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.

6 The need for a new plan (Q10 and Q11)

6.1 The final two consultation questions focused on the need for a new National Islands Plan. Respondents were asked whether they thought a new plan was needed, and if so, what form it should take and what it should include.

Question 10: Do you think there should be a new plan for the Scottish Islands? [Yes / No / Don’t know]

Please explain your reasons.

Question 11: What would you like to see in any future or revised National Islands Plan? [Refresh the current National Islands Plan but keep the same format / A whole new plan is needed / Something else]

Please feel free to expand on your answer in the box below.

Views on the need for a new National Islands Plan (Q10)

6.2 Question 10 asked respondents if they thought there should be a new plan for the Scottish Islands.

6.3 Table 6.1 shows that a large majority of respondents (73%) thought there should be a new plan, while 12% thought there should not, and 15% did not know.

6.4 The pattern of responses among organisations and individuals was very similar.

Table 6.1: Q10 – Do you think there should be a new plan for the Scottish islands?
Respondent type Yes No Don't know Total
n % n % n % n %
Local authorities and public bodies 10 71% 2 14% 2 14% 14 100%
Community orgs, groups and trusts 5 71% 1 14% 1 14% 7 100%
Third sector orgs, charities and membership bodies 5 71% 1 14% 1 14% 7 100%
Other organisation types 4 100% 0 0% 0 0% 4 100%
Total organisations 24 75% 4 13% 4 13% 32 100%
Total individuals 90 73% 15 12% 19 15% 124 100%
Total, all respondents 114 73% 19 12% 23 15% 156 100%

Percentages may not total 100% due to rounding.

6.5 Altogether, 137 respondents (35 organisations and 102 individuals) provided comments at Question 10 to explain their answers. It was evident in the comments that respondents had interpreted this question – and what constituted ‘a new plan’ – in different ways. Specifically, most respondents who answered ‘no’ or ‘don’t know’ made comments that suggested they wanted an updated or revised plan, rather than an entirely new plan or no plan. Thus, most of those who answered ‘don’t know’ were not uncertain about the need for a plan. Similarly, some who answered ‘yes’ also wanted an updated or revised plan, rather than an entirely new plan. Respondents’ different interpretations of this question suggest that the figures shown in Table 6.1 should be treated with caution. The key message, however, is that most respondents wanted the National Islands Plan to continue in some form.

6.6 The discussion below sets out respondents’ views about why a new / revised plan is needed – or, why it is not needed, in the case of those who explicitly said this.

6.7 Respondents also often discussed at Question 10 the changes they wanted to see in a revised plan. Many of these suggestions either repeated those made at Question 9 (which asked ‘what could have worked better in the current plan’), or they overlapped with points made at Question 11 (which asked ‘what should be included in any future or revised plan’). These points are not repeated here.

Why a new – or revised – plan is needed

6.8 Respondents gave a range of reasons to explain why they thought a new plan was needed. Note that some of these reasons were also given by respondents who answered ‘no’ or ‘don’t know’ to the closed question at Question 10.

  • The original intention for the plan was sound. The plan ensures that the needs and challenging circumstances of islands and island communities are considered and addressed. It is important not to lose the positive aspects of the current plan in any new / revised plan.
  • There has been a lack of progress over the past five years in addressing the most pressing priorities of island communities – in some cases due to unforeseen events such as Brexit and the Covid pandemic. A new / revised plan will allow progress to be made (or keep momentum going).
  • The need for a National Islands Plan is greater now than it was five years ago, and the coherence of the islands as a group is also greater. Thus, the intentions of any new / revised plan are more achievable now.
  • The current plan has made a difference in nurturing cultural life on Scotland’s islands. This should continue in any new / revised plan.
  • The plan needs to be updated to reflect changes in the policy landscape as well as new opportunities, priorities and additional challenges which have arisen in the past five years. One respondent suggested that, in relation to transport and energy alone, a new / revised plan was needed.

6.9 Some respondents expressed support for the creation of an updated / revised plan, but also qualified their support saying, for example, that a new plan should only be developed if action is taken to progress the objectives, or only if measurement and audit processes are sharpened.

6.10 Occasionally individuals expressed the view that any revised plan(s) should be written and delivered by island residents. These respondents wanted the Scottish Government to empower and fund communities to deliver their own solutions.

