Empowering Scotland's Island Communities: progress update March 2016

Sets out progress made in delivering the key commitments outlined in the Empowering Scotland's Islands Communities prospectus.

Foreword by the Our Islands Our Future Leaders

The three Islands Councils of Orkney, Shetland and the Western Isles continue to promote the empowerment of our island communities, both to reflect the particular characteristics and challenges of our geography, remoteness and small populations - and to allow us to unlock the potential of our islands both for their benefit and the rest of Scotland. Our belief is that this can be achieved by us having the tools - which are available to island communities elsewhere in the European Union - to sort things out for ourselves, building on our resilience and innovation and our passionate care for our communities. By operating on a level playing field where our disadvantages are recognised and mitigated we can achieve the cohesion that is core to the goals of the European Union and the commitments of the Scottish Government.

In his Lerwick Declaration of July 2013 the then First Minister Alex Salmond MSP affirmed the commitment of the Scottish Government to subsidiarity and that the islands should have the 'maximum degree of local decision making.' We are pleased to see these principles being recognised in the recent Islands Bill consultation. An Islands Act would allow us not only to address the challenges we face but also to take advantage of the opportunities of our island areas. We also welcome Scottish Government's commitment to the islands in the appointment of a Minister for Transport and Islands.

The reconvened Island Areas Ministerial Working Group has been pivotal in taking forward our Agenda. At its final meeting prior to the Scottish Parliamentary Elections the Islands Councils outlined their plans to work with both the Scottish and UK Governments in relation to a proposed 'Deal for the Islands' to allow us to explore how to achieve inclusive economic growth by providing incentives that help to offset the additional costs of operating from the islands.

It is anticipated that such a Deal would have connectivity as its core. Planes and ferries are what roads and railways are to the Scottish mainland. They are essential lifeline services but often place disproportionate financial burdens on our Councils and we are pleased that work is underway with the Scottish Government to address such issues and also to enhance a joint role in the design of efficient transport services.

Digital and mobile connectivity will also be key strands of our Deal, creating a level playing field for those who live and work in the islands areas and also assisting us to retain our young people as well as to attract others to experience the quality of life we offer.

The key tool to enable us to help ourselves make use of our peerless renewable energy resources is sufficient grid connection to the Scottish mainland to enable us to export electricity and also to pay no more for our electricity than elsewhere in Scotland. We agree with the conclusions of the Consultation on the Islands Bill that decision making should not be top down. We welcome the ongoing discussions with Scottish Government and its officials to explore the possibility of a future statutory or non-statutory pilot of management of the Crown Estate in the context of the Scotland Bill and Smith Commission recommendations. We believe we have shown that we have the necessary skills and experience to assume the management of the Crown Estate assets in our own areas. We would manage these assets with our Communities for the benefit of these Communities as part of an overall economic strategy - Community Empowerment in action.

We agree with the consultation responses to the Islands Bill that, in granting additional powers to local authorities the potential impact on other organisations and key sectors, and the potential costs and means of implementation will require to be considered. We acknowledge the need for research, identification of resources, clarity and definition of proposals, a wider democratic base and decentralisation of power. We have noted with interest the suggestions that alternative administrative structures or models for local government should be explored. It is precisely to this end that we intend with our partners to commission a piece of work as part of the Deal for the Islands looking at how we could take advantage of opportunities for democratic renewal, enhance local democracy and achieve our full economic potential and make full use of our opportunities to work together to deliver services according to the priorities and needs of our communities.

We welcome the progress made in relation to these issues as outlined in this update and look forward to continuing to work with Scottish Government in the context of our Deal for the Islands.

We wish to thank Ministers and officers alike for the productive and helpful way they have worked with us through the deliberations and negotiations of the Ministerial Working Group:
Mr Marco Biagi, Minister for Local Government and Community Empowerment, Dr Aileen McLeod, Minister for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform together with their colleagues
Ms Margaret Burgess, Minister for Housing and Welfare and
Mr Fergus Ewing, Minister for Business Energy and Tourism.
We would particularly like to thank our chairman Mr Derek Mackay Minister for Transport and the Islands.

Although this phase of the work may have come to an end our ambitions for our areas will not and we hope to continue to work productively with the Scottish Government in the Future.

Cllr Angus Campbell,
Leader, Comhairle nan Eilean Siar

Cllr Dr Steven Heddle,
Convener and Leader, Orkney Islands Council

Cllr Gary Robinson,
Leader, Shetland Islands Council


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