I am grateful to you, Presiding Officer, particularly as you have been so helpful and useful today—sorry, perhaps I should not use the word useful, as it now has other connotations. [Laughter.]
The Executive has been discussing the special islands needs allowance with Argyll and Bute Council for some time. We recognise that the council feels strongly on the issue, which is still the subject of discussion and consideration.
I am not sure which of Mr McConnell's diaries his current appointment was in, but I note that he is now here. [Laughter.]
Does the minister—whichever of the two ministers cares to answer—recognise the threat to the sustainability of island communities caused by the cuts in the budget for Argyll and Bute Council? Does he recognise the absurdity of a council that has 27 islands under its jurisdiction getting not one penny of the £90 million that has been allocated since the reorganisation of local government? Will he recognise the necessity for an interim payment to Argyll and Bute Council to stop rural schools shutting and island communities withering?
I certainly recognise the strength of feeling in Argyll and Bute. As Mr Hamilton will recognise, the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities has a substantial say in the distribution of the funds that are available. The special islands needs allowance is top-sliced in the distribution formula and it therefore has an effect on other councils. Obviously we must discuss those matters and consider them carefully. I cannot undertake to make a provisional payment that would prejudge any outcome, but I have no doubt that Argyll and Bute Council will be suitably generous in its appreciation of Mr Hamilton's efforts.