The National Plan for Scotland's Islands

The National Islands Plan provides a framework for action in order to meaningfully improve outcomes for island communities. This replaces the proposed plan published in October 2019.

Sustainable Economic Development

The consultation process indicated that sustainable economic development is a common goal across all Scottish islands. We saw many great examples of initiatives, businesses and jobs, but it is clear that all islands could benefit from more opportunities for the people who live there. Sometimes, a small increase in jobs or income generating opportunities can have a huge impact on an island community. Business Gateway opportunities and economic development agencies were identified by respondents to the consultation as positive approaches. However, they said that there should be even more support for economic development, with many citing a lack of investment in relation to the retention and/or increase of on-island job opportunities and available business space.

We are mindful also that Gaelic initiatives also make an important contribution to sustainable economic development in island communities. There are a number of examples but bodies such as MG ALBA, Stòrlann, Ceolas, Fèisean nan Gàidheal and Sabhal Mòr Ostaig are clearly important for Gaelic and their contribution to island economies is significant. Bodies and initiatives such as these create good quality jobs and help with the regeneration of island communities. In areas that have a Gaelic heritage, Gaelic should always be considered in matters of economic development.

The creative industries make an important contribution socially, culturally and economically to the islands. Drawing on a range of assets such a strong identity, authenticity, tradition, the natural environment, and distinct languages the creative sector helps build a rich and varied culture, strong communities and economic growth. In particular, the craft, music and textiles sectors are important to the islands. 

From 2018 the Outer Hebrides has been recognised as a World Craft City for Harris Tweed by World Crafts Council (Europe). The Outer Hebrides, with its unique tradition of weaving and Harris Tweed, is the second European region to be recognised with this accolade, and the first in the UK.

Music is at the heart of island identity. Music tourism also makes an important contribution to island economies, attracting overseas visitors as well as locals to enjoy live music at festivals and venues, many of which have an international reputation for excellence. We recognise that there is significant potential to develop music tourism and want to ensure that all stakeholders in this sector are able to work collaboratively to make the most of that potential and ensure our music tourism is resilient and continues to be world-class.

Western Isles Charter

Skills Development Scotland and Comhairle nan Eilean Siar (CnES) developed a Charter pledging to provide support in accessing low-cost housing for apprentices in the Western Isles region. A first of its kind for Scotland, the charter outlines how the two organisations will work together to increase opportunities across the Islands and boost the local economy. It was signed at the latest edition of the Convention of the Highlands and Islands (CoHI) in October by SDS Chair Frank Mitchell, CnES Chief Executive Malcolm Burr and Mr Wheelhouse.

The new approach will see organisations deliver sector-leading services to young people, including careers, employability programmes and apprenticeships in a bid to tackle depopulation across Eilean Siar. School leavers will be incentivised not to leave through the combined offer of an apprenticeship and housing, enabling them to earn, learn and live in the Islands.

“Employability support – piecemeal, patchy and inconsistently supported.  Too much reliance on volunteers for economic development activities – 3-5 year funding needed for personnel to deliver growth plans.”
(Consultation Participant, Bute).

Participants highlighted specific economic drivers such as marine activities, agriculture and crofting, fishing, tourism and the food and drink industry (including island abattoirs) during the consultation process as playing an important role in promoting and delivering sustainable economic development. Tourism was highlighted as a positive, but with some caveats around the need for environmental protection and capacity of services to meet demand. Many other factors, with transport, housing and digital connectivity high on the list, were stated as being key enablers for sustainable economic development.

Across Scotland tourism accounts for 1 in 12 jobs and rural and island communities, particularly areas such as Argyll and Bute, rely more heavily on tourism than some of Scotland’s other regions. It is therefore important that we work with industry and transport providers, both on islands and on the mainland to ensure that tourism continues to flourish and to grow sustainably. It is important that we work to ensure 3 key aspects of island destinations are met: providing an enjoyable experience for our tourists; gaining support for the communities which see the benefits of tourism reinvested; and, supporting the industry to develop and grow across the islands. 

SG Strategy - Our new national tourism strategy will build on the last 8 years of success and will ensure that the benefits of tourism are spread to all of Scotland. We will continue to support the tourism and hospitality workforce through Skills Development Scotland and we will recognise the uniqueness of our islands’ communities in promoting and developing tourism such as using Gaelic to provide an authentic experience in line with the Gaelic Tourism Strategy or through learning about the links to our Scandinavian neighbours through festivals in the Northern Isles.

Scotland’s islands are a key part of the country’s attraction to visitors, and we are committed to supporting tourism’s sustainable growth, benefitting island communities, to many of whom the industry is an important part of the local economy. The Scottish Government and its agencies are working collaboratively with island authorities and other stakeholders across a range of initiatives that will improve infrastructure, transportation, awareness and the facilities on offer. This includes the development of the Islands Passport, which will focus on encouraging visitors to utilise existing public transport, and to a wider number of islands throughout the year, spreading visitors more widely across our inhabited islands. Our support through the Rural Tourism Infrastructure Fund has helped address infrastructure issues at popular locations, particularly on Skye, but also in Shetland, Orkney, Mull, Islay and Eigg.

