National Islands Plan Annual Report 2022

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. This report sets out progress made during the 2022 reporting year.

Population Levels

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

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

Implementation Route Map 2022 action

  • Retaining and attracting young people is one of the key objectives of the Islands Growth Deal. Both the Scottish and UK Governments will each invest up to £50 million in the Deal. The Islands Growth Deal will be delivered over 10 years from Full Deal being signed.
  • We will work with island communities, local authorities and stakeholders to develop Island Profiles. This work will seek to develop easily accessible profiles providing demographic, economic, and locally identified and developed data for each island. A small number of test profiles will be developed and delivered in 2022. The learning from this work will help shape how the Island Profile concept may be scaled up and delivered across islands.

Work is ongoing in relation to this commitment.

The Scottish Government's Ministerial Population Taskforce, chaired by the Cabinet Secretary for Constitution, External Affairs, and Culture, continues to deliver on the 36 actions of the Population Strategy. Over the course of 2022, the Taskforce has been driving forward work on the Talent Attraction and Migration Service for Scotland due to be launched in Autumn 2023. Equally, Scottish Government continues to take a collaborative approach with regional and local partners to support population retention and attraction in communities. In 2022, the Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and Islands announced at the Convention of the Highlands and Islands that the Scottish Government would be developing an action plan focused on the challenge of depopulation in Autumn 2023. This plan will set out actions as part of a long-term national approach to population decline, bringing together key portfolios across housing, transport, land, digital, skills and talent attraction.

There is no quick fix to population challenges and the Taskforce is clear that the long-term approach taken must look across systems of policy. Migration – particularly in the wake of the ending of Freedom of Movement – remains a vital component of the population challenge for Scotland. The Taskforce is clear that immigration reform is required to meet the long-term needs of rural and island communities. In September 2022, Scottish Government published a proposal for Scottish Rural Community Immigration Pilot to trial a place-based, community-driven approach to supporting repopulation and addressing skills shortages in rural and island areas. The proposed pilot was modelled on place-based immigration schemes in Canada and Australia and is proposed to run for 5 years. Since publication, the proposal has gained cross-party support in the Scottish Parliament, support from island local authorities, and from the UK Government's own Migration Advisory Committee. Scottish Ministers will continue to call on the Home Secretary to implement this Pilot and ensure people with the right skills can be attracted to live and work in island areas.

Islands Growth Deal

The Islands Growth Deal aims to drive sustainable, inclusive economic growth across Orkney, Shetland and the Outer Hebrides, and help address the islands demographic challenges by investing in local people, projects and priorities to increase opportunities for all. It is jointly funded with investment of £50 million from both the Scottish and UK Governments and following the signing of the Full Deal agreement on 20 January 2023, has now entered its delivery phase. This is a significant milestone which will see funding for individual projects and programmes released once Full Business Cases have been approved.

The Deal will help leverage the islands assets and economic opportunities to transform their economies and change their demographic trajectory. It also aims to deliver up to 1,300 jobs by 2032, thus attracting people to the islands, supporting the islands to be among the first places in the UK to achieve net zero, and creating the foundation for an innovation-focused recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.

The sixteen projects and programmes in the Deal will focus on: developing infrastructure to support the growing renewables cluster; innovation programmes to maximise the value of primary and emerging growth industries, such as space and food & drink; boosting the sustainable tourism and cultural offerings; and equipping the workforce with skills to meet current and future demand. Some of the projects and programmes which will have a key role to play in addressing demographic challenges include:

  • Knab Redevelopment will provide much needed housing and student accommodation in Lerwick, making Shetland a more attractive destination to people wishing to relocate there while enabling families to stay.
  • The Talented Islands programme and the Outer Hebrides and Shetland Campus Redevelopment projects will improve the islands' education and skills offer, and so encourage young people to remain and attract others to relocate and study there.
  • The second phase of the Orkney Research and Innovation Campus (ORIC 2) will provide facilities for low carbon, marine engineering and associated technology businesses, providing increased economic opportunities for local people and potentially attracting those out with the islands to work and undertake research in these specialist fields.
  • Spaceport 1 in the Outer Hebrides has priorities around recruiting, where possible, from the local community, while the Shell-Volution project in Shetland and the Outer Hebrides Food and Drink programme aim to expand the long-term capacity of existing key industries and thereby create jobs within local communities.
  • The Islands Centre for Net Zero aims to drive decarbonisation in an island setting, creating sustainable well-paid jobs while delivering innovation that will help reduce fuel poverty and some of the additional costs associated with island living.

