A framework between the UK Government and the 3 Scottish islands councils - the first agreement of its kind in the country - was launched today by Scottish Secretary Alistair Carmicahel.
, established in response to the Our Islands, Our Future joint campaign, will embed an islands voice at the heart of the UK Government and reflect the priorities of those communities more closely in decision making and policy. It follows extensive dialogue between the councils and the UK Government, and represents the most comprehensive examination of the Islands’ priorities in 30 years, since the 1984 Montgomery Commission.
Shetland, Orkney and the Western Isles represent the most hard-to-reach parts of the United Kingdom and this geographical remoteness presents specific challenges to exploiting their economic and social potential in full.
The 3 islands councils are unique in Scotland in serving only island communities, and this framework recognises they have chosen to adopt a collective position in dealing with the UK Government on certain matters.
It provides the basis for joint working between the UK Government and Shetland, Orkney and the Western Isles on a range of priorities.
They include a 10 point plan for the islands:
These are new arrangements to scrutinise UK Government policy and legislation to ensure they take account of islands priorities,
A new Islands Working Group will be supported by a dedicated position in the Scotland Office and have its agenda set by the islands, covering priorities like Islands Innovation Zones, construction costs and community benefit.
A new Oil and Gas Islands forum
The framework recognises the islands are vital to meeting the UK’s energy needs. The UK Government is committed to work with the Islands Councils to assist strategic decision-making on future priorities for the oil and gas industry. This will allow the councils to work more closely with the UK Government and industry.
The framework includes a firm UK Government commitment to the Renewable Energy Delivery Forum, focussed on getting transmission links to the islands. The UK Government also shares the 3 Islands Councils’ ambitions for deployment of renewable energy and for research and development activity, and we will ensure that obstacles to securing the necessary infrastructure are tackled effectively.
The framework recognises the island groups face particular challenges in the areas of transport, postal services, digital connectivity and fuel poverty. The UK Government will work with the councils on these areas, as detailed in the document (paragraph 34 onwards).
This includes seeking an extension to the Air Discount Scheme and a commitment to consider fiscal measures to support transport connectivity with the island groups.
The UK Government is committed to working with retailers, consumer groups and enforcers to ensure parcel delivery charges to remote regions are fair and transparent, in line with the UK statement of principles for parcel deliveries.
Digital connectivity is of great importance to local inhabitants and businesses on the islands, requiring subsidy from both the UK and Scottish Governments to overcome the geographical and commercial challenges in delivery of these services. The UK Government is committed to fund the Mobile Infrastructure Project, working to provide improved mobile coverage in areas of the UK which are most difficult to reach, aiming to address market failures in these areas.
The UK Government is also committed to providing parity of minimum service level between the UK mainland and islands areas by delivering standard broadband of at least 2Mbps to all premises in Orkney, Shetland and the Western Isles. Working closely with the communications industry, the UK Government is committed to fund research to identify new technologies to support delivery of superfast broadband services to the most difficult to reach areas of the UK. The UK Government will also work collaboratively with the three Islands Councils, as well as the Scottish Government and Highlands and Islands Enterprise, to identify how these technologies can be implemented in Orkney, Shetland and the Western Isles.
The framework also contains measures to strengthen the transparency and accountability of the Crown Estate (paragraph 25 onwards)
EU and representation on government bodies
A dedicated point of contact to offer advice and guidance to the islands within the UK Representation to the EU. The framework includes increased island representation on other government bodies, including the Scottish Business Board and PILOT.
Mr Carmichael said:
Today’s announcement is a landmark for the relationship between the UK Government and our island communities in Scotland. It builds on a great deal of good work in the past and will strengthen the voice of our islands at the heart of government. It will mean their unique needs are considered across all UK Government activity and legislation, tailoring our approach to ensure islands issues continue to get the attention they require.
That is good news for the councils and for the whole country and will improve the economy, connectivity and lives of people on our islands. It shows we are not only listening, but acting and in doing so we are strengthening Scotland and its place in the UK.
This is the start of the next part of our journey together, giving us a strong framework which will be reviewed and built on further in the future.
Cllr Angus Campbell, Leader of Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, said:
It is to be welcomed that the UK Government has responded to the Our Islands Our Future campaign with this framework agreement and this opens up avenues for much work in the future.
I particularly welcome the commitment to Island proofing in legislation and to a formal process of dialogue through an annual summit between Island Councils and the UK Government where strategic matters of importance to Island communities will be taken forward.
Island desks - in Brussels and London - is also very welcome as are the other areas of direct communication with the Island Councils including the Islands Working Group which will drive forward work on key economic, social and other priorities.
I am confident that as we approach the Referendum the Island groups are in a much stronger position now with both the UK and Scottish Governments than we were prior to the launch of Our Islands Our Future.
Steven Heddle, Convener of Orkney Islands Council, said:
Today’s announcement follows almost a year of dialogue with the UK Government over issues within its powers that are of great importance to the islands.
Our intention throughout has been to secure a stronger future for our communities, regardless of the outcome of the Referendum.
As Convener of the Council, I welcome this response to our representations. As well as outlining specific measures, it importantly establishes a channel for continuing dialogue with the Westminster Government in the event of a No vote.
Gary Robinson, Leader of Shetland Islands Council, said:
At the outset of the Our Islands Our Future campaign, we said that we wanted to engage with both the Scottish and UK Governments, and for that to lead to published statements of intent. I welcome today’s launch and feel that it represents another important output from our campaign.