National Islands Plan: annual report 2023

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 2023 reporting year.

Ministerial Foreword

I am pleased to introduce the National Islands Plan Annual Report for 2023. It provides a holistic overview of the work undertaken across the Scottish Government, our agencies and delivery partners to progress the implementation of the National Islands Plan.

As this report shows and I will never tire of underlining, our islands bring a uniquely important contribution to Scotland’s society, culture and economy. Confident and dynamic island communities are a core component of our government’s vision for Scotland as a highly successful country in which to live, work, study, visit and do business.

From green energy solutions and the space sector, to food and drink production and the marine industries, our islands are at the forefront of innovation while remaining true to their rich heritage and traditions. This pioneering mix, combined with spectacular landscapes, contributes to their attractiveness as world-class tourism destinations.

Yet, as I heard very clearly from young delegates at the inaugural Scottish Rural and Islands Youth Parliament in November 2023, island communities continue to face a set of interrelated challenges that test their resilience. And if we look at the years since its publication in 2019, the National Islands Plan has had to navigate a succession of crises – the COVID-19 pandemic, the barriers imposed by an unwanted Brexit, soaring energy and food prices and the ongoing threat of climate change.

Many of these challenges are particularly acute for islanders, but the Scottish Government will continue to work hard alongside them to improve the lives of those choosing to make Scotland’s islands their home.

Across our islands, households and businesses continue to face severe economic pressures. The Scottish Government is taking action within our limited powers to ensure islanders get the help they need. Since December 2022, we have made £2.4 million available through our Islands Cost Crisis Emergency Fund to support tangible measures like electricity vouchers, meals provision and local food initiatives. In 2024-25, we will also offer a new 100% relief for hospitality businesses located on islands.

Some island communities are also dealing with complex housing challenges. In October 2023, we published a new Rural and Islands Housing Action Plan which recognises that housing can have a powerful and generational impact, supporting people to access the homes they need and enabling young people to stay in the communities they grew up in. The action plan supports our target to deliver 110,000 affordable homes by 2032, with at least 10% delivered in rural and island areas.

Resilient and affordable transport links are equally critical in supporting sustainable island lives. To support people and businesses in our island communities, ferry fares have been frozen on the Northern Isles and Clyde & Hebrides networks until the end of March 2024. Earlier this year, we launched a public consultation to inform our forthcoming Islands Connectivity Plan and I would encourage islanders to share their views and ideas with us.

The launch of the Addressing Depopulation Action Plan in February of this year fulfilled one of the commitments made in the National Islands Plan. The document features a list of tangible actions and established a new fund to give fresh impetus to the Scottish Government’s efforts to address demographic challenges which, whilst felt by communities across Scotland, often have a disproportionate impact on islands.

Working collaboratively with local authorities, our Islands Programme continues to assist the delivery of the strategic objectives identified in the National Islands Plan. In 2023-24, we invested another £4 million to support critical island infrastructure that meets local needs and ambitions. A total of 13 projects have been awarded funding over the last year, including a recycling hub in Shetland, the modernisation of care home facilities on Tiree, new equipment for the UHI Stornoway campus and the improvement of airfield terminals on some of Orkney’s outer islands.

While at the sharp end of climate change, Scotland’s island communities show that cutting emissions and building resilience is an opportunity. In 2023, the Scottish Government continued to support the Carbon Neutral Islands project, working with six islands (Yell, Hoy, Raasay, Barra, Islay and Great Cumbrae) to become carbon neutral by 2040. Last June, I had the pleasure of announcing the publication of six new Community Climate Change Action Plans resulting from extensive community engagement on each island. Over this past year, the six islands have undertaken hands-on climate action projects spanning from reforestation and improving energy efficiency in community buildings, to food security. We are now at an important phase of the project, where we will start sharing lessons learnt with other islands and, where relevant, mainland communities.

Co-delivery and extensive engagement with local communities are at the heart of our approach to island policy. Between July and November 2023, we carried out a public consultation on the National Islands Plan to gather reflections from stakeholders and inform a review of its implementation. We wanted to make the consultation as accessible as possible for islanders. For this reason, as well as encouraging responses through a dedicated website, we ran a series of in-person and online workshops offering a more interactive opportunity for people to share their views. We are now analysing the feedback we received and we will publish a full report soon.

Going forward, the Scottish Government will keep listening to islanders and work collaboratively with communities to deliver the right policies and the most effective investments. Together, we can ensure our islands thrive and fulfil their ambitions, sharing their considerable expertise and many excellences with domestic and international partners alike to continue inspiring positive change well beyond their shores.

Mairi Gougeon

Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs, Land Reform and Islands



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