S.I.F. draft response to Island Bill

Island Bill S.I.F.  Draft response

Islands (Scotland) Bill – call for evidence

Draft 31 August 2017

  1. The Bill creates a duty to publish a national islands plan and lay it before the Scottish Parliament. What are your views on this provision?

We believe that the duty to publish a national islands plan will be a positive milestone. The commitment to ensuring that the progress of the plan is monitored on an annual basis should increase responsibility and transparency, sustain momentum and provide assurance that the unique situation of islands maintains a high profile.

The National Islands Plan will set out the main objectives and strategy in relation to improving outcomes for island communities:

  • We would caution against the Plan being too prescriptive and detailed as to add another layer of bureaucracy. It should have flexibility to react to changing needs, more autonomy, set out a vision for the next 5 years and how it will be achieved.
  • For the Plan to meet the needs of island communities we believe that island communities themselves must be able to build and influence it and be engaged in the monitoring of its progress/or the national plan should be about trends and aspirations with the detail being left to communities to build?
  • It should include a strong commitment to subsidiarity – what means and support will there be to ensure that local decision making and engagement extends to island communities as well as their Local Authority.   While Community Planning Partnerships may seem to already facilitate this, in our experience CPP’s are not always effective in giving communities a voice. If the Convention of Highlands and Islands is the body used to bring in the islands’ voice, we feel that there should be a mechanism to involve grassroot representation on that body, including the Scottish islands Federation.
  • What evidence will be provided to satisfy the Scottish Government that views from island communities have been sought, included and acted upon?
  • As a result of community ownership of assets, some island communities are driving innovation and change and the plan must enable their empowerment even further. Alongside this, it is important to ensure that those islands that perhaps do not yet have that core capacity are still able to be involved.
  • The plan should be underpinned by a new territorial cohesion policy for Scotland, which would adopt the principle enshrined by Articles 170 and 174 of the TFEU, in their references to the requirements on member states to link island, landlocked and peripheral regions with the central regions of the Union (Article 170) and the identification of the need to pay particular attention to regions which suffer from permanent natural or demographic handicaps such as island regions (Article 174). The principles of the Smart Islands Declaration – which were supported by North Ayrshire, Highland, Argyll and Bute and Shetland Islands Councils – should also inform the plan, by acknowledging the islands’ potential to become Smart Islands, that is to say insular territories that embarks on a climate resilient pathway, combining climate change mitigation and adaptation efforts, in order to create sustainable local economic development and a high quality of life for the local population by implementing smart and integrated solutions to the management of infrastructures, natural resources and the environment as a whole, supported by the use of ICT, all the while promoting the use of innovative and socially inclusive governance and financing schemes.
  • While it is called a ‘National’ plan, it must reflect the difference between Scotland’s islands.
  • We would like to see the plan go further to include the establishment of an islands desk/department within Scottish Government. Over the next few years the islands will be amongst the hardest hit communities in the UK as a result of leaving the EU – we need people in place and joined-up thinking to ensure ambitions can still be realised, particularly in the fields of Renewable Energy and carbon reduction.
  • In order to measure success effectively we believe there needs to be a piece of work to establish key baseline data for each island as island statistics are currently patchy and inconsistent. Some the islands which are part of mainland NUTS3 classification are not even singled out and are to all intent and purposes invisible.
  • Will the resources be in place to allow the plan to make a difference?
  1. The Bill will require Scottish Ministers and certain Scottish public authorities, to prepare island impact assessments. Do you agree with this provision? How do you think it should work in practice?

We very much welcome the commitment to the principle of island-proofing as a duty to have regard to island communities. We feel it should be a legal duty and mandatory throughout government. Such a duty should encompass the principles articulated in Articles 170 and 174 of the Lisbon Treaty, which acknowledge the permanent geographical constraints of island territories and their difficulties in accessing the market.

The Islands Bill is the perfect opportunity to address problems by allowing greater flexibility to meet specific island needs but how it should work in practice is difficult to visualise without examples.