Argyll and Bute Growth Deal

The Scottish Government has also committed to investing up to £25 million in the Argyll and Bute Growth Deal over 10 years. The Deal seeks to address demographic challenges through Argyll and Bute including its Islands and has three main themes:

  • Connecting: improving physical and digital infrastructure to strengthen communities and supporting their high value and growth sectors to connect with national and international
  • business markets;
  • Attracting: providing additional skills, training and learning opportunities to attract and retain young talent and boosting the tourism offering; and
  • Growing: doing more of what works; making more of their natural and built resources, supporting the innovation and growth of their key sectors.

Heads of Terms for the Deal were signed on 11 February 2021, and it is expected to reach Full Deal in the second half of 2023. The Deal includes the Low Carbon Economy Project which will complement the work being undertaken to support the development of a local energy plan for Islay as well as the Scottish Government Carbon Neutral Islands project and will lead to the implementation of local energy initiatives across the island. This will help address fuel poverty as well as demographic and other challenges Islay faces including a constrained Grid network, high fuel and transport costs, high energy usage from distilleries and low local energy generation.

In addition, the Rural Skills Accelerator programme will provide learning in all aspects of STEM through use of advanced digital technology. Physical STEM Hubs will be supported by a programme of enhanced mobile and digital outreach to enable delivery of STEM-focused lessons and workshops across Argyll and Bute including inhabited islands.

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

Work is ongoing in relation to this commitment.

The Scottish Government has reviewed research by a range of sources, including Highlands and Islands Enterprise, Business Gateway, and the Scottish Islands Federation, on the impact of Brexit on island communities.

Through their regular business panels Highlands and Islands Enterprise gathers information on the interests and concerns of businesses with research in June 2021 showing "more than two-fifths (44%) of businesses in the Highlands and Islands reported a negative impact from Brexit on their business". Similarly, a panel in October 2021 found that many Brexit related concerns "were more acute for island businesses: they were more likely than average to say they were concerned about supply chain issues (64% vs 57% of those in mainland areas), transport (56% vs 40%), recruiting and retaining staff (47% vs 40%) and accessing export markets (19% vs 12%)."

In June 2021 Business Gateway surveyed businesses in Shetland. In this survey 29.57% identified Brexit as a major barrier to growing their business – with only Covid 19 (56.52%) being identified by more businesses. Almost as many businesses (28.7%) identified a shortage of skilled staff as a major barrier.

The Scottish Islands Federation, on behalf of the Scottish Government ran a survey in February 2022. This [unpublished] survey found that 70% of respondents considered Brexit to have had a negative impact upon their community and only 1% indicated the impact was purely positive. The main specific concerns expressed were on staff shortages, however falling visitor numbers, increased costs and challenges for shipping, rising prices of goods and the loss of EU funding were all highlighted.

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

Implementation Route Map 2022 action

  • Develop strategic plan aimed at providing the policy framework to enable population retention and repopulation across rural and island communities. This work will include:
    • Mapping levers currently used by Scottish Government (strategies, funding, planning regulations) and the limitations of our approach at present;
    • Setting out current engagement with key partnerships (Convention of the Highlands and Islands, Convention of the South of Scotland, COSLA);
    • Commissioning research and evidence building to mainstream population, depopulation, and repopulation across government policy in future.
  • The 2021-22 Programme for Government contained a commitment to 'develop a Rural Visa Pilot proposal, to support people to move to and work in our rural communities, submitting a proposal to the UK Government in 2022'. The main aim of this proposal is to facilitate migration to rural and remote areas impacted by depopulation, in a way which best meets the needs of the communities affected. A short life working group is being established, comprising a range of local, regional and national stakeholders, to collaboratively input into the development of pilot proposals, and the Scottish Government plans to submit these proposals to the UK Government and the Migration Advisory Committee during Summer 2022.

Work is ongoing in relation to this commitment.

Addressing Depopulation Action Plan

A key route towards addressing population decline has been our work with the Convention of the Highlands and Islands (CoHI) exploring actions to tackle depopulation in the region. At the CoHI in March 2022, it was announced that Scottish Government would be progressing with our commitment to developing an Action Plan to address the challenge of depopulation, with a view to a draft publication in 2023. Work on this has been progressing throughout 2022 and we hope to publish the Addressing Depopulation Action Plan in late 2023.

