– in the Scottish Parliament on 3rd March 2016.
1. To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on the island areas ministerial working group. (S4O-05615)
The final meeting in the current series of the island areas ministerial working group took place in Lerwick on 22 February. Over the last two and a half years the Scottish Government has formed a positive and constructive partnership with our island councils.
The “Empowering Scotland’s Island Communities” prospectus that was published by the ministerial group is the most comprehensive package for empowering Scotland’s island communities that has been put forward by any Government, and it confirms our commitment to subsidiarity. Many key prospectus commitments have already been delivered, including the appointment of a dedicated islands minister, the establishment of an islands transport forum, the completion of roll-out of the road equivalent tariff—RET—to all remaining routes in the Clyde and Hebrides ferry services network, and maintenance of the existing air discount scheme, with the additional benefit, which was not anticipated at the time of the prospectus’s publication, of the discount increasing from 40 per cent to 50 per cent at the start of 2016. Work continues on a number of other important workstreams.
Does the minister agree that the plans for a forthcoming islands bill offer a significant opportunity and hope for all Scotland’s island communities to end the regional disadvantage that they have suffered for generations?
The establishment of the working group led by a minister with responsibility for the islands has demonstrated the Scottish Government’s strong commitment to tackling the challenges that Mike MacKenzie has highlighted. The work that the group has taken forward since 2013 has included a focus on listening to the islands councils and their communities and on working with them in partnership to identify opportunities to support economic growth, job creation and the improvement of services and connectivity.
The Government’s consultation, which was undertaken towards the end of last year, sought views on provisions for a future islands bill. That consultation received more than 190 responses. All the views that were expressed will help to inform the development of a draft islands bill. That bill will be a key way of joining together the various workstreams of the ministerial group, and of channelling our focus to ensure that we provide real change for our island communities, with lasting benefits for generations to come.
The cabinet secretary will be aware that all the islands councils want full management powers over the sea bed to be devolved to the areas that are most affected—preferably, without delay. Does the Government support that position?
A number of provisions are still the subject of discussion in relation to the Scotland Bill between the Scottish Government and not just the islands councils that were mentioned by Tavish Scott, but the United Kingdom Government. We have to await the conclusions before we can say that we will take on the further powers in order to devolve them, where possible, to island communities. The issue is still in question, to some extent. The process of transferring the Crown Estate’s assets to the Scottish Government has not been straightforward, and disagreement remains between the two Governments.
I am happy to keep Tavish Scott updated on progress or to ensure that Derek Mackay, the Minister for Transport and Islands, does so.