Points we consider important include:

  • Island Proofing means assessing policy options to ensure that optimal solutions to our islands areas are applied at all stages of policy development – but most importantly at the earliest stages – taking account of equity and equality issues, by: a) assessing the evidence of specific islands’ needs and circumstances at the start of designing a policy; b) considering the options for fair impacts on the ground in islands areas; and, c) where appropriate, adjusting policies or delivery..
  • Island proofing ought to make government more effective and more efficient and help achieve good economic, environmental and social solutions contributing to growth.
  • Island proofing should therefore be extended to all bodies with island functions and services, including utilities companies, communications providers and regulatory bodies such as OFGEM and all statutory and regulatory bodies with influence over the islands. Island proofing of the way National policies are applied ought to make them more accessible to islands: for example local food production would benefit of local abattoirs, and this may require special derogations. In terms of energy efficiency and fuel poverty, it is important that programmes are island proofed to fit locality and circumstances and acknowledge that island renewables allows production of clean electricity, which should count in terms of de-carbonisation, instead of being penalised as in Orkney. In terms of waste, the higher cost of transport to islands should be considered, as well as the burden of having to get rid of marine plastics. Distance to Market and transport integration are also aspects that need to be taken into consideration.
  • Targeted support to mitigate islands impacts may be needed. Island proofing funding would ensure that the reality of life in remote islands and the higher cost of service delivery is taken into account.
  • The “one size fits all” approach to Planning is detrimental to the islands, and island proofing should provide an opportunity to consider how the Planning function is delivered in an islands’ context.
  • With regards to the specific question of island impact assessment, we agree that a duty should be placed on relevant authorities to undertake an impact assessment when developing, redeveloping and delivering a policy, strategy or service, if it is anticipated to have a significantly different effect on an island community compared with other communities (including other island communities).
  • It is not clear to us however how an island impact assessment will be triggered. Will they be engaged in the assessment? Will island communities have a right to request an assessment? Will island communities even be in the position of knowledge to enable them to request an assessment i.e. will communities be aware of a potential impact before an assessment is triggered?
  • Adequate monitoring of commitments to island proofing will be necessary to ensure that it not just a paper exercise. The bill should detail how this will be done.
  • While it is clear that an island impact assessment will be an important tool in considering the impact on islands we feel that on its own it does not encompass the meaning we believed is behind island proofing. There are many instances of current policy and legislation that would benefit from a review with an island proofing eye.
  • In conclusion, rather than a distant tick box exercise to assess impact, island proofing needs to include the small things as well as the big, to be meaningful to people living on the islands. It needs to offer a new flexibility to be able to adapt things and try new ways of working that will suit an island setting, it needs to be a positive and wider thing, it should embed island issues rather than simply consulting on them. As well as consider impact, it should assess need and enable and drive opportunity. Bill detail proposals for island communities to ensure that island-proofing is effectively implemented and is making a measurable and meaningful difference to communities.
  1. The Bill proposes to protect the Scottish Parliamentary constituency boundary of Na h-Eileanan an Iar (the Western Isles) from change. Do you agree with this?

Yes.

  1. The Bill proposes to make an exception to the rules for local government electoral wards to allow areas with inhabited islands to return 1 or 2 members (instead of the usual 3 or 4). What are your views on this proposal?

We agree that the current system is unfair – for instance, Cumbrae and Arran are not represented by their own member because there is a perception that their combined population is too small. We therefore agree that there should be the flexibility to have 1 or 2 member wards.

However the challenge of finding a representative and meeting the administrative requirements for islands with a small population that struggle with representation – should not be overlooked in the planning of mechanisms and resources needed to deliver.

 

  1. The Bill will provide a regulation-making power for the Scottish Ministers to create a marine licensing scheme for coastal waters. Do you agree with this power? Do you have any comments on how it should be used?

We do agree with the power and feel that island councils should have more power and influence over and benefit from marine development as should island communities themselves and we would therefore welcome a real commitment to subsidiarity.

There should be provision to enable the revenue from Crown Estate marine assets to be invested in the islands – island communities depend on the surrounding shore and sea for many needs, yet currently they have no influence over development and have to pay the Crown to be able to use their own asset.

