The first SMART ISLANDS forum hosted in Athens

A step towards maturing the Smart Islands Initiative

The first Smart Islands Forum was hosted in Athens on 21 and 22 June at the initiative of the DAFNI Network of Sustainable Aegean and Ionian Islands and the Aegean Energy Agency.

The Forum gathered representatives of island local and regional authorities and actors from 13 countries, namely Croatia, Cyprus, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Malta, Spain, Sweden, the Netherlands and the UK. The UK was represented by Ian Stephen, Leader of the Isle of Wight Council, Camille Dressler from the Scottish Islands Federation and Felix Wight of Community Energy Scotland.

It was supported by the Central Union of Municipalities of Greece (KEDE), the Friedrich Ebert Foundation (FES) and the Covenant of Mayors Office .

The 42 European island representatives were joined by organizations with an interest in the potential carried by islands including the European Commission, the European Economic and Social Committee, the European Small Islands Federation, the Network of the Insular Chambers of Commerce and Industry of the European Union, the Greek Energy Forum and the German Corporation for International Cooperation (GIZ). The Islands Commission of the Conference of Peripheral Maritime Regions also addressed the Forum.

Bottom up process to define further the Smart Islands Initiative 

The Forum was a bottom-up process offering island local and regional authorities the chance to mature the Smart Islands Initiative, which comes as a continuation of years of collaboration among European islands with the support of the European Union, including the successful SMILEGOV project.

The Smart Islands Initiative, inspired by the Smart Cities and Communities initiative, represents an excellent opportunity for island authorities to devise a place-based, transformative development agenda that taps into islands’ competitive advantages, generates local growth and prosperity, and helps the EU meet the goals it has set in a number of policy areas, including climate change mitigation and adaptation, innovation, circular economy, sustainable transport and mobility.

During the Forum island representatives engaged in a collective process of drafting the Smart Islands Declaration, which outlines the aspirations on the role, challenges and potential of islands to become models of a smart, sustainable and inclusive development paradigm.

In the coming months Forum participants agreed to have Quadruple Helix actors ( Local Authorities and local actors as well as Academic institutions as well as businesses) from respective islands endorse the Declaration in order to ensure all existing synergies are exploited through broad stakeholder engagement.

Brussels event scheduled for Autumn 2016

Further, participants expressed their commitment to organize an event late autumn in Brussels to present the Smart Islands Declaration among EU institutions and stakeholders, showcase island lighthouse projects and exchange views with policy makers on islands’ potential to drive Europe’s transition into a low-carbon, resource-efficient, circular and inclusive economy.

Last but not least participants discussed the possibility to set up a platform of EU island authorities and actors in Brussels that will advocate in favour of island affairs and facilitate partnerships for the realization of EU projects on islands. The platform was also well perceived as a structure to support the Pact of Islands Secretariat in strong collaboration with the Covenant of Mayors for Climate and Energy.

Ultimately the first Smart Islands Forum was a success in that it offered the opportunity to extend the European family of islands and inspired participants to turn this first gathering into an annual event dedicated to EU islands cooperation.

EU laws and the environment

Friends of the Earth Scotland believes that for the sake of our environment, we should remain part of the EU.

Membership of the EU has transformed the UK’s environmental laws for the better:

  •  In the 1970s and 80s the UK was known as the “dirty man of Europe” with the highest sulphur dioxide emissions from power stations causing acid rain across northern Europe. EU agreements meant sulphur dioxide pollution fell 89% between 1990 and 2010. In 2016, Scotland said farewell to its last coal-fired power station.
  • Raw sewage used to be routinely pumped into the sea and in 1976 only 27 beaches across the UK were deemed clean enough to swim off. EU action meant by 2011 there were 597 designated beaches. Now almost all our beaches meet EU quality standards. In 2014, Scotland’s 84 designated bathing waters achieved a mandatory pass rate of 98% and new standards from Europe mean the water will have to be even cleaner in future.
  •   In 2013 the Scottish Government campaigned to keep bee-killing pesticides on the market in Scotland. The EU’s “precautionary principle” meant that the worst of these products were banned from use on the crops most visited by bees.
  •  European rules have meant that thousands of dangerous chemicals have been removed from everyday products, like lead from paint and gender-bending bisphenol-A from baby bottles.We believe it makes sense to work together across Europe on many of the environmental and social challenges we share. Only by working together on the European scale did we stop acid rain and only by staying together can make the large, global emissions cuts needed to tackle climate change. The EU now has the biggest programme of environmental legislation in the world and sustainable development is written into its treaties. A vote to leave would put our progress on the environment, as well as the employment and social rights and protections we enjoy, at risk.

