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.

Sustainable Economic Development

Strategic Objective 2 - To improve and promote sustainable economic development

We committed to identify key actions to drive inclusive and sustainable economic growth on islands, such as community-run businesses, e-commerce and digitally enabled island-based businesses.

Work is ongoing in relation to this commitment.

The recently announced Islands Growth Deal aims to address common challenges faced by Orkney Islands Council, Shetland Islands Council and Comhairle nan Eilean Siar and looks at innovative ways to support new and improved industries, moving away from fossil fuels towards net zero carbon. The Scottish and UK Governments have each committed £50 million investment over ten years, where the resulting £100 million is shared between the three island authorities.

As part of the £230 million 'Restart the Economy' Capital Stimulus Package and through a broad range of ongoing projects, the £2 million Islands Green Recovery Programme (IGRP) has provided opportunities for community groups and businesses to contribute to sustainable economic growth that supports green recovery and carbon emissions reductions. This has been delivered through investment in active and low carbon transport, sustainable environmentally-safe tourism, food sustainability and zero waste projects that support and impact upon the green circular economy. On-island investment through the IGRP was extended through collaborative partnership working to over £2.6 million.

  • £2,442,441 was committed through 67 grants for community businesses and organisations on 30 islands across the 6 key local authority areas with islands.
  • Of that, £442,441 of additional funding was secured through the European Regional Development Fund, Highlands and Islands Enterprise and re-directed Scottish Government finance.
  • Grantees/successful applicants also contributed £252,652 to the delivery of projects, resulting in a total IGRP spend of more than £2.6 million.

We committed to explore how best to ensure the needs of islands are met within emerging regional economic partnerships including the Convention of the Highlands and Islands (CoHI).

Work is ongoing in relation to this commitment.

All local authorities who have islands within their area are active members of CoHI. Local authorities across the Highlands and Islands region are currently discussing whether a Regional Economic Partnership would provide additional value to existing partnerships. Scottish Government islands officials will continue to engage with CoHI and support as required.

Scottish Government is also working with Highlands and Islands Enterprise to develop further understanding of the issues faced by our island communities and how the Talent Attraction Service, Skills Recognition Scotland, and Student Retention Project can positively impact repopulation efforts.

We committed to tailor business and community support for island communities to ensure products and services are fit for purpose, accessible and effective. This will include exploring new and innovative models and working with national providers to consider how programmes can better address needs of island communities and businesses.

Work is ongoing in relation to this commitment.

Scottish Government has committed to growing Community Wealth Building (CWB) in Scotland as a practical approach to delivering our wellbeing economy aims. CWB looks at ways to use public investment to give maximum economic benefit to local people, businesses and communities.

Building on success in Ayrshire we are supporting five additional areas, including Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, to identify bespoke community wealth building solutions that will support local people and businesses, particularly local and socially orientated business. The CWB action plan for Comhairle nan Eilean Siar is due for completion in February 2021.

We committed to work in partnership to support strategic projects which deliver sustainable economic growth in the islands, e.g. Orkney Research and Innovation Campus and Stornoway port developments.

Work is ongoing in relation to this commitment.

The Islands Deal aims to support sustainable economic growth with Orkney, Shetland and Na h-Eileanan an lar.

In December 2020, a £49 million Scottish Government commitment was announced for the Stornoway Deep Water Harbour Project, demonstrating an ongoing commitment to the development of island infrastructure. Additionally, the Talent Attraction Service aims to identify where there are skills gaps and skills shortages. We committed to drive the many socio-economic opportunities arising from the 2019 Science and Innovation Audit report "Maximising Opportunities for the Marine Economy in the Highlands and Islands" as well as enhance those arising from growth deals.

We committed to display leadership in the public sector by demonstrating that jobs and careers can be successful on islands.

Work is ongoing in relation to this commitment.

The Climate Emergency Skills Action Plan 2020-2025 sets out Scottish Government's ambitions to enhance access to skills training, which is critical for successful decarbonisation and will help create new, high-quality green jobs, enhanced regional growth, and improved access to growing 'green markets' across the globe for Scotland's diverse businesses. Through Island Communities Impact Assessments the Action Plan will ensure that policies and skills interventions do not discriminate and where possible, promote equality of opportunity, as set out in the Action Plan.

