I am very pleased to present this report to the Scottish Parliament. It outlines the progress Scottish Ministers have made to date on the operation of the Islands (Scotland) Act 2018.
2022 marks four years since the introduction of the Act, and I remain extremely proud that Scotland is still one of the few countries worldwide with an island-specific piece of legislation. Following a campaign by our island partners (Our Islands, Our Future), which focused on ensuring the needs of island communities were taken into account by "island-proofing" future policies, the Islands Act was unanimously passed through the Scottish Parliament and adopted in July 2018.
The Islands Act introduced, in concrete terms several measures to ensure that there is a sustained emphasis across the Scottish Government and the public sector to meet the needs of island communities, now and in future. The Act has eight Parts that focus on 1). Key definitions; 2). The National Islands Plan; 3). Duties in relation to island communities; 4). Representation of island communities; 5). Additional powers requests; 6). Development in the Scottish Marine Area; 7). Delegation of functions relating to Regional Marine Plans and 8). final provisions.
Since its introduction, a great deal of work has been done to deliver on many areas of the Act, and our understanding of the unique needs of our island communities has vastly improved.
The Act led to the publication of our first ever National Islands Plan in December 2019. All of our work on islands policy is now framed around the implementation of the Act and the delivery of the National Islands Plan, which guarantees that we retain a strong focus on improving outcomes for our islanders. The National Islands Plan sets out the Scottish Government's long-term improvement strategy for islands and Scottish Ministers are obliged under the Act to report annually on our progress. Two such reports have now been laid before parliament alongside our Implementation Route Map for the Plan.
Without doubt, much of what we do in government and across our public services affects people who live, work and study on our islands. The Island Communities Impact Assessment (ICIA) provisions within the Act respond to such reality and are designed to improve outcomes for island communities in meaningful ways. I am delighted that it is now a legal requirement.
An important aspect of ICIAs is that, under section 9 of the Act, Scottish Ministers are obliged to make provision for review of decisions relating to ICIAs. So, in 2020 we were proud to introduce The Island Communities Impact Assessments (Publication and Review of Decisions) (Scotland) Regulations 2020. These new regulations put in place a process to allow island residents and communities to seek a review of a decision by a relevant authority relating to ICIAs.
In order to take forward the implementation of the Act the Scottish Government has, since 2018, created a new and dedicated Islands Team within the Directorate of Rural Economy and Communities. This team includes island-based officials and those with experience of island living, and has been formed specifically to ensure island policy expertise and commitment to delivery of both the Act and the National Islands Plan.
Finally, I would like to acknowledge the support we have received from our island partners over the past four years. Without their help and energy, we would not be as far forward as we are with operational delivery of the Act, and I am deeply indebted to them for their wisdom and drive.
It is also important that we acknowledge in this report, the impact that COVID-19 has had on delivery. The past couple of years have been extremely difficult for so many islanders as the pandemic has forced us to adapt the way we live. Islanders were separated from their families by travel restrictions and border closures, and many older islanders endured long periods of time apart from their loved ones. I want to thank them all for their resilience and compassion during such a challenging time, and to all those who worked so hard to support our island communities for their care and dedication.
Whilst we have achieved a lot together since the Act was introduced in 2018, I recognise that it is absolutely imperative that we maintain momentum by taking forward new and innovative policies and projects to support our island communities. This is more vital than ever, both in light of recovery from the pandemic and the cost of living crises that is being so acutely felt across Scotland. The Scottish Government's commitment to our island communities is absolute, and our Programme for Government outlines a range of measures we are taking to continue our focus on improving outcomes. Initiatives such as our recently announced Carbon Neutral Islands project, and our ambitious new National Strategy for Economic Transformation will help us to drive forward Scotland's green recovery, adapt to our changing climate, deliver economic prosperity and continue the great work that has been undertaken since the introduction of the Act.
I look forward to working with you all to ensure that our Islands Act continues to deliver policy and programmes for our communities that are truly second to none.
Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and Islands
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