National Islands Plan through a COVID Lens: survey results

Summary of key findings after the six main local authorities with islands were invited to consider the impact of the (COVID-19) pandemic on the delivery of National Island Plan commitments and how these should be prioritised going forward.

Annex A

Summary of Responses

Question 1

From the 13 detailed in the NIP and in light of the impact of COVID please note your 3 most important Strategic Objectives to best support recovery across our islands (a = most important).

Response Data Summary and Aggregated Score - Question 1
Strategic Objective (#) Selected as 'a' Selected as 'b' Selected as 'c' Aggregated Score*
Population (1) 1 3
Digital Connectivity (6) 1 1 1 6
Empowered Communities and Strong Local Partnership (10) 1 1
Climate Change and Energy (9) 1 3
Sustainable Economic Development (2) 3 1 7
Transport (3) 2 1 1 9
Housing (4) 1 1

'Aggregated Score' calculated on the basis of 3 points for selection 'a', 2 points for selection 'b' and 1 point for selection 'c'.

Question 2

Further to your three responses to the above question please highlight any specific Commitments that will best support local recovery priorities (Commitments are documented beneath each Strategic Objective in the NIP).

Response Data Summary - Question 2
NIP Aim (Strategic Objective #) Number of Selections
Develop an action plan to support re-population of our rural and island communities and work with partners to test approaches using small-scale pilots. (SO1) 1
Identify key actions to drive inclusive and sustainable economic growth on islands, such as community-run businesses, e-commerce and digitally enabled island-based businesses. (SO2) 3
Tailor business and community support for island communities to ensure products and services are fit for purpose, accessible and effective. This will include exploring new and innovative models and working with national providers to consider how programmes can better address needs of island communities and businesses. (SO2) 2
Work in partnership to support strategic projects which deliver sustainable economic growth in the islands, e.g. Orkney Research and Innovation Campus and Stornoway port developments. (SO2) 2
Drive the many socio-economic opportunities arising from the 2019 Science and Innovation Audit report "Maximising Opportunities for the Marine Economy in the Highlands and Islands" as well as enhance those arising from growth deals. (SO2) 2
Create and promote apprenticeships and job opportunities for young islanders. (SO2) 1
Ensure that skills provision is agile and responsive to future demand and enables individuals to take up opportunities. (SO2) 1
Work with relevant partners and stakeholders to make tourism more sustainable and less seasonal, and encourage development of a year-round offer across a wider range of islands that delivers economic, environmental and social benefits. (SO2) 1
Recognising the services that island abattoirs provide to their communities, we will work with relevant partners to deliver sustainable and economical viable operations. (SO2) 1
Ensure that existing and future transport-related policies, strategies and services are fully island proofed so that they truly meet the needs of island communities. (SO3) 1
Produce a long-term plan and investment programme for new ferries and development at ports to improve resilience, reliability, capacity and reduce emissions to give confidence to island communities on our ongoing commitment. (SO3) 3
Develop a new Ferries Plan that will meaningfully contribute to delivering the outcomes of wider Scottish Government strategies as set out in the National Transport Strategy and this National Islands Plan. (SO3) 2
As part of the next Ferries Plan, review the impacts of Road Equivalent Tariff and consider future ferry fares policy options that will meet the needs of islanders and support island economies. (SO3) 1
Also as part of the Ferries Plan, review and promote integration between ferries and other modes of transport on the mainland and islands, with a view to better facilitating the use of active, public or shared transport for all or part of journeys to and from islands in an affordable and accessible manner. (SO3) 1
Work in partnership with local authorities and communities to improve walking and cycling infrastructure, the design of place and access to bikes, facilities, promotion and education to make walking and cycling the most popular choice for shorter everyday journeys including as part of multi-modal journeys. (SO3) 1
Explore the potential to reduce the need to travel by using the planning system to promote places which bring people and services together. (SO3) 1
Subject to requirements as set out in the Clyde and Hebrides Ferry Service and the Northern Isles Ferry Service contracts, we will always strive to improve, where necessary and possible, issues relating to freight and will engage proactively with operators, communities and stakeholders as appropriate. (SO3) 2
Explore how the rural and island housing fund might be adapted in the future to expand the range of options to support housing development in remote and island communities. (SO4) 1
Improve access to homes for people looking to settle in, or return to, island communities. In collaboration with local authorities and relevant stakeholders, we will examine the full range of options to do this, making best use of our existing homes and new supply. (SO4) 1
Deliver a step change in the quality of digital connectivity across the islands. (SO6) 3
Mandate the delivery of gigabit-capable connectivity to selected island locations, through the R100 programme, with many other island communities to benefit once contracts are finalised. (SO6) 2
Call on the UK Government to prioritise early investment in Scotland's islands as part of their plans for full fibre roll-out by 2025. (SO6) 2
Call on Ofcom to address the issues faced by island communities when designing telecoms regulation and policy. Convene a meeting with Ofcom and island representatives to explore how regulatory levers (such as spectrum auctions) could improve both mobile and broadband coverage on the islands and ensure that the needs of islands are represented to the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) in UK national policy development. (SO6) 1
Through the Scotland 5G Centre, building on the 5G RuralFirst trials currently taking place on Orkney, and working with partners including Ofcom, we will develop rural 5G use cases to address the rural digital divide using 5G technology. (SO6) 1
Work with local resilience partnerships and telecoms providers to encourage them to focus on resilience of data links to and from the islands. (SO6) 1
Develop a digital skills programme designed by island communities to meet their needs. (SO6) 1
Extend the availability of coding clubs and community-based digital inclusion programmes across the islands. (SO6) 1
Work with island communities to explore how they can contribute to the circular economy through small-scale pilots for example supporting local food production. (SO8) 1
Work towards creating net zero emission islands and providing global climate change leadership. (SO9) 1
Work closely with island partners, the network owner and all other key stakeholders to deliver existing proposals for electricity transmission links to mainland Scotland. (SO9) 1
Continue working to unleash the potential of renewable energy as both a way to mitigate climate change and as a driver of sustainable and inclusive economic growth. (SO9) 1

