DCSIMG

UK Government sets framework for Islands

editorial image

editorial image

The UK Government has set out a new framework to address the mission statement set out by the Our Islands, Our Future campaign.

The UK Government has set out a new framework to address the mission statement set out by the Our Islands, Our Future campaign.

The Secretary of State for Scotland, Alistair Carmichael, announced the plan in a visit to Stornoway on Friday, August 15th.

Orkney Islands Council Leader Steven Heddle, Shetland Islands Council Leader Gary Robinson and Comhairle nan Eilean Siar Leader Angus Campbell were on hand to represent their councils at the announcement.

Angus Campbell said: “We are absolutely delighted to have reached this stage in terms of the work that’s been done on Our Islands Our Future that we launched in June of last year.

“I think what we’ve created is a platform to bring the issues of crucial importance to the islands forward for work in the future.“

“What we have here is a platform for taking forward a lot of the issues that are big and current to the islands and with the commitment that we’ve had from the UK government and from ourselves I think that there is an avenue there for us to actually make significant ways forward for these islands that, to be honest, if we hadn’t taken this campaign forward that opportunity would not have been there.”

The UK Government proposal sets out a ten-point plan to address key issues faced by island communities that Mr Carmichael said is not an exhaustive list, but an identification of the areas that will be the focus of the government’s earliest work. He said that there will be other areas coming along.

THE TEN POINT PLAN

Islands proofing: These are new arrangements to scrutinise UK Government policy and legislation to ensure they take account of islands priorities.

Economic benefits: A new Islands Working Group will be supported by a dedicated position in the Scotland Office and have its agenda set by the islands, covering priorities like Islands Innovation Zones, construction costs and community benefit.

A new Oil and Gas Islands forum: The framework recognises the islands are vital to meeting the UK’s energy needs. The UK Government is committed to work with the Islands Councils to assist strategic decision-making on future priorities for the oil and gas industry. This will allow the councils to work more closely with the UK Government and industry.

Renewable energy: The framework includes a firm UK Government commitment to the Renewable Energy Delivery Forum, focussed on getting transmission links to the islands. The UK Government also shares the three Islands Councils’ ambitions for deployment of renewable energy and for research and development activity, and we will ensure that obstacles to securing the necessary infrastructure are tackled effectively.

Social needs: The framework recognises the island groups face particular challenges in the areas of transport, postal services, digital connectivity and fuel poverty.

Transport: This includes seeking an extension to the Air Discount Scheme and a commitment to consider fiscal measures to support transport connectivity with the island groups.

Postal services: The UK Government is committed to working with retailers, consumer groups and enforcers to ensure parcel delivery charges to remote regions are fair and transparent, in line with the UK statement of principles for parcel deliveries.

Digital connectivity is of great importance to local inhabitants and businesses on the islands, requiring subsidy from both the UK and Scottish Governments to overcome the geographical and commercial challenges in delivery of these services. The UK Government is committed to fund the Mobile Infrastructure Project, working to provide improved mobile coverage in areas of the UK which are most difficult to reach, aiming to address market failures in these areas.

The UK Government is also committed to providing parity of minimum service level between the UK mainland and islands areas by delivering standard broadband of at least 2Mbps to all premises in Orkney, Shetland and the Western Isles. Working closely with the communications industry, the UK Government is committed to fund research to identify new technologies to support delivery of superfast broadband services to the most difficult to reach areas of the UK. The UK Government will also work collaboratively with the three Islands Councils, as well as the Scottish Government and Highlands and Islands Enterprise, to identify how these technologies can be implemented in Orkney, Shetland and the Western Isles.

Crown Estate: The framework also contains measures to strengthen the transparency and accountability of the Crown Estate.

EU and representation on government bodies: A dedicated point of contact to offer advice and guidance to the islands within the UK Representation to the EU. The framework includes increased island representation on other government bodies, including the Scottish Business Board and PILOT.

Comparisons between the ten-point plan and the offer given to the islands by the Scottish government were inevitable. Alistair Carmichael said of the ten-point plan: “This is not contingent on any particular outcome. This is work that we have started and is running already, and it’s a recognition of the fact that the responsibilities of the different parliaments and the different governments have a very different applicability.”

He added: “I’ve made it clear that there is more devolution to happen in the event of a No vote.”

The most glaring difference between the two offers is the different government’s positions on The Crown Estate.

SNP MSP for Na-h Eileanan an Iar Alasdair Allan said: “I welcome any engagement by the UK Government with the concerns of people in Scotland’s islands, but with the best will in the world, it is difficult to see what, if anything, the Scottish Secretary has offered the islands.

“The Scottish Government has of course recently published a detailed set of proposals including everything from 100% local devolution of The Crown Estate revenues, to the creation of an Islands Minister, Island representation on the European Committee of the Regions, and constitutional guarantees over the role of islands in an independent Scotland.”

The UK government’s framework addressed The Crown Estate with the point: ‘It is recognised that these measures alone do not meet the Islands Councils’ aspirations on devolution of The Crown Estate; however these steps are intended to represent progress towards greater transparency and accountability.”

Alistair Carmichael said: “I would say that from my point of view the door is very much still open to the case of reform.

“I think it is fair to recognise that The Crown Estate make the case that keeping a single seabed is, in their view, important strategically. I’m prepared to listen to them on that. I expect them to make the case as well.

“It’s also fair to recognise in recent years, in terms of community engagement, that they have made some significant improvements in the way that they interact with island communities, but I’m still expecting to see an awful lot more from them and I expect them to take the framework and the mechanisms that we have created and published here today and to work with them in good faith, to deliver further improvements for community engagement, because if not then they will be making the case for more radical reform for themselves.

“I think as was said by a previous Prime Minister in a different context, ‘they are drinking in last chance saloon.”

Angus Campbell said: “We want the benefits that come from The Crown Estate to be repatriated to the communities that live on these islands. I think what we’re finding dealing with two different parties is that there may be two different ways of delivering that.

“I firmly believe that within this document there is still an avenue for us to look at how we get that end goal achieved and I think it’s still very possible to get there, and that can be in different ways, but as long as we deliver the benefit to these islands then we’re getting to the same place.”

The Secretary of State for Scotland concluded: “Having offered this as a statement of intent there will be a political price to any government that tries to walk away from this. This is a statement in many cases of just basic common sense. There should be no reason why any government in the future of any political complexion should want not to work in this way.”

 

Comments

 
 

Back to the top of the page