5. Overall views of the Islands Bond scheme
5.1 The consultation paper set out the proposed aims of the Islands Bond and the commitment set out in the SNP Manifesto that:
- The Islands Bond will be a £5 million fund across the lifetime of the (current) Parliament.
- The value for each individual 'award' or 'bond' will be up to £50,000.
- Capital funding will be made available to young people and families to stay in or to move to islands currently threatened by depopulation.
- The bonds issued will support people to buy, build or renovate homes, start businesses and otherwise make their lives for the long term in island communities.
5.2 Across the consultation questions, respondents offered their overall views of the proposed Islands Bond scheme. Their comments focused on (i) whether they were in favour of an Islands Bond being developed, (ii) what they thought the (potential) benefits and / or disadvantages of such an initiative would be, and (iii) possible alternatives to the current proposals. Respondents also raised a range of issues for further clarification. These aspects are discussed in further detail below.
5.3 It should be noted that it was common for respondents to welcome the fact that the Scottish Government had turned its attention to the issue of island depopulation. Respondents thought a discussion of this topic, and proposals for addressing it were much needed and long overdue.
Summary of main views
5.4 Non-island respondents were often strongly in favour of the Islands Bond proposal, and many described the initiative very positively as a 'great opportunity', 'a fantastic idea', or an 'amazing scheme'. However, the views of island respondents were fairly evenly split between those in favour and those opposed. Island respondents in particular (and non-island respondents to a lesser degree) raised a number of questions and concerns about the scheme and many were not convinced that the approach set out would achieve the objective of reversing population decline.
5.5 It should be noted that non-island respondents in particular often expressed a personal interest in the Islands Bond initiative. These respondents stated their wish to relocate to (move to or return to) a Scottish island, and their interest in taking advantage of the scheme to do so. This included some respondents from overseas who were keen to explore the perceived opportunity to move to a Scottish island.
Benefits / potential benefits of the Islands Bond proposal
5.6 The main benefit identified by both island and non-island respondents was that the Islands Bond could help address the issue of island depopulation both by attracting newcomers (and returners) and by retaining existing inhabitants.
5.7 Respondents with a favourable view of the scheme thought it would:
- Address (or go some way towards addressing) the perceived financial barriers to moving to or living on an island
- Help people to find accommodation – most often respondents said a bond award would help cover the cost of a house purchase and / or renovations or would help to purchase land to build on, and there was specific mention that the scheme could help establish the next generation of crofters
- Help people start businesses and provide a 'safety net' for those making a move, with some noting uncertainty about job prospects or the risks of starting a new business
- Benefit the local economy through additional expenditure on local products and services, an increase in job opportunities, and the possibility of attracting more tourists and visitors.
5.8 More specifically, respondents thought that the scheme would offer benefits to existing inhabitants by enhancing the sustainability of local communities. Both islanders and non-islanders suggested that the scheme would (i) bring new skills and fill gaps in the local labour market, (ii) improve island properties, (iii) keep local cultures (including the Gaelic language) and traditional island values alive, and (iv) enhance the diversity and richness of island life through the arrival of new ideas and cultures.
5.9 Islanders also suggested that the scheme could be particularly beneficial for fragile communities. In these communities, respondents argued, the addition of a very small number of individuals or households could make a very large difference to the viability of the community.
5.10 In a few cases, respondents (island and non-island) suggested that the scheme may also be appropriate for other rural mainland communities, including 'mainland peninsula communities who were dependent on a ferry service'.
5.11 Respondents who were generally in favour of the proposal did, however, sometimes raise caveats about the scheme. In particular, it was suggested that island residents should be given a higher priority for awards than those relocating (or returning). It was also suggested that newcomers would need assurances about jobs and the availability of housing and services, as well as about practicalities such as transport links and IT connectivity in order to be confident about the viability of making a move – some who expressed an interest in taking up the opportunity presented by the scheme said that they had concerns about such issues. Furthermore, those receiving a bond award would likely require ongoing information, support, and assistance to make a long-term success of their move (or decision to stay) – and some also suggested there would be a need for further financial support. Island local authorities emphasised the importance of a joined-up approach and these organisations thought any national policy to address island depopulation must take into account and work in tandem with the considerable efforts that local authorities were already making in this area.
Disadvantages / potential disadvantages of the Islands Bond
5.12 A wide range of disadvantages or potential disadvantages following the introduction of the Islands Bond were identified. These disadvantages were raised most frequently by island respondents but were also raised, less often, by non-island respondents.
5.13 Those who were strongly against the proposal thought that the concept of an Islands Bond was wrong in principle. The reasons offered for this view included that (i) it was a short-term fix to a long-term problem and would not address the underlying causes of depopulation (some described the proposal as a 'sticking plaster' or 'gimmick'), (ii) £5m was far too small an investment to have any impact on the depopulation of the Scottish islands, (iii) it was a waste of taxpayers' money, (iv) a cash incentive to individuals was a bad idea and would attract the 'wrong people' (some described it as a 'bribe'), and (v) the scheme would be open to abuse. These views were held mainly, but not exclusively, by island respondents (and mainly, but not exclusively, by individual respondents rather than organisational respondents).
5.14 More generally, both island and non-island respondents (and both individuals and organisations) questioned whether the proposals represented a strategic response to the question of island depopulation. It was argued that the Islands Bond did not address the underlying issues (e.g. the ageing population, the requirement for infrastructure improvements, the need for each island to develop its own plan) which had been identified over a long period of time. The proposal was a simplistic 'top-down' solution that failed to understand island life and the complexity of the problem of depopulation. Moreover, it was thought there was a mismatch between the size of the problem (island depopulation over a long period) and the size of the solution (an investment of £5m spread across 93 islands). Note that some respondents (including island organisations) who were generally positive about the introduction of the Islands Bond also said such issues needed to be addressed.
5.15 The potential for divisive impacts on communities and community cohesion was also raised as a key concern – mainly by island respondents. This group explained that there would be many worthy recipients of the bonds – many more than could be supported with the current funding available. This would mean that within any community, individuals and households would be in competition for funds, and this could fuel resentment. In addition, if an individual or household was given an award to relocate into a community where there were many deserving candidates, this could make it difficult for the new arrival to be accepted.
5.16 In their responses, it was common for island residents to assume that the bonds would be given to those who were relocating (rather than those who were already resident). Some of these respondents went on to express their concern that the arrival of individuals and households from outwith the islands would contribute to a diminution of traditional island values and culture. Respondents (and island respondents in particular) emphasised that any initiative of this kind needed the involvement and support of island communities and should be led by the islanders themselves.
5.17 Finally, both island and non-island respondents highlighted that one likely impact of the Islands Bond could be the potential exacerbation of an already difficult situation in relation to house prices. Respondents returned again and again to the lack of affordable housing, and the problems associated with the inflationary pressures caused by those moving to the island who often paid sums substantially above valuation in order to secure a property.
Alternatives to the Islands Bond
5.18 In discussing their initial thoughts about the Islands Bond proposal, respondents often suggested that there were better ways of investing the £5m which had been allocated to the initiative. Suggested alternatives are discussed fully in Chapter 13.
5.19 Respondents also queried and / or offered a range of comments on more detailed aspects of the proposal – the amount of money available to individuals, the need for appropriate conditions, the way decisions would be made, etc. These points are discussed in Chapters 8 and 9).
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