Why a new – or revised plan – is NOT needed

6.11 All of the organisations and some of the individuals who answered ‘no’ at Question 10 wanted a refreshed (rather than an entirely new) National Islands Plan. Their comments are included at paragraphs 6.8 to 6.10 above.

6.12 However, a few individual respondents who answered ‘no’ said explicitly in their comments that they did not support a new (or revised or refreshed) National Islands Plan. The reasons given by these respondents mainly related to the view that the creation of a new plan would be ‘a waste of time and energy’. This group thought no more resources should be spent on replacing it. Instead, they favoured:

  • Spending the money on improving existing services / taking action, rather than developing new plans
  • Letting local councils plan for the needs of their island communities.

What should be included in any future or revised plan (Q11)

6.13 Question 11 asked respondents what they would like to see in any future or revised National Islands Plan. The initial closed question asked respondents to indicate if the plan should be ‘refreshed while keeping the same format’, should be a ‘whole new plan’, or ‘something else’.

6.14 Table 6.2 shows that respondents had mixed views on this question: 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 needed.

6.15 However, there were differences between organisations and individuals. Half (51%) of organisations (18 out of 35) favoured a refresh of the current plan compared to around a quarter (27%) of individuals. By contrast, the largest proportion of individuals (44%) wished to see a whole new plan, compared to around a third (31%) of organisations – 11 out of 35.

6.16 Among organisations, the group most in favour of a refresh of the current plan was third sector organisations, charities, and membership bodies (5 out of 6). Around half of local authorities and public bodies (9 out of 17) also wanted a refresh, but the other half were divided in their views about whether a whole new plan – or something else – was needed.

Table 6.2: Q11 – What would you like to see in any future or revised National Islands Plan?
Respondent type Refresh the current plan, but keep the same format A whole new plan is needed Something else Total
n % n % n % n %
Local authorities and public bodies 9 56% 5 31% 2 13% 16 100%
Community orgs, groups and trusts 3 38% 3 38% 2 25% 8 100%
Third sector orgs, charities and membership bodies 5 83% 1 17% 0 0% 6 100%
Other organisation types 1 20% 2 40% 2 40% 5 100%
Total organisations 18 51% 11 31% 6 17% 35 100%
Total individuals 31 27% 51 44% 33 29% 115 100%
Total, all respondents 49 33% 62 41% 39 26% 150 100%

Percentages may not total 100% due to rounding.

6.17 Altogether, 122 respondents (37 organisations and 85 individuals) offered comments at Question 11. Comments from some respondents (particularly from organisations) were lengthy and detailed, setting out very specific proposed additions or changes to the current strategic objectives and commitments. It is not possible to fully reflect the contents of these responses in this report.[5] Instead, the focus here is on discussing recurring themes among those who advocated (i) a refresh of the current plan, (ii) a whole new plan, or (iii) something else. The views of those who did not answer the closed question, but who provided comments, have been incorporated into the sections below.

Views of those in favour of a refresh of the current plan

6.18 Respondents who supported a refresh of the existing plan gave two main reasons for their views. First, they thought ‘the plan is good’; therefore, it should be reinforced, not replaced. Second, they suggested that producing a refreshed plan would be less resource-intensive and more cost-effective than drafting an entirely new plan. Respondents in this group thought the current consultation would provide an opportunity to check that the current plan’s objectives were still relevant and continued to reflect the priorities of island communities. Some argued that a refreshed plan would allow for a greater focus on action / implementation in the next five years.

6.19 Some respondents in this group made specific suggestions about what form a refreshed plan should take. For example:

  • It should be in a similar but not necessary the same format as the current plan.
  • Given the differences between islands in their priorities, consideration should be given to focusing on a few key objectives for each island or island group. This type of approach may result in greater benefits and generate unique solutions that could be replicated in other island communities.
  • The plan should emphasise the interdependencies between strategic objectives. There was a suggestion that a more thematic (or cluster) approach to the strategic objectives might be helpful. Themes suggested by some respondents included Community Wealth Building, Net Zero, Just Transition, Local Living (i.e. 20-minute communities) and Sustainable Transport.

