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Consultation on Provisions for a Future Islands Bill

 A more prosperous and fairer future for island communities ?

In September 2015, Transport and Islands Minister Derek MacKay MSP  launched a consultation to seek the views of island communities and other interested stakeholders on potential measures that may be included within a future Islands Bill.

Consulting on potential measures for inclusion in such a future bill is part of the work undertaken by the  re-convened Island Areas Ministerial Working Group to implement as many of the commitments from the ‘Empowering Scotland’s Island Communities’ prospectus as possible within the existing powers of the Scottish Parliament.

Commitment to the principle of subsidiarity and local decision making are said to be at the heart of this consultation which will help inform the Government’s thinking about what additional measures may be needed to help shape a more prosperous and fairer future for  island communities.

Interested stakeholders are invited to respond with their views on plans for more power and protection for Scotland’s islands.

 Island Proofing

Island proofing is the first topic in the consultation. The Scottish Islands Federation heartily welcomes the introduction of this concept as they have long campaigned for its introduction at all level of government, including the EU.

Empowering the islands

The commitments contained  in the  ‘Empowering Scotland’s Island Communities’ prospectus and in the Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act have made clear the Scottish Government’s support for the principles of subsidiarity.

However, what form would devolved power to the island take? The Scottish Islands Federation would like to see more power to island development trusts, island community Councils and island community benefit organisation alongside councils.  The vision contained within the 3 island councils’ document Our Islands, Our future’ is far reaching, but it may not have reach grass roots organisations as much as it should have.

The SIF would also like parity for councils with islands, as many its members are situated in the Argyll and Bute Council area, and A&B council, add well as Highland and North Ayrshire have yet to be invited to be part of the discussions which have taken place  with   the 3 island councils.

Giving islands more powers over the seabed surrounding them would be a great start in any case. More power to protect their fragile environment, marine and otherwise would also be very desirable.

A national plan for islands

One of the proposals for enshrining within a future Islands Act is the possibility of a duty for all future Scottish Governments to prepare a ‘National Islands Plan’, which would set out an on-going range of commitments across all policy areas of Government to support, promote and empower Island communities to build a wealthier and fairer future for themselves.

Linked to this duty, it would also be proposed that Ministers would have the ability to issue statutory guidance on island-proofing, which relevant public bodies would require to have regard to in connection with the exercising of their functions and duties.

The idea of national plan linked to statutory guidance on island proofing  is  measure that the Scottish Islands Federation is strongly supporting.  it would ensure that the challenging aspects of island life would be considered in detail and a better understanding of island live would be achieved, to ensure transport, education, health and all other fundamental areas of island life met island rather than mainland targets.

Constituency Protection for Na h-Eileanan an Iar

There is no doubt that the Western isles should enjoy the same status and constituency protection as the Orkney and Shetland councils.

Local Government Electoral Wards – populated Islands

This is a chance to address the thorny  issue of parity of representation with mainland areas. There is no one size fits all solution here, and some flexibility is required to ensure that populated islands have as a good a representation as they can.

Deadline for response: 23 December 2015

Here is a link to:

The consultation document

Argyll and Bute Council submission

Highland Council submission

Orkney Council submission

Shetland Council submission

Comhairle nan Eilean Siar submission

The Scottish Islands Federation response
1. Is the concept of ‘Island-Proofing’ something the Scottish Government should consider placing in legislation through the proposed Islands Bill? Yes

The islands across Scotland should have their permanent geographical handicap acknowledged in the law of Scotland, in the same way that islands, mountain areas and sparsely populated areas have their permanent natural or demographic handicap acknowledged by the Lisbon Treaty of Lisbon under Article 174 alongside an identification of the need to pay particular attention to these regions.

This means in practice that when considering any proposal, care should be taken as to check whether they are likely to adversely impact or disadvantage island areas, and if so, whether any mitigation measures or amendments are required to ensure that all of the islands around Scotland remain vibrant and viable communities which can compete with the rest of Scotland for new businesses, residents and visitors.

For the purpose of the law, isolated, rural peninsulas and some coastal areas adjacent to islands should also be considered to suffer from similar disadvantage so that any amendments or mitigation should also extended to these areas to ensure equality with their island neighbours.

