint Team Scotland approach to the opportunities within the green freeport particularly and facilitating the promotion to potential inward investors, which would sit under that group, and for me as well actually to make sure that the interests - because there's lots of interests between lots of parties and lots of players within that again. To be able to make sure that there's that kind of control element and that kind of steering element that's there for me is very important. The maximum use of flexibility offered through emerging planning regulations, which we talked about earlier on, such as the Masterplan Consent Areas, not just in respect of being freeport activities but also in respect of the housing required for the future workforce...

One last thing, because the green freeport - you had it in your slides there just now, Calum, but the green freeport is one of two or three really, really big opportunities and projects that we've got. You're seeing the investment in terms of SSEN. Council's sitting there, having these high-level discussions with the partners that are playing in there just now. We have to have the supporting infrastructure there to be able to make sure - that all has to move at the same pace and at the same time so that it's able to complement each other. Folks, we need to understand that this is big. It's massive. It's transformational. It demands a lot of time and a lot of focus and a lot of vision from an awful lot of people around the table. HIE and [ourselves] and many others will pick this up as part of the REP focus going forward as well, but there's so many of us that share your enthusiasm around the table here just now. I think that if we'd reversed the agenda today and this would have been the first one on the agenda, it would have set us up just grand.

Shona Robison

We want to end on a high.

Raymond Bremner

It certainly does.

Richard Lochhead

It's got the big slot on the agenda, though, at 90 minutes. We recognise that. It's the end of the day to keep you all awake and wait for the best till last as the DFM said. Do you want to come back on any of those points, Calum, briefly?

Calum MacPherson

Sorry. You talked about the partnership approach that we've had. One aspect I think that has worked really, really well and I think - if I may, Deputy First Minister and Minister - should be preserved at all costs is that we've got - in the public sector, we've got the rigour and the long-term vision. Then from the private sector, we've got the pace and focus. If you have both of them geared in the right way and you don't let either side - that right balance, I'm confident this can [continue] to drive, because it's been a really good dynamic, probably the best balance of dynamic I've seen in any public partnership. I've been involved in quite a few across the UK. If that could be preserved...

But this issue about early pace, one of the things that from an engineering perspective you'll all recognise is the Gantt chart. If one block's moving slowly, it's got the ability to knock everything else off. I think the Gantt chart block I'm most worried about is housing. Ironically or thankfully, it's one of those areas which I think we actually can do something about ourselves rather than having to wait till international markets or other things intervene.

Richard Lochhead

Deputy First Minister wanted to say something?.

Shona Robison

First of all, just an acknowledgement of the progress and the amount of work that the partners have done around the table. I think Calum has articulated it very well and very positively that the alignment and everybody, despite working for different sectors, have remained and continue to remain very focused on the prize.

I think in terms of the key challenges - we've got a big opportunity to make progress on consenting and the explicit commitment from the First Minister around that acceleration. There is an issue of planning capacity and support, which we need to address. We're working on that, but we need to work collectively to address that. We absolutely need UK government around critical grid infrastructure. We raise it probably every meeting I've been at to say this is a major impediment. We need to have a focus on improvements.

On housing, so the challenge - and then I'll set out the opportunity. The challenge is the reduction in capital budgets over the next few years is not conducive to investment in infrastructure. A bit wrongheaded in my opinion, but we are where we are. There's also - you might be aware that financial transactions have underpinned our Affordable Housing Supply Programme and they've reduced by 62 per cent. Those two things coming at the same time are not good for our Affordable Housing Supply Programme, so what can we do that's different around different models? We've been turning our attention to things like build to lease, build to rent where we can, in partnership with the private sector, lever in infrastructure investment.

Now one of the things we announced last year was around keyworker housing. Could we partner with private sector that either is an existing investor or investors that want to come? They've got clearly a stake in helping to make these improvements. What we need is a business model that can work to deliver it, so we need to test what can we done to deliver the investment to get a different model off the ground. That might be about Scottish Government derisking. Paul McLennan's been looking at that in some detail. It comes back to perhaps we need to start to test some of that out. Maybe that's a discussion that could be followed up. I don't know what the latest discussions you've been having with Paul, but I'll certainly take that back as something that absolutely needs our urgent attention. We have been looking at business models generally, but we need to test it somewhere. Maybe this would be the opportunity.