We believe aquaculture should be included. While valuable jobs can be created, the impact should also be considered via island-proofing.

The regulation should be more flexible to enable influence over decisions outwith 12 nautical miles where there is shore-based activity and therefore an impact on the islands.

  1. Does the Bill achieve its aims and are you in favour overall? Is there anything else that you feel should be included or excluded from the Bill?

It is not quite clear how the Bill will actually address the challenges, realise the potential and empower island communities. How will it support sustainable, permanent communities on inhabited islands?

The Plan sets the vision and the impact assessments will consider the effect on islands. Will it be backed by investment and action that will tackle the big issues such as fuel poverty, cost of living, health provision, service retention, lack of housing for young people, population decline, connectivity? What will actually be done to create the level playing field and parity that is needed for islands to flourish?

  1. Do you have any comments on the bill in relation to human rights or equalities?

While the challenges of island life are recognised, there is often a presumption held that islanders should just get on with it as it is their own choice to live on an island. People living on the islands accept that there will never be the number or choice of things available to them as in an urban area but strongly believe that they should expect an equal level of service for the essential things in life such as medical treatment, education, power, fuel, waste, connectivity and that the over-cost of island life due to transport should never be underestimated and always be taken into account.

COMMENTS:

 

1/ Thomas Fisher, Young Start Project Leader
Mentor Uist and Barra — supporting young people aged 16 to 24
Cothrom Ltd, 01878 700918 (direct) or 700910
https://www.facebook.com/CothromLearningCentre/

There is little I would disagree with in your draft response to the Islands Bill.

My first main point relates to an overall framework of thinking about our islands.  Yes, the bill has been introduced to address the huge challenges of island life.  Just as important is to recognise the huge assets that islands have (land, community, people, enterprise, social enterprises stronger on the islands than on the mainland, etc.).  I would prefer a response that began with these assets, and then said that the bill needs to be about releasing the potential of these assets.  At one point you clearly do this:

“There should be provision to enable the revenue from Crown Estate marine assets to be invested in the islands – island communities depend on the surrounding shore and sea for many needs, yet currently they have no influence over development and have to pay the Crown to be able to use their own asset“.

We have to pay to use our own assets, rather than being able to use them ourselves for our own economic and community benefit!  This is surely the next step for community ownership of land.

So, much of island proofing is actually about releasing the constraints that hold back our islands: the crown estate; the electricity charging framework that prices electricity according to distance from urban centre and thus makes the abundant renewable energy assets uneconomic; the lack of connectivity, preventing people running internet based businesses from choosing to settle on wonderful islands with all their potential (as a related example, look at how our North Uist medical practice is advertising for GPs: http://ruralgp.com/2017/08/vacancy-north-uist-scottish-hebrides-gp/).

My second main point is to reinforce the democratic deficit.  Island communities have shown beyond any doubt that they are very capable of governing themselves (more than two thirds of people in the Outer Hebrides living on community owned land, Eigg, Gigha, Westray, etc.)  We need more control and influence on anything that affects our island life.  There should be a presumption in the bill that any new policies should increase our control and influence.

Here are a few additional comments:

Yes, the bill should include a focus on utilities and other commercial bodies.  These have such a huge influence on island economies (e.g. fuel costs, renewables, broadband, etc.).  Island proofing, for example, would not allow OFGEM’s current pricing regime for electricity generation (I realise that OFGEM is British wide, but it is a striking example).

I would also like to see organisations, not just BT and others, but including charities and social enterprises, that take government funding to deliver a Scottish wide service demonstrate how they are doing this.  The number of websites of such organisations I have been to that claim they serve all of Scotland, but when you call them up, they say delivering the service, or even coming to visit the islands, is too expensive.  On their side, the Scottish government would have to recognise that additional costs to make the service available to remote islands are legitimate, and must not disadvantage bids in competitive tendering.

Recognising the additional costs of delivering services to remote islands with highly dispersed populations is of course essential for all services, public, private and third sector.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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