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).

Sustainable Economic Development

The consultation process indicated that sustainable economic development is a common goal across all Scottish islands. While there is not a one-size-fits-all solution, all islands will benefit from more jobs and higher quality 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 for the islands. However, they said that they felt there should be even more support for economic development on islands, with many citing a lack of investment in relation to the retention and/or increase of on island job opportunities and available business space.

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.

SG Policy

The current and potential value of marine and coastal tourism has been a key factor in 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.

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. Employers who treat their workers fairly benefit in a number of ways, including from improved morale, staff loyalty, better retention and reduced recruitment and training costs. This can boost both individual performance and wider productivity.

Against this background, the implementation of the Plan will build on and align, where possible, with relevant plans and strategies including the National Marine Plan, the 2020 Infrastructure Investment Plan that will be informed by the work of the Infrastructure Commission for Scotland, Scotland’s Economic Action Plan, Energy Strategy, and the Islands Growth Deal[21] – in relation to the islands to which it will apply. It will also link closely to the National Planning Framework and Local Development Plans for the islands to ensure change and growth happens in a responsible manner.

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.

SG Strategy

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 to 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.

SG Strategy

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. In March 2017, the Scottish Government published a joint Ministerial aquaculture policy statement reaffirming that an appropriate balance is struck between the continued growth of the aquaculture industry and regulating the potential environmental impacts. This policy statement sets out how the Scottish Government and its agencies will work constructively with the sector and others with a direct interest to operate a policy and regulatory framework that enables sustainable growth while maintaining the right balance across our economic, environmental and social responsibilities.

Lack of childcare provision was raised by island communities during the consultation process, and this is a key obstacle to encouraging young families to the islands, and, in turn, to promoting sustainable economic development. It impacts on people living on islands because it can prevent them from actively returning to work. It can also have a negative effect on efforts aimed at increasing population since families will be reluctant to move to an island if childcare provision is not available.

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

In order to improve and promote sustainable economic development, Scottish Government will:

  • Work with Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) and other key stakeholders, including Business Gateway, to identify key actions to drive inclusive and sustainable economic growth on islands, including community-run businesses, e-commerce and digitally-enabled island-based businesses;
  • Work with HIE, University of the Highlands and Islands (UHI) and other internal and external stakeholders to 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);
  • Collaborate with HIE and other key stakeholders to 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 with UHI, HIE and others to support strategic projects which deliver sustainable economic growth in the islands, e.g. Orkney Research and Innovation Campus and Stornoway port developments;
  • Work with HIE to 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;
  • Showcase leadership in the public sector 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;

Strategic Objective 2

To improve and promote sustainable economic development

  • Ensure that crofting continues to provide jobs and opportunities to island communities;
  • Take forward the delivery of the Islands Passport initiative, which will promote the opportunities to tourists of 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 together 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;
  • 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; and
  • Ensure that legislation and policy relating to childcare is appropriately island-proofed.



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