Richard Lochhead

There's a couple of folk that want in. I think there's someone over here. It was yourself, yeah.

Euan McVicar

Yeah. Really just, Minister, to echo some of what's Calum's been saying, because at Crown Estate Scotland we are delighted that the vision behind ScotWind is now bringing this focus on Scottish offshore wind. The scale of the opportunity is being noticed globally. That's fantastic. But now the barrier to us generating rents, which we can contribute to the exchequer from those projects, are the things that Calum has outlined and, in particular, grid. It does require a very joined-up approach across a number of different bodies and across the whole of the UK to deliver solutions to those grid problems. That's a key issue.

Attracting and creating a sense of momentum around the planning and consenting approach is important for a number of reasons, not just to give people comfort that the amount of development expenditure they're having to put out there is going to be manageable but also in terms of attracting the professional and technical skills that are required to deliver these projects and for which there's a huge amount of global competition. ScotWind isn't the only market that's trying to develop its scale and there's limited technical resource that's required. Yes, housing is something that we hear from developers again and again and again that's concerning them. I do wonder whether there might be opportunities to try and bring them into part of the solution and part of the funding models around that. I think there's definitely opportunities around that.

But if we don't make progress on some of these issues, the danger is the capital starts to drift elsewhere. But the potential is huge. We're very much committed to helping work across Team Scotland to find solutions to that. It's also really encouraging to hear about the progress that's been made, that you’ve announced today that Alisdair and Calum have told us about. I think that also really helps drive momentum forward on this. If progress can be made on the Forth as well, that's going to be even better for the Scottish story and selling that globally.

Richard Lochhead


Chris Brodie

Thank you. Thank you, Calum. I've been watching the numbers around ScotWind and hydrogen for a number of years now. You hear billions of pound of investment, but actually your presentation just brought powerfully to life the opportunity that's presented for the region off the back of both ScotWind and the freeport.

We're really pleased to have had the ability to have a small part in supporting the work that you're leading on. My colleagues, Stephen Sheridan and Derek Cairns, have been heavily involved in writing the outline business case for fair work and skills, also developing a 10-point plan for skills. Now I'm not going to read out all 10 points, you'll be pleased to know, but maybe just picking out a couple of aspects of that plan which I think have actually got some resonance with the conversations we were having this morning.

Part of it is about ensuring that, yeah, we're focusing on young people and we've got that curriculum offer in schools right and we've got careers advice right so that young people are thinking about the opportunities that are going to be presented. It's absolutely about getting people back into work and into the labour market. There was a [basket of work] around targeted employability support provided by colleagues in the councils and also DWP, a lot of focus on building the pathways to skilled green jobs and recognising that this, as you said, is a generational opportunity. I think the real innovation about using some of the resource that's going to be generated from the freeport to support not just the development of your provision but also bursaries and scholarships.

We've had a lot of conversation about housing. I'm possibly about to take my life in my hands here, but I'm going to do it. I'm also a member of the South of Scotland Regional Economic Partnership. I was down there on Friday. The South of Scotland partnership has developed, I think, a really interesting and innovative approach to wrestling with that problem of housing development in the South of Scotland. Now I know the situations in the Highlands and Islands and the south are different, but I think there's an opportunity to go round and speak to Russel and the team who are leading in that work to pick up on some of the ways in which they're looking to get the private sector engaged in that housing development challenge.

Richard Lochhead

Thank you. I'll take Vicki and then Malcolm.

Vicki Nairn

Thank you. I'd agree with everything Chris has just said about skills and about the 10-point plan. I think, from a university perspective, I applaud everything that's been done. We sit on the board and happy to do so, happy to support. I think for me what this will drive is research and collaboration to a level we've never seen before, especially in the North of Scotland and how that plays in terms of knowledge transfer, technology transfer and then links back in to the ecosystem of the skills lifecycle. I was really pleased to...


