National Islands Plan review: consultation analysis

The report sets out the main findings of the public consultation carried out to inform a review of the National Islands Plan 2019.

Executive summary

1. The Islands (Scotland) Act 2018 (the Islands Act) requires Scottish Ministers to produce a National Islands Plan in consultation with the people who live and work on Scotland’s islands. The first National Islands Plan was published in December 2019. It sets out objectives and a strategy for improving outcomes for island communities. The Islands Act requires a review of the plan every five years, and this is currently underway. As part of the review, the Scottish Government has undertaken a consultation to gather the views of the public and members of island communities. A consultation paper was issued, and a series of engagement workshops were held.

2. The consultation paper contained 11 questions and explored (i) people’s knowledge of the current National Islands Plan, (ii) the impacts of the current plan on island communities, (iii) people’s views of the contents of the plan, (iv) the progress made against the plan’s objectives, and (v) what form any new, or revised, plan should take. The consultation paper was published on 18 July 2023 with a closing date of 7 November 2023 for responses.

3. The 16 workshops (13 in-person and 3 online), held with people living or working in island communities, addressed three key issues of governance, awareness and focus.

Description of the responses and respondents (Chapter 2)

4. The consultation received 167 responses submitted by 39 organisations and 128 individuals. Organisational respondents comprised (i) local authorities and other public bodies, (ii) community groups, organisations and trusts, (iii) third sector organisations, charities and membership bodies, and (iv) a small number of ‘other organisations’ which did not fit into any of the other three categories. Most respondents (82%) said they were permanent island residents.

5. In addition, 231 individuals participated in the workshops.

Key themes in the responses

6. The main findings of the consultation and workshops are presented below. Recurring themes, raised both in the consultation responses and at the workshops, were as follows:

  • In light of limited awareness of the National Islands Plan, there is a need for improved communication with island communities in relation to it. It was also suggested that other public bodies (in addition to local authorities) need to be made more aware of the plan.
  • The plan was seen as comprehensive and ambitious. Its strategic objectives were seen as relevant and appropriate. However, there were concerns about the attainability of some of the commitments included in the document. There were arguments in favour of prioritising the strategic objectives and focusing on a smaller set of achievable commitments.
  • There were suggestions (often from community-based organisations and individuals) that priorities should be determined at an island (rather than national) level. At the same time, respondents and workshop participants agreed that certain strategic objectives (including transport, housing and population) would be seen as priorities in all island communities.
  • Respondents wanted any new / revised plan to contain SMART objectives (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Timebound) with commitments linked to specific actions, a timeframe for delivery, and clear allocation of responsibilities.

Awareness and perceived effects of the current plan (Chapter 3)

7. Half of respondents (52%) said they knew a little about the current National Islands Plan and a fifth (21%) said they knew a lot about it. However, a quarter of respondents said they either knew nothing about it, or had heard of it but knew nothing of its content. Organisations were more likely than individuals to say they knew a lot about the plan.

8. There were mixed views, both among organisations and individuals, about whether the National Islands Plan had had any effect on their lives. Organisations (50%) were more likely than individuals (10%) to say the plan affected them positively. By contrast, individuals (32%) were more likely than organisations (4%) to say it had affected them negatively. Individuals (58%) were also more likely than organisations (46%) to say the plan had not affected their life in any way.

9. Those who identified positive effects commonly said the plan had (i) led to a greater focus on the significant challenges facing Scotland’s islands, (ii) provided a framework for policy development and infrastructure improvements in island communities, (iii) informed the creation of local island plans in some areas, and (iv) provided funding for a range of activities and initiatives.

10. Those (mainly individuals) who thought the plan had affected them negatively said there had been no improvement in the quality of life of (most) islanders during the period of the plan, and that the plan had raised expectations but not delivered on them.

The contents of the current plan (Chapter 4)

11. There were mixed views on the contents of the current National Islands Plan, with 37% of respondents saying they had positive views, 36% saying they had negative views, and 27% saying they had no views at all. Organisations (84%) were more likely than individuals (25%) to express positive views about the contents of the plan.

12. Those who had positive views described the plan as ‘comprehensive’, ‘ambitious’, ‘effectively presented’ and ‘clear’. These respondents also noted the extensive consultation that had informed the drafting of the plan.

13. Those who had negative views focused on (i) its length, style, and perceived lack of accessibility to people living in island communities, (ii) the need for a more localised approach to ensure that solutions are tailored to each island’s specific circumstances, (iii) the need to ensure that the plan’s objectives and commitments are clear and achievable, and (iv) the need for an effective performance monitoring framework.

14. The current National Islands Plan has 13 strategic objectives. Around a quarter of respondents (26%) thought the number of strategic objectives in the current plan was just right, 40% thought there were too many, and 29% had no opinion on the matter. Just 5% thought there were too few strategic objectives. Organisations (33%) were more likely than individuals (25%) to say that the number of strategic objectives was just right.

15. Those who thought the number of strategic objectives was just right generally said that all the objectives in the current plan were relevant and together addressed the key challenges facing island communities. Those who thought there were too many strategic objectives suggested that the current number was detracting from the Scottish Government’s capacity to deliver the plan. This group thought it would be preferable to focus on a smaller number of key objectives and deliver on them. Those who thought there were too few objectives suggested that additional objectives were needed – specifically in relation to water and wastewater services, and food security. Respondents who had no opinion on the number of strategic objectives argued that the number of objectives was less important than (i) what the objectives were and (ii) ensuring that they can be delivered.

16. The current National Islands Plan contains 134 commitments. More than half of respondents (55%) thought the current plan had too many commitments. Fewer than one in ten (8%) thought the number of commitments was just right, and 5% thought there were too few commitments. A third of respondents (33%) had no opinion on the matter. Organisations (64%) were more likely than individuals (52%) to say there were too many commitments.

