The next item of business is a statement by Paul Wheelhouse, the Minister for Energy, Connectivity and the Islands, on “The Proposed National Islands Plan”. The minister will take questions at the end of his statement and there should be no interventions or interruptions. Members will note that they have headphones on their desks on which to listen to translation from Gaelic to English. However, the member whom I thought would be using Gaelic is now shaking his head.
Today marks an important step forward in the historic journey for our islands that began with the passing of the Islands (Scotland) Bill on 30 May last year. I am pleased to publish the first-ever draft national plan for Scotland’s islands. Part 2 of the Islands (Scotland) Act 2018 requires the development of such a plan and states that it should
“set out the main objectives and strategy of the Scottish Ministers in relation to improving outcomes for island communities that result from, or are contributed to by, the carrying out of functions of a public nature.”
Section 3 of the act sets out what some of the outcomes are, and section 4 sets out how the plan should be developed. There is provision in section 4(3) for the proposed plan to be laid before Parliament for 40 days and for the final plan to be published within a year of that section of the act coming into force. I confirm that we laid “The Proposed National Islands Plan” before Parliament on Thursday 3 October, and that we are on track to meet those statutory requirements.
Just as important is that we have developed a plan that reflects not only the statutory outcomes but the priorities of islands’ inhabitants and communities. I hope that the proposed plan shows that we have listened to and heard their voices.
The extent of our engagement has been significant. Since spring, we have visited 41 of Scotland’s islands, from Arran to Unst and everywhere in between. We held 61 events and meetings on those islands, which were attended by almost 1,000 people of all ages and backgrounds. We have engaged online with more than 400 respondents, and we have specifically consulted local authorities and other agencies and stakeholder bodies that have interests in the islands of Scotland.
I thank everyone who attended an event or responded to the online consultation. In particular, I am grateful to the many people who were involved in helping to organise the logistics of the events, including the islands team in the Scottish Government, the Scottish Islands Federation, our partners at the University of Strathclyde and local authority colleagues.
The Islands (Scotland) Act 2018 recognises areas in which action is needed to improve outcomes for island communities, and the proposed plan’s strategic objectives reflect that. Members will find in it commitments to address sustainable economic development, community empowerment, how to increase population levels, climate change and many other things. There are 13 strategic objectives, which are important to improving the quality of life for island communities. Each objective is underpinned by a series of actions and commitments, of which there are 104 in total.
The plan was drafted to reflect key themes that emerged throughout the consultation. It focuses on what is fair, integrated, green and inclusive. It is a fair plan that aims to promote, deliver and enhance equality for islanders in every aspect of their lives. Its human rights approach will support greater accountability and help to ensure that rights are respected, protected and fulfilled.
The plan is an integrated one that promotes joined-up services and focuses on the importance of place to island life, and the need to ensure that service delivery is cohesive and that policy making is holistic. Islanders made it clear that issues and challenges overlap and connect, so the plan seeks to build economic, social and environmental considerations into an integrated approach to policy development and service design.
It is a green plan that aims to harness and unleash the potential of having a green and blue economy. Islanders are acutely aware of not only the fragility and vulnerability of their environments and the need to adapt to climate change, but of the possibilities and opportunities for their communities to help Scotland to drive forward its ambitions on decarbonising our energy system and the wider economy, and to continue to lead the world on climate action. It is therefore entirely fitting that I am delivering this statement to members during Scotland’s climate week.
It is an inclusive plan that promotes community empowerment at local level. We have tried to understand better the desire of islanders to have decisions taken as close as possible to where the impact of those decisions will be experienced, and to reflect that throughout the plan’s commitments.
I hope that the plan reflects one other key finding from the consultation. There is no doubt that Scotland’s islands face, and will continue to face, challenges and issues that are often unique to island life. However, what also came across loud and clear was that although no two islands are the same, Scotland’s island communities and people are hugely resilient, with a willingness to adapt and innovate, and have huge core strengths and talents on which to build.
