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.

5 Assessment of the current plan (Q5, Q8 and Q9)

5.1 The consultation included three questions which asked respondents for their assessment of the progress made towards the current National Islands Plan strategic objectives, and for their views on what worked well and less well.

Question 5: In your opinion, has the current National Islands Plan made progress towards achieving its Strategic Objectives to address:

  • Strategic Objective 1 – Population
  • Strategic Objective 2 – Sustainable economic development
  • Strategic Objective 3 – Transport
  • Strategic Objective 4 – Housing
  • Strategic Objective 5 – Fuel poverty
  • Strategic Objective 6 – Digital
  • Strategic Objective 7 – Health, social care and wellbeing
  • Strategic Objective 8 – Environment and biodiversity
  • Strategic Objective 9 – Climate change and energy
  • Strategic Objective 10 – Empowered communities
  • Strategic Objective 11 – Arts, culture and language
  • Strategic Objective 12 – Education
  • Strategic Objective 13 – Implementation

[No progress / Minimal progress / Satisfactory progress / Progress exceeding expectations]

Question 8: Overall, what do you think has worked well in the current National Islands Plan?

Question 9: Overall, what do you think could have worked better in the current National Islands Plan?

Views on progress towards strategic objectives (Q5)

5.2 Question 5 comprised 13 closed questions asking respondents for their views on the progress made towards each of the 13 strategic objectives set out in the National Islands Plan. Respondents were asked to say, in relation to each objective, whether they thought there had been ‘no progress’, ‘minimal progress’, ‘satisfactory progress’ or ‘progress exceeding expectations’.

5.3 Table 5.1 shows that, in relation to 11 of the objectives, a majority of respondents (between 52% and 80% in each case) 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.

5.4 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 these two objectives.

Table 5.1: Views on progress made towards specific Strategic Objectives
Strategic Objectives (SO) No progress Minimal progress Satisfactory progress Progress exceeding expectations Total
n % n % n % n % n %
SO 1: Population 89 64% 46 33% 3 2% 1 1% 139 100%
SO 2: Sustainable Econ Development 74 53% 55 40% 10 7% 0 0% 139 100%
SO 3: Transport 115 80% 26 18% 1 1% 1 1% 143 100%
SO 4: Housing 81 58% 53 38% 5 4% 1 1% 140 100%
SO 5: Fuel Poverty 106 75% 31 22% 4 3% 0 0% 141 100%
SO 6: Digital 61 43% 52 37% 26 18% 2 1% 141 100%
SO 7: Health, Social Care, Wellbeing 78 56% 51 37% 9 6% 1 1% 139 100%
SO 8: Environment & Biodiversity 80 58% 40 29% 17 12% 1 1% 138 100%
SO 9: Climate Change & Energy 73 52% 53 38% 9 6% 5 4% 140 100%
SO 10: Empowered Communities 82 59% 41 29% 16 11% 1 1% 140 100%
SO 11: Arts, Culture & Language 59 43% 51 37% 25 18% 3 2% 138 100%
SO 12: Education 74 52% 52 37% 16 11% 0 0% 142 100%
SO 13: Implementation 76 54% 60 43% 4 3% 1 1% 141 100%

Percentages may not total 100% due to rounding.

5.5 However, there were differences between organisations and individuals in the responses to these questions. Organisations were more likely than individuals to think that some progress (usually minimal or satisfactory) had been made in relation to all the objectives apart from Transport and Fuel Poverty. A majority of organisations, like individuals thought that no progress had been made towards these objectives. Organisations were most likely to say some form of progress had been made in relation to Objective 6 (Digital), Objective 8 (Environment and Biodiversity), and Objective 11 (Arts, Culture and Language). That is, they were least likely to say that ‘no progress’ had been made. See Annex 3 for a detailed breakdown of the findings shown in Table 5.1, by respondent type.

5.6 Note there was a particularly low response rate among organisations in response to all 13 parts of this question. Between 18 and 21 of the 39 organisations answered each part of the question. Caution should therefore be used in interpreting the findings.

What worked well in the current plan? (Q8)

5.7 Question 8 was an open question with no preceding closed question which asked respondents what they thought had worked well in the current National Islands Plan.