In 2021/22, as part of our commitment to developing a Repopulation Action Plan, we are designing a pilot project to support communities to identify the opportunities and barriers to the diversification of the local economy to support a sustainable population. This work will include how employers, including the public sector, can better support a location neutral working policy.

We committed to promote a thriving business environment that allows individuals to pursue a wide range of economic opportunities on islands.

Work is ongoing in relation to this commitment.

The Islands Growth Deal aims to support Orkney, Shetland and Na h-Eileanan an lar to look at innovative ways to support new and improved industries, moving away from fossil fuels towards net zero carbon. The Growth Deal is, however only one part of a wider range of economic support, delivered across all sectors and in partnership with our local authorities and HIE.

We committed to create and promote apprenticeships and job opportunities for young islanders.

Work is ongoing in relation to this commitment.

Skills Development Scotland and Comhairle nan Eilean Siar signed a charter in 2019 which sets out how they will work together and invest in supporting a thriving education, learning and skills sector in the Na h-Eileanan an lar. This includes a joint commitment to apprenticeships. Work has remained ongoing, with the signing and promotion of the Orkney Charter and the finalisation of the Shetland Charter also underway. Scottish Government continue to support recovery planning through apprenticeships, upskilling and re-skilling.

Additional funding is available through a Rural Uplift to training providers, to support delivery and assessment of training in rural areas (Argyll and Bute, the Isle of Arran and the Orkney, Shetland, and Na h-Eileanan an lar). The 2019/20 spend in the Highlands and Islands was £459,250.

Funding is also available to support travel and subsistence for apprentices who are required to attend structured and formal off-the-job training.

We committed to ensure that skills provision is agile and responsive to future demand and enables individuals to take up opportunities.

Work is ongoing in relation to this commitment.

The Skills Action Plan for Rural Scotland was launched in June 2019, and we have been working to ensure it aligns with the Strategic Objectives of the National Islands Plan and regional and sectoral skills investment plans. It has a clear focus on collaborative action through five priority areas:

  • To better understand the skills that rural employers need and align provision to support this.
  • To provide individuals with accessible education and skills provision to secure, sustain and progress their careers in rural areas.
  • To develop the current workforce in rural areas through upskilling and reskilling.
  • To build a secure pipeline for the future.
  • To take a coordinated, strategic approach to tackling skills in rural areas.

The Talent Attraction Service aims to identify and address skills gaps and labour market shortages through:

  • Building Scotland's reputation as a career destination, promoting our growth sectors to students and workers across the UK and beyond including mapping and extending spousal support interventions.
  • Recognising that Scotland needs people with a variety of skills, in a variety of sectors.
  • Working collaboratively with stakeholders and public and private sector employers to promote occupations and sectors where we have a competitive advantage and/or a global reputation to attract and facilitate recruitment.
  • Developing and piloting a student retention programme aimed at reducing the outflow of students to outside Scotland once further/higher education is complete (Scottish, UK and international students).

We committed to build on Scotland's National Marine Plan to ensure that fishing and other economic activities stemming from the sea provide increased opportunities for island communities, but at the same time that they are pursued in a sustainable manner.

Work has yet to be progressed in relation to this commitment.

Work on this commitment has been delayed by the need to prioritise our operational response to COVID-19.

We committed to ensure that sustainable land use including agriculture and forestry continues to provide jobs and opportunities to island communities.

Work is ongoing in relation to this commitment.

Scotland's forestry sector employs people across Scotland where job creation is most needed, including our islands and among younger age categories. As part of the green recovery, Scottish Forestry is doubling its recruitment of Assistant Woodland Officers, and Forestry and Land Scotland is doubling the number of opportunities for young people (including modern apprenticeships) creating an additional 25 jobs for young people. Employment in the private forestry sector will also grow in response to rising levels of woodland creation and increasing domestic timber production. The Scottish Government is encouraging forestry companies to support new jobs on islands.

Forestry and Land Scotland (FLS) continue to sustainably manage Scottish Minister owned National Forest and Lands on the islands such as the Isles of Arran, Mull and Skye. The management of these areas supports local economies (through forest management activity and outdoor recreation use), enhances the environment and provides opportunities for people to use and enjoy local woodlands. These woodlands also indirectly support local outdoor recreation and wildlife tourism companies.