Scotland’s islands are not a problem for us to solve: they face a variety of challenges, just as any community does, but they are also a success to be celebrated, nurtured and supported so that they can build on current foundations to ensure secure and sustainable futures. In doing so, they will help to show the way for the rest of Scotland.
Nowhere is that more evident than in the attitudes of young people who live on the islands. During the consultation, we held events specifically for young people and heard their views and experiences, and we heard about their hopes and aspirations for the future. A key theme was their desire to stay, or to leave for a while but then return, in order to realise their dreams in the communities that they grew up in. They have a role to play in implementation of the plan.
That is why we committed in the programme for government to creating a new young islanders network. That network will include children of all ages, and it will help to ensure that the actions that are developed to take forward the plan take full account of the interests and priorities of young people on the islands, and connect with young islanders who live on the mainland. We will seek to develop actions that will help to make a positive impact on depopulation, support growing up on Scotland’s islands, and encourage the return of young people and adults to the islands.
I am aware that a plan, and the objectives and commitments within it, are only part of the answer. Island authorities and communities rightly want to be assured that the plan will translate into action. For the national islands plan to be successful, we need national Government, local government and other public agencies to work closely together and to share resources to ensure delivery.
Improving outcomes for our islands’ communities is not just my job, nor is it just that of my islands team. If we are to tackle issues such as fuel poverty, improve transport services and housing, and help to sustain economic development, action will be required across Government. I am pleased that work in that regard is already under way, with island impact assessments being trialled and progress being made on key matters such as ferries, in order to provide increased security of provision for communities.
Work must also be done across all public agencies to harness the widest range of opportunities to improve outcomes in their specific fields, and to help to deliver on the plan’s key themes. Work to develop an implementation strategy is already under way. It will set out clear and measurable actions for each of the strategic objectives. Some of the commitments will be achieved in the short-to-medium term, while others will require longer for delivery, and some of those might go beyond the lifespan of this version of the national plan.
We are also developing indicators so that we can carefully measure our progress in achieving the actions, with clear timescales, budgets and partners having been identified. The implementation strategy needs to be pragmatic and ambitious. That is the approach that is taken in the proposed plan. Parliament now has 40 days to consider it: I will be happy to engage with members and committees to hear their views.
During this period, we should also take some time to reflect on what Scotland is achieving through having the national islands plan. We are one of the very few countries in the world to have dedicated place-based legislation on islands. In Europe, our friends in Croatia have similar legislation, albeit that the circumstances are different, but our act and the plan are unique.
Scotland was one of the first countries to embrace the United Nations sustainable development goals; they are woven throughout the plan. To promote fairness and equality on Scotland’s islands, the plan embeds a strong human rights dimension. Through the development, launch and future implementation of the national islands plan, Scotland is showing the rest of the world, and our own island communities, that islands are important and that their voice is strong.
We should also not lose sight of our purpose. We want more young people to stay on the islands of their birth, to have fulfilling lives there and to contribute to the success of their communities. I would love to see those who have left and new islanders being provided with opportunities to make our islands their home. We want more businesses to start up and to locate on the islands, to create jobs that pay well and to contribute to Scotland’s wider economic ambitions.
We want our islands to build on their cultural and artistic heritage for their own sense of wellbeing, and to attract more people to visit and share in all that they have to offer. We also want the islands’ unique landscapes to be protected and enhanced, so that they can provide a sustainable environment for all animals and humans who live there.
Ultimately, we want our islands to thrive now and in the future, and we want the people who live there to live good lives and to feel valued as an important part of the Scotland of today and tomorrow.
At the risk of murdering it, there is a Gaelic saying, “’S e obair latha tòiseachadh.” It means “This is just the start”. The views, ideas, enthusiasm and experience of islanders have been vital in shaping the work and in bringing “The Proposed National Islands Plan” to life. I am pleased to have laid it before Parliament. I apologise to Dr Allan for my hideous pronunciation, and I hope that he forgives me.