...signals a real change in terms of learning patterns, so young people now want to learn trades. You've still got a fair few who want to go and do traditional degrees. But they want to learn trades, because they can see what's happening in their area. As Calum said, probably for the first time ever now, they don't have to leave. They can choose to leave if they want to, but they don't have to leave.

The more we can build innovation around this and entrepreneurship and thought leadership that then links into solid educational offerings and then links into some of the things that we're already doing with the ScotWind partners around bursaries, around funding student programmes, actually it becomes a really powerful driver for how you actually use all these different constituent parts of public and private sectors to fund the ecosystem linked to community engagement, becomes incredibly powerful. Then if we try and link it to some of those bigger things that we talked about earlier in the day - and perhaps that's where the REP comes in, actually all of a sudden you've got this fantastic ecosystem for the North of Scotland.

Richard Lochhead


Malcolm Mathieson

Yeah. Thanks. First of all, I'll declare an interest here. I'm Vice Chair of Inverness Harbour Trust which, of course, is one of Calum's ports.

But from a Crofting Commission perspective, just to make everybody aware that we're quite happy to work with partners in terms of any consents that are needed. For those that don't know, the Crofting Commission actually regulates 10 per cent of Scotland's land mass. It's not just remote and rural areas. We've got some of our colleagues here from the islands. But within a mile of our office in Inverness, there are crofts, for example. If it requires Crofting Commission participation in terms of consents, in terms of de-crofting, please come and ask us. Please come and ask us early, whether that's for housing or whether it's for any industrial developments.

There is a criticism I've seen levied in the media over the last few months, saying that the Crofting Commission or the crofting system is a barrier especially to housing development. That's not true. We need people to ask us. We can't de-croft land. We can't develop houses. We need someone to come and ask us. I can assure you that when it comes we look at it very, very seriously. One small example is both spaceports in the Highlands needed Crofting Commission consent to go ahead and both of them got them. You probably don't know that, because it was just done as a matter of course for the regional benefit that was going to come from it. Just an offer to everybody, please engage with us before doing anything else. Thanks.

Richard Lochhead

Thanks. That's a helpful offer. Take note of that definitely. Does anyone else want to come before we let Calum back in? Alastair.

Alastair Dodds

Thanks. Thanks, Minister. I'd just like to say thank you to Raymond and other partners. I think they've done a fantastic job on this and have kept momentum. That's come out today. It's been absolutely important. That includes the Scottish Government as well. I think that same partnership has to be there going forward. We have to break down barriers and we have to work together. I was particularly pleased recently to see Ms McAllan's new role, join up the economy and net zero. I think that's a really important step forward to get the funds that we need here. I'd also include Crown Estate Scotland and the Scottish National Investment Bank. I think there are a number of areas that we can get resource into the green freeport.

It's quite interesting. I think Calum mentioned Ardersier and Nigg in the past. We talk about the need to get people and skills. There was a significant number, I think five-figure number working in Nigg and Ardersier in the '70s that came from nowhere. There are still a lot of people in this area who are going away from the area to work in this kind of energy sector.

I was really pleased to hear the DFM's remarks about the private sector involvement in this, because I think somewhere like the Inner Moray Firth, housing must have a significant private sector input. It's not like you're going to Ullapool or you're going to some other remoter part of the area. You're talking about a significant part of population. I would hope that they are really interested, DFM, in that, because it's the kind of joint model that we need to take this forward.

One of the things I did see, I was reading the august journal, The Ullapool News at the weekend. There was an advert there for an event in the Spectrum Centre in Inverness, talking against green freeports. I don't know if we're putting information out about the benefits. This advert was coming out with the kind of thing that there'll be no living wage, not the real living wage, no living wage. There'll be no employment conditions, which is absolute nonsense. I think it's really important that we start to put out information about the benefits to the wider public, because again it comes to attracting people to the area in future.