17. Respondents who thought the number of commitments was just right suggested that the plan needed to be comprehensive in its scope. However, these respondents also thought further detail was needed about how the commitments would be resourced. Respondents who indicated there were too many commitments thought it would be better to prioritise – and deliver on – fewer commitments. This group suggested that the plan should have a tighter focus solely on those commitments that would not otherwise happen without the plan. Respondents who had no opinion on the matter argued that delivering on the commitments was more important than the number of commitments. There was little comment from respondents who thought there were too few commitments.

Assessment of the current plan (Chapter 5)

18. Respondents were asked to assess the extent to which progress had been made over the past five years towards the National Island Plan’s 13 strategic objectives. On 11 of the objectives, a majority of respondents thought there had been no progress. The two exceptions were Strategic Objective 6 (Digital) and Strategic Objective 11 (Arts, Culture & Language) for which a majority of respondents thought some progress had been made.

19. Respondents were most likely to say that no progress had been made in relation to Objective 3 (Transport) and Objective 5 (Fuel Poverty). More than three-quarters of respondents thought no progress had been made towards either of these two objectives.

20. Organisations were more likely than individuals to think that some progress had been made in relation to all of the objectives apart from Transport and Fuel Poverty. A majority of organisations, like individuals, thought that no progress had been made towards these objectives.

21. When asked what they thought had worked well in the current National Islands Plan, respondents noted (i) the importance of the plan in raising the profile of Scotland’s islands and providing a framework for planning, (ii) the funding, support and collaboration which had been made available under the plan, (iii) the level of consultation that had informed the development of the plan, and (iv) some aspects of monitoring and reporting.

22. When asked what could have worked better in the current plan, respondents focused on (i) the need to prioritise – and implement – strategic objectives and commitments, (ii) the need to monitor progress, (iii) dissatisfaction with current funding mechanisms, (iv) the need to address a lack of consistency and quality in Island Communities Impact Assessment processes, and (v) the need for greater collaboration, engagement and communication with island communities.

The need for a new plan (Chapter 6)

23. A large majority of respondents wanted to see a new (or revised) National Islands Plan. However, respondents had mixed views on what form a new plan should take. A third (33%) thought the current plan should be refreshed with the current format retained, two-fifths (41%) thought a whole new plan was needed, and a quarter (26%) thought something else was required.

24. Those who favoured a refresh of the current plan thought ‘the plan is good’ and it should therefore be reinforced, not replaced. This group also thought it would be less resource-intensive and more cost-effective to refresh the current plan rather than drafting an entirely new one.

25. Those who favoured a whole new plan wanted to see a more focused strategy with a smaller number of measurable, achievable commitments. However, these respondents had two different visions of what a new plan would look like.

  • One group (mainly comprising organisations, but also some individuals) thought the next iteration of the National Islands Plan should retain the existing strategic objectives, but be a shorter, more succinct, and more focused plan, with a monitoring framework, proper costings and a funding strategy.
  • The second group (mainly comprising individuals, but also some organisations) wanted to see more local or regional plans – linked to an overarching national strategy – rather than a single (national) document. This group thought there could be some prioritisation of objectives such as transport and housing across all island groups, but beyond that, island communities should establish their own objectives and priorities.

26. There was no clear consensus among the respondents who wanted something other than a refreshed or whole new plan. Some in this group were in favour of reducing the plan to a minimal set of objectives. Others suggested there should be no national plan, but that the Scottish Government should work directly with island communities to identify local needs and provide funding to them to deliver their own solutions.

Workshop findings: governance, awareness and focus (Chapter 7)

27. The workshops addressed questions relating to the governance of the National Islands Plan, how to improve awareness of it, and what the future focus should be.


28. Workshop participants identified barriers to the involvement of island communities in the delivery of the National Islands Plan. These included limited capacity among island residents, insufficient information, and lack of opportunities. People’s perceptions about whether their voices will be listened to (or not) was also seen as a barrier to engagement.

29. Workshop participants offered numerous suggestions for improving community involvement in the delivery of the National Islands Plan. These focused on (i) increasing awareness and knowledge of the plan, (ii) improving direct communication between the Scottish Government and island communities, (iii) strengthening local democracy, (iv) supporting localised decision-making and delivery, (v) building capacity for engagement, and (vi) working through existing community representative bodies or service providers.


30. Workshop participants repeatedly said that few members of their local communities were aware of the National Islands Plan. Participants wished to see improved Scottish Government communications with island communities. There was a widespread view that information about the plan should be more accessible and tailored to each island. There was also an emphasis on the importance of two-way communication. Specific suggestions focused on: (i) increasing direct face-to-face engagement, (ii) making greater use of print and broadcast media, (iii) raising the online profile of the National Islands Plan, (iv) disseminating information through local community groups, and (v) establishing a communications team (or officer) within the Scottish Government Islands Team.


31. There was no definitive view among workshop participants on whether the current strategic objectives should be prioritised in some way. Broadly speaking, participants said all the strategic objectives were important and linked to each other. However, they also suggested that it would be helpful to focus on a more limited set of objectives. Across most of the workshops, there were two main views: that some form of prioritisation of the strategic objectives might be acceptable (‘while they are all important, some are more important’); and that all the current strategic objectives should be retained but ‘grouped’ or ‘clustered’ in some way. However, at some workshops, participants either did not support or did not suggest any prioritisation of objectives.

32. Across the workshops, there was a repeated view that, rather than having a national prioritisation of objectives, each island should be able to identify its own priorities. Nevertheless, workshop participants suggested that certain strategic objectives – transport, housing and population – would be at the top of the list of priorities in most island communities. Beyond these, there were differences in opinion about which of the other strategic objectives should be prioritised.



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