Question 3

The Act says that the purpose of preparing a National Islands Plan is to set out the main objectives and strategy of the Scottish Ministers in relation to improving outcomes for island communities that result from, or are contributed to by, the carrying out of functions of a public nature. The Act goes on to identify the following areas for improvement:

(a) increasing population levels,
(b) improving and promoting—
(i) sustainable economic development,
(ii) environmental wellbeing,
(iii) health and wellbeing, and
(iv) community empowerment,
(c) improving transport services,
(d) improving digital connectivity,
(e) reducing fuel poverty,
(f) ensuring effective management of the Scottish Crown Estate (that is, the property rights and interests to which section 90B(5) of the Scotland Act 1998 applies),
(g) enhancing biosecurity (including protecting islands from the impact of invasive non-native species).

In light of the pandemic are there other areas that require consideration?

Response Data Summary - Question 3
Recommendations for Special Consideration in Direct Response to COVID-19 (Additional to NIP Delivery) Number of References
Local Health Services - their resourcing is key to support our communities now and to ensure future resilience. 1
Key Workers - were of vital importance throughout the pandemic. This has highlighted their importance to our communities in a time of need. 1
Legacy of Business Failures - may have a lasting impact. If the business was marginal/lifestyle it is less likely to be replaced, which may have a significant impact. 1
Social Enterprises/Third Sector – hugely important to resilience and recovery within island communities. 1
Food Production - there is a need to address the negative impacts of the continued centralisation of national food production and processing. This has been considerable uncertainty and difficulties getting sufficient supplies and services to the islands quickly and efficiently. The price of food on islands is also a significant issue. 3
Local Supply Chains - in some cases supply chains have been shortened and this has helped to keep added value within island areas, where there is a need to retain such business models going forward. Local retailers provided support for island towns and communities during the pandemic and are crucial to delivering a green local economy. 3
External Contractors - there is an over reliance on external contractors to undertake essential works and the need to re-build local supply chains and skills. 1
Procurement - different fiscal approaches for islands would encourage new investment and a new approach to infrastructure provision that take better account of the needs of the community to enable better service delivery and new business starts. 1
Community Wealth - the generation of community wealth should be seen as an overarching objective rather than only focussing on economic growth. 1
Community Anchor Organisations – supported by local authorities, these organisations have played a key role in supporting island communities during the pandemic. There is a need to define what their future role will be and how they can be sustained to assist with the national recovery. 1
Aviation – there is a requirement for greater synergy with regard to the operation of local and regional air services both throughout the COVID-19 pandemic and as we move to recovery. 1
Local Authority Funding and Empowerment – there is an increased need to invest in adequate resources to enable the co-ordination of activity at the local/regional level. 4
Population – unemployment may lead to young people leaving the islands to seek work, impacting negatively on both population levels and demographic balance. Conversely, there exists potential for islands to become more attractive for people to move to, following the pandemic. 3
Remote Working- there is potential for increased opportunities as businesses and employees realise that they can work remotely away from urban conurbations. 1
Private Sector Economy- COVID-19 has highlighted the dependence of our private sector economy on a small number of sectors (tourism, primary production, etc). 1
Energy Security- different focus required. 1
Debt Counselling- underincreased pressure. 1
Mental Health- under increased pressure. 1
Furlough Scheme- considerable anxiety at the prospect of the national furlough scheme ending in October before economic recovery has properly begun. 1
Brexit – increased requirement for SG to engage closely with island LAs to ensure there is a clear and up-to-date understanding of potential impacts and seeks to do everything possible to mitigate the effects. 1

