Islands Bond: consultation responses analysis

External analysis of Islands Bond online consultation responses, carried out by Griesbach and Associates.

4. Population challenges in island communities

4.1 The consultation paper suggested that one potential consideration in deciding how the Islands Bond should be allocated relates to defining and identifying the islands that are currently threatened by depopulation. The consultation asked island respondents for their views on the most significant population challenges in their area. This chapter presents these views, together with islanders' perspectives on why these challenges exist.

4.2 The views on this issue were consistent – both among individuals and organisations – and across all island groups. Repeatedly, respondents identified three key population challenges:

  • An ageing (largely retired) population
  • Young people and young families moving away
  • A lack of working-aged people in key sectors of the economy.

4.3 Respondents attributed these challenges to four main issues:

  • A lack of (suitable) (affordable) housing
  • Poor infrastructure in terms of public transport, roads, digital connectivity, water supply, etc.
  • A low-wage economy and a lack of (quality) employment opportunities
  • A lack of childcare and education services.

4.4 Each of these issues is discussed briefly below.


4.5 According to respondents, a chronic lack of housing is the principal cause of depopulation in the islands. The following interconnected issues were discussed, again and again, both by individuals and organisations:

  • Respondents believed that much of the available good quality housing on the islands has been and continues to be purchased by retirees, or individuals from elsewhere in the UK who can afford to pay well over the asking price. These houses have been turned into holiday lets / Airbnb rentals and / or are used as holiday accommodation (or second homes) by owners who do not always live on the islands. Some respondents described their own communities where neighbouring houses are only occupied a few weeks of the year.
  • Respondents said there was lack of both private and social-rented housing and thought the few houses available in the private rented sector are generally in a poor state of repair, badly insulated, and difficult to renovate. Many island residents were reported to live in substandard accommodation and / or to have insecure tenancies but to have no other option but to remain.
  • In some communities, housing is often tied to particular jobs – thus, if the individual's job ends, they are required to leave their home as well.
  • According to respondents, local estate owners / landowners rely on tourism income, and so have little interest in selling land for housing developments at affordable prices.
  • Respondents reported that some communities have problems with derelict buildings and / or abandoned crofts, but do not have the means to bring these back into use.

4.6 Respondents commented that this situation has caused inflation of house prices – and the impact of this is that local people (and young people in particular) are priced out of the housing market and must leave the islands to find suitable, affordable accommodation. Even in island communities where, it was reported, there are businesses with the capacity to expand and employees who would like to live on the islands, the lack of accommodation forces many people to leave, thus essentially limiting / restraining economic growth.

4.7 The impacts of this situation were reported to be a severe shortage of working-aged people in key sectors (education, health, social care and trades).


4.8 The second recurring issue raised by island residents related to poor infrastructure on the islands. Specifically:

  • Public transport (including air, bus and ferry services) was described as unreliable, expensive, and restrictive (in terms of timetables). Some respondents noted that ferries are often very busy, and islanders are not always able to travel when they need to.
  • Roads on many of the islands were reported to be in a poor state of repair, and unsuitable for the high level of traffic they get during the tourist season.
  • Digital connectivity (both broadband and mobile phone) was said to be non-existent in some island communities and poor (i.e. slow and / or unreliable) in others.
  • The water supply was described as poor / unreliable in remote areas.


4.9 Islanders explained that their local economies are almost entirely dependent on tourism. This situation was referred to as 'a double-edged sword' – i.e. tourism provides local jobs, but most jobs are low-waged and insecure, with very little year-round employment. There was a view that only a relatively small number of people benefit from tourism, most of whom do not, in fact, live on the islands.

4.10 At the same time, respondents repeatedly stated that the cost of living (food, fuel, heating / electricity, etc.) and the cost of doing business on the islands is far higher than it is off-island, making many non-tourism enterprises unviable. Some respondents also noted that Brexit was having a huge (negative) impact on the fishing industry (due to difficulties exporting to the EU) and hospitality industries (due to difficulties in recruiting staff).

4.11 The perceived effects of all of this were a dearth of well-paid jobs and significant challenges for businesses in recruiting and retaining skilled staff.

Childcare and education services

4.12 Finally, and less often, respondents identified a lack of childcare services on the islands as a significant factor in depopulation. The lack of childcare makes it impossible for women to work in anything other than part-time, insecure jobs. In addition, declining school rolls, the need for secondary-aged children from some island communities to board on the mainland (or in larger towns elsewhere on the islands) during the week, and a general lack of activities, clubs or sports for children and young people has led families to move away from the islands. Respondents also repeatedly noted that it is common for young people to leave the islands to go to university and then not return because of the lack of suitable local jobs and / or housing,



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