‘Constructive talks’ at Westminster meeting

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The Leaders of the three Islands Councils have welcomed a commitment from the Coalition Government to continued dialogue on their campaign for the devolution of more powers from London and Edinburgh.

The move follows discussions at Westminster with the new Secretary of State for Scotland, Alistair Carmichael MP.

Mr Carmichael, MP for Orkney and Shetland, said the Councils and the UK Government share a belief that greater decision making should rest with local communities.

The Leaders of the local authorities in Shetland, Orkney and the Western Isles welcomed this as a positive step forward for the campaign.

The meeting with the Secretary of State formed part of a busy two-day round of talks across Whitehall with Ministers and senior Government officials.

The Council Leaders took the Our Islands Our Future campaign to London in a concerted effort to engage with the Coalition Government and put forward the case for greater powers for Orkney, Shetland and the Western Isles.

Orkney Islands Council Convener Steven Heddle said: “Our discussions with the new Secretary of State were constructive, as you would expect with an MP who represents the Northern Isles, who understands the issues we face and is sympathetic to them.

“Over two days we’ve had a succession of meetings with Ministers and senior civil servants on key area of our campaign. We’ve raised matters as diverse as constraints on our renewable energy potential, the impact of farming and fisheries policies, and the need to devolve the money raising powers of the Crown Estate to the Islands we represent.

“We’ve discussed the need for the Islands to have more say in Europe on shaping the programmes that should benefit peripheral areas like ours.

“Looking forward, we want ongoing engagement with the Coalition Government on a package of measures that address the special circumstances of the Islands and the economic disadvantages we face. I’m pleased to say that the Secretary of State is committed to continuing dialogue with us.”

Gary Robinson, Leader of Shetland Islands Council, said: “We’ve had two days of extremely valuable meetings with departments right across government. There have been a number of commitments made, including an invitation from the Scottish Affairs Select Committee to the three Island Leaders to give evidence when the Committee meets in Inverness in December.

“There will be particular emphasis there on issues such as the Crown Estate Commission and the effects of welfare reform on island communities. The new Fisheries Minister has committed to visit Shetland early in his tenure, and we’ve also been exploring opportunities for civil servants to be seconded to work with the islands on a range of our campaign issues.

“The islands’ delegation to London has succeeded in what it set out to do; our campaign has had a positive cross-party reception, and we’ve identified key civil servants who should be able to help us further our aims. It’s been an exceptionally busy two days – but gives us a good platform for further engagement with Westminster.”

Leader of Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, Angus Campbell, said: “These have been a series of very productive meetings which have taken forward our campaign to secure further powers for the Islands. I am greatly encouraged by the Secretary of State’s comments that there is much that can be done now to achieve our aims.

“We have always argued that whatever the outcome of next year’s referendum there is an opportunity for the Islands to improve their position and increase the benefits for those living in Island areas. I am grateful to the

Secretary of State for meeting with us and indeed the other Ministers and officials and I look forward to continuing to work with both the Scottish and UK Governments during this exciting time for Island communities.”

As well as meeting the Secretary of State for Scotland and Lord Wallace of Tankerness, the Advocate General for Scotland, the Leaders held talks with George Eustice MP, DEFRA Minister for the Natural Environment, Water and Rural Affairs, and Nicky Morgan MP, Economic Secretary to the Treasury.

Discussions also took place with senior officials from the Scotland Office, the Department for Energy and Climate Change, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the Treasury, the Cabinet Office, the energy regulator Ofgem, and the Crown Estate.