Islands Strategic Group minutes: July 2021

Minutes from the group's meeting on 6 July 2021.

Attendees and apologies


  • Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and Islands     
  • Pippa Milne, Chief Executive, Argyll & Bute Council         
  • Cllr Robin Currie, Council Leader, Policy Lead for Economy and Rural Growth, Argyll and Bute Council
  • Malcolm Burr, Chief Executive, Comhairle nan Eilean Siar    
  • Cllr Roddie MacKay, Council Leader, Comhairle nan Eilean Siar 
  • Cllr Margaret Davidson, Council Leader, Highland Council
  • Gordon Morrison, Business Manager, Highland Council
  • Craig Hatton, Chief Executive, North Ayrshire Council     
  • Cllr Alex Gallagher, Council's cabinet member for Economy/Cabinet member for Post-Covid Renewal, North Ayrshire Council
  • John Mundell, Interim Chief Executive, Orkney Islands Council
  • Cllr James Stockan, Council Leader, Orkney Islands Council

Scottish Government

  • Philip Raines, Interim Deputy Director, Rural Economy & Communities
  • Erica Clarkson, Head of Islands Policy and Communities, REC
  • Nicola Crook, National Islands Plan Delivery Lead, REC
  • Desmond Tinney, Team Leader Island Communities, REC
  • Cameron Anson, Repopulation and Island Communities Policy Manager, REC
  • Lorraine Lowrie, Senior Island Communities Policy Lead, REC
  • Lewis MacAskill, Senior Island Communities Policy Lead, REC    
  • Magdalena Szymborska-Bishop, Islands Policy Officer, REC
  • Ben Jones, Deputy Population Programme Manager, General Constitution and External Affairs
  • Murdoch Macleod, Deputy Director, Financial Services Division
  • Donna MacKinnon, Location Director for Highland
  • Chris Wilcock, Head of Ferries Unit, Transport Scotland  
  • Colin McKnight, Policy Manager Adult Social Care, D:General Health & Social Care
  • Fiona Brown, Head of Strategic Transport Planning, Transport Scotland


  • Dr John Harden, Deputy National Clinical Director
  • Coinneach Morrison, Islands Recovery and Policy Manager, REC
  • Cllr Steven Coutts, Council Leader, Shetland Islands Council
  • Maggie Sandison, Chief Executive, Shetland Islands Council
  • Donna Manson, Chief Executive, Highland Council

Items and actions

1. Welcome

1.1 The Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and Islands, Ms Gougeon welcomed everyone to her first Islands Strategic Group (ISG) meeting as chair, inviting introductions from members.

2. Minutes of the ISG Meeting of 9 December 2020

2.1 Members were invited to make any comments on the minutes of the last ISG meeting on 24 March 2021.

2.2 Cllr Davidson asked what work had taken place over the election period to re-set the working relationship between Scottish Government (SG) and the ISG.

2.3 Erica Clarkson highlighted work carried out to engage further with Local Authorities, communicating and sharing information saying, that the relationship will evolve over time and the ISG holds an important position to discuss key issues. The Islands Team are always happy to take suggestions to ensure the ISG works for members and on how best to engage with LA partners.

2.4 Philip Raines highlighted that with new government now being in place and with new challenges coming from the manifesto, the SG will be looking to bilateral meetings such as the ISG to strengthen working relationships.

2.5 Malcolm Burr asked about the consultation process for the Adult Social Care Review and whether there is anything specific with regards to islands and rural communities. Local Authorities are very keen to engage from the outset, rather than wait for the formal ICIA that will follow the consultation.

2.6 Colin McKnight stated that the SG is in the very early stages of the process, with the consultation period commencing on the 9 of August 2021. He highlighted that early involvement would be very welcomed, however there is nothing definite to be said about the form in which that engagement would take.

2.7 Philip Raines pointed out that, if beneficial, there is no need to wait for another ISG meeting and/or discussions between Local Authorities and that discussions could happen earlier.

