– in the Scottish Parliament on 21st September 2022.
5. To ask the Scottish Government to which budget line the £5 million previously allocated to the islands bond scheme will be reallocated. (S6O-01360)
The £300,000 that was allocated to the islands bond in this financial year will now support projects that will deliver on priorities that are identified by our island communities. Those projects will help to inform our future funding requirements so that we can tackle the depopulation challenges across our islands. That work complements the support that is being provided to deliver on “The National Islands Plan”, which will see a total of £8.3 million invested in critical infrastructure projects. That continues our record of delivering significant investment in key island-based projects.
It is not entirely clear from the cabinet secretary’s response what the money will fund. He is right to highlight depopulation, which is caused by housing issues, especially in relation to housing for young people. Has he given any consideration to Jim Hunter’s suggestion of setting up a Highlands and Islands housing authority that is empowered to address housing and depopulation? The £5 million that was set aside for the islands bond would not fund that scale of initiative, but has the cabinet secretary considered making the money available to young islanders by way of grants to self-build?
I am always interested in the thinking and contribution of Jim Hunter on all matters, and particularly on matters in relation to the Highlands and Islands. Therefore, along with my colleague Mairi Gougeon, I will look with care at those issues. Rhoda Grant helpfully points out the significant relationship between the issues of availability of affordable housing, economic opportunity and depopulation. Without doubt, there is an interrelationship between those matters.
On the question of a new authority, I reserve my position. I would rather that we actually tried to achieve the outcomes that Jim Hunter talks about, which I am certain Rhoda Grant will support. I hope that the measures that the Government is taking in relation to our islands expenditure is of assistance in trying to support the objectives of tackling depopulation, boosting economic opportunity and boosting the supply of housing in the Highlands and Islands.
The Scottish Government dropped the proposal for an islands bond on the back of feedback from islanders, whose voices are central to the future of their communities. However, the Government’s commitment to financially back initiatives to support the retention of people in our island communities is clear. How will the £4.45 million that has been allocated through the islands programme support population retention in island communities?
It will be allocated across 31 islands, in six island local authorities. The funding will be allocated directly to support islands that have populations in the low hundreds.
The projects include the development of digital and community hubs, which will provide or safeguard key economic and social infrastructure to support healthy, thriving islands. The largest single award of £1.3 million will support a major new nursery development on mainland Orkney, which will benefit all of Orkney’s islands. The project is directly linked to population retention and growth, but it will also address child poverty and provide practical training opportunities for employment.
I thank the cabinet secretary for that response, particularly the last element of it. He will perhaps be aware of the idea that was posited to his Cabinet colleague Mairi Gougeon about expanding the inter-isles air services in a way that would support population retention not simply on one island but across most of the north isles in my Orkney constituency. Can he confirm that that idea will be taken fully into account in the Scottish Government’s further thinking?
That idea was put to me in recent discussions with the leaders of island authorities. I might come on to that in a subsequent question, if we reach it. The idea will be considered as part of a range of measures that we want to take forward to improve connectivity among the islands. We want to ensure that practical measures can be taken to tackle depopulation, which I know is of concern to Mr McArthur and his constituents.