Islands Strategic Group minutes: November 2022

Minutes from the meeting of the group on 10 November 2022.

Attendees and apologies

  • Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs, Land Reform and Islands
  • Pippa Milne, Chief Executive, Argyll and 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
  • Paul Steele, Council Leader, Comhairle nan Eilean Siar
  • Donna Manson, Chief Executive, Highland Council
  • Cllr Raymond Bremner, Council Leader, Highland Council
  • Catriona MacAuley, Head of Economic Development and Regeneration, North Ayrshire Council
  • Cllr Alan Hill, Council's cabinet member for Communities and Islands, North Ayrshire Council
  • John Mundell, Chief Executive, Orkney Islands Council
  • James Stockan, Council Leader, Orkney Islands Council
  • Maggie Sandison, Chief Executive, Shetland Islands Council
  • Gary Robinson, Deputy Leader, Shetland Islands Council
  • Donna Manson, Chief Executive, Highland Council

Scottish Government

  • Erica Clarkson, Islands Lead
  • Alan Johnston, Deputy Director, Strategic Co-ordination Unit
  • Lorraine Lowrie, Senior Island Communities Policy Advisor, Islands Team
  • Lewis MacAskill, Senior Island Communities Policy Advisor, Islands Team
  • Francesco Sindico, Carbon Neutral Islands Project Lead
  • Cameron Anson, Repopulation and Island Communities Policy Manager, Islands Team
  • Stuart Brown, Island Communities Policy Advisor
  • Magda Szymborska-Bishop, Island Communities Policy Advisor
  • Rubina Mohammed, Senior Policy Manager, Fuel Poverty
  • Diarmaid Lawlor, Associate Director, Scottish Futures Trust

Items and actions


The Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and Islands, Ms Gougeon welcomed all attendees to the meeting. The Cabinet Secretary was pleased to welcome the new members who were elected earlier in the year.

The minutes from the previous meeting were approved.

Robin Currie requested updates on actions noted from the previous meeting.

Island Cost Crisis Emergency Fund

Erica Clarkson provided an update on the Island Cost Crisis Fund.

Francesco Sindico provided an update on the formulation of the paper, explaining that the funding would be given directly to following Local Authorities following extensive engagement with them. He described the bespoke package for islands and acknowledged the £1.4 million fund was insufficient to resolve all issues. 

James Stockan gave thanks and complimented the swift action in developing the fund. He asked for clarification on the next steps and if there would be additional support available for those communities who are a ‘double hop’ from the mainland, facing even higher costs.

Alan Hill also gave thanks and asked when the funds should be committed by.

Erica Clarkson explained that funds would need to be committed within the current financial year and there would a ‘light-touch’ grant offer letter and reporting requirements. Existing ongoing projects may benefit from funding.

Malcolm Burr thanked Scottish Government for the action. He explained that Local Authorities have already developed schemes in response to the cost of living. Flexibility to support current schemes is welcomed and will facilitate ease of spending.

James Stockan noted there had been cuts to broadband provision, a £16M reduction in the digital budget and sought reassurance that steps had been taken to ensure islands would not be impacted.

National Islands Plan Delivery Group

Ms Gougeon introduced Diarmaid Lawlor to provide an update from the National Islands Plan Delivery Group.

Diarmaid Lawlor welcomed the inclusion of the Young Islanders Network. He noted that the NIPDG should consistently check progress of the Implementation Route Map. He highlighted that a focus on local capacity together with shared learning would align the best use of resources to deliver on the objectives of the National Islands Plan?

Cost Crisis

Ms Gougeon moved the discussion to the topic of the cost crisis and welcomed specific issues and examples of solutions.

Maggie Sandison highlighted the cost of energy on islands and Shetland Island Council had the opportunity for engagement with Ofgem recently, where local energy pricing was explored. Discussions revolved around areas where more energy was produced than needed, at the possibility that these localities could experience reduced costs. Shetland produces a high proportion of energy but also has high prices.

James Stockan stated the need for a collective islands voice. The islands are still paying the costs of an expensive grid system despite generating energy.

Raymond Bremner stated that the Scottish Government has already heard a loud voice from islands where the well-known issues have been highlighted before. Talking doesn’t appear to be resulting in actions. Actions are required.

Francesco Sindico discussed the need to build on the momentum from the first UK Islands Forum in Orkney and other meetings. Happy to support the push forward on this .

James Stockan explained that when working with Ofgem, dictated by their sphere which is non-political and desperately unfair for island customers. The consumer is being disadvantaged by Ofgem rules and there is a need for collective action to change this.