I thank the minister for advance sight of the statement. The islands ministerial role might be a coveted role, given the beauty and variety of Scotland’s islands, but equally it is challenging, such is the nature of island life, island economies, connectivity and the other issues that our islands face.
It is fitting that we discuss the islands plan today, on a day when so many of our islanders are cut off from the mainland. The situation in Arran should be unacceptable to us all in the chamber, but it typifies the many challenges that our islands are presented with and how well the Government responds to them.
I have some wider questions on the plan, given that one island council leader has already described it as aspirational but lacking in substance. First, nowhere in the plan, or indeed in today’s statement, has mention been made of whether additional financial resources will be allocated to either central Government directorates or local authorities to assist with meeting the 13 strategic objectives.
Secondly, does the plan address the fact—or, indeed, propose a solution to the reality—that we will need at least a dozen new replacement vessels to service our ferry networks in the coming years? Thirdly, and importantly, will the plan propose tangible and realistic solutions to the problem of population decline on our islands, including the creation of jobs that are designed to attract and retain people?
I recognise the importance of ferries, which were one of the islanders’ top priorities in relation to connectivity and transport. We are not dodging the issue in the slightest. Jamie Greene might be interested in strategic objective 3, which sets out a number of measures to improve transport services. On page 27, the plan mentions the need to invest in ferries, to take forward the vessel replacement deployment plan and to seek the pipeline of new vessels that Jamie Greene mentioned.
On resourcing, we are required to develop the implementation plan. As I said in my statement, that work is under way. We are building the team to respond to that work, and we are identifying the resource that will need to go with the actions. We want to discuss with our island authority partners and other stakeholders the actions that can be taken, the timeframe for them—whether it will be short, medium or long term—who is responsible for the actions, who needs to collaborate to deliver them and what resources will be required to deliver them. I definitely recognise that point.
Jamie Greene said that one island authority leader has described the plan as aspirational but lacking in substance. We have engaged thoroughly with the island authorities and their partners—we had 25 meetings—in preparation for the proposed plan that we published last week. Over the next 40 days, we will engage substantively with local authority partners again to take forward their recommendations for modification of the plan. We recognise that it is a proposed plan, not the final plan, and we want to work with partners on the final plan. I reassure Jamie Greene that there has been considerable engagement. The islands team is making tremendous efforts to engage with local authorities. That process will continue, and we hope to address any concerns that local authorities have.
I thank the minister for advance sight of the statement.
As the translator is not here, I will stick to English with my questions.
In the islanders’ response to the consultation on the report, they have set out very clearly that there are genuine fears—they include feeling distant from decision makers in Edinburgh, the impact of depopulation, the costs of transport and the lack of capacity on ferries—about the future of some island communities. Although there is little to disagree with in the strategic objectives in the plan that the Government has published, islanders want to see meaningful action being taken to address the challenges that they face, not promises of more consultations, plans and research.
The minister said several times that an implementation plan is being developed, which will include clear and meaningful actions. Given that it has already been more than a year since the 2018 act was passed, when will we see an implementation plan with detailed actions and clear timescales for implementing them?
Colin Smyth makes a very fair point. I have mentioned the implementation plan a number of times. We had started work on it in order to take forward the 104 commitments that are listed in the plan. There is a whole chapter in the proposed plan that sets out our commitments to supporting effective implementation, and I hope that that chapter will help members in the meantime.
We are trying to work out a set of indicators that we will need to monitor success against the outcomes and commitments in the plan. The indicators are being developed for each outcome and objective in collaboration with key delivery partners. Once they have been developed, the indicators will be presented to specific island stakeholders for feedback, after which they will be tailored and finalised, with, I hope, stakeholders’ support.
One action from the islands strategic group meeting that I had in August with the island authorities was to take forward work through the Scottish Government’s islands team to establish a new partnership group of Scottish Government and local authority officials. That group will be fully involved in the development of the implementation strategy and the associated measurable outcomes.
