Foreword from Scotland's Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and Islands
It gives me great pleasure to introduce the third National Islands Plan Annual Report. Every year the report gives me an opportunity to reflect on highlights, challenges, and opportunities over the past year, and to start thinking about future developments for islands policy in Scotland.
This year the global pandemic and its negative effects on human health and society have thankfully slowed down. However, other global pressures have stepped into our daily lives, like the war of aggression in Ukraine and the cost crisis. Furthermore, pressures stemming from Brexit have not gone away. It is in this complex and challenging global picture that the Scottish Government has collaborated with its partners to implement the National Islands Plan.
My officials in the Islands Team have been working closely with the Scottish Futures Trust and local authorities to deliver this year's £4.45 million share of the Islands Programme. This includes eleven infrastructure projects benefitting thirty-five islands from Papa Stour to Cumbrae. Between them, they contribute to all of the National Islands Plan strategic objectives, with a strong emphasis on sustainable economic development and community empowerment. The projects directly support population retention and growth, deliver new facilities and services to help to alleviate child poverty, provide innovative circular economy solutions and address climate change impacts. They are also supporting new facilities, iconic heritage projects, and key local services. Thirty-four infrastructure assets are being created or brought back into use, twenty-eight community facilities are being supported – with the anticipated creation of forty new jobs and thirty-six training places in addition to significant carbon reduction as a result of environmental improvements. I am delighted that our Islands Programme funding has helped to unlock and maximise leverage of partnership, investment and cross-policy funding. It works in synergy with other Scottish Government programmes investing in our islands, including funding from the Islands Growth Deal and the Regeneration Capital Grant Fund.
At the same time, the Islands Team has been working on several Programme for Government commitments whose objectives align closely with National Islands Plan strategic objectives. One of these is the Carbon Neutral Islands project on which I had the pleasure to lead a Parliamentary debate in January around the first steps to decarbonise the six islands included in the Project. The islands (Barra, Great Cumbrae, Hoy, Islay, Raasay and Yell), are being supported to implement a strategy focused on three key stages – Carbon Audits, Community Climate Change Action Plans, and Climate Change Investment Strategies. I am incredibly pleased to see how the Project is enabling communities to steer the direction of decarbonisation on their islands whilst helping us to meet at least three of the strategic objectives in the National Islands Plan. It is always better if islanders are in the driving seat when it comes to implementation and this Project reminds us of this very strongly.
Another important initiative supported by the Islands Team is the development of the rural and islands element of the Addressing Depopulation Action Plan. Building on extensive consultations with island communities, the team has now had the opportunity to bring island voices into the new Plan. This will help us to address population retention, one of the key priorities and strategic objectives of the National Islands Plan. My officials are also supporting the development of the Remote Rural and Islands Housing Action Plan and Scotland's Blue Economy approach, showing active collaboration across government, and enabling the interests of island communities to be brought front and centre of important policy developments.
As I mentioned earlier, we have all been impacted by key global challenges over this past year. One of these has been the cost crisis. I was pleased to see how quickly and proactively we were able to react to this for island communities. From putting together evidence of how the crisis was hitting island households particularly hard, to the development of a bespoke island response, we moved swiftly and established a £1.4 million Cost Crisis Emergency Fund, which is being delivered to those most in need across our islands by our local authority partners.
I wish to conclude this introduction with a few remarks on where we are going with the National Islands Plan and Scotland's international partners when it comes to island policy. The National Islands Plan was developed in 2019 in a world without COVID, pre-cost crisis, and where the impact of Brexit was not yet entirely clear. We now live in a completely new world! The Islands (Scotland) Act 2018 requires us to review the National Islands Plan every five years and so we will therefore implement a review process during the course of 2023 to inform future publications of the National Islands Plan and ensure that our island policies are fit for purpose. My ministerial colleagues and I are looking forward to working with local authorities, relevant island partners and island communities to better understand what has worked to date in the implementation of the National Islands Plan, and importantly, what we can and should do better. As part of this review we also want to engage with our increasing number of international partners. Whilst Scotland is one of the few countries with bespoke island legislation, it is not the only one. We will all benefit if we can put ourselves in a position to learn from other countries and how they have supported their island communities and economies.
I would like to finish with a warm thanks to our partners for their hard work in implementing the National Islands Plan. I look forward to our continued collaboration.
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