SG Policy - The current and potential value of marine and coastal tourism has been a key factor with 2020 being designated as a year in which Scotland’s Coasts and Waters will be showcased and celebrated with a programme of activity designed to support the nation’s tourism and events sectors. The Year of Coasts and Waters 2020 will sustain and build upon the momentum of the preceding Themed Years. In addition, the broad scope of the Year of Coasts and Waters provides the opportunity to highlight the social, rural, environmental and economic policies and projects in development of delivery across the Scottish Government and wider public sector. 2020 will spotlight, celebrate and promote opportunities to experience and enjoy Scotland’s unrivalled Coasts and Waters, encouraging responsible engagement and participation from the people of Scotland and our visitors and be based around four cross-cutting strands:

  • Our Natural Environment and Wildlife
  • Our Historic Environment and Cultural Heritage
  • Activities and Adventure
  • Food and Drink

The Plan focuses elsewhere on these specific enablers as well as other sectors, such as renewable energy and energy storage which could play a strong transformational role for islands. However, the Plan acknowledges that all sectors that drive or enable sustainable economic development are integrated. There is an urgent need for joined-up policies informed by a solid understanding of these relationships. The connections across the themes already made by the relevant Development Plans for islands are a useful starting point.

We fully support the Ambition 2030 Food and Drink Industry strategy’s aim to double food & drink turnover value to £30bn by 2030 and our islands have a pivotal role to play in helping achieve this growth. Scottish Islands are home to a range of iconic quality Scottish produce that is enjoyed by consumers at home and further afield such as Orkney Scottish Island Cheddar, Stornoway Black Pudding, Shetland Lamb and Scotch Whisky. The Whisky sector in particular plays a vital role in providing employment and attracting visitors to the islands, with a number of distilleries producing world renowned whiskies.

Finally, ‘sustainable’ economic development implies that jobs and opportunities should not come at a cost for the environment. In fact, ‘going green’ is a pre-condition for sustainable economic development and a key element for many sectors, such as tourism, marine and land-based economic activities. Nor should it be the case that economic development and job creation comes at a cost to job quality. The quality of jobs and work are crucial to economic growth, and it will be vital, therefore, to ensure that Fair Work is at the heart of this inclusive and sustainable growth agenda. 

Delivery of the Plan will build on and align with relevant policies and strategies including the National Marine Plan, the 2020 Infrastructure Investment Plan, Scotland’s Economic Action Plan, Energy Strategy, and the Islands Growth Deal. It will also link closely to the Skills Action Plan for Rural Scotland, the National Planning Framework and Local Development Plans for the islands to ensure change and growth happens in a responsible manner.

SG Policy - The Skills Action Plan for Rural Scotland sets out our strategic approach to support the skills needs of the rural economy by addressing skills shortages, talent retention and attraction and demographic challenges through enhanced work-based learning pathways and by increasing access to education and skills provision in rural areas.  It aims to build on the activity already underway across rural Scotland and to address identified gaps in order to produce a range of actions which will meet the skills requirements for jobs in rural and island areas – both now and in the future.

Bute Island Alliance runs ‘The Bank’ at the former Clydesdale Bank property on High Street to create an enterprise space for its island community. The first year of the space was delivered in collaboration with Rothesay Townscape Heritage which is focusing on the regeneration of historic buildings as well as traditional skills training and community engagement. Argyll and Bute Council recognised the need for greater economic development and regeneration in Rothesay and the Townscape Heritage Programme is being designed to make an improved and lasting difference to the town centre.

SG Policy - Our National Infrastructure Mission has committed us to increase overall infrastructure spending to deliver a long-term boost to Scotland’s economy. The coming year will see the publication of the recommendations of the Infrastructure Commission for Scotland in advance of the next Infrastructure Investment Plan and Capital Spending Review. Whilst the Infrastructure Commission is independent of Scottish Ministers, we have encouraged and welcomed the Commission’s efforts to visit and engage with islanders from all of our island groups on the specific infrastructure requirements for those communities.

The next Infrastructure Investment Plan will cover the next five-year period and will build on recommendations from the Infrastructure Commission. It will consider the impacts on our island communities and set out our commitment to delivering infrastructure projects which support our transition to a net zero emissions economy while delivering inclusive economic growth and creating sustainable places.

New arrangements for land-use planning include a requirement for planning authorities to produce Regional Spatial Strategies. To support this, early work to inform National Planning Framework 4 will explore how this can be achieved in a collaborative way. Depending on the approach authorities wish to take, future spatial strategies arising from this new duty could be designed to help deliver on the wider aims of the National Islands Plan. 

The Scottish Government’s National Marine Plan contributes to delivering our vision for the marine environment – for clean, healthy, safe, productive and diverse seas, managed to meet the long-terms needs of nature and people. The National Marine Plan also specifies a core set of General Policies and objectives, which apply to all plan making and decision-making in the marine environment. These apply to all existing and future use and development of the marine environment and include a presumption in favour of sustainable development and use of the marine environment as well as encouragement of sustainable development and use, which provides economic benefit to Scottish communities. 