5.8 There were four main themes in the responses. These related to: (i) the importance of the plan in raising the profile of Scotland’s islands and providing a framework for planning, (ii) funding, support and collaboration provided under the plan, (iii) the level of consultation carried out in developing the plan, and (iv) monitoring and reporting. Each of these is briefly discussed below.

5.9 In addition to the four main themes, respondents also sometimes identified specific improvements which they thought had resulted from the plan. These are summarised below under the heading ‘other views about what worked well’.

5.10 Note that there was a relatively common view among individual respondents that ‘absolutely nothing’ (or ‘nothing whatsoever’) had worked well. Respondents who expressed this view often said that they had not noticed any completed projects and could not point to any improvements in island life. In addition, a relatively small number of individuals commented that they were previously unaware of the plan but had not noticed any positive impacts that they would attribute to it.

Raising the profile of island communities and providing a framework for planning

5.11 The most common theme in respondents’ comments at Question 8 was that the National Islands Plan had raised the profile of Scotland’s islands and provided a ‘much-needed’ focus on the challenges and priorities of island communities. It also demonstrated a commitment by the Scottish Government to address those challenges and priorities. This view was expressed both by organisations and individuals, and among all types of organisations.

5.12 Respondents said that raising the profile of Scotland’s islands had led to greater attention on the needs of island communities in a number of policy areas including, for example, in relation to the National Planning Framework 4 and the development of Scotland’s Third Land Use Strategy.[3]

5.13 Respondents also said that, in setting its strategic objectives and commitments, the National Islands Plan had provided a framework for action, enabling resources to be targeted in a way that is appropriate and deliverable in an island context.

Funding, support and collaboration

5.14 A second common theme – usually raised by organisational respondents – was that the targeted funding provided through the Islands Programme (including the Islands Infrastructure Fund, the Islands Cost Crisis Emergency Fund, and the Islands Community Fund) had been well received and had contributed to a range of local investments. Some pointed out that their local communities had been involved in deciding how the funding would be used.

5.15 Respondents also highlighted the support that had been available from the Scottish Government Islands Team. Some said members of the Islands Team had been helpful and approachable, and demonstrated a commitment to engaging with island communities and their issues. There was a view among respondents that the positive relationships they had formed with members of the Islands Team had been valuable in developing a mutual understanding of aspirations, plans and constraints. Some said that having a lead officer within the team for specific island groups had been particularly helpful in ensuring good communication and an understanding of local issues.


5.16 Some respondents – both organisations and individuals – thought the consultation process which had informed the development of the National Islands Plan was positive. This group appreciated the face-to-face meetings that took place with islanders during its drafting, implementation, and review. Some thought the Islands Team had ‘listened’ and understood that talking to islanders was the key to making island communities more sustainable. Some organisations said this level of consultation had resulted in an ‘evidence-based’ plan.

Monitoring and reporting

5.17 Some respondents – mainly local authorities or other public bodies – described the National Islands Plan annual reports as ‘comprehensive’. Others noted that they welcomed the yearly publication of these reports which ‘clearly show the huge amount of progress that has been delivered during the period’. There were, however, also suggestions for improving the annual reports. These will be discussed together with other comments made at Question 9 (on what could have worked better).

5.18 Respondents also highlighted the importance of the National Islands Plan Survey which allowed findings from individual islands in each island group to be shown separately. Respondents welcomed the commitment to repeat the survey every two years and said this would allow progress over time to be tracked.

Other views about what worked well

5.19 Individuals – and, less often, organisations – also identified specific improvements in their area which they thought had resulted from the National Islands Plan. Most commonly, individual respondents highlighted improvements in local connectivity, although disappointment was also expressed that fast broadband was still not universal in island communities. Some also highlighted local improvements in housing and future plans in relation to the construction of social housing. Improvements to local bus services (in one area) and the creation of a mental healthcare hub (in another) were also noted, together with positive changes in relation to language and culture (Gaelic in particular).

5.20 Some organisations highlighted specific projects that had been funded during the period of the plan, including projects in Arran and Cumbrae, work on climate change and Net Zero, and progress in relation to renewable energy.

