Islands Strategic Group minutes: October 2020

Minutes from the meeting of the Islands Strategic Group, held on 29 October 2020.

Attendees and apologies

Chair: Mr Paul Wheelhouse, Minister for Energy, Connectivity and the Islands


  • Paul Wheelhouse, Minister for Energy, Connectivity and the Islands
  • Malcolm Burr, Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, Chief Executive
  • Cllr. Roddie Mackay, Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, Leader
  • Cllr. James Stockan, Orkney Islands Council, Leader
  • Anna Whelan, Orkney Islands Council, Strategy Manager
  • John Mundell, Orkney Islands Council, Chief Executive
  • Cllr Robin Currie, Argyll and Bute Council, Leader
  • Pippa Milne, Argyll and Bute Council, Chief Executive
  • Cllr Allan Henderson, Highland Council, Vice-Convener
  • Cllr. Steven Coutts, Shetland Islands Council, Leader
  • Peter Peterson, Shetland Islands Council, Executive Manager
  • Maggie Sandison, Shetland Islands Council, Chief Executive
  • Russell McCutcheon, North Ayrshire Council, Executive Director

Scottish Government:

  • Catriona Maclean 
  • Des Tinney
  • Nicola Crook
  • Cameron Anson
  • Paul Maxton
  • Coinneach Morrison
  • Don Morrison
  • Lorraine Lowrie
  • Lynn Haughton
  • Prof. Jason Leitch
  • Chris Wilcock
  • Louisa Harvey
  • Laurence Kenney
  • Duncan Stalker
  • Kate Higgins


  • Cllr. Alex Gallagher, North Ayrshire Council
  • Craig Hatton, North Ayrshire Council, Chief Executive
  • Rhona Arthur, North Ayrshire Council
  • Cllr. Margaret Davidson, Highland Council, Leader
  • Kate Lackie, Highland Council, Executive Chief Officer
  • Erica Clarkson, Scottish Government

Items and actions

Welcome and introductions

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

Mr Wheelhouse explained that the rollout of Microsoft Teams will be taking place for SG staff shortly and therefore hoped the next meeting of the ISG will be via that platform.

Minutes of the previous meeting and matters arising

Mr Wheelhouse clarified that the minutes were intended as a record of key points raised and not a verbatim account of the meeting. 

Members confirmed nothing to note on previous minutes and they were therefore proposed by Cllr Roddie Mackay and seconded by Cllr James Stockan.  

Islands (Scotland) Act 2018 – update  

Island Communities Impact Assessments (ICIAs) – Paul Maxton (SG Islands Team) 

Paul gave an update on ICIA work including the consultation on guidance which went live on 12 October 2020 and closed on 9 November 2020. The requisite Regulations were laid on 3 November and are scheduled to come into force on 23 December 2020 which means that the duty to carry out ICIAs will be a legal requirement from that date. 

Paul also confirmed that in terms of the regulations, all ICIAs will be published to allow greater transparency and therefore enable island communities greater access to decision making.   

Cllr. Robin Currie requested some clarity on variations to ICIAs and Paul explained that the regulations would allow part of an ICIA to be reviewed. It was felt that it would be unfair to ask a relevant authority to go back and complete a whole ICIA if this wasn’t necessary.

Cllr. Robin Currie also noted that whilst they very much welcome ICIAs, there will be an impact on staff resources and subsequent potential financial implications. Paul confirmed that this had been raised during the consultation but due to the demand led nature of ICIAs, it is difficult to predict how much resource will be required. Mr Wheelhouse advised he is happy for further discussion to take place between Relevant Authorities and SG officials offline about resourcing in respect of ICIAs to see if any further estimation of resource can be carried out. Action. 

Cllr Currie’s comments were echoed by Pippa Milne who also asked if there was an opportunity to revisit the financial memorandum as when this was agreed it suggested a minor impact for local authorities however they would now deem it to be significant. Mr Wheelhouse recognised both Cllr Currie and Pippa’s comments and suggested that this discussion was picked up offline between SG officials and the Partnership Working Group (PWG). Pippa Milne agreed to provide estimates of costs. Action.