I hope that my answer gives some reassurance to Colin Smyth. I am very happy to meet him or any other member who wishes to discuss the issue in the 40-day period in order to ensure that members have a chance to influence the work.
Mar a tha fhios aig a’ mhinistear, tha crìonadh na h-àireimh-sluaigh am measg nan dùbhlan as motha a tha ro na h-Eileanan an Iar. Tha “fàs àireamh-sluaigh” air an liosta am measg nan amasan as cudromaiche ann an Achd nan Eilean (Alba) 2018.
Am faod am ministear fiosrachadh a thoirt seachad ciamar a bhios plana nàiseanta nan eilean a’ tomhas adhartas air seo. Am bidh e dìreach a’ cunntadh nan àireamhan-sluaigh air fad, no a’ cleachdadh slatan-tomhais eile—a’ cùnntadh clann-sgoile, mar eisimpleir.
Dr Allan continued in English.
As the minister will be aware, tackling depopulation is the major challenge that faces the Western Isles and “increasing population levels” is listed as one of the key outcomes in the Islands (Scotland) Act 2018.
What measures will the national islands plan use to measure outcomes on tackling depopulation? Will it simply be a measure of total population levels, or will some other metric, such as the number of schoolchildren, be used?
That is a very important question, which builds on the point that was made by Colin Smyth. I recognise Dr Allan’s concern about depopulation. His view has been endorsed by respondents to the consultation from the Western Isles and other areas. Particularly in some of the archipelagos, such as Orkney and Shetland, outer islands are being depopulated, while the mainland is experiencing population growth. Tackling depopulation is a key priority across the islands, particularly in the Western Isles.
It is likely that we will use a broad range of metrics to measure outcomes relating to depopulation. Indicators and metrics are being developed with key delivery partners for each outcome in that area. As I said to Colin Smyth, once those indicators have been co-developed, they will be presented for comment and feedback to specific island stakeholders.
The programme for government includes a number of commitments that will support the plan’s ambition to increase population levels, which include work on talent attraction, labour market policies and housing and planning. We recognise the specific challenges that island communities—and, indeed, some very remote rural communities—face, and there is a specific commitment to develop an action plan to support repopulation of our island communities and to work with partners to test approaches using small-scale pilots. We will also work with the young islanders network to identify actions to encourage young people to stay on or return to the islands. Along with Ivan McKee and other ministerial colleagues, I sit on the ministerial population task force that is led by Fiona Hyslop, and we are considering how we can look at population metrics in the context of the national performance framework.
The single issue that was raised most by participants in the consultation’s discussion events was transport. The proposed plan recognises the considerable cost of transport within, to and from the islands, the effect on affordability and the wider impact on the islands’ economies, but although parts of it relate to ferries, there is no discussion whatsoever of existing or new fixed links between islands.
Will the minister, at the very least, make a commitment that consideration of the future of fixed links will be part of the implementation plan when it arrives?
Jamie Halcro Johnston makes a reasonable point about fixed links. We will reflect on that issue if it has been raised by islanders and has not been reflected in the plan. We tried to reflect to as great an extent as we could the issues that were raised.
I reassure Mr Halcro Johnston that such matters are being considered by the Cabinet Secretary for Transport, Infrastructure and Connectivity, Michael Matheson, in the context of the work on the strategic transport projects review and the national transport strategy. We are looking at the issue of fixed links versus ferry links in that context, because particular projects have been suggested by communities across Scotland.
The issue is not being ignored. We will make sure that we reflect on the point that Mr Halcro Johnston has raised, and if islanders have raised consideration of fixed links as a priority for them, we will certainly reflect that in future drafts of the plan.
Having a workable islands plan is important, but it is critical that islanders can access the mainland and that visitors can visit our islands. We are currently in an extraordinary situation in which both Ardrossan linkspans and the Gourock linkspan are out of service and vessels are struggling to tie up at Troon, which is causing havoc with the Arran ferry service. How has that shocking state of affairs arisen and when will it be resolved?