    The EU is far from perfect, with currently a EU’s dogged prioritisation of economic growth at any cost, secretive TTIP trade negotiations, threats to nature laws and resistance to democratic reform.

    The EU needs to rediscover its way and make environmental and human welfare a core purpose if it is to continue to get support from EU citizens. We support a EU where employment, social and environmental rights in the European market are better protected. The current UK government appears to argue for staying in an EU with fewer protections.

Friends of the Earth Scotland calls for the EU to:

Change priorities

  •  The EU’s priorities should be improving people’s lives and taking care of the shared environment we depend on, not a blind pursuit of economic growth.
  •   The free trade ideology that is currently flourishing in the EU should be done away with and negotiations on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) and other similar deals must be abandoned.

Improve laws

  •  The EU should not be allowed to weaken laws that protect the environment or public health. Policies like the Common Agricultural Policy and Common Fisheries Policy should be overhauled to put long-term, sustainable protection and management of our environment at their centre.
  •   Countries should be free to introduce stronger environmental laws that set an example to others in the EU.

Reinvigorate democracy

  •  The elected European Parliament should have the power to initiate environmental and health legislation and be given an equal say with national leaders on final decision-making.
  •   The opinions, discussions and activities of EU members on environmental matters must be published publicly and when corporations, NGOs or others try to lobby and influence decisions, this should be made transparent.
  •   The subsidiarity principle, which clarifies at what level of government action should be taken, must be given more weight and interpreted to better preserve local democracy and ensure that decisions are taken closest to citizens.
  •   It should be possible for people and NGOs to challenge EU decisions in EU courts if the EU is breaking its own laws.
  •  EU commissioners wield huge power in the EU, deciding what legislation is introduced or cut. The European Parliament should have the power to reject unsuitable potential commissioners, for example when they have no track record, little interest in or are hostile to environmental protection.
  •   Commissioners and EU civil servants should spend at least as much time talking to public interest groups (such as charities) as they do to corporations.
  •  Representatives with corporate interests, or those paid by them, should not form a majority on advisory groups to the EU Commission.


Syrian refugees welcomed on Scottish islands

Scotland has welcomed more Syrian refugees than any other part of the UK under the government’s official resettlement scheme, accepting more than 600 people compared to just 33 who have been taken in by London local authorities. Scottish authorities have accepted 610 arrivals, including 68 in Renfrewshire, 58 in Argyll and Bute and 53 in Edinburgh alone.

Bute, the first Scottish island to welcome Syrian refugees

Last December, 10 Syrian families took up residence on the island of Bute which currently has a population of 6,500 people. Five more families have arrived  since then.

Dick Walsh, the regional council leader, said: “We have a moral duty to help. We cannot sit back and do nothing while these poor people try desperately to escape war-torn countries, risking their lives and their family’s lives in the process.

“If we can help just 20 people, then that’s 20 people who will have the opportunity of a better life,” he continued.

Councillor Isobel Strong  explains: “We have empty social housing and lots of private lets as well. Partly the reason for it is that people move away if they can’t get a career here, so there’s lots of empty housing. There’s capacity in the schools; the school rolls have been falling. We’ve got housing and education available in the community without depriving anybody else of anything.

“I came [to the Isle of Bute] as a young mum 40 years ago and I’ve always felt I got a welcome here,” Strong adds. “It’s a very friendly place; people smile at you in the street even when you don’t know them. I think there’s lots here for [the Syrian families], and it’s a good place to bring up children.”

Strong explains that the availability of resources such as housing is not unique to the Isle of Bute, as the population density across Scotland is low, and many communities across the west have steadily declining populations.

“England may be full up but Scotland isn’t. There are lots of communities who have space and who would be happy to take in refugees.”

Another of Bute’s councillors, Robert MacIntyre, explains that the island’s population has dropped by 10 percent recently, and as a result of this, the incoming refugees will be a “valuable addition to the community”.

Syrian families in Western Isles

The week that Scotland comes together to celebrate the contributions refugees make in Scotland is the week that the Comhairle Leader has confirmed that Syrian families will arrive over the summer months.

The theme for Refugee Festival Scotland 2016 is solidarity. Gary Christie from the Scottish Refugee Council said that “Now, more than ever, we need to stand together with people who’ve had to flee their homes and are now trying to build new lives here.”

Angus Campbell, Comhairle leader, said that he has informed the Members of the Community Planning Partners and his fellow Elected Members that “by the time we met again in September the Outer Hebrides will have welcomed Syrian families to be resettled in our community.  In the weeks ahead I would expect that more information is made available”.