Cllr Roddie Mackay asked for clarity around who decides if an ICIA is required. Paul advised that the onus will be on the Relevant Authority to decide and thereafter publish the reason for either carrying one out or not.  Malcolm Burr noted that Local Authorities must be clear on why they are taking decisions and advised that guidance would definitely help on this front. Mr Wheelhouse requested that SG Officials consider this further and that in the absence of definitive guidance existing currently, to look at putting in place something to ensure consistency of approach and common understanding.  Action.

Malcolm Burr noted he was happy to see a lot of the points raised by Comhairle nan Eilean Siar in the June consultation have been incorporated into the proposals.  

Malcolm requested some clarity on duties in regard to ICIAs applying to all policies, strategies or services in existence when the Commencement Regulations come into force. Paul confirmed this was the case and was a point that had come through strongly during the National Islands Plan Consultation process.

Cllr James Stockan suggested using the Highlands and Islands Airports Ltd. remote towers issue as a live case for testing the ICIA process and noted that it would be really useful to have a small number of live cases to test to enable understanding of the process. 

National Islands Plan (NIP) and Recovery Planning - Nicola Crook (SG Islands Team)

Nicola Crook gave an update on the NIP Implementation Route Map (IRM) and thanked members of the Islands Strategic Group (ISG) and Partnership Working Group (PWG) for their invaluable contributions thus far. An initial draft of the IRM has been sent to the PWG for their feedback. This feedback will be considered when developing the final draft of the IRM. Nicola confirmed that the IRM will be published in early winter 2020 and noted that it will be a living document to allow for changes.  

Following publication of the IRM, there will be a series of virtual workshops held for each of the strategic objectives within the NIP and the reports from these will help to develop the IRM and feed into the annual report. Further details of these workshops will follow. 

The NIP annual report to Parliament will include progress made towards the strategic objectives and to coincide with this an online NIP progress dashboard will be launched

Nicola advised that the Islands Policy Team are developing plans for forming the NIP Governance Group who will oversee the monitoring of the IRM though members of this have not yet been established. This group will meet quarterly and will review the IRM on the same frequency. The IRM will also be reviewed monthly by the Islands Policy Team and a progress update given to Parliament each year via the annual report. John Mundell noted that the Governance Group should have representation from the Local Authorities, both an elected member and an official. 

Nicola gave an overview of the NIP Survey commissioned by the Scottish Government and being carried out by James Hutton Institute, which has been issued to 20,000 island residents. Results from this survey will be analysed in February and will feed into the annual report. This survey was commissioned following feedback from the NIP Consultation where concerns had been raised about a lack of islands level socio-economic data. Pippa Milne noted that Local Authorities have good data about engaging with communities and expressed concern over previous issues they have had about getting a representative data set for smaller islands. Nicola explained that this is being monitored. In addition to this, Nicola confirmed that a research index and research working group are also being established.

Cllr Coutts noted that it was important for the ISG members to be working together with SG on this rather than simply receiving reports. Nicola noted that it should be a collaborative effort and that the SG Islands Team will work in partnership with the PWG, the NIP Governance Group and the ISG to achieve this. Cllr Coutts suggested it would be useful to map out the responsibilities and differences between the ISG and the PWG to ensure there was a clear and specific route for receiving feedback from the democratically elected representatives for the islands. Peter Peterson reminded the group that at the last ISG meeting, it was agreed that a Terms of Reference be drawn up. Action.

Maggie Sandison raised concern about turnaround times for requests for feedback which is making it difficult to get proper political engagement. Mr Wheelhouse recognised this and agreed that this should be considered however noted that Parliamentary timetables are often driving these turnaround times due to legislative deadlines that have been pushed back due to Covid 19. Nicola suggested that working with the Local Authorities to get a timeline of their key meetings may help with this. Action.