Maggie Sandison mentioned the early stage of offshore wind projects that are entering into a licensing round without being clear what the community benefits are. Keen to work together with Crown Estate Scotland for clarity.

Gary Robinson described the switch from oil and propane heating to heat pumps and other alternatives as being difficult and expensive.

Raymond Bremner identified that there are variable challenges and communities can be supported to mitigate their own challenges. Biomass could be an option but not sure where legislation is up to regarding this.

Robin Currie explained that large numbers in island communities still use coal which is currently around £30/bag. There are benefits to offshore wind, with opportunities for all, and the potential off Islay could be likened to a mini Shetland oil boom. Developments should have a local workforce and housing would be required to accommodate.

Ms Gougeon stated she would come back to Raymond to update on the Scottish Government’s approach to biomass. 

James Stockan shared the expectation that Crown Estate funding would return to the communities where the activity is taking place.

Malcolm Burr stated that clarity on the sources of funding was key. 

Ms Gougeon highlighted that further discussion on Crown Estate Dues, funding, and related topics will be taking place.

Diarmaid Lawlor explained that there should be a coordination of strategic and operation delivery, the generation of power and the transition of lived-in infrastructure. He suggested this coordination be a focus of the National Islands Plan. There was broad agreement across the Group that this is considered. 

Fuel Poverty

Ms Gougeon moved the discussion to the topic of fuel poverty and welcomed examples of specific challenges and solutions.

James Stockan raised the amount of oil and gas being used on islands, stating that a strategy must be found to support a new way of thinking about fuel and transition to other sources.

Gary Robinson discussed the feed-in tariff, and the heat initiative that ended and was not replaced There was an end to nationwide insulation schemes. The UK Government is talking about blackouts in the coming winter but steps that could have been taken to mitigate this have stopped.

Raymond Bremner endorsed all the points raised and acknowledged the issues are linked. There is a mutual agreement regarding the issues across the islands but developing a strategy to mitigate them is a challenge. Islands generate power but an understanding of energy use on the islands is needed.

Diarmaid Lawlor warned of the strategic risks of quick successes and lumpy transition. Direct funding appropriately while during transition is key.

Raymond Bremner noted that the level of frustration in communities is always present but has been exacerbated in recent months. We are knowledgeable of the issues and mitigations but the delivery is the challenge.

Ms Gougeon appreciated the point and stressed it is important to communicate the urgency.

Rising Cost of Transport

Ms Gougeon moved the discussion on to the rising cost of transport and acknowledged this is closely related to the previous points of discussion.

Pippa Milne described the travel costs being high in Argyll and Bute. Issues with access to NHS services, systemic issues in strategic space with no take up on skills.

Raymond Bremner encouraged others to support strategies by challenging government on island needs, keeping the matter of rising costs the forefront. 

James Stockan stated that freight costs impact everyone on islands. 

Robin Currie echoed the freight costs point. He described an historic process of a ‘buggy’ on ferry services containing everyday essentials that could be wheeled off the vessel, whereas lorries must now be used. The main shop on Islay is a Co-op where the prices are much high compared to a Co-op on the mainland.

Ms Gougeon stated there would also be opportunities to raise cost issues in upcoming discussions.

Maggie Sandison described the cost of travel as being a driver for the high cost of living on Shetland. Public transport cannot always be the solution due to shift workers. Households require vehicles, sometimes more than one, particularly for those working in public services due to the length of the working day. Car ownership is needed to access employment, which also comes with expense. Pool cars and car share schemes are provided for some care workers. Support similar to this could be given to households.

Cameron Anson stated that there has been engagement with ZetTrans and groups across other islands to look at ways of supporting community opportunities for car sharing. The re-forming of the Islands Transport Forum is a work in progress with a focus on cost of travel and freight being a resilience issue. Input from ISG and NIP DG will be used in these discussions.

Paul Steele agreed that resilience issues are relevant, including storage, and local businesses must be supported in this regard.

James Stockan is conscious of ‘double journeys’ fuelling depopulation on the remotest islands, where time and cost is an issue.

Ms Gougeon stated that officials will keep Group updated on these discussions. 

Any Other Business

Ms Gougeon asked for any other topics for discussion.

James Stockan raised the point of support for students to remain on an island for their studies as an introduction to island life. Universities could have students stay on islands via a scholarship and providing place based opportunities.

Cameron Anson noted there has been some discussion with UHI and postgraduate support from Heriot Watt University for skills development.

Robin Currie asked about the Islands Bond funding, noting the amount for the current financial year is £300k. He asked what this will be used for and how it will be allocated.

Ms Gougeon answered that the feedback from the consultation events will be looked at for ideas for use to support depopulation.

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