Economies of the UK Islands — [Andrew Rosindell in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 10:08 am on 9th May 2018.

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Photo of Bill Grant Bill Grant Conservative, Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock 10:08 am, 9th May 2018

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Rosindell. I congratulate my hon. Friend Alan Mak on securing this important debate on islands of the United Kingdom. Island economies are particularly important to Scotland, which boasts almost 800 islands around its coastline. In 2011, some 93 permanently inhabited islands were recorded, and between them they host almost 2% of the Scottish population. That gives Scotland by far the largest number of inhabited islands in the United Kingdom.

I had the privilege of being the senior fire officer in Argyll and Bute for some five years. I pay tribute to the islanders who provide the personnel for the volunteer units and retained fire stations that serve those communities. They are very much on their own; getting support to them can prove almost impossible. I commend the men and women who support their fire service. At the time I was there, the island populations varied from around 100-plus on Coll and Colonsay to more than 3,000 on the island of lslay, which was mentioned earlier. To complement the population, Islay has eight distilleries, which are a great employer. As somebody said, there are no bad whiskies; some are just better than others. A neighbouring island is Jura, where we also have a distillery that produces a lovely whisky that bears the name of the island.

Tourism, food and accommodation figure strongly in many island economies, along with traditional incomes from crofting, farming, fishing, and, in some cases, fish farming. Mr Carmichael suggested there might be opportunities post-Brexit to adjust the system to assist the communities further. They really need that assistance. Oil and gas are players in a number of island economies mainly to the north of Scotland. Tiree, which is quite breezy, off the west coast of Scotland, is the most fantastic place in the United Kingdom for windsurfers.

In my time visiting the west coast islands, the provision of fire cover, education and medical services was a constant challenge just to secure the right people for the posts. The additional cost of providing those services is recognised and factored into the Barnett formula under the sparsity factor. May I commend the Scottish Government for the introduction of the road equivalent tariff, which, in conjunction with the ferry operator, Caledonian MacBrayne, has generated additional tourist traffic that in most cases—although perhaps not in all cases—must be welcomed?