The Marine Plan promotes an ecosystem approach, putting the marine environment at the heart of the planning process to promote ecosystem health, resilience to human-induced change and the ability to support sustainable development and use.  It adopts the guiding principles of sustainable development, to ensure that any individual policy, plan or activity is carried out within environmental limits. 

Aquaculture contributes to sustainable economic growth in rural and coastal communities, especially in the Highlands and Islands. Many communities depend on the employment and revenue it provides and, as a growing industry, it has potential to contribute to future community cohesion by providing quality jobs in rural areas and helping to maintain community infrastructures such as schools, ferries and other services. The sector currently delivers £620 million of added value (GVA) to the Scottish economy, supporting 12,000 jobs, often highly skilled and many in our remote rural and coastal communities, where the majority of fish farming takes place, as well as downstream processing jobs throughout Scotland. 

The Scottish Government is supportive of the continued growth of aquaculture but we are clear that growth must be sustainable, with due regard to the marine environment and alongside other marine users. We regularly review regulation as part of a process of continuous improvement and in our response to the recent Parliamentary Inquiry into Scottish salmon farming, we outlined initiatives which are being delivered to improve the management and regulation of the sector. We have moved quickly in the last year to deliver on improvements in the area of fish health, through the Ten Year Framework, the Salmon Interactions Working Group and a regulators’ technical working group to look at how we can improve spatial planning advice. The Scottish Environment Protection Agency’s new strengthened finfish regulatory regime, including a revised standard for organic waste depositions was also published this year, providing enhanced environmental monitoring and a new enforcement unit.

Lack of childcare provision was raised by island communities during the consultation process as a key obstacle to encouraging young families to move to the islands, and, in turn, to promoting sustainable economic development. It affects people living on islands because it can prevent them from actively returning to work. 

SG Strategy - The Scottish Government and local authorities have committed to the near doubling of the funded Early Learning and Childcare (ELC) entitlement from 600 to 1140 hours per year from August 2020 for all 3 and 4 year olds, and eligible 2 year olds. Each local authority has developed a detailed expansion plan setting out how they will deliver 1140 hours in their communities. These plans reflect local demand from families regarding the nature, and type, of provision that they require. Local authorities also have a duty, placed on them in the Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014, to consult with families in their area about how they should make early learning and childcare available.

Strategic Objective 2

To improve and promote sustainable economic development we will:

  • 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.
  • Explore how best to ensure the needs of islands are met within emerging regional economic partnerships including the Convention of the Highlands and Islands (COHI).
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Display leadership in the public sector by demonstrating that jobs and careers can be successful on islands.
  • Promote a thriving business environment that allows individuals to pursue a wide range of economic opportunities on islands.
  • Create and promote apprenticeships and job opportunities for young islanders.
  • Ensure that skills provision is agile and responsive to future demand and enables individuals to take up opportunities.
  • Build on Scotland’s National Marine Plan to ensure that fishing and other economic activities stemming from the sea provide increased opportunities for island communities, but at the same time that they are pursued in a sustainable manner.
  • Ensure that sustainable land use including agriculture and forestry continues to provide jobs and opportunities to island communities.
  • 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.
  • Ensure that crofting continues to provide jobs and opportunities to island communities.
  • Deliver the Islands Passport initiative, which will promote the opportunity to visit a wider range of Scotland’s inhabited islands, encouraging visitors throughout all seasons and by public transport, thereby delivering economic opportunities for island communities.
  • Work with the food and drink industry to leverage its economic potential and explore options for sharing some of its benefits with island communities.
  • Seek to expand the range of economic, social and environmental benefits that island communities derive from forestry.
  • Review Scotland’s National Planning Framework to ensure sufficient flexibility for island interests, including in how best to meet housing need.
  • Reflect the National Islands Plan and relevant regional perspectives in the review of the National Planning Framework and preparation of National Planning Framework 4.
  • During the preparation of the 2020 Infrastructure Investment Plan, consider the implications of the National Islands Plan on future infrastructure requirements.
  • Recognising the services that island abattoirs provide to their communities, we will work with relevant partners to deliver sustainable and economical viable operations.
  • Ensure that legislation and policy relating to early learning and childcare is appropriately island – proofed. 
  • Ensure that opportunities to develop the wellbeing of the Gaelic language and increase the number of speakers and users are considered as part of sustainable economic development.
  • Support women in agriculture on Scottish islands to succeed, including encouraging their participation in the leadership development programme, addressing unconscious bias by organisations and businesses and breaking down cultural barriers 
  • Work with relevant local authorities to develop regional food and drink action plans to support growth of the sector on islands, including a focus on the vital Whisky sector. 
  • Work with relevant local authorities to encourage take up of Food For Life accreditation to help stimulate local sourcing in public sector settings.



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