What could have worked better in the current plan? (Q9)

5.21 Question 9 was an open question with no preceding closed question which asked what could have worked better in the current National Islands Plan.

5.22 There were five main themes made in the comments at this question. These related to: (i) the objectives, commitments, and importance of implementation, (ii) the need to monitor progress and measure success, (iii) funding and funding mechanisms, (iv) the use of Island Communities Impact Assessments (ICIAs), and (v) collaboration, engagement and communication. Each of these is discussed below.

5.23 It was also common for both organisations and individuals to highlight specific objectives which they saw as important, but which, in their view, had not been addressed in their island community (or addressed adequately). A summary of these views is provided below under the heading ‘Other views about what could have worked better’.

Objectives and commitments and the importance of implementation

5.24 As discussed in Chapter 4 in relation to Questions 6 and 7, some respondents thought the National Islands Plan would have worked better with a smaller – or prioritised – set of objectives, and most thought it would have worked better with fewer, more focused commitments.

5.25 There was also a recurring view that the plan was not clear about delivery. There was agreement among respondents that the plan should have clearly set out the change that could be expected during the period of the plan, together with milestones. The point was made that the Implementation Route Map had not been effective because it had failed to prioritise the 134 commitments or set out a path to delivery. This was seen, in part, to be because many of the current commitments did not belong in the plan. (See Chapter 4, paragraphs 4.49 and 4.50 in particular.)

Monitoring and measuring success

5.26 Following on from the previous point, respondents thought that the plan lacked an effective performance management framework which meant it was not possible to demonstrate progress.

5.27 Respondents wanted to see SMART objectives – Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Timebound – with each commitment linked to a specific action with a clear timeframe for delivery. They also suggested it would have been helpful if the plan had identified (i) those responsible for delivery, (ii) measures of success, (iii) appropriate resources, and (iv) links to relevant cross-cutting activities in other initiatives (e.g. the Islands Deal, National Infrastructure Investment Plan, etc.).

5.28 It was suggested that a suite of performance indicators could be assigned to plan deliverables in the future. Suggested indicators included population change, business start-ups, transport disruptions, housing provision, fuel poverty, digital infrastructure, etc. There was a view that the Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation (SIMD) was not well suited to use in island communities and that developing a broader set of indicators, or an islands version of SIMD, would be more appropriate. One respondent proposed the use of a ‘Minimum Income Standard’, which would show what households need to spend to reach an acceptable standard of living. There was also a suggestion that the Scottish Government’s National Performance Framework should include indicators and targets relating to the islands, based on the plan.

5.29 While respondents often said (at Question 8) that they valued the National Islands Plan’s annual reports, they also suggested (at Question 9) that improvements were needed. Respondents wanted the focus of annual reporting to be more clearly on the real progress achieved in island communities, with some arguing that the publication of another strategy ‘does not translate to progress on the ground’. Some also said that attributing the delivery of outcomes by third parties largely to the National Islands Plan can both undermine the credibility of the plan and understate the contributions of other agencies.

5.30 As noted in the discussion at Question 8, the National Islands Plan Survey was seen to be useful for monitoring parts of the Plan. However, at Question 9, respondents said it was not necessarily the entire solution to the need for improved monitoring.

Funding and funding mechanisms

5.31 Funding and funding mechanisms were significant recurring themes in the responses from organisations – and particularly responses from local authorities and other public bodies. In general, respondents wanted simplified, more coordinated funding processes, with less requirement for competitive bidding. They also wanted funding under the National Islands Plan to cover both capital and revenue costs. Some respondents highlighted a lack of clarity with regard to the budget available for delivery of the plan over its lifetime, or even on a year-to-year basis. The following points illustrate the type of views expressed:

