Scotland's islands: proposed national plan

The proposed National Islands Plan provides a framework for action in order to meaningfully improve outcomes for island communities. It was replaced by the final National Islands Plan (published 27 December 2019).

Empowered Island Communities and Strong Local Partnerships

The consultation process for the Plan identified a need to fully back community empowerment and recalibrate governance arrangements for island communities. The importance of community was a key theme from the consultation and respondents provided a range of examples that highlighted the uniqueness of the islands and the strengths they provide for cultivating innovative initiatives and projects on a small scale. A thriving third sector was also highlighted as a key strength amongst island communities – in many cases filling in gaps in service provision.

The voluntary sector on the island is another outstanding, ongoing amazing effort by individuals within the community. It works well because of the efforts of people who work and live on the Island who are always willing to do that wee bit extra for their communities and neighbours.
(Consultation participant Arran)”

However, many of the islanders we talked to said that they felt remote from where decisions were taken and expressed a desire for more considered decision-making which included them.

Community council is constructive and effective. But does not have the power to properly influence decision making at council or national level.
(Consultation participant, Iona and Mull)”

The Islands (Scotland) Act 2018, with its overall concept of island proofing and the change in electoral representation, is a starting point on a journey to strengthen local democracy in Scotland. Communities will be empowered if they feel ownership of the Plan and are kept informed of progress. There are already a range of policies and strategies in place to support empowered communities.

Crown Estate Scotland launched the Local Pilots Management Scheme in 2018 to create opportunities for communities to get more involved in managing parts of the Scottish Crown Estate. It is part of a wider step-change in how the Estate is managed, ensuring communities and local authorities have more say and influence. Local organisations seeking to manage land and seabed are now into the final stages of a scheme designed to give communities more say on what happens in their area. The proposals involve all three Island authorities – Shetland, Orkney and Western Isles (Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, with Galson Estate Trust) and will see applicants take responsibility for more decisions relating to seabed, coastline and other land. The Local Pilots Management Scheme will assist with testing and putting in place the practical arrangements for enhanced local management of Scottish Crown Estate assets through the powers in the Scottish Crown Estate Act 2019.

The implementation of the Plan provides an opportunity to build on the Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act 2015 which empowers communities to shape their individual and collective futures, regardless of where they live. The Act gives people more control over decisions that affect them, making it easier for local people to develop their own economies, wellbeing and environments. The Act also makes it easier for communities to take on public sector land and buildings and it provides a mechanism for community bodies to seek dialogue with public service providers to help improve outcomes. Asset transfer legislation is designed to encourage and support ownership and control of assets by communities, and should be considered by community organisations and authorities in situations that recognise the public benefits that community use will bring.

The 2015 Act also introduced duties on key local public services to work together and with communities to improve outcomes on themes that are priorities for people in their area. Community planning provides the space through which this happens. Community Planning Partnerships have both the responsibility to work together to address key needs and aspirations of island communities, especially those experiencing socio-economic disadvantage, and the power to do so in ways that best meet local circumstances.

SG Policy

Participatory Budgeting (PB) is recognised internationally as a way for local people to have a direct say in how public money is spent. In Scotland, PB is delivered in partnership with local authorities, communities and third sector organisations, and implemented across policy areas from policing to health and social care, transport and education. The Scottish Government is working with COSLA to help councils across Scotland reach the target of having at least 1% of their budget subject to PB by 2020. A PB Charter for Scotland was launched in July 2019 and it sets out seven key features of what a fair and high quality PB process should be to give people a meaningful say about the decisions that affect them directly. PB has been used successfully on some of the islands as a way to involve local people in decision-making – for example in the Western Isles, Orkney and Shetland.

The National Standards for Community Engagement are good-practice principles designed to support and inform the process of community engagement, and improve what happens as a result. The Standards were revised in 2016 and continue to be used to support community engagement, and user involvement across Scotland in rural and urban areas on issues such as community planning and health and social care.

Another important area of work is the Local Governance Review which the Scottish Government and COSLA are jointly taking forward to consider how power, responsibilities and resources are shared fairly between national and local government, and with communities. One part of the Islands (Scotland) Act 2018 will create opportunities for Scotland’s six island authorities to request additional powers from Ministers where this can help them to improve outcomes for island communities.

The Scottish Government has also committed to legislate to enable local authorities to introduce a Transient Visitor Levy – or “Tourist Tax”, if it is right for local circumstances. This is another example of the Scottish Government’s commitment to ensure councils have the necessary powers to improve outcomes for people in the places for which they are responsible. The Local Governance Review is also considering how to further empower communities. Last year, people across Scotland took part in Democracy Matters – a conversation about the future of local democracy. Overwhelmingly, people wanted more control over decisions, which affect their community. The Local Governance Review is considering proposals for alternative governance arrangements at community, local authority or regional level which can encourage greater participation in local democracy and improve outcomes for people. Further widespread engagement with public service partners and communities will begin later in 2019. We look forward to islanders helping to shape decision-making arrangements which can work well in island settings and offer the greatest potential to improve the issues they care about most, such as economic development, housing or repopulation. All subsequent changes to governance arrangements will be fully reflected in the implementation of the Plan as more power is devolved to more local levels.

