Islands Strategic Group minutes: June 2020

Minutes from the meeting of the Islands Strategic Group, held on 23 June 2020.

Attendees and apologies


  • Mr Paul Wheelhouse, Minister for Energy, Connectivity and the Islands


  • Malcolm Burr (Chief Executive, Comhairle nan Eilean Siar),
  • Cllr. Roddie Mackay (Leader, Comhairle nan Eilean Siar),
  • Callum Iain MacIver (Environment Director, Comhairle nan Eilean Siar)
  • Cllr. James Stockan (Leader, Orkney Islands Council),
  • Gavin Barr (Executive Director, Development and Infrastructure, Orkney Islands Council),
  • Craig Hatton (North Ayrshire Council, Chief Executive),
  • Pippa Milne (Argyll and Bute Council)
  • Cllr. Steven Coutts, (Leader Shetland Islands Council)
  • Peter Peterson (Executive Manager, Shetland Islands Council)
  • Cllr. Allan Henderson (Vice-Convener, Highland Council),
  • Cllr Robin Currie (Policy Lead Councillor, Argyll and Bute Council),
  • Cllr. Aileen Morton (Council Leader Argyll and Bute Council),
  • Anna Whelan (Strategy Manager, Orkney Islands Council),
  • Cllr. Alex Gallagher (North Ayrshire Council).
  • John Mundell (Chief Executive, Orkney Islands Council).


  • Cllr. Margaret Davidson (Highland Council)
  • Maggie Sandison (Chief Executive, Shetland Islands Council
  • Donna Manson (Highland Council, Chief Executive)
  • Kate Lackie, (Executive Chief Officer for Performance and Governance, Highland Council)

Items and actions

Welcome and introductions

Mr Wheelhouse welcomed everyone to the eighth meeting of the Islands Strategic Group (ISG) and outlined the agenda items.   

Minutes of the previous meeting and matters arising

Craig Hatton indicated that against 3.5 in the previous Minutes, the point had become conflated. He wished it to be noted that the key planning related issues for islands transitioning through and out of lockdown were ferry capacity and Tourism.

Malcolm Burr approved the Minutes.

Easing of lockdown: Planning for Islands to move through Phases 2: public health considerations

Michael Kellet (Head of Constituent and Cabinet) summarised the current COVID situation - that it is clear that for what is now been exactly three months in Lockdown, progress has been made. 

The virus remains and continues to bring death to our communities. We remain in Phase 2 of the COVID-19 Route Map and a formal review is expected to take place on 9 July. The Deputy First Minister is expected to make an important announcement in Parliament today. The test and Protect system is in place nationally and fully operational. This is a very important part of moving through the Phases and controlling the virus. Our ability to control any resulting outbreaks will be key going forward. 

Minister Wheelhouse noted a possible link between meat plants and the working environments for our key and thriving aquaculture sector, which is prominent across our islands. The Minister also requested an update regarding a satellite model where drones are being utilised as an integral part of the Test and Protect system.

Michael Kellet indicated a plan to document the outcomes of the satellite model following completion of the trial and the results of this would be shared in due course. The satellite model is operational and being delivered in partnership with Royal Mail. A range of logistics and innovations are in place to support the model for Shetland, which is seen as one of several key priorities for logistical reasons. All Island Authorities and Authorities with islands are part of the future rollout plans.

Michael Kellet confirmed that a suite of sector specific guidance was forthcoming to underpin the COVID-19 Route Map, which will allow different sectors to plan for safe re-opening. There is a recognition that there will be a significant change in holiday habits, particularly due to the added complications associated with travelling abroad. Health and Tourism colleagues are working closely to support guidance development.

With regards to The Right to Roam in Scotland, Mr Wheelhouse confirmed that this was established though The Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003 (the 2003 Act) which allows everyone access to most land and inland water in Scotland for certain purposes. However, a generation may have grown up with limited awareness of the Scottish Outdoor Access Code, while accessing their individual Right to Roam. 