AP 1: Islands Team to liaise with  Colin McKnight on the National Care Service consultation to arrange  early involvement with Local Authorities in the consultation process.

3. ISG Member’s Issues for Discussion

3.1 Malcolm Burr asked whether consideration could be given to the relaxation to the distancing rules for ferries from 19 of July rather than from 9 of August. Local Authorities appreciate and support the measured approach that has been taken by the Scottish Government, but there are real issues with the capacity of the ferries during the summer season, for both cars and foot passengers alike.

3.2 Cllr Stockan supported Malcolm Burr’s point, confirming that local residents continue to struggle to book journeys on internal ferries to attend, for example, a hospital appointment and that the relaxation of distancing would serve the community well.

3.3 Ms Gougeon asked officials from Transport Scotland whether there is information available on this topic and how much the capacity had dropped in real terms.

3.4 Chris Wilcock confirmed that dropping the distancing measures is proposed for a later date, and so far no consideration had been given to bring it forward. As for the reductions, these vary across the fleet depending on the type of a vessel from around 50% of normal capacity for the northern isles inter-island ferries, but this would be replicated across all the islands ferries network to drop of 30% of normal capacity. There are certain procedures that are currently being discussed, but which measures will stay in place is unknown at this point.

3.5 Cllr Currie confirmed the difficulty of securing the ferry journey from an Argyll & Bute perspective, pointing out that reduced capacity does not make people obey to social distancing rules and in common areas they are still closer than required by the laws regarding distance.

3.6 Cllr Gallagher further endorsed the points, particularly about how busy the ferries are.

4. Covid-19 Update

3.1 Dr Harden sent his apologies as urgent business prevented him from joining the meeting. In his absence, the Islands Team stated that they would send out a written update on the current situation.

AP 2: Send an update from Dr Harden to ISG Members - This action was completed on 07/07/2021

5. Manifesto Commitments

5.1 Cameron Anson welcomed questions on the paper ISG Paper 02 – Manifesto Commitments which been circulated in advance.

5.2  Ms Gougeon confirmed that these commitments are still at an early stage of development and that the SG is very keen to hear any thoughts and comments from partners.

5.3 Cllr Stockan asked about the timescale for delivery of these commitments.

5.4  Ms Gougeon highlighted that some were listed in the First 100 Days, which means the middle of August, these being the priorities that the SG was very keen to deliver. With regards to the Islands Bond, the SG is looking to launch it, potentially, next year.

5.5 Cameron Anson confirmed that the launching of the Islands Bond is currently planned for the spring/summer 2022. Following this meeting, the Islands Team will be contacting the Local Authorities for some initial feedback, and the full public consultation is planned to be launched this August with the aid of the National Islands Plan Delivery Group members, who will help to shape the questions. The SG appreciates that every island has its own population problems but what it is trying to do is to make the biggest impact via currently available resources.

5.6  Cllr Currie asked about the housing element of the Islands Bond.

5.7 Cameron Anson confirmed that housing is particularly important on the islands. However, we need to develop a better understanding of how the Islands Bond may align with local authority housing strategies and priorities alongside any potential unintended consequences in negatively impacting on housing affordability such as inflation of house price. Discussions with local authority housing leads, and internal engagement with Scottish Government housing colleagues will therefore be a big part of the engagement on the bond.   

5.8  Malcolm Burr asked about the timescale for the Islands Connectivity Plan (ICP) stating that the authorities would be very supportive of it in principle as there was disappointment that such plans were not included in STPR2 and expressing the hope that maybe ICP will address this gap. Mr Burr also stressed the need for early engagement and asked if there is any replacement plan, now the UK is out of the EU, for the Public Service Obligation (PSO) to keep the economically unviable routes in place.

5.9 Chris Wilcock confirmed that the consultation on the ICP will start over the course of the year. There are already discussions underway with wider stakeholders  and the document will be probably launched at the end of 2022 -with some parts being introduced earlier. With regards to the PSO, the working assumption is that we are still abiding by the existing rules. However this is for aviation colleagues to pick up outside the meeting.