As part of its role in managing Scotland's National Forest and Lands, FLS run the Community Asset Transfer Scheme (CATS) to support communities to buy or lease land to empower local communities and support local objectives. Community ownership of woodlands and land is creating new jobs and income, and most recently FLS agreed a lease with Raasay Development Trust for a community hydro scheme, to be part-funded by community shares, to generate income and sustainable energy for the island.

We committed to work with relevant partners and stakeholders to make tourism more sustainable and less seasonal, and encourage development of a year-round offer across a wider range of islands that delivers economic, environmental and social benefits.

Work is ongoing in relation to this commitment.

The Cabinet Secretary for Rural Economy and Tourism is committed to supporting this work across the islands as part of our recovery and renewal work. The islands continue to be an important part of our rural tourism offering and we are keen that all of Scotland benefit from the economic advantages it can bring.

There has been an unprecedented package of support announced from both the Scottish and UK Governments to support businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic in order to help employers preserve their business, maintain jobs and pay their workers throughout this crisis. Tourism and hospitality businesses across Scotland are to benefit from a £104.3 million package of support in 2021, as part of the £185 million package previously announced by the Finance Secretary.

We have committed £175,000 in 2020/21 and £25,000 in 2021/22 towards our Programme for Government commitment to develop an Islands Passport Project which will play a key part in supporting the economic recovery of our island tourism economy.

We committed to ensure that crofting continues to provide jobs and opportunities to island communities.

Work is ongoing in relation to this commitment.

In 2021 the Scottish Government will publish the Crofting National Development Plan. The overarching aim of this Plan will be to help crofters to develop and diversify crofting activity in order to secure productive crofting systems and thriving crofting communities, including those on islands. The Plan will aim to remove and minimise barriers to entry so that crofting offers opportunities to new entrants. It will also identify development priorities such as encouraging diversification through engaging with common grazing committees to encourage appropriate use of the grazings, including peatland restoration and tree planting.

The Cabinet Secretary for Rural Economy and Tourism has also announced the formation of 5 farmer-led groups who will provide advice on what key farming sectors can do to shift to low carbon farming and land management and use. These groups will help guide Scottish Government in how to deliver key policies in Programme for Government and the Climate Change Plan update.

These groups are a key initiative that encourages those with knowledge and expertise to propose practical workable solutions to ensure that agriculture contributes to Scotland's climate targets. The formation of these groups provides an opportunity for the Scottish Government to work with farmers and crofters to identify opportunities to support these sectors to ensure their sustainability – both economically and environmentally.

We committed to deliver the Islands Passport initiative, which will promote the opportunity to visit a wider range of Scotland's inhabited islands, encouraging visitors throughout all seasons and by public transport, thereby delivering economic opportunities for island communities.

Work is ongoing in relation to this commitment.

The 2018-19 Programme for Government made a commitment to develop an Islands Passport Scheme. This continues to be supported jointly by the Scottish Government's Islands Team and Tourism officials, on behalf of the Minister for Energy, Connectivity and the Islands and the Cabinet Secretary for Rural Economy and Tourism respectively. However, progress has been significantly delayed due to the impact of COVID-19.

The project, which aims to become self-sustaining, was due to launch a pilot in summer 2020 and use this opportunity to gather user data and feedback prior to full launch. This was delayed due to COVID-19. A limited pilot was undertaken in autumn 2020 focusing on locals and those already travelling to Shetland. This was successful in gathering user feedback.

We committed to work with the food and drink industry to leverage its economic potential and explore options for sharing some of its benefits with island communities.

Work is ongoing in relation to this commitment.

Food and drink businesses from our islands produce a wide range of high-quality products, which have a strong competitive advantage associated to place, people and provenance. At present, the industry in Scotland is worth £15 billion and with the aim to double the value of the industry to £30 billion by 2030 driving growth via innovation, integrating supply chains, investing in people and skills, and focusing on market growth opportunities domestically and internationally.

Scottish Government is a member of the Scotland Food and Drink Partnership, which comprises industry via their trade bodies and other public sector agencies, with the shared ambition to grow the reputation and value of the industry. The Scotland Food and Drink Recovery Plan was launched in November 2020. This national recovery plan amplifies and accelerates the current core work of the Scotland Food and Drink Partnership in delivering Ambition 2030. Critically though, it adds new catalyst actions to jump-start and expedite recovery, including to those in the sector who live on our islands.

We committed to seek to expand the range of economic, social and environmental benefits that island communities derive from forestry.