Malcolm Burr raised the issue of resources to support the work around IRM and suggested that the ISG was a good forum to further discussion on this. 

Russell McCutcheon noted that Arran and Cumbrae have a desire to create a 10 year recovery plan and that it was important that the overall IRM reflected locality plans so that the different work plans complement each other. 

Islands Funding -     Des Tinney (SG Islands Team)

Des Tinney gave an update on the £2 million Islands Green Recovery Programme launched on 13 September and being delivered in partnership with Zero Waste Scotland, Energy Savings Trust, Highland and Islands Enterprise and Inspiring Scotland. 

Des reported the Inspiring Scotland strand of the fund closed with 56 capital project applications, totalling over £3 million. The applications are currently being assessed and Des advised that work will be done across SG policy areas to see if any additional funding can be identified to assist with the projects that are not able to be funded.  

The Zero Waste Scotland strand of the fund is open until 16 November and has had good engagement thus far.

The Highlands and Islands Enterprise strand of the fund has 12 potential projects which are  currently being considered by their investment committee. 

There have been  8 potential projects identified for the Energy Savings Trust (EST) strand of the fund. EST and SG will work with the communities, the local authorities and the Regional transport partnerships to further develop the proposals

Des gave an update on the Draft Infrastructure Investment Plan and confirmed that £30 million had been allocated from this for delivery of the National Islands Plan over the lifetime of the plan which will support the NIP objectives around tourism, infrastructure, energy, skills and training. Des explained that SG will work with Island partners and the Local Authorities to ensure that work on this aligns to local priorities. 

Maggie Sandison queried about how the fund links in with the NIP priorities , Des explained that it was part of the economic stimulus package and that applications to the fund are aligned with the NIP objectives. Mr Wheelhouse noted that perhaps the disconnect was due to the pace at which things were happening and the subsequent communications around the fund and NIP priorities, but noted Maggie’s comments. 

Alan Henderson queried why the Energy Savings Trust strand of the fund was not given to an island delivery partner. Des explained EST have experience of delivering projects in rural and island areas and have established supply chains. The recipients of the funding will be islands based. 

Localised COVID measures and the impact of restrictions on islands - Professor Jason Leitch, National Clinical Director 

Professor Leitch gave an update on current Covid-19 measures, the introduction of the new tiered system for localised restrictions and an overview of scenarios where the highest levels of transmission were taking place.

Cllr Coutts requested that Local Authorities were included in any discussions around transport decisions, before they are taken. Mr Wheelhouse confirmed he would relay this to the Cabinet Secretary for Transport, Infrastructure and Connectivity and ensure liaison and consultation takes place. 

Cllr James Stockan raised the issue of students returning to the islands for Christmas and Professor Leitch explained that there is a five point plan developed for the Christmas break which includes staggered entry and exit, testing and advising students to dial down social interaction in the period before they are looking to return home.

Chris Wilcock advised that Transport Scotland will be looking to transport operators to be reinforcing any messaging that is coming out for students returning. Chris also confirmed that TS will not be looking to reduce services the way that was done in May however can revisit this if any of the islands enter into any of the higher tiers of lockdown restrictions. 

Cllr Robin Currie asked if it would be possible for the Argyll and Bute islands to be placed in one tier and the A&B mainland to be placed in a different tier given the variances in population across the area. Professor Leitch explained there are similar instances of this across almost every local authority area and that the initial tier allocation will be whole local authority areas however this may be considered for review with local government and local public health leaders as we move forward. Professor Leitch also advised that consideration needs to be given to which ICU unit all of these areas need to use.

Russell McCutcheon noted that it was useful to hear the data breakdown Professor Leitch had provided regarding where transmission was taking place and it would be helpful if this could be provided at a localised level to enable localised messaging to take place. 

Date of the next meeting

Mr Wheelhouse thanked everyone for attending and their contributions

The next meeting will take place on 9 December 2020 at 2:00pm.


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