Michael Kellet confirmed that equality is very much in the First Minister’s  and other Ministers minds. There is an explicit acknowledgement that a range of harms need to be considered including equalities, mental health, isolation and the economy. All of these need to be addressed and remain also in the mind of senior clinicians. The request from partners for prior engagement is fair. However, decisions need to be closely informed by the most up-to-date changes associated with the virus data.

Travel considerations to the islands 

Chris Wilcock confirmed that there may be some conflict currently with Public Transport guidance and any suggestion that people with symptoms might be able to travel home to self-isolate, as is encouraged (where possible). Safe travel for individuals with symptoms on ferries would prove very challenging and isolating in a property on an island would likely be safer and easier to manage. Presently the guidance has not been finalised and discussions on this remain ongoing.

Michael Kellet confirmed that engagement with local area leadership was key and will be factored into plans.

Chris Wilcock confirmed that there has been ongoing engagement with LAs and stakeholders. The two week booking window provides flexibility and the opportunity to review and make amendments. Most journeys are currently groups of 2, however, moving forward larger groups make be more likely to travel together and that would aid capacity increases. Ongoing engagement with key stakeholders is working well.

Restarting tourism and hospitality

Iain Morrison reminded colleagues that The Scottish Government is proposing a provisional timeframe of the week of 15 July for the opening of the Tourism and Hospitality sector, in line with Phase 3 of the Route-map. Mr Ewing continues to look for further support across the sector e.g. accommodation providers and separately Mr Ewing has requested that HIE carefully assess rejected business support cases and provide direct responses. The strategic response to STERN will be key. Islands will be considered. We must emphasise that this reopening is conditional on the scientific and public health evidence supporting the move at the time. Any reopening must be compliant with sector guidance and public health guidance at the time, such as physical distancing and suitable hygiene measures. 

The Minister confirmed that second home maintenance is possible from 29 June.

Cllr. Steven Coutts suggested that a strong voice for transport and the islands will be important to the Tourist Task Force; however this needs to be a genuine process. Similarly ICIAs will be important for the Route Map.

Iain Morrison confirmed that the Scottish Tourism Recovery Task Force has representation from across the islands and this feeds into the Scottish Tourism Emergency Task Force. Similarly, Enterprise Agencies are important at a strategic level.

Mr Wheelhouse confirmed that the Islands Team are completing ICIA work for each stage of the the Route Map. The democratically elected are key in terms of engagement with this work, as defined in the Islands Act.

Islands Communities Impact Assessments (ICIAs) 

Erica Clarkson noted that The Partnership Working Group met last week. This was very productive and involved engagement in ICIA development discussions. The ICIA has now been completed for Phase 2 of the Route Map and forward planning is being undertaken for Phase 3 and Phase 4. Amongst other areas, guidance will take into consideration Education and Tourism. To help inform this, input has been sought from the Partnership Working Group, the Scottish Islands Federation and from policy colleagues across SG. Where our assessment has highlighted a significantly different effect on an island community (including other island communities), we have alerted colleagues and offered our views on mitigations.

Paul Maxton confirmed that following the ISG on 26 May work on ICIAs has recommenced. 

Pippa Milne confirmed that at the last ISG a summary was provided and the indication that SG was working in the spirit of the Act. Further detail and engagement regarding the guidance, Action Planning, NIP delivery and COVID-19 response would build on this and be helpful.

Erica Clarkson confirmed that the guidance requires some fine-tuning. A light-touch review of the National Islands Plan would be carried out with partners via a survey. This will help to identify the priorities for island communities as they continue to recover from, and live with the pandemic. Similarly the proposed National Islands Plan implementation approaches will be consulted on through the Partnership Working Group. 

Islands Partnership Working Group

Paul Maxton confirmed that local authority officials met with the Islands Team on 16 June to help inform the development of the ICIAs and the associated guidance and templates, but also to provide the Islands Team with a sounding board and sense checker for the work we’re doing to implement the National Islands Plan. This is more critical in light of Covid-19 pandemic with a need to make sure islands don’t get lost throughout the recovery process.

Any other business and date of the next meeting

The date of the next meeting is to be agreed on email.


Secretariat: Erica Clarkson

Phone: 07585 404264


Islands Strategic Group

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