Work is ongoing in relation to this commitment.

Woodland creation projects are making an important contribution to the delivery of the Scottish Government annual woodland creation target to help mitigate climate change, improving biodiversity and are supporting local businesses.

An example of such a project is Torosay Hill on Mull, which is a 430ha native woodland creation and ecological restoration project supported through the Forestry Grant Scheme. This project aims to reverse the habitat decline through a landscape-scale woodland restoration programme with a 150-year vision. Tree planting will continue in stages until 2022. Where local expertise is available, island-based contractors have been used for the operational establishment phase. A local woodland establishment business is planning to expand their capacity to deliver the project, including offering apprenticeships that provide training and mentoring in practical woodland management.

The Scottish Government's Strategic Timber Transport Scheme (STTS) supports projects that facilitate the sustainable transport of timber in rural areas of Scotland, including the islands that deliver benefits for local communities and the environment. This is demonstrated by improvements to the Machrie Moor Road on the Isle of Arran, which utilised an STTS grant of £55,000 to add 4 passing places and road strengthening to 1km of the public road, matching government spending through Forestry and Land Scotland on improvements on in-forest roads.

Scottish Forestry continues to work with a range of partners to increase the use of forests and woodlands on the islands to help improve people's health, well-being and life changes. This includes a partnership project with Argyll and Bute Coast and Countryside Trust (ACT) to deliver Branching Out ('positive mental health through nature') and volunteering opportunities across Argyll, including Rhubodach Forest and Moss Wood, part of Bute Community Forest. ACT deliver innovative programmes of woodland-based activities for people with poor mental health, helping to tackle the problems people face with anxiety, depression, isolation, and other long-term conditions. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic all face-to-face sessions are not always possible during 2020-21, however, leaders and delivery partners have adapted the project to provide support to reduce isolation and loneliness by sending regular activity packs, phoning participants and providing online social platforms.

Review Scotland's National Planning Framework to ensure sufficient flexibility for island interests, including in how best to meet housing need.

Work is ongoing in relation to this commitment.

Work is progressing on the preparation of National Performance Framework 4 (NPF4), which will include updated policies on planning for housing. It is anticipated that a draft NPF4 will be available in autumn 2021.

Current thinking on the direction of travel for NPF4 was set out in the Position Statement published in November 2020. It is clear that NPF4 will need to align with the National Islands Plan in actively promoting working and living on Scottish islands.

An Island Communities Impact Assessment will be prepared as part of NPF4 preparation.

We committed to reflect the National Islands Plan and relevant regional perspectives in the review of the National Planning Framework and preparation of National Planning Framework 4.

Work is ongoing in relation to this commitment.

Scottish Government have continued to collaborate with groupings of planning authorities to develop early thinking on Regional Spatial Strategies. Further work on this will be taken forward in 2021 to inform the draft NPF4 and its National Spatial Strategy.

Local authorities have self-assembled into groupings to consider the preparation of Regional Spatial Strategies (RSS). These RSS groupings include island authorities of Orkney Islands Council, Comhairle nan Eilean Siar and Shetland Islands Council. Early work to prepare indicative Regional Spatial Strategies (iRSS) is being undertaken which will help inform the preparation of the National Planning Framework (NPF4). A progress summary of initial iRSS submissions (September 2020) is available at npf4-irss-submissions-summaries-nov-2020.pdf (

During the preparation of the 2020 Infrastructure Investment Plan, we committed to consider the implications of the National Islands Plan on future infrastructure requirements.

Work is ongoing in relation to this commitment.

The Scottish Government's Islands Team will continue to utilise feedback collated through the National Islands Plan Consultation (2019) and the National Islands Plan through a COVID Lens Survey Results (2020). This is in addition to regular and ongoing engagement with local authorities and community stakeholders to identify key infrastructure priorities that can be supported; both within the policy area and across Scottish Government.

The Infrastructure Investment Plan states that Scottish Government will invest £30 million in delivering the National Islands Plan over the next 5 years, by supporting a range of areas, including tourism, infrastructure, innovation, energy transition and skills - informed by our learning of how island communities have responded and adapted to COVID-19.

This new capital funding will support projects encouraging repopulation, delivering on our net-zero ambitions, and supporting a green economic recovery. We will work with our island partners, stakeholders and across government to ensure that this capital resource aligns to local priorities, contributes to ongoing collaborative repopulation work and creates jobs while also delivering against the National Islands Plan.

