National islands plan: annual report - 2020

The Islands (Scotland) Act 2018 requires that a report is presented to Parliament each year setting out the progress made towards delivery of the National Islands Plan. The National Islands Plan annual report 2020 is the first of these reports.


We know that every community across Scotland's islands continue to face unique challenges in relation to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. During this unparalleled period, we have necessarily had to re-prioritise our efforts to best support our island communities. This has had a direct impact on our implementation of the Plan itself, and as such many of the previously envisaged timescales have been extended. However, despite the pandemic some progress towards the majority of the commitments in the National Island Plan has still been made. In many instances, the fulfilment of certain commitments was not envisaged to occur within the initial year of implementation in any case, with progress continuing over the five year lifetime of the Plan itself.

Conversely, Covid-19 has allowed us to further develop relationships and knowledge across our islands, and to gain a clearer sense of the effect of the pandemic on all islands' issues. We have been able to utilise the strong links that we made across the islands during the National Islands Plan consultation of 2019. This has meant that we could reach out to our island contacts and respond quickly to the problems concerning them. These issues have included, for example complex and interrupted supply chains, geographical isolation, the wellbeing impact of the pandemic, access to lifeline services, community testing and the overall effect of the outbreak on vital island economies. This has also allowed the Scottish Government's Islands Team to act as a conduit for island communities to ensure that their concerns were heard across relevant policy areas, and, when necessary, triage to find appropriate solutions.

Throughout the pandemic, the Minister for Energy, Connectivity and the Islands has also undertaken increased engagement with our local authority partners – both through existing frameworks such as the Islands Strategic Group, Convention of the Highlands and Islands Transport Forum and more widely with other island stakeholders. This has ensured that the unique challenges faced by islands have been properly represented within strategic decision making. This included a series of meetings throughout November and December 2020 between local authorities, Heath Boards and the Deputy National Clinical Director to gather feedback on the implementation of the Scottish Government's Framework for Decision Making and meetings with MPs and MSPs respresenting Scotland's islands.

We have also supplemented the data that we gathered during the 2019 National Islands Plan consultation exercise with new information from our National Islands Plan through a COVID Lens Survey Results (2020). This allowed our local government colleagues to identify the most important Strategic Objectives within the National Islands Plan to best support recovery and renewal for their islands. The survey highlighted Transport as the most significant Strategic Objective with Sustainable Economic Development stated as being the second most significant. This was followed by Digital Connectivity as the third most important National Islands Plan delivery priority. This new data has informed our development of the Implementation Route Map and this is where we will start in terms of identifying priorities for delivery as we support communities to move towards a post-COVID-19 recovery.

As noted below, we have striven to operate in the true spirit of the Islands (Scotland) Act 2018 since its introduction, specifically in relation to the introduction of Island Communities Impact Assessments (ICIAs). To help inform this, we invited input from the Islands Partnership Working Group, key island stakeholders and policy colleagues across Scottish Government. This work remains ongoing, and ICIAs were completed in respect of any changes in the Coronavirus Guidance including the recent Travel Restrictions Guidance and Indoor Socialising Regulations.

To help support island economies through the pandemic, in the summer of 2020 a new £2 million Islands Green Recovery Programme (IGRP) was implemented as part of the wider £230 million Restart the Economy Capital Stimulus Package announced by the Cabinet Secretary for Finance. The IGRP has been designed to support and encourage resilience across Scotland's island communities. It aims to support green recovery and the delivery of National Islands Plan commitments through opportunities for community groups and island-based businesses to implement new projects targeting active and low carbon transport, environmentally-safe tourism, food sustainability, zero waste projects and the development of natural capital.

The IGRP was heavily oversubscribed. Consequently, additional funding was secured to maximise the impact of this capital stimulus investment by funding more projects, bringing the total on-island commitment through the Programme to £2,442,441. Successful applicants also directly contributed £252,652 to the delivery of projects, resulting in a total IGRP spend of just less than £2.7 million.



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