AP 3 & 4: Chris Wilcock will pass the PSO query to the aviation colleagues and the Islands Team will invite the relevant policy team to attend the next meeting of the ISG in order to provide a full update to members.

5.10 Pippa Milne asked for confirmation of the scope of the ICP as communities have raised issues around road links between ferries.

5.11 Chris Wilcock highlighted that collaboration in PSO is a separate issue; one that can be perhaps picked up through other discussions. As for the ICP, the roads are the responsibility of other bodies and as such they were not envisaged to be generally included.

5.12 Cllr Stockan supported Malcolm Burr’s point about an early engagement on the ICP consultations.

5.13 Cllr Davidson also suggested early discussions between the SG and the UK governments. With regards to the Islands Bond, Cllr Davidson asked if it was possible to tie-up policies with this programme; she mentioned that some islands in the Highlands authority need repopulation but some successful islands actually cannot support new staff in the private or public sectors due to, for example, house shortages.

5.14 Cameron Anson agreed with Cllr Davidson’s point and highlighted that although the focus is being currently put on the Islands Bond, the SG is taking into consideration all the issues across rural and islands communities with regards to population - what are the actual drivers for delivering the Bond and how to encourage the population migration and retention? There is also in place collaborative work across SG officials to understand the many problems that are experienced across the islands and how these can be addressed.

5.15 Cllr Gallagher agreed with Cllr Davidson’s points about shortage of houses for the people who had secured jobs on the islands, but cannot at the same time, secure a place to stay or live. Furthermore, the community wealth building approach also needs to be taken into consideration.

5.16  John Mundell stated that an early contact is the key and that it would be beneficial to have  details for the SG official leading on each commitment so such an early contact could be made and so the Local Authorities could influence the process in a positive and constructive way.  Erica Clarkson picked on this point and confirmed that a list will be made and shared across the authorities

AP 5: Islands Team to create a list of SG policy leads for each commitment that was listed in ISG Paper 02 and share this with the ISG before the next meeting.

6. Island Programme Finance

6.1 Nicola Crook gave a short summary of the ISG Paper 03 – Islands Programme Finance that had been circulated prior to the meeting..

6.2  Pippa Milne welcomed the investment and asked whether, as the plan progresses, would be possible for the public sector to leverage the investment. She mentioned that there was some monitoring needed to see the bigger picture of the earlier investments. Furthermore, if split amongst the all islands the investment is not that big, so there was a need for careful planning so the money goes as far as possible, leveraging another funding and investments.

6.3 Nicola Crook agreed with Pippa Milne’s point about needing to get the best possible value from the investment. She highlighted that the Islands Community Fund is targeted at the grassroots level, similarly to Islands Green Recovery Programme. However, the Islands Infrastructure Fund that the Islands Team is currently developing takes a different approach as it will be directly allocated to our Local Authority partners. Work is ongoing with Scottish Futures Trust to make sure that we have more strategic view and can leverage money from other areas. Conversations with LA officers have already been held to develop the best collaborative plan to ensure this money is spent in the most successful way that support priorities for the lifetime of the National Islands Plan itself.

6.4 Cllr Gallagher welcomed these strands of money, but raised the point that there are no known criteria for the application process yet and, presuming the money would have to be spent during the financial year, time is getting very tight. Therefore would there be a possibility for the project to run over into the next financial year as some, more involved projects, might not be finished within the timescale of this financial year. Furthermore, Cllr. Gallagher asked whether there are some projects that had been already identified by the SG.

6.5 Nicola Crook explained that money has to be legally committed by the end of this financial year. With regards to already identified projects those are the track road on the island of Kerrera and the rebuild of the Bird Observatory on Fair Isle; these two projects were strategically developed in collaboration with Local Authorities and HIE and identified as priorities which, if not supported, risked depopulation of those isles.

6.6 Erica Clarkson also clarified that already there were discussions with officers within the local authorities to see if projects could be identified and supported. With regards to an earlier point raised by Pippa Milne, Erica Clarkson highlighted that there were conversations held with the Regeneration Unit within the SG, so the team can look at other place-based initiatives and make the necessary connections. Community wealth building principles are being embedded.