The implementation of the Plan will also build on, where possible, legislation enacted in the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2016, which was a key milestone in the Scottish Government’s wide-ranging programme of land reform to help ensure people benefit more fairly from Scotland’s land. A key part of the 2016 Act was the publication of the Scottish Land Rights and Responsibilities Statement, which has six principles that Scottish Ministers are required to promote. The implementation of the Plan should align with the six principles of the Statement. In particular, when implementing the Plan, regard should be had to the Scottish Government’s Guidance on Engaging Communities in Decisions Relating to Land, which requires full and proper community engagement where significant decisions are being taken about land. Alongside and as part of this, community aspirations to own land should be considered where appropriate.

The powers and duties in the Scottish Crown Estate Act 2019 provide further opportunities for island communities to derive enhanced benefits from the assets in their area. The Scottish Crown Estate includes a diverse range of assets that are an integral part of our urban, rural, coastal and marine asset base including almost half the foreshore around Scotland and seabed leasing rights out to 200 nautical miles. A driver for Scottish Ministers’ programme of reform of the management of the Scottish Crown Estate has been to seek to ensure that local communities, including island communities, can benefit from the assets while protecting the future revenue from the assets along with the total capital value which is currently almost £400 million for Scotland as a whole. All of the revenue and capital is now retained in Scotland rather than retained by the UK Government or Crown Estate Commissioners.

Potential benefits to communities from the Scottish Ministers’ new framework for managing the Scottish Crown Estate include enhancing the wider economic, social and environmental benefits from the assets, opportunities for local management of parts of the estate or Scottish Ministers’ commitment to bring financial benefits to coastal communities through distribution of the net revenue from Scottish Crown Estate marine assets out to 12 nautical miles for coastal community benefit. The diversity of the property, rights and interests comprising the Scottish Crown Estate, around our Islands, mean decisions on the use of the assets taken in Scotland and based on Scottish priorities in a transparent and inclusive way can deliver significant economic, social and environmental benefits and opportunities for our Island communities across Scotland now and into the future.

The importance of hearing Island voices has also informed our approach to reform of the planning system with the Planning (Scotland) Act 2019 subject to a voluntary island communities impact assessment as it was developed. This assessment has helped ensure that the flexibility to adapt to island circumstances is factored in and includes pointers for review of national planning policies in Scotland, namely National Planning Framework 3 and Scottish Planning Policy

SG Policy

Each island has a development plan which identifies opportunities for change and areas where protection from change is needed to help take forward the aspirations of communities in a responsible manner, considering how change contributes to the social, environmental and economic enhancement. We are undertaking a review of the National Planning Framework 3 and Scottish Planning Policy[36] with a view to publishing a single integrated national planning policy document known as National Planning Framework 4. We will be engaging widely on the policy review and by law National Planning Framework 4 must contribute to the following six outcomes:

  • Meeting the needs of people living in Scotland including, in particular, the housing needs for older people and disabled people.
  • Improving the health and wellbeing of people living in Scotland.
  • Increasing the population of rural areas of Scotland.
  • Improving equality and eliminating discrimination.
  • Meeting targets relating to the reduction of emissions of greenhouse gasses.
  • Securing positive effects for biodiversity.

Strategic Objective 10

To empower diverse communities and different places

In order to empower diverse communities and different places the Scottish Government will:

  • Take forward the Local Governance Review with COSLA in order to create a system of local democracy that will be inclusive and improve people’s lives;
  • Support participatory processes aimed at providing island communities with a strong voice in the implementation of the Plan;
  • Explore ways to strengthen the voice of island communities whilst capturing the differences between islands in local and national decision-making;
  • Fully commit to working with island communities and local authority partners in the development and introduction of a Transient Visitor Levy Bill;
  • Explore ways in which to empower and support island communities to enhance their resilience by developing local initiatives and plans in partnership with Scotland’s Emergency Responder organisations;
  • Ensure that the Scottish Crown Estate is managed sustainably, responsibly and fairly, and in a transparent and inclusive manner, to deliver financial benefits and wider and long-term social, economic and environment benefits for Scotland and its communities;
  • Introduce Regulations which enable island local authorities, in consultation with their communities, to request that Scottish Ministers promote legislation devolving a function to them, or that the Scottish Ministers transfer an additional function, duty or responsibility to them. These Regulations acknowledge the uniqueness of each of our island communities and that one size does not always fit all; and
  • Ensure that policies and plans relating to the Scottish Crown Estate are appropriately island proofed and that any manager of a Scottish Crown Estate asset supports implementation of the National Islands Plan as appropriate.



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