Island Areas Ministerial Working Group.
An Islands Deal is a step closer today, after progress was made in discussions between the Scottish Government and the Island Councils on their proposals for a deal which will look to enhance local democracy and achieve their full economic potential.
The meeting in Lerwick was the twelfth Meeting of the Island Areas Ministerial Working Group (IAMWG) and the final one in the current round of meetings before the Scottish elections.
The meeting was chaired by Derek Mackay, Minister for Transport and Islands, with Marco Biagi, Minister for Local Government and Community Empowerment, also attending for the Scottish Government.
The Ministers agreed to on-going dialogue with the Islands as they develop their proposals. The group also agreed that it would be important to have engagement from the UK Government as proposals develop.
There were also positive discussions on the potential for increasing local accountability for decisions on Crown Estate assets in the three council areas, ahead of a Scottish Bill on the future management framework for Crown Estate assets in Scotland after devolution.
Scottish Ministers' current priority is to secure the devolution of management and revenue of the Crown Estate so that Scotland and its communities can benefit from the Scottish assets. Ministers have already confirmed that island and coastal councils will receive the net income from Crown Estate marine assets out to 12 nautical miles after further powers are devolved.
The Working Group is part of the Scottish Government's commitment to the principle of local decision making, and the work being taken forward with our island communities as part of the wider empowerment agenda.
As this was the final meeting in the current series of the Ministerial Group, there was reflection on the progress made by the group over the last 2½ years on Island issues. The publication of the Empowering Scotland's Island Communities prospectus, and the commitments that stemmed from that, which have delivered amongst other things the creation of a dedicated Islands Minister post within Government; the recent Islands Bill consultation; and the establishment of the Islands Transport Forum.
Speaking after the meeting Mr Mackay said:
"The Scottish Government is committed to looking at devolving more autonomy to our islands and decentralise decision making to those who live and work in these unique parts of Scotland.
"These meetings provide the opportunity to discuss the best way forward and I am grateful to each of the island councils for their the islands collaborative approach in identifying how best to deliver a vision for inclusive economic growth for their areas.
"Focus and energy should be directed towards developing community led solutions and bringing people much closer to the decisions which affect them - making the journey towards greater levels of integration will require public service partners to work closely with the Island communities to understand the local outcomes they value most.
As this is the final meeting of the Group before the election it will be for Ministers of the new Government in May to determine how they wish to proceed. I would like to thank everyone involved for their commitment and the progress that has been made."
Leader of Shetland Islands Council, Cllr Gary Robinson, speaking on behalf of the Our Islands Our Future (OIOF) campaign, said:
"OIOF has worked steadily with both governments over the past 2½ years and has made good progress over that time on a wide range of issues. We look forward to continuing that engagement as we move into the next phase of our campaign.
"We will continue to contribute to the process of developing a deal for the Islands and welcome the Scottish Government's commitment to continuing dialogue on that critical issue. While this series of meetings has come to an end, the work we've started with government will continue on the issues we've identified through them.
"We have come a long way in a few years, and fully expect to see an Islands Bill come forward through the new parliament later this year which will strengthen our communities and put them at the forefront of Scottish life for the future."