6.7 Lorraine Lowrie gave an update on the recently formed National Islands Plan Delivery Group which has been established to provide a collaborative working space between SG, local authorities and key island stakeholders in order to examine progress and help to identify critical priorities as Scottish Government work towards meeting the many commitments within the National Islands Plan. Lorraine noted that  following the request for a business representative on the group, the Federation of Small Businesses have now been invited to join as a member. Going forward,  the Young Islanders Network will also be approached for their input.

6.8 Cllr Stockan mentioned that a new business group had recently been taken into their Community Planning Partnership who may also be able to assist from a business perspective.

6.9 Lorraine noted that the NIP Delivery Group members thought that it might be beneficial for one of their members to attend the ISG and give an update on the work of the group and ISG members agreed they were content with this approach.

6.10 Lorraine advised that NIP Delivery Group members were being consulted on the membership makeup of the Thematic Groups and Malcolm Burr mentioned that Local Authorities, who possess local knowledge of the gaps, could recommend the members that possibly might not be so apparent to others. 

6.11 Lorraine Lowrie confirmed that local authority representatives are part of the Delivery Group and will help to shape what the Thematic Groups will look like.

6.12 Cllr MacKay, commented that a careful approach was needed to the thematic groups to avoid unnecessary bureaucracy.

7. Islands Transport – Ferries Services

7.1 Chris Wilcock gave an update on the key issues with regards to the ferries, some of which were already discussed:

  • emerging from Covid-19 and what this means in terms of the regulations that will still remain
  • summer pressures on capacity which is being exacerbated by the number of people choosing ‘staycations’ this year.
  • additional tonnage was also in focus for the last several weeks.
  • the charter of MV Pentalina unfortunately cannot be taken forward therefore now Transport Scotland is scoping for alternatives.
  • in the immediate absence of more vessels, Transport Scotland is looking at better use of existing deck space.
  • Transport Scotland colleagues are now working on a new booking system that might bring some relief.
  • New Islay vessel.
  • port improving work.
  • continued work on the ICP.

7.2Cllr Gallagher raised the query about the ferries from Ardrossan to Brodick to Cambeltown. He also asked why the charter of Pentalina was not successful as it affects the Arran route.

7.3 Chris Wilcock explained the challenge for Transport Scotland is based around the proposal put forward by the private port owner and concerns around value for money and risk. Despite being in advanced talks around the charter of Pentalina, Pentland Ferries withdrew their offer and the SG is not able to comment on the reasons why this happened. Transport Scotland have made it clear that they would be happy to re-engage in the conversation.

7.4 Cllr Gallagher asked about the reason for the delay to signing off the finances for the harbour development in Ardrossan.

7.5 Chris Wilcock stated that Ministers are committed to Ardrossan as a preferred solution; the scene has changed since the original decision took place four years ago and it is now not only an issue of funding but also a wider commercial discussion.

7.6 Cllr Stockan raised the question about the engagement with transport, since the ministerial change and the change of the portfolio.

7.7 Ms Gougeon confirmed that Mr Dey is the Transport Minister with responsibilities for ferries and transport issues. Therefore the engagement should be sought with him.

7.8 Cllr MacKay stressed how important it is for the Local Authorities to have early involvement if the situation with ferries is going to move forward.

7.9 Ms Gougeon stressed her appreciation towards the issue of the ferries and the impact on islands; she also highlighted that despite this not being in her portfolio she will make sure to work closely with Mr Dey.

7.10 John Mundell raised the question whether the internal ferries will be wrapped-up in the process and not forgotten - both in case of funding and capital replacement.

7.11 Chris Wilcock clarified that the current engagement should not have impact on Local Authorities services; with regards to wider work there is a regular engagement.

