Islands Strategic Group minutes: October 2023

Minutes from the meeting of the group on 5 October 2023.

Attendees and apologies

  • Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs, Land Reform and Islands 
  • Minister for Transport 
  • Kate Higgins, Special Advisor
  • Cllr Duncan MacInnes, Depute Leader,  Comhairle nan Eilean Siar
  • Malcolm Burr, Chief Executive, Comhairle nan Eilean Siar
  • Cllr James Stockan, Council Leader, Orkney Islands Council
  • Oliver Reid, Chief Executive, Orkney Islands Council
  • Cllr Emma Macdonald, Council Leader, Shetland Islands Council
  • Maggie Sandison, Chief Executive, Shetland Islands Council
  • Cllr Alan Hill, Cabinet member for Communities and Islands, North Ayrshire Council
  • Craig Hatton, Chief Executive, North Ayrshire Council  
  • Cllr Raymond Bremner, Council Leader, Highland Council
  • Derek Brown, Chief Executive, Highland Council
  • Cllr Robin Currie, Council Leader, Policy Lead for Economy and Rural Growth, Argyll and Bute Council
  • Pippa Milne, Chief Executive, Argyll and Bute Council

Scottish Government

  • Anna Densham, Deputy Director, Land Reform, Rural and Islands Policy
  • Erica Clarkson, Head of Islands Policy Lead
  • Francesco Sindico, Carbon Neutral Islands Project Lead
  • Coinneach Morrison, Islands Recovery and Policy Manager
  • Lorraine Lowrie, Senior Island Communities Policy Advisor
  • Lewis MacAskill, Senior Island Communities Policy Advisor
  • Stuart Brown, Island Communities Policy Advisor
  • Craig Dillon, Senior Migration Policy Officer
  • Ann McKenzie, Unit Head, Tackling Child Poverty Policy Unit
  • Douglas Armstrong, Fuel Poverty Strategy Team Leader

Items and actions


The Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs, Land Reform and Islands, Ms Gougeon, welcomed all attendees to the meeting, and thanked them for their efforts to attend in person.
The minutes from the previous Islands Strategic Group meeting were approved. 

Islands Transport Forum  

Minutes recorded separately.

Child Poverty

Cabinet Secretary Gougeon introduced the child poverty agenda item. 

Maggie Sandison described that for Shetland and other islands, the cost of living was key to address child poverty, and that the Minimum Income Standard needed to be addressed. 

Craig Hatton supported the cost of living point from a North Ayrshire perspective, describing this as a cost to experience life in a normal way for islanders.

Pippa Milne explained issues for consumers accessing smart meters preventing access to the best tariffs. There are regulatory issues that  could be tackled to address the cost of living, with this responsibility on private sector providers.

Kate Higgins commented that the issues raised are reserved and wondered if there were any collective cases to be made, to reach out to UK Government and Ofgem.

Cabinet Secretary Gougeon noted the action point requesting Local Authorities to join her in a collective approach to address of the issues.

Malcolm Burr stated that there has been no replacement for European funding, with the shortfall landing on hard-pressed council budgets. The Islands Forum could provide an opportunity to address this, as funding is essential to support vulnerable people.

Councillor Currie raised an issue with the availability of childcare, particularly for those with additional needs.

Councillor Macdonald agreed that childcare was a significant issue.

Councillor Stockan stated that childcare was also an urgent issue in Orkney. The issue needed to be addressed in the fringes away from main population areas in particular. He explained that the childcare issue had also been raised in COHI.

Lorraine Lowrie explained that an update on outcomes drafted at COHI are due. There is an awareness of the crossover of issues raised at ISG and COHI.

Cost of Living

Cabinet Secretary Gougeon introduced the Cost of Living agenda item. She commented on the positive reception of the Islands Cost Crisis Emergency Fund and was keen to hear how the additional funding has been utilised.

Maggie Sandison explained that in Shetland that the funding had been used for schools, and work was ongoing on ways to remove the stigma of using additional help.

Malcolm Burr thanked Scottish Government for the early intervention and stated the funding was very welcome. The fund had been added to by CnES and remarked at how vital the support was. 

James Stockan also passed on thanks. He explained that the funding had been allocated rather than through a bidding process which had been useful to save time. Plans are in place for the funds.

Councillor Currie commented that islands pay more for electricity, despite these areas being where the energy is produced, and where the highest levels of fuel poverty are.

Councillor Stockan added that energy is a reserved matter and the issues will be taken to the Islands Forum.

Maggie Sandison explained that Shetland are attempting to push Ofgem for a long term solution for pricing and tariffs, using energy in the areas it is produced.

Oliver Reid added that there is no market pressure in island communities therefore the companies are getting away with charging the process they do.

Councillor Stockan stated that there needs to be a collective voice to take to Ofgem, but unfortunately there is no such option for gas prices.

Maggie Sandison raised that there is an end to the fixed term of many mortgages and it remains to be seen what further impact this will have on households.

Migration/Skills Labour Shortages

Cabinet Secretary Gougeon introduced the migration agenda item.

Pippa Milne raised the issue of attracting staff to island areas. She is keen to see a focussed effort on fewer items that have the biggest impact. This could involve preventing the drain of people away by making better use of collective assets such as schools. 

Lorraine Lowrie provided an update on the Addressing Depopulation Action Plan.

Derek Brown commented that officials had captured activity well but questioned if outcomes would be successful.

Councillor Stockan suggested there was a change in the way that houses are being used in islands. If additional people moved to islands, he questioned where they would be housed.

Craig Dillon stated there had been no update from Home Office as yet on the Rural Visa.

Kate Higgins reassured that Scottish Government was aware of housing issues. She gave the example of the registration of short-term lets being resulting in these progressing to long-term lets.

Malcolm Burr stated empty homes officers had brought more homes into availability in the CnES area.

Councillor Currie stated that staffing issues are a severe problem for hospitality venues. He asked if Local Authorities could assist Scottish Government in addressing this.

Cabinet Secretary Gougeon added that the Rural Visa Pilot Proposal has seen collaboration between Scottish Government and Local Authorities.

Councillor Hill stated that in relation to council tax, not all islands are the same. North Ayrshire has large areas of tenement style housing. On Cumbrae council tax changes for second homes could result in a flood of available housing. On Arran there is a lack of affordable housing, which is needed for both island residents and visitors. There is also a lot of tied housing on islands. He suggested that modular style housing could be developed, possibly constructed on islands, as cheaply as possible. This is another issue that must be raised at the Islands Forum.

Cabinet Secretary Gougeon suggested that the Minister for Housing could be attend the next ISG meeting.

Councillor Stockan stated than in Stromness for example, the population is half of what it was 150 years ago. There are more bedrooms in houses than are needed. He suggested an incentive provided to homeowners that would mean fewer new houses would need to be built. 

Any Other Business

Cabinet Secretary Gougeon invited members to raise any other business. No other business was raised. 

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