Co-operation is key to Levelling-Up funds
Michael Gove created a double first this week. It was the first time (probably) that a Minister joined a Cabinet meeting from the Western Isles. And it was certainly the first time a plea to Downing Street had met with such a speedy response.
His first meeting was with Alex MacLeod, chief executive of Stornoway Port and Harbour Authority, for a briefing on the ambitious plans for development around the harbour area which will involve funding from both Scottish and UK Governments through the Islands Deal.
Mr Gove was also briefed on the potential for Arnish to benefit from offshore wind developments and possibly MoD contracts.
Between meetings, Mr Gove told the Gazette: "The Western Isles Council wrote to the Prime Minister and explained that it was really important that the UK Government played its part in helping connectivity and supporting the economy and culture of the Western Isles to prosper in the future.
"So I’m here to talk to local authority leaders and others to see what we can do about the future of ferry services but also a whole range of other areas where we believe the Scottish and UK Governments can work together. I worked in the past with people in the Scottish Government to address shared challenges.
"The Scottish Government haven’t been able hitherto to deliver the ferry services they want to – but we’re going to help them. We have additional resources through the Levelling Up Fund and if we can work with the local authority, if we can work with the Scottish Government and the people of the Western Isles then that seems to me to be an absolutely brilliant outcome".
Asked if he thought the Scottish Government would welcome his presence, Mr Gove said: "In my experience, there are some people in the Scottish Government who like to take a pop at Westminster but on a day to day basis we co-operate and at least every week I have a meeting with Scottish Government ministers to discuss areas of mutual interest.
"For me the key test is - will the people of the Western Isles welcome additional investment?
"If we get the bid right, if we get it aligned with Scottish Government wishes, then it will be a good thing and I suspect actually that while one or two folk in the SNP may make political points, actually good people in the SNP will want to see communities secure the investment they need.”
In his discussions with council leader Roddie MacKay, it is understood Mr Gove went into details about the Levelling Up funds and how various initiatives in a council area can be packaged to achieve the best prospects of success in bidding for the multi-billion pot.
Councillor MacKay raised the islands' challenges with digital connectivity and the possibility of a relatively small "pot" of money being separated from general funding to address these.
He said the discussions had covered "a lot of ground" and that Mr Gove had shown "very genuine interest".
They also discussed the opportunities for the islands around hydrogen, including a hydrogen-powered ferry.