Recognising the services that island abattoirs provide to their communities, we committed to work with relevant partners to deliver sustainable and economical viable operations.

Work has yet to be progressed in relation to this commitment.

Work in relation to this commitment is still at the scoping stage, and requires consultation and engagement with Environmental Health officers and officials to determine the viability of workable, safe operations within existing legislation.

We committed to ensure that legislation and policy relating to early learning and childcare is appropriately island proofed.

Work is ongoing in relation to this commitment.

It became a duty to carry out Island Communities Impact Assessments for Scottish Government and local authorities from 23 December 2020. This places a requirement on relevant authorities to take island issues into account when developing or reviewing policies, strategies or services. Early Learning and Childcare policy will be fully impact assessed with support from the Scottish Government's Islands Team.

We committed to ensure that opportunities to develop the wellbeing of the Gaelic language and to increase the number of speakers and users are considered as part of sustainable economic development.

Work is ongoing in relation to this commitment.

Scottish Government Gaelic policy seeks to ensure that economic development opportunities using Gaelic are located in island communities and that authorities and public bodies continue to see the potential of Gaelic to contribute to sustainable economic development. There are a number of Gaelic projects and initiatives such as MG ALBA, Ceòlas, Fèisean nan Gàidheal, Storlann and more that contribute to economic development and this emphasis has been central to Deputy First Minister's Faster Rate of Progress and Community Engagement initiatives.

As a result of measures such as Bòrd na Gàidhlig Gaelic plans, CoHI discussions and Island Communities Impact Assessments, it will be possible to see Gaelic increasingly considered as a part of economic development.

We committed to support women in agriculture on Scottish islands to succeed, including encouraging their participation in the leadership development programme, addressing unconscious bias by organisations and businesses and breaking down cultural barriers.

Work is ongoing in relation to this commitment.

The Women in Agriculture Development Programme (WiADP) was developed for women across all parts of Scotland. We consulted with 22 women across 12 different Scottish island communities in relation to their training needs. Of the applications received for the pilot Be Your Best Self training course, 8% were from women in island communities. Additional support was given to those who required it in order to attend the first workshop. The subsequent workshops have taken place online.

We have established the Women in Agriculture Practical Training Fund, to which all women living in all parts of Scotland can apply for financial support with practical training courses.

We are working with island communities to explore potential solutions around childcare in rural and remote areas, as this was identified as a central barrier for many women's further involvement in agriculture.

We committed to work with relevant local authorities to develop regional food and drink action plans to support growth of the sector on islands, including a focus on the vital Whisky sector.

Work is ongoing in relation to this commitment.

The growth in both the value and reputation of Scotland's food and drink sector over the last decade is well recognised across the public and private sectors. The sector's profile has increased hugely, and like tourism, the impact of that success is felt right across the country from our cities to Scotland's most peripheral, rural communities.

Linkage with local authorities is key to supporting the growth of the Food and Drink Sector, and a national fund to support the development of Scotland's regional food groups/networks was launched in September 2020 with the work accelerated as part of the Covid-19 response. Grants of £10 - £15,000 have been made available to fund a co-ordinator in regional food groups across Scotland for one year with an expectation that these grants will be match-funded from within their local area, and ideally by local authorities.
Regional Food Groups in Orkney, Shetland and the Hebrides have all been successful in securing funding for their respective groups and this will help drive individual growth of businesses on the islands. In turn, will grow the value of the food and drink sector as a whole in a truly collaborative way, and for the first time offers some real linkage between Scotland Food and Drink, Regional Food Groups and local authorities on a partnership level.

We committed to work with relevant local authorities to encourage take up of Food For Life accreditation to help stimulate local sourcing in public sector settings.

Work is ongoing in relation to this commitment.

Scottish Government support the Food For Life team within the Soil Association to actively engage with all local authorities across Scotland to encourage and assist sign up to Food For Life and have undertaken significant work with Highland Council, who have held the award for over 10 years, Orkney Islands Council, Shetland Council and Comhairle nan Eilean Siar.

Orkney Islands Council were awarded the bronze FFLSH award in December 2020 for their primary and secondary school meals and Shetland Islands Council have applied for accreditation, with Comhairle nan Eilean Siar having undertaken some menu and gap analysis with the team.



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