6.20 Some respondents who wanted a refresh of the current plan discussed resourcing, governance and performance management issues. For example, they thought:

  • The plan needs to be suitably resourced at a national and local level. They wanted to see long-term, multi-year funding which, in their view, would create local opportunities, generate community wealth, build momentum, support change and deliver economies of scale, value for money and social return on investment.
  • Any resource associated with the plan should be distributed according to need, with the islands most in need (based on agreed indicators) receiving the most funding.
  • The plan needs to have a strong performance management framework, with quantitative measures applied. However, as noted in Chapter 5, the Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation (SIMD) was not seen to be well suited to island communities. One respondent suggested the use of ‘habitability indicators and associated methodologies’ to inform the development of place-based plans and address the challenges of demography, migration, energy supply, economy, etc.
  • The commitments (or actions) in the plan should be numbered (as the strategic objectives are) and the organisation responsible for delivery of each action should be clearly stated.
  • There needs to be an improved, effective communication strategy, not only when the plan is published, but for ongoing engagement with communities. Respondents suggested that a future communication strategy should include using traditional communication methods (i.e. local newsletters and newspapers, leaflets, posters, etc.), recognising that not all island residents wish to or are able to access digital communications.
  • The Scottish Government should make use of the skills available in island communities to draft the plan and support local people to deliver it.

6.21 Respondents who wished to see a refresh (or update) of the current plan made a wide range of very specific suggestions about what the plan should include and / or prioritise. The points listed below are intended to illustrate the kinds of suggestions made and are not comprehensive. For example:

  • The plan should have a greater focus on empowering and providing support to community organisations, community trusts and cultural and creative organisations to carry out projects in their own communities.
  • In relation to climate resilience, it was suggested that most islanders are unaware of emergency plans which may be in place to address particular eventualities. It was suggested that every island situation needs to be reviewed, assessed, mapped, and addressed as an integral aspect of the next National Islands Plan.
  • The plan should include a commitment relating to the Orkney Island Games (to be held in 2025) and its impact / legacy.
  • There should be greater recognition in the plan of the role of island-based higher education institutions in supporting research, innovation, teaching and learning across the strategic objectives.
  • The plan should include a greater focus on road safety to encourage active travel.

6.22 Various respondents wanted to see the plan recognise the importance of or include specific actions in relation to topics such as salmon farming, affordable housing, biodiversity and biosecurity, the use of nature-based solutions to create socio-economic opportunities, cultural and heritage tourism, Scots as well as Gaelic, women, education, physical activity and public transport.

6.23 Respondents who advocated a refreshed National Islands Plan also thought the plan should consider and align with recent and upcoming policy changes and national initiatives. Examples of those mentioned related to:

  • Island infrastructure development – National Planning Framework 4 (NPF4), and areas of Crown Estate Scotland activities relating to energy and marine management
  • Scottish Languages (both Scots and Gaelic) – Upcoming Scottish Languages Bill, National Gaelic Language Plan 2023–28, Report of the Short Life Working Group on Economic and Social Opportunities for Gaelic
  • Energy generation – Energy and Just Transition Strategy, Scottish Government’s Hydrogen Action Plan
  • Historic environment – Historic environment Skills Investment Plan, and the new national strategy for Scotland’s historic environment – Our Past, Our Future
  • Climate change – Upcoming Climate Change Plan
  • Transport and active travel – Transport Scotland’s Islands Connectivity Plan, the National Walking Strategy, and the NPF4 20-minute neighbourhood principle
  • Physical activity – Active Scotland Outcomes Framework and planning a legacy from the Orkney Islands Games in 2025.

6.24 While many respondents highlighted policies and strategies that the National Islands Plan should align with, there was also a view that steps needed to be taken to ensure that local decision-makers (mainly local authorities) take account of the National Islands Plan’s objectives in the full range of their activities.

Views of those in favour of a whole new plan

6.25 Respondents who supported the creation of a whole new plan wanted to see a more focused plan with a smaller set of measurable, achievable commitments. Some suggested that the current plan was too ‘unwieldy’. Others thought that circumstances have changed so significantly in the past five years that a new (rather than refreshed) plan was needed. However, these respondents had two different visions of what a new plan would look like.