Delivering on the National Islands Plan, we will develop a strategic plan aimed at providing the policy framework to enable population retention and repopulation across rural and island communities.

The Action Plan will have three key components:

  • Mainstreaming Depopulation;
  • Rural and Islands Depopulation; and
  • Urban Depopulation.

The learning and suggestions gathered through the Islands Bond consultation undertaken in 2021/2022 will be utilised in shaping a range of Practical Policy Tests to inform the 'Addressing Depopulation Action Plan'.

These Practical Policy Tests are a series of projects that aim to facilitate change and enable progress on locally identified priorities in the short term. However, in relation to the Addressing Depopulation Action Plan, these projects will provide a practical evidence base to help shape the development of the action plan through providing models that other communities and stakeholders could adapt to their own unique population challenges.

Projects will include, but are not limited to, childcare delivery in rural and island areas, a key issue for our communities; exploring how to encourage a greater level of living succession in crofting; explore bespoke solutions to skills development and employment challenges in island communities and developing more efficient and collaborative models for delivering infrastructure in rural and island areas.

Rural Visa Pilot

In September 2022, the Scottish Government published a proposal for a Rural Visa Pilot, following the UK Government's own Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) recommending in 2019 the piloting of a scheme to attract and retain migrants in rural areas. The Scottish Government has worked with local authorities, key business sector organisations, and our Expert Advisory Group on Population and Migration to design a practical and deliverable pilot proposal to facilitate migration to remote and rural communities. COSLA were also involved in the development of the pilot.

The Rural Visa Pilot proposal was endorsed by a clear majority in the Scottish Parliament during a parliamentary debate on Scotland's population on Tuesday 27 September 2022. This demonstrates a clear cross-party consensus for differentiated migration schemes which will target Scotland's distinct demographic needs, for the benefit of our communities.

Following the endorsement of the proposal the Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and Islands wrote to the Home Secretary requesting that the UK Government works with the Scottish Government and local partners to establish and deliver the proposed scheme, to address the urgent need for targeted migration solutions expressed by Scottish rural and island communities during the development of the proposal. While we have yet to receive a response to this letter, a range of ministerial engagement in support of the proposal has since been undertaken, including with Scottish and UK parliamentary committees. The MAC's Annual Report, published in December 2022, described the proposal as "sensible and clear in both scale and deliverability" and noted it would be within the UK Government's interest to trial it.

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

Implementation Route Map 2022 action

  • The Young Islanders Network Project provides 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 will continue to work with the Young Islanders Network to identify actions that would encourage young people to stay on or return to islands.
  • Work on the Student Retention project is continuing. Student Retention aims to encourage students to remain in Scotland (and rural locations/move to islands or highlands) after completing study – this applies to any students from Scotland or the rest of the UK. Working with young islanders would help us develop our understanding of what would make them want to stay or return after study.

Work is ongoing in relation to this commitment.

Through the Young Islanders Network (YIN), which is facilitated by our delivery partner Youth Scotland, children and young people on islands are being empowered to set their own agenda; based on how they want to address the local and national priorities that matter to them the most. This is being achieved in close collaboration with existing youth anchor organisations already operating in island communities and by facilitating engagement across our islands.

The YIN involves those aged 5–25 years, with particular ambitions to support minority and hard to reach children and young people, including the unemployed, care-experienced, those with mobility and access requirements or additional support needs and mainland-based student islanders that aspire to return to island living.

Engaging young people from primary school age, through secondary school and into young adulthood, Youth Scotland is supporting a growing, grassroots island youth representation to deliver meaningful outcomes for young people across island communities. In addition to reaching out to young people that aspire to return to the island that they are from, all of the activity associated with the delivery of the Young Islanders Network is designed to both identify and deliver actions that encourage children and young people to stay on or return to islands.

The Scottish Government has committed through the National Strategy for Economic Transformation (NSET) to implement a focused Talent Attraction programme to attract key skills and talent from the rest of the UK. This will align with Scotland's identified key sector strengths and new market and cluster building opportunities and provide a joined-up "landing zone" for targeted employees and their families supported through our commitment to create a Migration Service for Scotland.

Brought together, the Talent Attraction programme and Migration Service for Scotland will improve Scotland's ability to attract and recruit workers from outside of Scotland with the skills that our economy will need in the future and support international workers in the migration and relocation process. An effective Talent Attraction and Migration Service takes the pressure away from the employer to provide relocation support, both initially and in the longer term, linking in with relevant experts and other services.