8. STPR2 Update

8.1 Fiona Brown gave a short update on the STPR2 development.

8.2 Pippa Milne emphasised how important it is to link this strategy to the population issues.

8.3 Fiona Brown highlighted that STPR2 has a strong link with National Planning Framework and recognised that the population strategy is key to that as well.

8.4 Malcolm Burr supported Pippa Milne’s comment saying that the strategy (for island connectivity) has to be about social and economic development as well as the lifeline service. Malcolm Burr expressed his hope that Islands Connectivity Plan will fill the gaps left by the STPR2 and it has to be island specific.

8.5 Craig Hatton supported Malcolm Burr’s view about using connectivity and transport to support economic growth and rebalancing of population. He also raised the point about giving the appropriate weight to Local Authorities when discussing regional transport.

8.6 Fiona Brown stressed the value in the Regional Transport Working Groups, the specific forum for local authority engagement in STPR2  and that these will continue through the remainder of the process. The next RTWGs have a specific agenda item on feedback to date..

9. Population Update

9.1 Ben Jones gave an overview on population issues.

9.2 Cllr Davidson highlighted that Local Authorities were very supportive around the work on repopulation. However, now she faces the boundary commission, which is going directly against the SG policy and has done no favours to the population issues. Furthermore Cllr Davidson highlighted that despite extensive land in Scotland, it is difficult to obtain the land useable for housing development. Compulsory purchase used by the Local Authorities to gain such land is a difficult and slow tool to use that needs readdressing.

9.3 Cllr MacKay suggested that there very targeted repopulation solutions are needed, as each community experiences unique population challenges. He also highlighted that the work around repopulation should not be duplicated with work that is already being done, for example, by CoHI.

9.4 Ben Jones discussed that repopulation zones are being looked at and there are complicated issues to address so the more time spent developing comprehensive solutions the better.

9.5 Cllr Stockan expressed his interest in ensuring that there was a fragility index for very small islands to avoid any populations being completely wiped out.

9.6 Cllr Currie discussed the issue of second homes, stating that he was pleased to see the manifesto commitment to look at the numbers of second homes.

9.7 Ms Gougeon stated that she was glad that this was a manifesto commitment and that it is really important to explore solutions.

9.8 Nicola Crook responded to Cllr Stockan’s point acknowledging that the lack of island level data is an ongoing issue that Scottish Government seek to address. She highlighted the recent Islands Survey publication and noted that further work is being undertaken to extract island level data from data zone level reports.

10. Island Communities Impact Assessments (ICIAs)

10.1 Des Tinney provided an update on ICIAs reminding the ISG that the ICIA guidance is a living document and that there has been ongoing engagement with relevant authorities and policy colleagues to support updates.

10.2  Pippa Milne raised the issue of consultation fatigue as having to do full consultations on every island for issues such as the waste plan would take away from the focus on delivery. 

10.3 Des Tinney agreed that he hopes to ensure close alignment with other work across the team and wider SG to try and help avoid consultation fatigue and where possible, the sharing of impacts and potential concerns for new policies, strategies or services.

11. Any Other Business

11.1 No other business was raised by ISG members. Officials will liaise with Private Office to arrange the next meeting week commencing 13 September 2021, subject to availability.  

Islands Strategic Group – July 2021


Action Points







July 21 AP 1.

Islands Team to liaise with  Colin McKnight on the National Care Service consultation to arrange  early involvement with Local Authorities in the consultation process.

Islands Team / Adult Care service

Meeting took place end of August.

Bespoke consultation events for Island Local Authorities representatives as part of the National Care Service consultation which is currently live.

Adult Care service team to take forward, Island team will attend.


July 21 AP 2.

Covid Status update sent out to attendees


Completed on 07/07/021


July 21 AP 3.

Pass PSO aviation issues to relevant colleagues

Chris Wilcock

Gary Cox is attending ISG 15 Sept


July 21 AP 4.

The Islands Team will invite the relevant policy team to attend the next meeting


Gary Cox is attending ISG 15 Sept


July 21 AP 5.

List of Policy Leads for the Manifesto commitments

Islands Team

In progress



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