  • It was noted that some actions were implemented through the creation of new funds administered through intermediaries, rather than by providing resources directly to the organisations already working in and with island communities. Streamlining delivery and using existing mechanisms (effectively funded), rather than creating new ones would have a greater impact.
  • There was a view from one local authority that improved outcomes could be achieved more effectively by simply allocating the £30m National Islands Plan delivery budget to island local authorities. A second local authority echoed this view, suggesting that the (current) competitive bidding process should be replaced by a guaranteed multi-year grant allocation with longer lead in times. This type of approach, it was suggested, would offer greater certainty in funding necessary developments.
  • While funding under the plan has been welcomed, additional capital funding – and island-specific revenue funding – would have further supported the delivery of the plan’s priorities. Funding for island communities needs to reflect the ‘premium’ costs of living and doing business on the islands.
  • There is a need to simplify the ‘external funding landscape’ linked to the National Islands Plan. Respondents thought there should be better coordination of the Islands Programme with other capital funds and planned initiatives for islands – both at a local authority level and at national level. Funding streams need to complement and enhance ongoing planned investment, and island authorities need to be able to prepare for – rather than react to – the funds available. This will ensure that the available funding provides greatest value for money.
  • A fair and consistent methodology should be used to determine the allocation of funds to island communities.

The use of Island Communities Impact Assessments (ICIAs)

5.32 Organisations and individuals expressed concerns about the perceived lack of consistency and quality in the use of ICIAs. There was a view that these assessments are not always being undertaken when they should and / or that they were not undertaken in an appropriate manner. Some respondents suggested that this was because the ICIA process is not well understood. It was thought that (i) greater clarity was needed in relation to the standard that an ICIA should meet, and (ii) a review of the use of this mechanism was needed to ensure that it is fit for purpose. Respondents suggested that ICIAs should be undertaken in relation to any policy development or implementation affecting island communities, and that they should be carried out consistently and effectively, and all potential impacts on island communities should be considered fully, with feedback given on the resultant actions or amendments.

5.33 There were suggestions (and requests) that an accessible register of ICIAs should be established, as this would enable an evaluation of the efficacy of ICIAs from the perspective of the intended beneficiaries (i.e. island communities).

5.34 There was also an argument that there should be an ICIA requirement for businesses as well as statutory bodies. One respondent noted that people living in island communities continue to face disproportionate disadvantages in relation to the delivery and pricing of essential services (including energy, telecommunications, banking and deliveries) by mainland commercial providers. There was also a specific concern that the potential impacts on the Gaelic language are not routinely being considered in ICIA processes (as they should).

Collaboration, engagement and communication

5.35 Both organisations and individuals made a wide range of points on the topics of collaboration, engagement and communication with island communities.

5.36 While some organisational respondents explicitly stated that they had valued (and enjoyed) the level of engagement they had with the Scottish Government Islands Team, others expressed a desire for greater or improved engagement. The following points illustrate the types of comments made:

  • The wide scope and membership of the National Islands Plan Delivery Group and the use of online platforms have made meetings difficult to manage and participate in. There was a suggestion that there should be a smaller group format to allow more direct and meaningful engagement. One respondent referred to the approach taken by the Scottish Government’s Islands Team to the Islands Bond as an example of how more direct engagement could work. This same respondent also suggested that the Islands Strategic Group meetings worked well.
  • Greater engagement needs to take place with health and social care service providers and their representative bodies in relation to the health and social care needs of island communities.

5.37 Some respondents (both organisations and individuals) specifically discussed the need to engage more – and more often – with local residents. It was noted that some members of island communities are aware that an islands plan existed but know little about what it aims to do. There was a view that better promotion of the plan was needed to increase engagement. Moreover, engagement should not end at the point of publication, but be ongoing as the plan is implemented.

5.38 A separate issue was also raised that, although local authorities with responsibility for island communities have engaged with the National Islands Plan, it is less clear how other public sector bodies have engaged with it. Respondents emphasised the need for health and social care, land and forestry, ferry-related companies and SEPA to take consideration of the plan when planning services / initiatives.

Other views about what could have worked better

5.39 Some individual respondents and, to a lesser extent organisations, focused on specific objectives and their view that little or no progress had been made towards these objectives.

5.40 In this regard, transport was a recurring theme. Respondents highlighted ‘shamefully inadequate’ public transport, poor ferry services, and lack of suitable walking and cycling paths. Specific concerns were voiced about the lack of attention given to replacement ferries for the Northern Isles, the unwillingness to consider the use of catamarans (which were reported to be more reliable and less expensive to run than conventional ferries), and the inequality that some island children face in having to pay to travel to school by ferry, whereas children elsewhere in Scotland can travel to school for free by bus.[4]



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