3. Empowering Island Communities
3.1. This section presents the findings from Questions 5-8 relating to Empowering Island Communities.
Question 5: Sufficiency of current powers
3.2. Question 5 asked:
"Do you agree that the current powers Island Councils, and Councils with Island responsibilities presently have are sufficient to deliver positive outcomes for their local island communities Yes/No?"
3.3. Almost all of the respondents (93%) addressed Question 5. Of these, a clear majority (73%) answered "no", to indicate they did not consider the current powers to be sufficient to deliver positive outcomes. Of the remainder, 18% answered "yes", while 9% neither ticked "yes", or "no" but made comments at this question.
Chart 3: Are current powers of island councils and councils with island responsibilities sufficient to deliver positive outcomes for local island communities?
3.4. Just over half of the respondents (54%) provided additional information to support their views. Almost all of the comments were from those who felt the powers were not sufficient, giving their reasons for this view. Some respondents also raised particular concerns or points for the Scottish Government to consider.
3.5. A number also outlined the nature of additional powers which they felt should be devolved to local authorities, and these comments have been included at Question 6 (below).
Reasons for powers being considered insufficient
3.6. The reasons given for powers being considered insufficient focused on three main areas:
- Issues with the nature of current powers and the approach to these.
- The need for equity between areas.
- The potential positive impact of additional powers.
Issues with the nature of current powers and the approach to these
3.7. The most common theme, identified by many respondents, related to the nature of current powers and the approach to these.
3.8. Several respondents noted that islands faced a number of disadvantages in relation to decision-making, including:
- The perceived remoteness of current decision-making (with Edinburgh, London and Brussels mentioned).
- The nature of decision-making, described by one respondent as "top-down".
- The imposition of "Edinburgh-led directives", resulting in wasted resources, and irrelevant initiatives.
- Some policy areas being outwith the functions of local authorities, but having a major impact on island communities.
3.9. A small number of respondents also mentioned difficulties faced by islands within local authorities where the majority of the population lived on the mainland, and where decisions were taken centrally. One respondent highlighted what they considered to be a particular funding disparity between one island and other island authorities in relation to education.
3.10. One respondent suggested that the local authorities should have additional powers as "of right" on the basis of subsidiarity, rather than these being devolved as a result of a decision by the Scottish Parliament. Another, however, suggested that powers should be delegated, not devolved.
The need for equity between areas
3.11. A further common theme, identified by several respondents, was the need for equity between areas. One respondent described the principle of subsidiarity as relevant to this.
3.12. Some respondents suggested a need for all islands to have similar powers, while some mentioned a need for parity between island authorities, and those authorities with islands (North Ayrshire, Argyll and Bute and Highland). One argued that the lack of powers in one local authority area had hindered the development of some islands, and pointed to the lack of mechanism for budgets to be controlled at an island level in those authorities with islands.
3.13. A small number of respondents suggested that, while supporting the general need for equity between local authorities, there was also a need for parity between islands and other communities in the same local authority area. One suggested, for example, that different islands within individual local authorities may have different characteristics and needs, and that there would be benefits in devolving powers to a local level.
3.14. Several respondents suggested that any proposals should allow local authorities to further devolve decision-making to individual islands. One noted that these additional powers would be required to maximise positive outcomes for communities. A number also identified the relevance of the Community Empowerment Act 2015.
3.15. One respondent suggested that the issue was not simply about having "more powers", but also about the means of exercising these powers, potentially involving new and responsive structures. Two respondents suggested that a named local authority should be broken up.
The potential positive impact of additional powers
3.16. Several respondents suggested that extending the powers available to local authorities would bring positive benefits, and most gave examples. Among these were providing additional control over (and obtaining benefits from):
- The management of inshore fisheries.
- The management of the coastal zone and the assets associated with this.
- Onshore and offshore energy, wind and wave power.
3.17. A small number of respondents suggested that such powers would have a positive impact on transport, particularly in increasing local control over ferry and air services, as well as having the potential to improve local and national collaboration, clarify roles and lines of communication, and establish a process which would account fully for island-specific views.
3.18. The potential for a positive impact on land ownership was also noted by a small number of respondents, specifically in relation to reviewing compulsory purchase processes.
3.19. A small number suggested generally that such powers would allow local authorities to be responsive to local needs, and would allow island communities to have more say over key issues such as transport and schools.
3.20. One respondent suggested that there could be a positive impact on collaborative working, and on the development of new models of public service delivery. Another noted that locality planning could be an effective means of delivering on priorities for specific areas.
