Islands Strategic Group minutes: September 2021

Minutes from the meeting of the group on 15 September 2021.

Attendees and apologies


  • Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and Islands


  • Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and Islands
  • Minister for Transport
  • Cllr Robin Currie, Council Leader, Policy Lead for Economy and Rural Growth, Argyll and Bute Council
  • Kirsty Flanagan, Executive Director, Argyll and Bute Council
  • Cllr Roddie MacKay, Council Leader, Comhairle nan Eilean Siar
  • Calum MacIver, Director for Communities, Comhairle nan Eilean Siar
  • Cllr Margaret Davidson, Council Leader, Highland Council
  • Donna Manson, Chief Executive, Highland Council
  • Cllr Alex Gallagher, Council's cabinet member for Economy/Cabinet member for Post-Covid Renewal, North Ayrshire Council
  • Craig Hatton, Chief Executive, North Ayrshire Council.
  • John Mundell, Interim Chief Executive, Orkney Islands Council
  • Cllr James Stockan, Council Leader, Orkney Islands Council
  • Cllr Steven Coutts, Council Leader, Shetland Islands Council
  • Maggie Sandison, Chief Executive, Shetland Islands Council

Scottish Government

  • Philip Raines, Interim Deputy Director, Rural Economy & Communities
  • Nicola Crook, National Islands Plan Delivery Lead, REC
  • Desmond Tinney, Team Leader Island Communities, REC
  • Chris Wilcock, Head of Ferries Unit, Transport Scotland
  • Paul Junik, Head of Infrastructure Planning, Transport Scotland
  • Gary Cox, Transport Scotland
  • Dr John Harden, Deputy National Clinical Director
  • Alan Johnston, Deputy Director, EU Exit Readiness
  • Murdoch Macleod, Deputy Director Financial Services

Items and actions


The Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and Islands, Ms Gougeon welcomed everyone, stating that all previous actions had been met and asked if there were any changes required to the minutes.


Garry Cox gave an update on aviation, focusing on four key points:

  • PSO status – The process is the same as it was before Brexit, however it no longer has to be reported. There is a team to help local authorities with this
  • air traffic control – Prospect Union have agreed not to have any more strikes while discussions are ongoing. A further update will be provided when there is an agreement
  • Aviation Strategy – Transport Scotland want zero emissions for Highlands and Islands, currently working on decarbonisation of aviation
  • COVID-19 update – Transport Scotland are in close contact with Loganair seeking to have at least one daily flight between mainland and the islands as well as keeping up to date on passenger numbers

Cllr Stockan was delighted to hear of the decarbonisation strategy and wondered if Scottish Government (SG) can relax EU timescales as routes will never be commercial.

Mr Dey explained decarbonisation has the ability to improve communications and is an exciting opportunity.

Garry Cox highlighted that they are looking to reduce timescales with PSO going forward and agreed no services that are currently PSO’s will become commercially viable.

Freight ferry services

Chris Wilcock provided an update on freight ferry services, confirming two vessels are out for tender for Islay. The extra vessels would provide resilience during winter months and bad weather. The Northern Isles use deck space better to shift tonnage.

Cllr Currie welcomed the announcement yesterday and thought having two vessels was plan B. Transport Scotland is meeting with the council to discuss two ferries for Islay welcomed.

Cllr Stockan was delighted to hear this and questioned if there would be any boats kept in reserve when it comes to cascading.

Chris Wilcock confirmed having two vessels was plan B.

Cllr Davidson questioned whether we have services to rely on in the coming years and would welcome a meeting with SG to discuss further.

Mr Dey supported Cllr Stockan’s point on chartering out the other vessel and parliament should be advised on tonnage of vessels.

Cllr Davidson seeking sought reassurance to this point.

Mr Dey confirmed money for this purpose is for important lifeline services.

Alex Gallagher highlighted the problems with some of the ferries in the Clyde and was keen to hear what is going to happen and when. Noted that a consultation was promised but hasn’t heard anything as of yet.