Local agencies have been working hard to make the arrival of families as discreet and smooth as possible for the families.  At the moment the plans involve housing two related families.  They will be housed in and around the Stornoway area.  The families will be supported where necessary but also will be given the space that they need to re-adjust to family life here in the Outer Hebrides.

The Leader indicated that he was “confident that as a Community we will be welcoming and compassionate and allow the families the scope they will need to resettle within our islands.  All partners are pulling together to do this which is also really encouraging.”

Europe, in or out? A few facts

In or out? Here are a few facts that speak for themselves.

Rural development in Scotland: €1.68 billions

The Rural Development Programme (RDP) for Scotland (UK) was formally adopted by the European Commission on 26th May 2015, outlining Scotland’s priorities for using the € 1.68 billion of public money that is available for the 7-year period 2014-2020 (€ 844
million from the EU budget, including € 335 million transferred from the envelope for CAP direct payments, and € 489 million of national co-funding plus € 12 million of additional national funding top-ups).
A central priority of the Scottish RDP is restoring, preserving and enhancing ecosystems related to agriculture and forestry. Approximately 80% of the total funding is allocated to
this priority, targeting more than 6 million hectares
of agricultural and forestry area through environmental land management targeted to specific biodiversity, water
management and soil erosion objectives.
In addition, restructuring and modernisation grants covering roughly 16% of Scottish agricultural holdings will be available with a view to boosting the productivity of farming and forestry and thereby creating economic growth and more jobs.
Support for LEADER is expected to create over 550 jobs in rural areas.
Moreover, almost 13 000 training places will be created to foster innovation, knowledge transfer,co-operation, more sustainable farming practices and stronger rural businesses.
Support for Rural Development is the 2nd Pillar of the Common Agricultural Policy.
It provides Member States with an envelope of EU funding to manage nationally or regionally under multi-annual, co-funded programmes. In total, 118 programmes are foreseen in all 28 Member States.
The new RD Regulation for the period 2014-2020
addresses six economic, environmental and social priorities for the EU, and programmes contain clear targets setting out what is to be achieved.
Member State highlighting its broad strategy for EU-funded structural investment.
Read more about RD in Scotland  here.
A few questions now:  
Is working together with the EU  and within the EU for a better rural economy in Scotland and its islands a good or a bad idea?  Where would the money for all this  come from if the UK leaves the EU? Would the UK central government be committed to spend as much on rural development after Brexit? Would it spell out its priorities as clearly?
You decide!




Orkney’s Big Hit

Orkney’s naval past is very much in the spotlight at the moment.  However its future as a local hydrogen economy is also firmly in focus, with the recent launch of the ‘BIG HIT’ hydrogen project.

This major EU-funded project builds on the CES-led Surf ‘n’Turf project which is creating an opportunity for the community-owned wind turbine on Eday to generate power which would otherwise be impossible owing to the constraints on the Orkney grid. BIG HIT extends this idea to include local members Shapinsay Development Trust along with existing partners EMEC, ITM Power, Orkney Islands Council and Orkney College and new partners from elsewhere in Europe. Surf ‘n’ Turf, funded through the Scottish Government’s Local Energy Challenge Fund is progressing well.

The BIG HIT project in Orkney stands for ‘Building Innovative Green Hydrogen Systems in an Isolated Territory’ and is an EU-funded Horizon 2020 joint project.   The project, led by Aragon Hydrogen Foundation in Spain, sees us partner community member, Shapinsay Development Trust, and other partners, EMEC, Orkney Islands Council, as well as Scottish Hydrogen Fuel Cell Association, ITM (UK) and a number of international partners.

The BIG HIT launch took place in Kirkwall recently and welcomed partners from seven European countries, meeting face-to-face for the first time and hearing how community-owned renewables can produce clean hydrogen for road transport and heating public buildings.

BIG HIT is funded through €5m (around £4m) from the European Commission’s Fuel Cell and Hydrogen Joint Undertaking.  Its aim is to install and demonstrate the viability of a supply chain for hydrogen in an island territory.  Many of the technical challenges in making hydrogen from renewable electricity have already been overcome by Surf ‘n’ Turf, a project in which CES is leading, and has already attracted Scottish Government investment of £1.2m.

New, innovative health care model for the Small Isles

The Nuka Health care model, Scottish Island style

A new health and well being centre for the Small Isles

Residents of the Small Isles of Eigg, Muck, Rum and Canna have a brand new health centre – and a new way of delivering healthcare to these remote communities.

A team from NHS Highland had been working on the conversion of the former doctor’s house on Eigg into a health and wellbeing centre.