I recognise the huge frustration that the situation that has arisen will be causing, not just for Mr Gibson but for his constituents. I note that Peel Ports has apologised to customers for the failure of the linkspan in Ardrossan, and I welcome its engagement in an effort to rectify the situation.
I can reassure Mr Gibson that, following the linkspan failure on Saturday, the replacement motor has arrived in Irvine and is ready to be transported to Ardrossan this afternoon. The timescales for the work include installation and tests, which, if successful, could result in the linkspan being back in service this evening but, obviously, we will have to wait and see how that goes.
Peel Ports is to provide an update on the situation at about half past 3, which might be happening as we speak. Unfortunately, the south-westerly wind direction at Troon, which was deemed to be the alternative harbour for the period of the repairs, and the gusting speeds of in excess of 30 knots are having an impact on the MV Caledonian Isles. It does not have enough power to safely get off the berth in such conditions. Unfortunately, that has resulted in a passengers-only service between Brodick and Ardrossan. That is the master’s decision. I am sure that Mr Gibson is aware of the legal position on that. CalMac Ferries fully supports that decision on the grounds of safety, and so do we.
The recent linkspan issues at Gourock are being managed effectively by both Caledonian Maritime Assets Ltd and CalMac. Engineers will assess the scale of work tomorrow, and we hope that repairs will start in the week commencing 21 October.
The plan deals with depopulation by promising another plan. We all know what is needed to address depopulation: people need a job, a home and access to transport and services.
Will he prevail on his colleagues to stop the damaging centralisation of air traffic control that will remove high-quality jobs from our islands?
Without any disrespect to Rhoda Grant, I point to the fact that the local authorities themselves have been encouraging us to develop an implementation plan. I recognise why she is asking the first part of her question. I know that communities are keen to see action taken quickly, and we will go as fast as we can, but we need to be able to prepare our actions properly and effectively and, as other members have mentioned, ensure that they are resourced
. The implementation plan is under way. I hope that it will not take a huge amount of time to prepare, as we work together with local authorities to address that.
Air traffic control is a hugely sensitive issue. I appreciate the impact that the new arrangements will have on particular individuals and families, and we are encouraging Highlands and Islands Airports to work with them to ensure that those arrangements work as effectively as possible for them and that there is as little disruption to their family life as possible.
The cabinet secretary Mr Matheson, or I, will be happy to meet Rhoda Grant to discuss that.
On page 24 of “The Proposed National Islands Plan”, the Scottish Government is yet again trumpeting its commitment to dualling the A9, telling us of the benefits to the islands that that will bring. Minister, that is a £3 billion project. It is money that would replace the ferry fleet. The revenue cost of maintaining a dual carriageway could contribute to the running of the internal ferry systems. Replacing the fleet would also provide work for Ferguson’s. Investing in the northern isles ferries would be a very tangible act. Will Mr Wheelhouse undertake to ask the First Minister, as she initially committed, to review this obscene expenditure on the A9 and direct it to something constructive, such as the internal ferries?
I recognise John Finnie’s and his colleagues long-standing opposition to investment in major roads. We may have to disagree on that. I also point out to Mr Finnie the importance of the A9 to seafood producers and others for getting their goods to market. It is a very important arterial route for getting island products from the mainland to the continent. The steaming time for ferries from the northern isles to Aberdeen is a barrier to certain products reaching the market on time, although for others it is fine.
We need to ensure that there is a range of options.
If a producer is sitting in the Orkney islands—as I am sure that Mr Finnie does on a regular basis, for surgeries and so forth—getting goods from there to the mainland across the Scrabster to Stromness route and then down along the A9 is one of the preferred ways of getting goods to market. I ask the member to recognise the importance of trunk roads such as the A9 for that purpose.
We are engaging with both local authorities to identify solutions for the northern isles internal ferry services. We have been in helpful and constructive discussions with them about the costs that they face in maintaining good quality services on the islands, but it is too early to say where that will end.