Question 5

Please highlight any identified barriers to local recovery (short/medium/long-term) with suggestions regarding how these might be mitigated going forward.

Full responses are provided as follows:

Argyll and Bute Council

1. There are concerns that as things begin to open up that island communities feel more vulnerable and this needs to be addressed and reassurances provided particularly given those islands that are heavily reliant on visitors from an economic development perceptive. There needs to be a move away from such a high reliance on this sector and we need to look at the creation of more sustainable and well paid jobs linked to our natural environment.

2. It has become clear over the past few months that the one size fits all approach does not and will not address the particular needs of our island communities and there will be a need for local decision making set within the context of the national recovery. There is a need for the public sector to take the lead and for the creation of a regional economic partnership to be created and supported with funding from SG. Such a partnership has the potential to shift both jobs and infrastructure investment towards the areas that are most fragile and that will clearly need early intervention to prevent long-term falling behind.

3. Our island communities have an important role to play in the national recovery with so many natural assets available and fitting well into the green recovery agenda. To make this a reality, sufficient resources will be required, including making it more attractive for the private sector to invest in our island communities.

Comhairle nan Eilean Siar

1. In supporting the islands to come out of lockdown, a resumption of the old ways of living, working and doing business in the islands is highly unlikely. All sectors will take some time to recover from the financial shock of COVID-19 and markets/working practices will have to dramatically change. Some businesses will simply not survive. Businesses have demonstrated adaptability to adopt new mechanisms to build capacity and resilience but will need to be supported to move forward in this new working environment, including investing in new working practices for staff and customers, increasing digital capacity and presence, supporting innovation, while also supporting the concept of localism within the economy to better withstand future shocks. The Scottish Government, working in partnership with the Comhairle and others, should allow flexibility in how national policies and fiscal measures can be adapted and delivered at the local level in order to support adaptation to this new working environment, and to enable responsiveness to island-specific issues as we emerge from COVID-19.

2. Some islands and some economic sectors have been more severely affected than others, the full detail of this will emerge in coming months. However, a recognition of this in the Scottish Government responses, and in the implementation of the National Islands Plan would be beneficial. Some islands and communities will face greater challenges in a post-COVID 19 environment than others due to the extent to which sectors such as tourism, fishing and aquaculture have provided a significant source of employment and income. Tourism has, understandably, been one of the most severely affected economic sectors in the islands. Outer Hebrides Tourism, the industry body for the sector, have highlighted in recent correspondence that in parts of the Outer Hebrides such as Harris and Barra, tourism accounts for as much as 40% of economic activity. It is important to bear in mind that the visitor season usually starts in March and is unlikely to resume at full capacity even once travel restrictions are lifted.

North Ayrshire Council

1. The survey carried out on Arran revealed that the community is divided in its response to the easing of restrictions. This presents a challenge as we move into recovery since we need to progress together. Part of the community are happy to see health prioritised and travel restricted to all but full time residents or supplies and services. The reliance on the island community for leisure and tourism is at direct odds with this.

Orkney Islands Council

1. Having already described why transport is a critical barrier to recovery for island communities. Government support will be needed to enable our transport operators to provide sufficient capacity to carry passengers at a lower density.