Just mention another thing. I think it's really important that the wider benefits of the green freeport go across the Highlands and Islands, so I'd like to see benefits going to Scrabster as I'm sure Raymond would. I'd like to see benefits going to Kishorn. But I've also been talking to other council leaders recently. There are real opportunities from ScotWind and other developments, from Shetland. Been talking to Heather last week about at Scapa Flow and the benefits that are possible round there. You go right down Argyll. It's incredible, the amount of opportunity if we're prepared to invest in our port infrastructure. I know there's a fund for that. But it's really important that we do use it, because these benefits should be shared across the Highlands and Islands. I've never seen, if we handle this properly, a better time to take real opportunities going forward.

The last thing that I'd pick up is the investments are already happening. I don't think Calum talked about this by name, but Sumitomo are about to have their ground-cutting event coming up. We're talking about, I think, £350 million investment. Huge. That's already starting. As soon as you get that first brick, it does attract others. I think we've got to take advantage of that, so really good things happening and just thanks to all those involved.

Richard Lochhead

Thank you. Derek?

Derek Brown

Thanks, Minister. I just want to make a few observations as somebody who probably was attracted to the region partly by the green freeport policy with the other great opportunities that will come from that and other energy developments. What I think is really interesting about this, Minister, is here you've got a clear [structured-in] collaboration between the public and private sector on a scale that just wasn't there to support oil and gas. Had it been, we'd have been in a much more sustainable position, so I think that is definitely the first thing to say.

When we've got a clear ask of industry - and this is the lessons I think the team's learned from Highland Council and I, working alongside the private sector and Calum. When you've got a clear set of industry asks, you've got the responsibility to find those supply-side solutions. It's quite clear the supply-side solutions are in relation to workforce planning and housing with the interplay between all three. Anything that can speed that up is very attractive at this stage for the economic benefit and also the cost benefit of it. I suppose that's why we're advocating some sort of ministerial oversight.

But on the basis that this 28 gigawatts of additional power coming onshore from the ScotWind developments has to go somewhere, there needs to be a connection between this and the transmission process or project, hence the importance of getting the relationship right between the green freeport and the SSEN [pace] of work. I think that's how the rest of the Highlands and Islands actually are going to share in this wealth actually in the future, because that should be about transporting the energy and the wealth and the jobs around the whole place. That's really about Scotland and the UK's energy security in the future.

On the housing solutions, happy to learn from anybody anywhere else, but we know what the housing solutions are. Calum's mentioned hydro housing. We've had schemes before that we can do at scale. The issue is how do we attract that external private equity? There are various mechanisms that could be attractive to us. Then how do we get the propositions in place so we can build at scale? Because again pace is critical here.

There's a broader question, I think, for Scottish Government just about Scotland is - and that's why I think the Team Scotland for this piece of work is a really important piece of language, because obviously Scotland needs to be an investable proposition. Here we've got a brilliant example about why you would want to invest in Scotland and how you could do it. I think it's really important that we go to potential investors with something really clean that they can invest in, because I think there would be guaranteed return here. This is clearly an investable proposition. We could bring in major private equity into Scotland in a way that we haven't done before properly. Thank you.

Gary Campbell      

Yeah. Just to underline some of the points that have been made about housing, Deputy First Minister, you spelt out the issues around finance, the capital budget, financial transactions, fantastic work that's being done by the Housing Minister in discussions about the potential for partnerships. We've got, with the green freeport, incredible ambition, fantastic scale. It'd be good to match that ambition and scale with our approach to housing to go beyond the work that's already being done and to look at resetting the economic model for the provision of affordable housing to house the keyworkers which are critical, as Calum has explained, to this project and to all the issues that we've discussed around the table today.

I would urge government to look back at the ambition shown after the Second World War by government in introducing legislation which paved the way for the creation of Scotland's new towns, to build on the fantastic work done by the Scottish Land Commission and again to look at how we can quickly reset the economic model for the provision of affordable housing on the scale that we need for this project and others.

Richard Lochhead

Thanks. Raymond?

Raymond Bremner

Just very quickly. You cannot help but miss or notice that - it's not missed on many of us round the table. We'll all have considerations in terms of green freeport in the Inverness and Inner Moray Firth area and the benefits that some of us can see outwith that area as well so that it's - just to bring it home to the Convention of Highlands and Islands. But to the Deputy First Minister, you mentioned earlier on about at least once a week that you're on the blower to the UK government in terms of...

