The Islands Forum plan is part of the Levelling Up White Paper published yesterday (Wednesday). It would bring together islands from Shetland down to the Channel Isles, creating a direct route to government to press their needs.
Comhairle leader Roddie Mackay said that they were awaiting details but in principle welcomed the idea and called for co-operation between UK and Scottish Governments to deliver it.
“If the idea is that it gives islands a direct route to government, to explain our needs and seek funding to meet them, then it is very welcome. I do not expect funding to be part of the Islands Forum but it can act as a direct route to the Levelling Up funds which will certainly have money”.
He pointed to issues on which the UK Government could immediately be helpful to the Western Isles, for example its energy agenda and the case for an interconnector to carry renewable power to the mainland. “If we have a route to press that case directly, it can only be beneficial”, he said.
Mr Gove, who visited the Western Isles last year, said: “Talent is equally spread across the United Kingdom, but opportunity is not. Our island communities face shared challenges and I want us to work together to overcome them.
“Creating a new Islands Forum takes our commitment one step further”, he said. The new Forum would “empower island communities to communicate directly with government, inform future policy, and work together”.
Mr Mackay said they had established a good relationship with Mr Gove and immediately extended an invitation for the first meeting of the Forum to be held in the Western Isles.
In a separate initiative at Holyrood, an All Party Group on Islands has been constituted with the Conservative MSP, Jamie Halcro Johnston, as its first convener. He said that “addressing the many distinctive issues that really matter to islanders requires the focused attention of MSPs”.