Supporting islands to increase and retain their populations is an ambition across all parts of the Scottish Government, as demonstrated by this year’s programme for government.
Within that, there is a range of commitments that could help to address our population challenges, including support for the national islands plan, as well as national commitments such as developing rural visa pilots and a remote, rural and islands housing action plan.
The objective of attracting and retaining population in the islands, and the funding that has been made available, are welcome. However, the cabinet secretary will be aware of my concerns, which are shared by many of my Orkney constituents, about the proposed islands bond scheme. Will she therefore consider using that funding in ways that make island communities more resilient and offer more employment opportunities for islanders, such as introducing a third aircraft on Orkney’s internal routes, which could use low-emissions fuel and could be funded partly through green transport innovation funding? That would undoubtedly help to attract and retain population not just on one island but across the outer isles in my constituency.
I know that the member has raised concerns about that issue previously, but I repeat that the islands bond scheme has never been presented as some sort of silver bullet that will address all the population challenges on our islands. It is just one element of our wider work across all of the Scottish Government to support island communities.
The islands bond consultation, along with our on-going engagement, will help us to understand the challenges in greater detail. We will continue to work with local authorities, our island communities and other island stakeholders to try to address those issues.
The on-going crisis with our ferries continues to impact on individuals, small businesses and the agricultural sector. As well as harming existing residents and businesses, it has made our islands less attractive places to live, work and do business in. Has the cabinet secretary made any serious assessment of the economic impact of the on-going issues with ferry routes that connect our islands?
I reiterate what I said about the islands bond scheme. We know that the issue is multifaceted, and we know the problems that our island communities experience in relation to transport and housing. It is about how we tackle all those issues in the round.
Jamie Halcro Johnston will no doubt be aware of the £580 million investment that we have planned over the next five years and the on-going work in relation to the islands connectivity plan, a draft of which will be published towards the end of the year. It will address some of those problems.