13. Alternatives to the Islands Bond
13.1 As has been reported earlier (in Chapter 5), around half of island respondents did not agree that an Islands Bond scheme should be established. In many cases, these respondents made alternative suggestions for how depopulation in the islands might be addressed. The suggestions, and the accompanying rationale where provided, are elaborated below.
Invest in island infrastructure
13.2 The most common suggestion was that the £5m 'pot' allocated to the scheme should instead be used to fund infrastructure projects. Indeed, it was common for respondents to state that if there was 'proper' investment in island infrastructure, then there would be no issue with island depopulation, and hence no requirement for an Islands Bond proposal. It was argued that the (perceived) underlying deficiencies in island infrastructure were the biggest barrier to people remaining on (or relocating to) the islands.
13.3 The types of infrastructure project which respondents (especially island respondents) wished to see funded closely reflected the challenges that island populations had identified, as set out in Chapter 4. Respondents repeatedly emphasised that additional infrastructure funding was required in relation to housing, transport (ferries, buses, air travel, roads), digital connectivity, education and childcare.
13.4 Some respondents acknowledged that £5m would not 'go very far' in addressing infrastructure deficiencies. Nevertheless, they thought that combining the £5m Islands Bond fund with existing infrastructure funds could deliver more benefit than that which was achievable with the Islands Bond proposal. (This kind of comment was sometimes linked to a more general view that another new scheme – with the accompanying new bureaucracy – was not welcome.)
Invest in communities (rather than individuals and households)
13.5 It was common for respondents to question the rationale for allocating funds to individuals and households. It was thought that this approach was unfair, as there were many more 'deserving recipients' than there were funds to support them. Some thought the 'lottery' aspect of any decision to support one household or individual over another could be very divisive, fuel resentment, and have a detrimental impact on community cohesion.
13.6 It was therefore suggested that the fund should be allocated to communities and / or community organisations. Communities would be in the best position to decide how to spend any funds so that maximum benefit for the whole community could be achieved.
Strategic targeting of (a small number of) communities
13.7 As explained in Chapter 5, it was common for respondents to conclude that £5m – or support for 100 households – was not likely to have a meaningful impact on depopulation given the scale of the problem and the numbers of islands and communities involved.
13.8 This led some respondents to suggest that it would be more beneficial – and more strategically advantageous – to concentrate the investment on a much smaller number of islands. Among those who suggested this type of approach, there was agreement that if this were to be pursued, it would be appropriate for all funds to be directed towards smaller islands and fragile communities.
Provide loans rather than bonds
13.9 Some respondents did not think that it was appropriate to offer non-repayable 'bonds'. Rather, they thought that better value could be achieved by offering (repayable) loans for business start-ups and housing. It was thought that a loan scheme would be less likely to fuel house price inflation.
13.10 In a similar vein, some respondents suggested that a scheme that was not premised on buying or ownership, but rather on community development and custodianship, would be preferable.
Policy development and new legislation
13.11 Respondents often suggested that the issues relating to population decline required a policy – or legislative – response. This was most often mentioned in relation to (i) limiting the acquisition of second homes by non-islanders, (ii) restricting the numbers of properties used as AirBnB, (iii) compelling landowners to sell off land for housing, and (iv) simplifying the planning application process for croft acquisition. Respondents who advocated this type of approach thought that if these issues were dealt with, the Islands Bond scheme would not be required.
Other alternative suggestions
13.12 A range of other suggestions were made, including suggestions to revitalise schemes which were perceived to have been successful in the past but had now lapsed. These suggestions included:
- Offer an award similar to that previously offered under the 'Argyll & Bute resettlement fund' which offered £5,000 for a 'business focused grant'
- Offer a modernised version of the Rural Home Ownership Grants, or a shared ownership scheme
- Fund a network of 'island sustainability champions'.
13.13 Finally, it was suggested that the Islands Bond policy should be 'sense checked' against the 'Repopulation Zones' approach currently being taken by island local authorities as it would be important to ensure coherence between these approaches.
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