Shona Robison


Raymond Bremner

Yeah. Some of us wouldn't mind if you wouldn't do that on a 24-hour basis, because a lot of us here who attend other forums - and Paul, you know yourself the UK Islands Forum - this is something that we have talked about. It would be good to get some sort of understanding just how do we accelerate or promote this even? Because if you're talking about the level of investment that we are actually talking about here, it's absolutely vital important that a convention of this nature with all the interests that we have in terms of renewable energy and green energy - not just green freeport connectivity. We're talking about infrastructure, grid infrastructure all over. I know that Emma's made it in terms of Shetland and the Orkneys, Western Isles, ourselves, onshore and offshore. Could you let us know? Is there some - what can we do to ramp that up? Because you can hear how desperately absolute the requirement is to be able to see what we can do about ramping up the delivery of that.

Shona Robison

I think every opportunity and every forum and every interaction with the UK government, the same points should be getting made. The UK Islands Forum that's coming up is another opportunity. It is going to be one of the top of our list of new opportunities, obviously going to be a change. That sometimes brings momentum itself and fresh look at things and impetus. We'll continue [on our] - and every minister, I think, has been raising this issue as a key impediment that needs to be resolved. But every organisation around this table should be doing likewise. There could be communication from CoHI as well, I think, in terms of an outcome of this meeting. We'll continue to make the case as absolutely critical.

I should just say, while this is on my mind, we will give some consideration, if it's not been agreed already, about your suggestion and your ask around ministerial oversight. Now whether or not we're able to pull the UK government into that in some way, I don't know. It can be difficult. That's a whole other session. But I think there's something about looking at the wider building blocks here, not just the freeport and the technical bits which, of course, progress has been made with the UK government, but the surrounding issues as well. We'll take that away and give some consideration about what that might look like. Please be assured that the grid connection issues are critical here. We need to just keep banging at that door. Then if there's a new door, we make sure that's number 1 ask.

Richard Lochhead

Okay. Has anyone not spoken who wants to come in before we go back to Calum for a response to some of the points he's heard or indeed, Alisdair, if you want to come back in as well? Calum, do you want to respond? I think you were earlier on trying to get in, but you can now just round up.

Calum MacPherson

It's okay. I won't be too long. Just two points.

I want to just go back to Alastair's point about there has been some deliberately mischief making, talking about things that freeports are and are not. Just for your information, Alastair, that same group wrote to every councillor in the Highland Council, so we wrote to every councillor in the Highland Council just to put them straight on some of the myths that were being put out there.

Yeah, I should say that until three weeks have passed and our legislation has passed, I'm being slightly careful what I say. For example, there are a number of big investments that you referred to as well, Alastair. They have absolutely predicated their interest upon us achieving freeport status. Therefore one has to be careful about saying things are - I know everybody understands this, but there are certain things that - and investors who are holding back until they are clear that we actually have tax status. In three weeks and two days' time, I can assure you'll hear quite a lot more singing about what is coming and what can be done here.

If I may just finish on this, back to my public sector rigour and long-term vision and private sector pace and focus, I'm just going to draw right down again on this issue of housing. I'm sorry, Deputy First Minister. The ministerial oversight and things are welcome. That'd be great. I deliberately didn't, in what I said, talk about money, because I don't think it's actually about money. For example, about half a mile from here, there's a development called [Covsee]. It was 256 military houses that were built with private money 25 years ago. Now I would argue, for the public sector's point of view, that should have reverted 100 per cent back to the public sector after it was 25 years, but anyway that's another issue around PFI.

But there are plenty of models out there whereby if we just minimise the risk sufficiently, then we - I'm confident we could get private sector investment. I'm happy to work with anybody at the modelling around that. But if we did - for example, using some of the nondomestic rate funds we're talking about, help with some of the servicing, the planning - I would argue if you gave somebody an opportunity for a site with a core tenancy agreement for the next 20 years, you'd have a queue. There are ways to do that without leaning on an already extremely pressured public sector purse. For me, it's about getting those models put down.