6.26 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 shorter, more succinct, and more focused, with a monitoring framework, proper costings, and a funding strategy. This, they said, will lead to better implementation and deliver the expected outcomes. The new plan should also take account of factors that were unforeseen in 2019 – such as the war in Ukraine, increased fuel and energy costs, and the wider cost of living crisis – and should incorporate any lessons learned from the Covid pandemic.

6.27 Respondents in this group said that the current objectives were still broadly relevant but there should be a greater emphasis on what Scottish Ministers will do to progress islanders’ priorities. It was suggested that the number of commitments should be reduced significantly, retaining those that do not refer to the ongoing work of other public bodies. One respondent in this group suggested that the current 134 commitments should be retained for reference, as they document the many challenges faced by Scottish islands, but this number of commitments should not comprise the basis for delivery in a future plan.

6.28 The second group (mainly comprising individuals, but also some organisations) wanted to see more local or regional plans, rather than a single national plan. 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.

6.29 This group thought local areas should have their own plans which linked to – and underpinned – the overarching national plan. Like the first group (discussed above), this group also wanted to see measurable, achievable objectives attached to any new plan. They thought this type of approach would ensure that the priorities and objectives of communities on different islands were identified and acted upon and that, as a result, outcomes would be easier to measure and deliver.

6.30 Funding and governance were key issues for respondents who wanted a whole new plan, with some providing detailed arguments for introducing change in the way projects are funded, delivered and monitored under the National Islands Plan.

6.31 Public sector bodies who supported the creation of a whole new plan wanted responsibility for delivery – and the delivery budget – to be assigned to local authorities and their partners. They argued that this type of approach would eliminate the significant time and resource spent by local authorities in preparing applications to the Islands Programme funding rounds and would create better conditions for local authorities to be able to commit to necessary capital investments. Several public sector respondents made reference to the Verity House Agreement and the principle ‘local by default, national by agreement’. These respondents thought that decisions about the funding of projects should be taken by those agencies that know the communities best. The point was also made that, if both local agencies and the Scottish Government Islands Team were claiming to be delivering outcomes, there was a risk of duplication.

6.32 One local authority proposed an alternative funding model based on locally developed investment plans, which would set out local priorities over the short to medium term. This model (described in detail in their response) was seen as a way of empowering, and demonstrating trust in, Scotland’s island councils, removing bureaucracy, and using limited resources more effectively and efficiently.

6.33 This same local authority also highlighted an issue of ‘fairness’ in relation to the income received by the Scottish Government from renewable energy schemes around the islands. This respondent argued that this income should be shared in an equitable way with island communities – particularly at a time when island households have some of the highest energy bills in Scotland and are suffering severe fuel poverty. Reference was made to the 2014 paper Empowering Scotland’s Island Communities which states the policy intention that ‘local communities across our islands should be the primary beneficiaries from income extracted as rental and royalty payments on activity around their shores’.

Views in favour of ‘something else’

6.34 As Table 6.2 above shows, individuals were more likely than organisations to advocate something other than a refreshed plan or a whole new plan. Although both groups often made similar comments, there was no clear consensus among them in terms of what ‘something else’ would look like. In particular:

  • Some were in favour of reducing the plan to a minimal set of objectives (e.g. ‘the first six objectives; just ‘four or five objectives; just ‘transport, housing and education’, ‘the big-ticket items only’) and then delivering on those. This, it was suggested, would make the plan more achievable.
  • Some suggested that a national plan should not be produced at all, but that the Scottish Government should work directly with island communities (run a ‘community-driven process’ or a ‘grassroots-led process’) to identify local needs and provide funding directly to them to deliver their own solutions. This, it was suggested, would ensure that local plans are informed by the people who will be affected.
  • Some simply said that they wanted clear and measurable, achievable goals, or that any new plan needed ‘teeth’ in terms of being mandatory and having sanctions applied where it is ignored.
  • There was also a view that the current plan appeared to be geared towards assisting the ‘island authorities’ because that is easier. Any new plan should consider the complexities of delivering for islands in local authorities which also have responsibility for mainland communities (i.e. Argyll & Bute, Highland, North Ayrshire), and whether any administrative changes may be needed in such situations.

6.35 This group frequently stated explicitly that there is a pressing need for ‘delivery’ and measurable outcomes.



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