2. We picked out digital connectivity as our third post-Covid priority because the sudden demand to work remotely has highlighted digital inequality in both infrastructure provision and socio-economic capacity. It is likely that home working will remain essential for many during the recovery period and beyond, and this will not be achievable without urgent investment in both areas. We are pleased to see that Connecting Scotland has begun to address socio-economic digital inequality, and we would certainly support the continuation and enhancement of this programme. However, far more significant investment will be needed to achieve infrastructure equality, as the slow progress of R100 has evidenced. Orkney Islands Council's IT team has demonstrated that where there is a will, there is a way, and has delivered a remote working programme originally scheduled to take 2-3 years within the space of 2-3 months. We would like to see a comparable acceleration in the national rollout of full fibre connectivity in order to support our students, workers and businesses to recover. Such urgency requires the Scottish Government to use its procurement powers to take non-competitive action to achieve this.

Shetland Islands Council

1. Shetland Islands Council has made the point in past consultation responses that we are focused on delivering our local Shetland Partnership Plan. We see the National Islands Plan as being the things that cannot be delivered at a local level and need national Government support. Therefore, although we acknowledge the importance of engagement going forward, it does not replace the fact that the National Islands Plan is an important Scottish Government flagship policy and commitment that requires to be adequately resourced at the national level.

2. The (National Islands) Plan commits Scottish Government to working "with young people across all Scottish islands to ensure that they are able to contribute to the implementation of the Plan from an education perspective and to ensure that their voices are present". This objective is critical as we emerge from lockdown and seek to plan for the future. At a local level, we have considered the #lockdownlowdown report, which 208 young Shetlanders participated in (almost 10% of the total survey respondents) and have supplemented that information with further survey work involving S4-6. However, we were disappointed to note that government resource constraints meant the Young Islanders' Network was not taken forward. We would consider that to be a missed opportunity to engage with the demographic that the Plan will seek to benefit most. A failure to resource that activity is not a positive indication of government commitment to National Islands Plan implementation and achieving the many positive outcome commitments it contains.

Question 6

Do you have any other comments or questions for us?

Additional Comments

Question six in the survey provided an opportunity for any other comments, questions or feedback. Full responses are provided as follows:

Comhairle nan Eilean Siar

1. Progress with the National Islands Plan Implementation Routemap, and island-proofing through the Island Communities Impact Assessment, are viewed by the Comhairle as an important part of the COVID-19 recovery process and should be progressed as a matter of urgency.

North Ayrshire Council

1. The lack of capacity in the ferry fleet is the biggest constraint on preventing the economy recovering as it will on the mainland. In the case of Cumbrae, the educational needs of primary school children on the island who need teaching staff to be able to travel in and the outgoing travel requirements for pupils attending the Largs Campus, is extremely challenging given the ferry and bus capacity. There is therefore a request to do what can be done safely to maximise capacity but also to extend the business support in place to recognise that islands may not be able to have a tourism season until 2021.

2. In addition, we are recognising a data deficiency related to our islands and whilst some that are single unitary authorities are able to produce good info, others such as Arran are struggling and that is proving to be challenging when measuring the impact of what is happening, consequences, and supporting an evidence based approach to decision making. We have uncovered a new level of social and health need as a result of the community hubs set up to respond to the pandemic. There is much goodwill and volunteer support on both islands to address this, but this has not been evidenced in data before, which is troubling and needs addressed, along with the needs. There is a further point that could be made about capital investment to support resilience – we would like to see an Island fund that could support work around climate change, CWB and community empowerment.

Shetland Islands Council

1. It is understood that the Islands Team is seeking to find a way to prioritise the National Islands Plan in light of COVID. However, as the Plan has been developed, quite rightly, recognising the interlinked nature of islands life and how policy interventions naturally affect other areas, it is very difficult to effectively prioritise. This Council supported the creation of the Plan as we agreed with the Minister in seeing it as a historic milestone. We therefore see all of the 13 Strategic Objectives as being important to our islands' future sustainability and growth and wish to record our desire to see everything outlined in the published Plan resourced and delivered in full.

2. It is acknowledged that resource pressure in responding and planning recovery will affect (Scottish) Government ability to deliver all of the Plan in the short term. However, as the Plan references many existing Scottish Government policies and strategies, it may be the case that many of the Commitments for Strategic Objectives can be delivered as part of that ongoing work. As an example, the Plan contains an aim under the Sustainable Economic Development Objective which states: "During the preparation of the 2020 Infrastructure Investment Plan, consider the implications of the National Islands Plan on future infrastructure requirements". It is understood the Infrastructure Commission will publish its second report this summer and it will be interesting to note if islands' infrastructure requirements are included within that.



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