Island proofing and rural proofing should go hand in hand.

2. If you answered ‘Yes’ to question 1, do you agree that Scottish Ministers should have the power to issue statutory guidance to other relevant public bodies related to Island-Proofing which they would be required to adhere to in exercising their functions and duties.

Yes

Island proofing should be considered at all levels of policy and decision making as islands clearly suffer from the “one size fits all” policies that do not met the requirements of their communities and may even affect negatively their economic and social well-being.

There should therefore be a requirement for statutory guidance on island-proofing processes to ensure that decisions on service delivery can be made with an awareness of the implications for island communities so that they are not specifically disadvantaged, and that on the contrary, decisions can lead to an increase of stability and economic viability for island populations.

3 If you answered ‘Yes’ to question 2, please state which public bodies, and what specific decisions this statutory guidance you think this should relate to?

All public bodies should be included, in particular Marine Scotland, Scottish Natural Heritage, Highland and Island Enterprise, Local Authorities, NHS boards, Police Scotland, Scottish Fire and Rescue Service, Community Planning partners.

Non ministerial government departments and Advisory bodies, Public corporations (Scottish Water, Highlands and Islands Airports) and Executive agencies such Transport Scotland, Historic Environment Scotland, and Third sector inferface organisations (Housing associations and the like) should also be included in this list.

4. Are there any other areas that you feel the policy of Island-Proofing should cover?

The Scottish Government also needs to take into consideration the interests of the islands when negotiating with the UK government and the EU Commission, particularly when it comes to the Renewable Energy sector and the promotion of investment in electricity interconnections and removal of charges that are discriminatory against remote areas, eg high transmission charges, electricity price regulation in general (OFGEM) or the distribution of European Structural social funds. The Scottish government should also supporting local authorities with island responsibility and island councils to join in the Pact of islands and ensure a strong coalition of islands at the forefront of carbon reduction.

At EU level, The Scottish government needs to support a revision of state aid rules where they hamper transport links or social and economic activity on the islands, or a revision of state aid rules and measures to take into account the specific issues of food production on the smaller islands – especially meat production.

Another useful action would be to bring forward legislation, in accordance with Article 32 of EU Regulation 1151/2012*, which would create a new optional reserved term “product of island farming” to promote products whose raw material comes from or whose processing takes place on an island.

5. Do you agree that the current powers Island Councils, and Councils with Island responsibilities presently have are sufficient to deliver positive outcomes for their local island communities?

No

6.If you answered ‘No’ to question 5, please outline what additional powers you feel they require to benefit or better protect the island communities they serve, and explain the reasons for your answer.

The ownership and management of the seabed round the islands should not be devolved just to Edinburgh but passed on to the islands at the governance level which is appropriate. Such Control and management of the sea bed around the islands, would allow revenues currently paid to the Crown Estate to be channeled into local needs on the principle of subsidiarity as expressed in the document “ strengthening local democracy” which clearly demonstrates why “local matters”.

This income (from waters, seabed and foreshore) would ensure that local communities have a level of control over development in their local area and can also benefit directly from developments.

Apart from greater powers over the seabed and foreshore, it is difficult to anticipate what powers might be needed.

We therefore agree with the proposal by Cne-Siar for the bill to provide a mechanism whereby any such powers can be granted by secondary legislation where island councils and councils with island responsibilities can demonstrate by working with their communities that such additional powers would enable them to protect the island communities they serve better.

To deliver positive outcomes for their local island communities, the councils will also need to devolve what power they gain to more local levels – community councils and local Development trusts – as this would lead to positive outcomes commensurate with a greater community empowerment.

7. Do you feel there is a requirement to make any additions to the existing Zetland and Orkney County Council Acts of 1974?

The SIF has no opinion on the operation of the legislation and defers to the experience of the respective councils in this regard.

If ‘Yes’ please state what additions should be made and give the reasons for your answer.

8. Should any of the powers currently set out in the Zetland and Orkney County Council Acts of 1974 be extended to the Western Isles and other relevant Councils?

Yes

The powers associated with the Zetland and Orkney Acts have enabled positive action to be taken to ensure that communities in Shetland and Orkney can benefit from their natural resources, to the extent that they are now examples of subsidiarity and local empowerment in practice. Such principles being at the heart of island community empowerment, the same powers should be given to the other island local authorities or those that have islands in their territories.