I thank the minister for early sight of his statement, and recognise the work that has been done to get to this point. The Government recognises that transport services are a key factor in the ability of islanders to fulfil their basic human rights. Will it commit to full and fair ferry funding in the upcoming budget so that islanders in Shetland finally have their basic needs met?
That is the first question that I have responded to from Beatrice Wishart and I welcome her to the chamber.
As I outlined in my response to John Finnie, we will very much engage with both local authorities to see what we can do. The commitment is there to work with both councils but, as the member may know, significant capital costs are required to upgrade ferry services in Shetland and Orkney, and it is too early to say where we will get to. It is not just an issue of recurrent funding; a capital investment is required in both areas. We are sympathetic to both authorities, given the position that they find themselves in with historical pre-devolution arrangements being extended to the current date, and we are trying to work with them constructively. I hope to keep members informed of progress on that.
I will flag up two main areas where we are taking forward additional work under the Islands (Scotland) Act 2018. The first relates to island communities impact assessments. Section 8 of the 2018 act, which refers to those impact assessments, has not yet been commenced. Work on the guidance and templates for the provision is being progressed in tandem with work on the national islands plan, with a view to ensuring that the section is commenced as soon as possible. Policy instructions are being drafted and officials are working to finalise an illustrative timetable. Ideally, the regulations will come into force early in 2020.
Secondly, as members may be aware, we are progressing the Additional Powers Request (Scotland) Regulations 2019, which were laid in Parliament on 5 July this year and which are the obvious next step in the implementation of the 2018 act. The regulations will come into force in mid-November at the latest, subject to approval being obtained from Parliament. Non-statutory guidance is being developed collaboratively with the six relevant local authorities and will accompany the regulations when they come into force. We recognise that there is still a lot of work to do, but a lot of progress has been made.
On page 34, the plan refers to the Scottish Government’s reaching 100 per cent—R100—target. Given that islands will be some of the last places to be digitally connected, does the minister accept that the Scottish Government’s likely failure to meet its 2021 R100 target will disproportionately affect our island communities?
Donald Cameron raises an important matter. Digital connectivity came out strongly in the feedback from islanders on the things that they want investment in. I point out—I will do this gently because it that kind of day—that the issue is a legal and regulatory responsibility of the United Kingdom Government and that we are intervening to try to ensure that we address a failure of the UK market to deliver for remote island communities across the whole UK and not just in Scotland. As the member knows, we are in the final stages of procurement for R100. I hope to be able to update Parliament shortly on the outcome for the north lot as well as the central and south lots, but I am optimistic that a good outcome will be achieved. In the R100 bids, we have mandated areas in some of our islands, in communities such as Yell, to ensure that they are among the main beneficiaries of the programme.
I thank those who were involved in facilitating the consultation and the plan, but the leader of Orkney Islands Council has criticised it for having no commitments and being without any real substance. Will the minister reassure my constituents that, in relation to our lifeline transport links, the Government is ready to deliver the new vessels and the sustainable funding that are required for Orkney’s internal services as well as the additional freight capacity that is needed on the northern isles routes?
I have already given fairly full answers to two members on the point about internal ferry services, so I will use this answer to refer to the freight services. The procurement exercise for the NorthLink services has concluded and we are now working through negotiations with the preferred bidder. As the member knows, there is a standstill period, which we must respect to give CalMac the opportunity to challenge if need be. We are keen to work with the industries in the islands to understand their freight requirements, and we have built flexibility into the contract to allow modification to freight services, should that be needed in due course.
On the comments from the leader of Orkney Islands Council, I stress that we have had positive engagement with Councillor Stockan and his colleagues at the council. Several of the 25 meetings that we have had have been with Orkney Islands Council. At the islands strategic group, Councillor Stockan was made aware of what was in the draft plan and did not object to it at that point. There is an issue about the appeal mechanism in the Additional Powers Request (Scotland) Regulations 2019, which Orkney Islands Council and other councils are concerned about, but we are working with them to try to address that through guidance.