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.

Population Levels

Strategic Objective 1 - To address population decline and ensure a healthy, balanced population profile

We committed to identifying islands where population decline is becoming a critical issue in order to ensure that these islands have their needs addressed.

Work is ongoing in relation to this commitment.

The Scottish Government's Rural and Environmental Science and Analytical Services team produced a report entitled "Depopulation Analysis", which identified areas of high depopulation in rural and island Scotland, focusing on areas with a low working age population and highest dependency ratios.

In the Depopulation Analysis report, "critical depopulation" is defined as an area that has experienced depopulation and that is experiencing a range of additional challenges related to high dependency ratios. This should assist policymakers in identifying areas where the impact of depopulation will be felt most acutely.

On 10 March 2020, the Scottish Government held a repopulation workshop with stakeholders from the public, private and third sectors to develop potential pilots that would deliver repopulation initiatives in partnership with our rural and island communities.

Suggested pilot ideas included remote and/or dispersed working, an extension of the Woodland Croft Initiative to facilitate further access to land, crofting and forestry, delivering small-scale mixed housing and business unit developments to support population and entrepreneurialism and home working, as well as two proposals that provided a 'framework' for developing repopulation interventions.

The Scottish Government's Islands Team have also been engaging with officials to support the development of the forthcoming Population Strategy to capture the population challenges facing our island communities.

We are currently working across policy areas to further develop these small-scale pilot proposals, with a view to having them implemented by March 2021. The short, medium and long-term evaluation of these pilot interventions will provide crucial learning in developing our Repopulation Action Plan.

The recently announced Islands Growth Deal, seeks to address some of these demographic challenges.

The projects within the deal will:

  • demonstrate how to achieve Government net zero carbon targets;
  • create nationally significant new port infrastructure that will play an important role
    in supporting Scotland and the UK to achieve net zero targets;
  • strengthen their place as unique 'living laboratories' for global innovation in low carbon technologies, wellbeing research and sustainable food production in partnership with our leading universities and research institutes;
  • showcase their outstanding natural environment, heritage, culture and creativity to the world; and
  • create the foundation for an innovation-focused recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic and support inclusive growth across island communities.

As part of the programme, Island Deal partners estimate that projects have the potential to create 1300+ sustainable jobs aimed at retaining and attracting workers aged 16-40 aged workers, supported by a programme to equip the islands workforce with the skills to support their growth sectors.

We committed to understand the impact of Brexit on islands and island communities.

Work is ongoing in relation to this commitment.

Scottish Government continues to support our islands in the face of Brexit, and has provided £75,000 to each council, including local authorities comprising of island communities, to coordinate EU Exit preparedness. This covers the period ending 30 June 2021.

We have also commissioned the new National Islands Plan Survey, which will allow us to gather the views of island communities, on a rating scale, across all of the Strategic Objectives, to compare our progress for the duration of the National Islands Plan once further surveys are undertaken. This will allow us to further identify and understand the impacts of Brexit on our island communities.

We committed to develop an action plan to support repopulation of our rural and island communities and work with partners to test approaches using small-scale pilots.

Work is ongoing in relation to this commitment.

Despite delays due to the impact of COVID-19, the work on Workforce Dispersal has now resumed. Scottish Government intends to be at the forefront of this area and plans to form a new working group are being discussed to initially look at our internal workforce and how jobs can be done across any areas of Scotland.

There are two key pilots currently ongoing in this area. Working with the Woodland Croft Partnership, exploring the expansion of the Woodland Croft Initiative to facilitate further access to land, crofting and forestry, and working with Rural Housing Scotland to develop a toolkit based on the experience of projects currently exploring small-scale mixed accommodation and business unit developments to support population, entrepreneurialism and home working. The pilots include communities in Orkney, Na h-Eileanan an lar, Argyll and Bute, and Highland. These pilots will help inform the development of our Repopulation Action Plan and we look forward to reporting on their progress within the coming year. Work is ongoing in relation to this commitment.

We committed to work with young islanders to identify actions to encourage them to stay on or return to islands.

Work is ongoing in relation to this commitment.

We are happy to report that the Student Retention project is continuing. This project aims to encourage students to remain in Scotland after completing study, and we will work with young islanders to develop further understanding of what would make them want to stay or return after study.

Additionally, to inform the establishment of our new Young Islanders Network, the Young Islanders Challenge Project was launched on 16 January 2021 in collaboration with Youth Scotland. This will provide the opportunity for island residents aged 5-25 to highlight the issues facing them, and develop a network that will help to address these.

We committed to fully consider policy developments, such as the findings of Scottish Government commissioned research "Rural Planning to 2050" when ensuring that the needs of Scotland's islands are taken into account by the Ministerial Taskforce on Population.

This commitment has been fulfilled.

The Ministerial Population Taskforce is due to publish Scotland's first Population Strategy in early 2021. The paper includes a strategic building block for 'a more balanced population.' During the development of the Population Strategy, all 32 local authorities engaged with the Scottish Government at official level through roundtable discussions, which were coordinated via COSLA. Careful consideration of the specific demographic needs of island communities has been given by the Taskforce, and the need for further action is reflected in the Strategy's vision and next steps. The Strategy and its vision were endorsed by COSLA leaders in January 2021.

In support of the long-term vision of the Population Programme, The Scottish Government's Islands Team Islands Team and Population officials have joined the CoHI officials population working group. Scottish Government officials will support the group to undertake initial work around cross-cutting interventions that can address depopulation in island regions.

We committed to ensure that policies aim to retain and attract Gaelic speakers to live and work in Gaelic speaking island communities.

Work is ongoing in relation to this commitment.

Scottish Government Gaelic policy seeks to ensure that job opportunities using Gaelic are located in island communities and that authorities and public bodies are employing Gaelic speakers where possible. Specific Scottish Government Gaelic funding contributes to this commitment, but it is noted that there is potential for larger employers to locate jobs and housing in island communities and consider Gaelic skills, which Scottish Government encourages.

We committed to work with policy colleagues to produce a National Development Plan for crofting which will set the long term strategic direction for crofting – highlighting the core elements necessary to ensure crofting remains at the heart of our rural and remote communities.

Work is ongoing in relation to this commitment.

Work is ongoing in regards to the National Development Plan for Crofting, which will be published in the coming year. We are committed are committed to working across policy to ensure that our island communities are fairly represented in all discussions informing this work.

We committed to work with the Crofting Commission to encourage a healthy turnover of croft tenancies on our islands to create opportunities for new people into crofting.

Work is ongoing in relation to this commitment.

In the last two years, we have seen over 830 new entrants into crofting - 44% of these are women, and 32% are aged 40 or under. As over 50% of crofts are on our islands, the majority of these new entrants will be island based.

We committed to continue to provide support for island crofters to make improvements to their crofts and help to sustain their businesses, these will include: Croft House Grant Scheme, Cattle Improvement Scheme and other crofting support mechanisms.

This commitment has been fulfilled.

All croft specific schemes have continued over the first year of the National Islands Plan. Over the last 12 months we have approved 40 Croft House Grant applications from island crofters, with a total value of £1.2 million. This comprises of 23 new homes and 17 home improvements grants.

Of the 40 successful island applications, 24 were in Na h-Eileanan an Iar, 12 were in Highland, 2 were in Shetland, and 2 were in Argyll and Bute.



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