As part of the Talent Attraction Programme, we will work with colleges, universities and sector representatives, to explore whether more can be done to increase the number of international and Scottish graduates that stay in Scotland, particularly in rural and island communities, post-qualifying. Existing good practice in retaining students' post-qualification will be used to provide a platform to build from, working with Higher Education Institutions, Further Education Colleges, and Industry to create opportunities and incentivise students to stay in Scotland after graduating. The project will aim to formalise links between students and employers (including public sector), particularly in sectors with skills shortages.

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

Commitment Fulfilled

This commitment was fulfilled in 2020. Please see the National Islands Plan Annual Report 2020 for further details.

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

Implementation Route Map 2022 action

  • Completion of Island Communities Impact Assessments will support this process following the 2022 update to the ICIA Guidance and Toolkit.
  • Quarterly meetings are established between the Gaelic and Scots Team, the Islands Team and Bòrd na Gàidhlig to support this process.

Work is ongoing in relation to this commitment.

The Scottish Government continues to support Gaelic projects and initiatives located in areas with a high percentage of Gaelic speakers. Scottish Government also recognises that a number of sectors in island communities provide opportunities for Gaelic to be used and feature prominently, including tourism, arts, child-care, media and community trusts. Gaelic medium education is also demonstrating the potential for further growth at all levels in island communities. Local authorities and public bodies have a contribution to make and have a role to play in the employment of Gaelic speakers in island communities and in recognising how larger infrastructural factors such as housing, transport and employment can contribute to retaining and attracting Gaelic speakers to live and work in island communities. Gaelic also continues to feature prominently in the work of working groups such as Convention of the Highlands and Islands and the Faster Rate of Progress initiative.

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.

Commitment Fulfilled

This commitment was fulfilled in 2021. Please see the National Islands Plan Annual Report 2021 for further details.

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

Implementation Route Map 2022 action

  • The Commission has expanded its Residency and Land Use team and, as a result of this, will be increasing its work in addressing absenteeism and bringing crofts back into active use.
  • The Commission has also created Crofting Development roles, and has employed officers in the Western Isles who will engage with crofting communities and grazings committees to encourage active croft use and identify opportunities for new entrants.

Work is ongoing in relation to this commitment.

The Crofting Commission received an increase to its 2022/23 budget which enabled it to increase its staff resource. This has allowed the Commission to improve delivery of its regulatory functions, and to expand its residency and land use enforcement work, which has enabled it to increase its focus on addressing absenteeism and bringing crofts back into productive use, thus creating opportunities for new entrants.

The Commission has also expanded its Islands-based Crofting Development team, which is working with island crofting communities to encourage croft occupancy and active management of common grazings. The officers are exploring methods to encourage a culture of succession and turnover of crofts, including delivery of a croft availability network, which will also create opportunities for new entrants.

The Commission has reported that recently there have been over five hundred new entrants to crofting each year. From April 2020 to October 2022, there were over 1,000 new entrants, 42% of whom are island crofters. In total, over 40% of the new entrants were female, and over 25% were aged forty or under.

We committed to continuing 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.

Commitment Fulfilled

This commitment was fulfilled in 2020. Please see the National Islands Plan Annual Report 2020 for further details.

The Scottish Government approves and provides croft businesses with over £40 million each year through various support mechanisms, including the crofting specific Croft House Grant, Crofting Agricultural Grant Scheme, and the Cattle improvement scheme. Crofters can also access Less Favoured Areas Support Scheme, the Basic Payment Scheme and Greening, Young Farmers Payment, Agri-Environment Climate Scheme, the Sheep Scheme, and the Beef Scheme which has an islands specific fund. Crofters who wish to engage in woodland creation and management activities can access the Forestry Grant Scheme, which has a specific premium option aimed at the Northern Isles, Western Isles and crofting counties where establishing trees can be more expensive. The Crofts Woodlands Project delivered in partnership with the Woodland Trust, the Point and Sandwick Trust provides direct forestry advice and support for crofters. Further support is available through the Small Woodlands Loan Scheme. Crofters can also access advice and guidance through the Farm Advisory Service.

Since the Croft House Grant scheme was launched in 2007, over £24 million has been awarded to over 1,098 crofters and their families in rural and island communities helping to build and improve their croft residence – approximately half of which has been awarded to island crofters. Since March 2021, we have awarded over £1.9 million in grant funding to help build and improve sixty-four homes, forty-seven of which were in the islands.



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