​£20 million Levelling-Up assistance for the isles

The Chancellor of Exchequer’s Autumn Statement has brought welcome news to the Western Isles which is to share in an £80 million package “for the expansion of the Levelling Up Partnerships programme to Scotland”
Britain's Chancellor of the Exchequer Jeremy Hunt leaves 11 Downing Street to present his Autumn Budget Statement at the House of Commons..(Photo by JUSTIN TALLIS/AFP via Getty Images)Britain's Chancellor of the Exchequer Jeremy Hunt leaves 11 Downing Street to present his Autumn Budget Statement at the House of Commons..(Photo by JUSTIN TALLIS/AFP via Getty Images)
Britain's Chancellor of the Exchequer Jeremy Hunt leaves 11 Downing Street to present his Autumn Budget Statement at the House of Commons..(Photo by JUSTIN TALLIS/AFP via Getty Images)

Four local authorities were named and it is understood that the money will be distributed among them. “Levelling Up Partnerships” between UK government and local authorities are already operating in England and Wales.

This news has superceded disappointment within the Comhairle earlier in the week when the islands failed to feature in an announcement about the third round of the UK Government’s Levelling Up Fund

Expectations had been raised that the bid stood a good chance of success with the future of many projects, including the Comhairle’s own capital spending, depending on Levelling Up funds.

On Wednesday morning, Comhairle officials took part in a call with Levelling Up officials in Edinburgh to gain feedback on why the islands’ bid had apparently failed. They were advised to await the Autumn Statement for better news.

The significance of Levelling Up funds reflects the wider problem of most capital projects now being dependent on a jigsaw of funding while the Comhairle itself has virtually no capital budget.

The third round Levelling Up Fund round was smaller than the previous two. Scotland got a proportionate share spread over six projects. However none was in the Highlands and Islands..

However, the Autumn Statement has made significant amends for that omission with both the Western Isles and Argyll and Bute among the four authorities designated for the new “Levelling Up Partnerships Programme”, details of which will emerge over the coming weeks.

The Comhairle will now work with the Government and local partners to develop a suite of deliverable projects, but it is anticipated that investments may include supporting strategic projects already identified through the Islands Growth Deal; supporting Culture and Heritage; Net Zero and fuel poverty innovation; developing community infrastructure and supporting efforts to tackle depopulation.

Levelling Up Secretary Michael Gove, said: “It is excellent news that we have announced the first ever Levelling Up Partnerships for Scotland that will see four local authorities each receive £20m from the UK Government for bespoke place-based regeneration, following an approach on selection developed in collaboration with Scottish government.

“I was in Stornoway just last month to chair the UK Islands Forum and I know that community leaders have strong ideas on how we can break down barriers to levelling up and improve opportunities for everyone living and working in the islands. I look forward to working directly with Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, and the Scottish Government, as we develop plans for the most impactful way to invest this £20m in the Western Isles.”

Cllr Paul Steele, Leader of Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, said: “At the UK Islands Forum the Comhairle called on all levels of Government to prioritise island communities and make funding decisions that lead to real positive long-term outcomes. This investment of £20 million has the potential to make a real difference to the Outer Hebrides and I look forward to working with the UK and Scottish Government’s to build and deliver a suite of innovative projects that will help sustain and develop the economy of the Outer Hebrides. Across the Outer Hebrides we have a suite of transformational economic development opportunities and am I hopeful that the Levelling Up Partnership approach will be the catalyst to deliver on these opportunities and create new jobs, particularly in our more peripheral communities.”