6. Priority focus: retention or growth?
6.1 The consultation asked respondents what they thought the priority focus for the Islands Bond should be. At Question 5 respondents were given four choices and asked to choose one: (i) population growth, (ii) population retention, (iii) both, and (iv) other. This chapter presents an analysis of the responses to this question together with respondents' comments on this issue (at Question 5 and at other consultation questions).
6.2 Table 6.1 below shows that, overall, 56% of respondents thought that the focus for the Islands Bond should be both population growth and population retention. A quarter of respondents (25%) thought it should be population retention only, 13% thought it should be population growth only, and 6% of respondents thought there should be some 'other' focus for the Bond.
6.3 There was a clear difference between island residents and non-island residents in relation to this question, with island residents giving more emphasis to population retention, and non-island residents giving more emphasis to population growth. Specifically, 51% of island residents said that the focus of the Bond should be on population retention while 37% said it should be on both population growth and population retention. By contrast, 70% of non-island residents said the focus should be on both growth and retention and 18% said it should be on growth.
6.4 However, these differences were seen mainly among individuals; among organisations there was little difference between those based on the islands and those based elsewhere, with both these groups largely favouring a focus on both growth and retention.
|Area of focus||Population growth||Population retention||Both||Other||Total|
|Total, all respondents||208||13%||407||25%||915||56%||90||6%||1,620||100%|
Percentages may not total 100% due to rounding.
6.5 The sections below present the views of those selecting each of the options.
Support for a priority focus on retention
6.6 As shown in Table 6.1, a focus on population retention was favoured by a quarter of respondents. However, while this was the most popular option among island respondents, it was the least popular option among non-island respondents.
6.7 Respondents who supported this option often described what they saw as the factors leading to people leaving the islands (related to limited employment and education opportunities, lack of affordable housing, services and amenities, poor infrastructure, cost of living, etc.), with many focusing on the experience of young people. They said that many islanders wanted to stay but were forced to leave because of conditions on the islands. They argued that islanders were also financially disadvantaged compared to incomers in the housing market, and it was therefore right and 'fair' that this group were prioritised, particularly given the small number of bonds anticipated.
6.8 Additionally, respondents said that:
- Focusing on existing inhabitants (or returners) would strengthen island communities, and protect island life, and its traditions, culture (including the Gaelic language), and heritage.
- Existing inhabitants (or returners) were more likely to remain long-term as they had a commitment to the islands and were familiar with the challenges of island life.
- In time, strengthened island communities as a result of improved retention would lead to further population growth through natural retention and sustainable inward migration.
6.9 Some respondents further explained how they would like such a priority to be implemented. For example:
- Some made it clear that they were happy to include returners or those with connections to the islands within this priority group.
- Others suggested a narrower focus on retaining particular groups such as young people, working age adults, or Gaelic speakers.
6.10 Within this group of respondents, some acknowledged that inward migration also had a role to play in addressing depopulation, although this was often envisaged as being in response to limited or particular circumstances – e.g. for the targeting of particular groups such as young people or those with particular skills; in the event of insufficient interest from existing island inhabitants; in relation to particular islands; or in a later phase of the policy.
6.11 However, others explicitly expressed opposition to a focus on inward migration seeing it as a potential cause of resentment and a threat to island life, culture and heritage. They also said that potential incomers as a group did not need financial assistance to relocate and were a source of competition and increased prices in the housing market. Additionally, there was a recurring view that these individuals were less likely to deal with the challenges of island life and stay long term.
Support for priority focus on population growth
6.12 A priority focus on population growth via inward migration was the preferred option for 13% of respondents and was markedly more popular among non-island than island respondents.
6.13 Respondents selecting this option made the following main points:
- Population retention could only achieve so much; people would always want to or need to leave island communities for a variety of reasons.
- Inward migration would boost population numbers (in the short term) and would create more sustainable communities which in turn would encourage retention, returners' inward migration, and further inward migration.
6.14 More specifically, respondents said that in-migration:
- Could (and should) be used to attract particular groups of people – people with particular skills, families with children, young people, etc.
- Would bring in fresh ideas, and enhance population and cultural diversity
- Would attract people who wanted to live in an island environment.
6.15 However, some nevertheless said that population retention was also important and that a careful approach to inward migration was required in order not to overwhelm local communities or infrastructure, and to ensure that appropriate people – i.e. those able to face the challenges of, and willing to contribute to, island life – were offered the opportunity to settle on an island.
Support for a priority focus on both growth and retention
6.16 Over half of all respondents said there should be a focus on both population growth and retention. However, around a fifth of those selecting this option indicated a more nuanced view on this issue in their comments, saying that while they thought both growth and retention were important, the priority should nevertheless be on retention (or on retention and returners) and on young people in particular. Only occasionally did respondents in this group say that the priority should be growth via inward migration.
6.17 In general respondents selecting this option said that both retention and growth were needed if depopulation were to be addressed. There was a view that population retention on its own was insufficient or unrealistic as a strategy for addressing depopulation – respondents pointed to the limited opportunities on islands for the current population and the natural desire for people to move away as young adults – and therefore had to be supplemented by inward migration. However, some said inward migration should be pursued in a strategic way with the aim of augmenting and maximising retention or targeting particular groups.
6.18 Further, respondents selecting this option often described a mutually reinforcing relationship between the two approaches – saying, for example that:
- Population retention ensured the continuation of communities and cultures that made island life distinctive and attractive to some, while inward migration could bring skills, ideas and diversity to island life and make existing island communities and culture sustainable in the longer term. The different groups could support and learn from each other.
- Inward migrants would need the support of existing communities, and it was important that current inhabitants were also supported and not alienated by the Islands Bond initiative.
- Retention and growth through inward migration go 'hand in hand' – and measures to support retention would also support inward migration.
6.19 Some respondents talked about the need to strike an appropriate balance between retention and inward migration that aimed to bolster overall numbers while not overwhelming existing communities and cultures or overburdening services. However, others said the aim should be to promote thriving communities and achieve the right demographic mix regardless of people's origins.
Views of those who suggested some other focus
6.20 Respondents who selected 'other' most often made comments similar to other respondents, particularly those who selected 'both', or who selected growth or retention but went on to qualify their response in some way. Alternatively, they (i) called for a focus on issues such as island infrastructure, sustainable economic growth, environmentally sensitive projects, land reform, etc. – although it was not always clear if respondents wished to see such a focus within the context of, or as an alternative to, an Islands Bond policy, or (ii) restated their opposition to the introduction of an Islands Bond.
Other perspectives on the prioritisation and focus of Islands Bonds
6.21 Comments from respondents indicated that the options presented (growth vs retention vs both) were not always seen as straightforward and discrete in terms of indicating preferences for focus and prioritisation. Respondents who selected 'both' often went on to state that one or other approach (in most cases retention) should be prioritised, while those selecting either retention or inward migration often also acknowledged that both approaches had a role to play, albeit with differing degrees of emphasis or in different circumstances. Returners were also discussed in various contexts by different respondents and were often seen as an important group to target.
6.22 Additionally, in answering this question, some said priority and focus should be dependent on the circumstances of individual islands.
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