These powers should allow the positive benefits that can be derived from the transfer of responsibility from national to local level so that local communities have a greater say in the harnessing of natural resources for community benefit.

9. Do you think the Scottish Government should introduce a ‘National Islands Plan’?

Yes

A National plan would be a positive development and allow for the monitoring of commitments as part of the island proofing process. It is important that there is an intention and understanding of the nature of consultation however, so that local communities on islands, which are the most fragile communities in the country in terms of services access, housing etc, can be genuinely consulted.

10. Are there any specific areas you feel the plan should cover and report on?

It would be beneficial for the islands to develop a National Islands Plan setting out a vision for the islands and the activities to be undertaken during the period of the plan to support the islands and ensure that they develop and prosper.

The Plan should consider 4 main priority areas:1/ energy independence for the island with transition to renewables 2/ promotion of island sustainability by encouraging primary food production 3/ transport connectivity 4/ developing integral sector policies

In detail, the plan should include:

  • The disbursement of powers and income, including income from The Crown Estate, to our island communities
  • Scottish Government capital investment in key island infrastructure such as ports, ferry terminals and vessels
  • Review of ferry fares and freight fares
  • Review of RET and its impact on tourism and local economy.
  • Island Sustainable Energy plans (recommendations for LA to set up ISEAPs goals and encouragement for them to join the Pact of Islands)
  • Investment in training and employment incentives for island based companies to boost island employment
  • creating opportunities for young people especially to make a worthwhile living on the islands.
  • Integration of transport networks including ferries, buses, air and rail connections to minimise journey times
  • Digital connectivity, for good reliable broadband.
  • Water and waste water infrastructure
  • Adequate GP, health worker and mental health and elderly care provision
  • Innovative, cost effective but high standard, affordable housing, appropriate for our extreme weather conditions
  • Adressing Fuel poverty
  • Zero waste and circular economy strategies (Islands are particularly suited to developing their own solution to waste which can be turned into a resource)
  • Developing quality tourism
  • Culture and language (Gaelic)
  • Parity for island communities with regard to mail order delivery surcharges
  • Protection of the islands’ marine and coastal environment including addressing issues of coastal erosion
  • Identifying any additional resources that might be required to implement the national plan
  • Ensuring that the implementation of the plan is based on the principle of subsidiarity and give a responsibility and place at local level in the plan to community councils and development trusts

11. If such a plan was introduced, what in your view would be an appropriate life span for the plan – e.g. 3 years/5 years/other?

The life time of a plan could coincide with the life span of each Scottish parliament, with the presentation of a draft plan within 3 months of its appointment subject to consultation for a further 3 months before the final plan is set, with the possibility of a review after 3 years if necessary.

Island communities, Community Councils and island Development trusts should have a large part to play in the consultation and the monitoring of the plan’s implementation by Scottish Government, its agencies and other bodies.

12. Do you agree that statutory protection should be given to the Na h-Eileanan an Iar Scottish parliamentary constituency?

Yes

There should be equal treatment for Na h-Eileanan an Iar. Each island group must have its own voice.

13. Should the Scottish Government consider amending the Local Governance (Scotland) Act 2004 to allow the LGBCS the power to make an exception to the usual 3 or 4 member ward rule for use with respect to populated islands?

Yes

The requirement for wards to have either 3 or 4 members does not necessarily reflect the natural groups of communities nor settlement patterns in some of the bigger islands. Councils such as Argyll and Bute Council argue that a better approach would be to allow the Council to vary the ratio of councillors to electors on islands so that an island ward, for example Bute, could have three councillors with only 5,000 electors rather than the 6,000 electors required in mainland wards (based on a parity figure of 1 councillor to 2,000 voters).

14. Please provide details of any additional issues, not addressed in your other responses, that you think should be considered in relation to the introduction of a future Islands Bill and its potential provisions.

Where local authorities are being invited onto bodies to advise on island issues, representatives from all local authorities with inhabited islands should be invited to attend. The differing and unique nature of each island is such that each local authority should have the opportunity to input to discussions