I'll take one particular point here if I may. I spent 12 years in housing as well. Things like the well-intentioned regulations around affordable housing, there are unintended consequences of some of those things have happened regarding, for example, sprinklers for anything over two storeys. Extremely well intentioned. The consequences, tens of millions of pounds extra cost in getting affordable housing over the line. There must be ways in which we recognise there's an economic and societal imperative to not just take it as read that all these things must stay as they are, because if everybody does exactly what they've done before, we'll get exactly what we've got which is a process which is long and expensive. I'm not asking for money. Asking for your help. As I said, I think this is something we don't need any influence from anywhere else on. I think people around this room could do it. We could drive that forward.

The last thing I'll say is if you want somebody to do a pilot for 500 houses in Scotland to see how this model works, then we've got a fantastic location to help you out on that one.

Shona Robison

Sounds good.

Richard Lochhead

Okay, well, thanks very much. Thanks, Calum and Alisdair and to everyone for their contributions over it as well. Lots of key messages there. I can't go over them all, but I think your plea to be creative and radical to make sure we address the challenge of urgency is really important. Given how fast everything's changing at the moment and all these new agendas, we cannot use 20th century structures and solutions for 21st century problems, so we've got to adapt and quickly. I think that's a fair message, but you've also clearly outlined the excitement and the potential and the scale of what's possible here.

I think a very important message is it's part of a much bigger picture, so for everyone around the table, this is relevant to our areas as much it is to Cromarty Firth and Inverness. The core of this is the green revolution, the green energy revolution and the fact we've got all this resource we can make economic progress with, so that applies to everyone. Spreading that across the Highlands and Islands is really important. I think that was a really important message as well.

I think there's a number of points we'll take away from what's asked. Then I think your other big message was housing, housing, housing, housing, housing, housing, housing, housing. We got that, so that's a very big issue and very important. Again it's replicated throughout the whole of the Highlands and Islands. Paul McLennan and myself held a summit in Pitlochry recently to look at the issue over keyworker housing in the Highlands and Islands. That was really successful. We're doing follow-ups to that. Some senior business people and other organisations turned out to that. That's a big issue on the agenda at the moment.

Thank you very much. That's the green freeports item over, so I shall hand back to Deputy First Minister.

Shona Robison

Thanks, Richard. Thanks, everybody. I'll just come back to the agenda for the next meeting in a second. But first of all, I want to thank UHI for hosting us here and the staff for looking after us, particularly feeding us at lunchtime. They've been good hosts, so thank you for that.

The autumn '24 convention is going to be hosted by Shetland. That'll take place on Monday 7 October. Now given the discussions today, I think I'm even more convinced that the agenda should look at the Regional Economic Strategy as mentioned this morning. I think housing we should come back to. I'm going to bring Paul McLennan with me. He doesn't know that yet, but I think we should have the Housing Minister there. I think in advance of that, we should explore just what some of these business models may look like, because I think once you do it, it will follow and it will come. We just need to get the right model. I think there's a lot of expertise around this table that can help us.

Now if there's any other agenda items, you can get in contact with the secretariat, but I think we'll make those two our major items. With the economic strategy linking very well into the housing, the two are absolutely interlinked. Of course, we can explore some of the community benefit aspects that we talked about this morning in more detail. The development of the agenda will be taken forward by the senior officers group as normal. Get papers out in advance of the convention. We'll make sure that the action points from today's meeting are circulated after that.

I think it's been a really good meeting. I think we've really focused on some of the clear opportunities. I think there are some clear things that if we make progress on around the - building on the green freeport opportunities that have now moved quite quickly forward, that gives us a real prize to move forward on and to start to address some of the workforce skills, the housing, the wider infrastructure around many of these opportunities. I look forward to seeing you all in October if not before. Thanks very much for your attendance today. Thank you.


Papers can be made available on request from the CoHI Secretariat mailbox.


Convention of the Highlands and Islands

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