Eigg’s newest resident, three-week old Bryn Lovatt, officially opened the facility on Friday 27 May during a special Community Health Fair on the island that brought residents of Eigg, Muck and Rum together.

The Health Fair was organised by the three Eigg Community Health and Social Care workers, appointed as part of the new health care system in place in the Small Isles, which is modelled on the Alaskan Nuka system.

NHS Scotland “Being Here” Nuka model

Director of operations for NHS Highland’s north and west operational unit, Gill McVicar, said: “Today is the celebration of work NHS Highland has been doing with residents of the Small Isles for a few years.

“The resident GP on Eigg passed away three years ago, and we needed to review the model of care for the people of Eigg, Muck, Rum and Canna. It provided us with an opportunity to do something different.”

The model which NHS Highland and the residents settled on is one that is inspired by another remote community – only several thousand miles away.

“We worked with the community to find exactly what they needed, and we’ve put in a model of care that is developed from Alaska,” Mrs McVicar explained. “The Nuka model of health and care services was created, managed and owned by Alaska Native people.

“The approach has been designed to bring about results by communities working together to achieve positive outcomes. We identified and trained four health and social care support workers based within the local communities to deliver health care to people in the Small Isles. There are three based on Eigg and one on Muck.

“We borrowed the Alaskan community health aid model from the South Central Foundation’s model of care and developed it here in Highland. There are five levels of training they can undertake, ranging from basic to advanced, and the beauty of it is that it is delivered by people living in these communities. They know the people they are treating, and they are more likely to remain within the community for longer.

The health and social care support workers are part of an extended integrated team that is supporting them from the mainland. “They report to the integrated team leader in Mallaig and medical care comes from Skye using our Rural Support Team model,” explained Mrs McVicar.

“We have three GPs that visit all of the islands on a regular basis. They travel to Eigg every week, and twice every second week, and visit the other islands every fortnight. Using this model, we have been getting to know the health needs of the populations and working with them to deliver sustainable high-quality healthcare.”

Community engagement through action research 

It was the potential of the Nuka model of care that finally convinced residents to get on board with this innovative and creative way of working.

“We couldn’t imagine any other way of working than having a resident GP,” explained chair of the Small Isles Community Council, Camille Dressler ( who is also chair of the Scottish Islands Federation).  “We had to go through the process of exploring every alternative available to us.

“In doing so, we began to realise that the way GPs work has changed in the last 30 years. They are now very much part of a team, and the turning point was when we started to look at the Nuka model in a deeper way.”

Mrs Dressler continued: “We liked the idea of having more community involvement and more say in how our care is delivered. The new model – Being Here- is the subject of an Action Research process, and we feel happy that we have been able to give our feedback throughout the process.

We may have lost a resident doctor, but we are gaining access to more services. Emergency care is still an issue that we want to work on as we feel that our First Responders are in  a unique position and should have access to some of the training that Emergency responders receive, but we are working on this.

I’m very happy that NHS Highland has committed so many resources and is committed to new ideas and innovation because we think this is where the future lies for rural medicine.”

A new way to look at health 

It was a busy day on Eigg, as the Small Isles Community Health Fair was also held on Friday to mark the opening of the new health centre. A series of NHS Highland healthcare professionals travelled to the island to deliver basic health checks, smoking cessation clinics and heart health sessions to the residents.

Islanders also provided head massage sessions, qi gong tasters, a wild life walk , a singing group session and a chance for everyone , and especially the school children to have a go a making green smoothies using the Smoothy bike.  “Well being is a wholistic concept” explained Berni McCoy who is one of the three community Health workers on Eigg. “we wanted the island children to be there and enjoy the day as well, and what better way to engage them than to get them to pedal hard to make a healthy treat! ”

Comments from the Alaskan guests.

The senior medical director for quality improvement and chief medical informatics officer for the South Central Foundation, Dr Steven Tierney, was a special guest on the day, with his wife Michelle who is the Foundation’s director.  He was delighted to see the impact the Nuka model of care is having thousands of miles from home.

“We have collaborated with NHS Highland for some time now, and we found that we have so many similarities in terms of recruitment and retention of medical professionals in remote and rural communities,” he explained.

“One of biggest challenges in Alaska was finding GPs to work in such isolated communities – in some cases they would require a six-hour flight to get to these communities.

“We decided to train people from within the communities to deliver basic healthcare, as they are adapted to the lifestyle of living in remote and rural Alaska, and they will remain in the community.

“It’s wonderful to have been invited to the opening of the Small Isles Health Centre and to see such community empowerment. The people of the Small Isles deserve a lot of credit for their resiliency and for embracing new ways of working.”