Chris Wilcock advised there were issues and Calmac are still working on it.

Cllr Stockan stressed there are no alternatives to ferries for travel therefore Minister’s need to look into this. Also keen to speak about this plan with Chris Wilcock and Mr Dey.

Garry Cox confirmed that they are happy to discuss with Cllr Stockan what is currently in place and confirmed there is a strategy there but that this does evolve with progression.

National Islands Plan Delivery Group

Nicola Crook informed that the update is covered in the meeting papers. Noting that the group has met twice and is due to meet again to review strategy, transport connectivity and housing as well as establishing dedicated working groups to further these.

National Island Plan Progress

Nicola Crook thanked local authorities for their assistance with various funding streams.

Cllr Currie noted that applications are issued on a fairly regular basis for different funds which can cause confusion and requested if it could be clearer in future.

Nicola Crook commented that this feedback has been provided before and that timescales for this current year have been affected by purdah and the election. Feedback has been noted and the aim is for a more streamlined process that begins earlier next year. The National Islands Plan Delivery Group will also provide feedback on the funding process for this year and feed into the development of next year’s Island Programme.

Phillip Raines stated that relevant Islands Strategic Group (ISG) members should be copied in to make sure they are aware of what is going on.

Craig Hatton questioned the Islands Infrastructure Fund and allocations to local authorities.

Nicola Crook gave an update, and noted that the delay is due to waiting on appropriate data from local authorities so funding can be allocated.

Cllr Stockan suggested a briefing should be sent out so local authorities understand what they are receiving and why.

Alex Gallagher commented the team should try to coordinate all activities affecting the islands.

Nicola Crook explained this is an ongoing issue and currently working with policy colleagues on this.

Pandemic recovery

Dr Harden provided an update on the spike in cases over the previous few weeks. He noted that the islands are experiencing high cases and was cautious to say that these may be going down. Orkney are still seeing a rise in cases but they are decreasing everywhere else. There has been a high uptake on both doses of the vaccine which are at 90% and above,  meaning fewer people are ending up in hospital, intensive care and dying.

Alex Gallaher stated the islands in Clyde are very accessible and questioned if there are any differences in the way the pandemic should be addressed.

Dr Harden explained this is a difficult issue as they are more accessible and rely on the mainland for their local economy.

Cllr Currie questioned how children would be getting their vaccinations.

Dr Harden confirmed the decision will be down to the Health Boards and stressed the difficulty is the school role which would usually be used for flu vaccinations.

Cllr Davison questioned whether children will receive a winter flu vaccine or the nasal sprays and if this would be done alongside the COVID-19 vaccine. Noting that it is important to keep the schools running and provide clear messages on what isolation is expected from a positive test result.

Mr Harden confirmed children will receive the nasal spray again. It is difficult to predict the effect of flu this year, as it may be worse due to social distancing no longer in place and people being able to meet indoors. Keeping children in schools is at the core of the 12 to 15 vaccine as well as only isolating those who really need it.

Any other business

Cllr Currie asked how the SG will choose three islands out of 90 with the Carbon Neutral Islands Project.

Ms Gougeon stated this is still at the early stages and discussions with continue on this.

Nicola Crook commented it is still at the very early stages and criteria for island selection will be developed in partnership with local authorities.

Ms Gougeon advised Shona Robinson will be at the next meeting.

Cllr Davidson expressed that housing is a key issue and islands housing should be considered in a different way to other locations.

Ms Gougeon noted this is an urgent issue.

Cllr Stockan questioned how the changes in Health and Social Care will affect the islands.

Phillip Raines confirmed action is required beforehand involving a series of meetings, if they are not in the diary yet they be in the diaries soon.

Des Tinney explained they are looking at a bespoke consultation just for the islands and it will be in the diaries as soon as possible.

There was no other business raised.

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