Concerns or points for the Scottish Government to consider
3.21. A number of respondents while (in most cases), supporting the principle of extending powers, expressed reservations about existing local authorities, or elected members, or suggested that they had not served their individual communities well. Small numbers in each case stated, for example, that:
- There was inadequate local input into decisions, or power was too centralised.
- Local authorities were too diverse, or lacked specific expertise to cover the wide range of potential issues which could be covered by extended powers.
- Local authorities lacked drive or vision (and one respondent suggested that it would take a "generation" to empower staff to make the most of new powers).
3.22. Several respondents identified concerns about aspects of local democracy, including:
- A perceived democratic deficit at the level of individual islands.
- Perceptions of conflicts of interest (for example, in relation to the commercial activities of local authorities or the approach of individual elected members).
- The limited pool of potential elected members, or elected members being spread too thinly.
3.23. A few respondents raised other concerns about the potential extension of powers, or identified points that they felt the Scottish Government should consider in this. Issues raised included:
- The potential impact of extension of powers on other organisations, such as the Crown Estate.
- Whether regulation could impact negatively on fishing, oil or shipping, or on the environment.
- How any proposals may be implemented, including the use of secondary legislation and staged implementation.
- Whether there may be hidden and future costs for the islands.
3.24. Some respondents also suggested a need for:
- More research on issues relating to empowerment.
- Resources to accompany any additional powers.
- Clarity of whether the proposals would relate only to oil, or to other matters.
- Definition of "locality" in the context of the right of islands to be represented on community planning organisations.
- Widening of the democratic base from which elected members are chosen.
- Decentralising power as a means of encouraging people to become involved in local government.
3.25. One respondent suggested that planning powers currently held by the Scottish or UK governments should not be given to local authorities. Another respondent suggested that final decisions on large-scale renewable energy developments should remain with the Scottish Government, following consideration by the local authority (and public consultation).
3.26. One respondent argued that, while island communities may be best placed to advise on local transport priorities, decisions should be made at a regional / local authority level.
3.27. A small number of respondents expressed the view that there was no need for additional powers, as those available already were sufficient.
Question 6: Additional powers
3.28. Question 6 asked:
"If you answered 'No' to question 5, please outline what additional powers you feel they require to benefit or better protect the island communities they serve, and explain the reasons for your answer."
3.29. Almost three quarters (72%) of respondents addressed this question. A large number of comments were made about the nature of additional powers that were seen to be required and these are detailed below. Some comments were also made on points to consider in implementing new powers.
Types of additional powers
3.30. The suggested additional powers fell into the following main areas:
- Legal and fiscal issues.
- The environment and the Crown Estate.
- Economic development and infrastructure.
- Other miscellaneous powers.
Legal and fiscal issues
3.31. The largest number of comments were about additional powers relating to legal and fiscal issues.
3.32. Several respondents suggested that local authorities should be given the power to make variations to, or derogate from some laws. Among the areas mentioned were:
- Road traffic.
- Roads and other infrastructure.
- Building control.
- Aspects of health and social care.
3.33. One respondent suggested that local authorities should be the final arbiters of planning decisions on the islands. Another suggested giving local authorities a veto over legislation which was seen to be detrimental to island communities.
3.34. Additional suggestions included that local authorities should have powers to:
- Address the needs of small, specific areas.
- Address issues identified in the Local Outcome Improvement Plan process, and to support the work of Health and Social Care locality planning groups.
- Vary national policy where there were seen to differences between "mainland" and "island" issues ( e.g. crofting and culture).
3.35. One respondent suggested the creation of specific incentives for island areas, such as innovation zones.
3.36. One respondent argued specifically that local authorities should not be given powers to override environmental protection legislation. They suggested that local communities which owned their own land should have powers over that land, as well the shoreline.
3.37. Several respondents argued that local authorities should be given more fiscal freedom. A number mentioned that they should receive and control the revenues currently generated for the Crown Estate (see para 3.43 below). Others mentioned business rates and council tax, or, in one case, taxes on whisky. One respondent suggested that revenue income could be used to reduce council tax.
3.38. A small number suggested that local authorities should be given the power to raise taxation, and one stated that they should be allowed to change the system of valuation underpinning council tax bands. Some stated generally that local authorities should be given more freedom in relation to the use of existing powers, and the priorities for the use of funds.
3.39. A small number of respondents suggested that the principles of the European Charter of Local Self-Government should be adopted, giving local authorities discretion to exercise initiative over any matter not specifically excluded, nor assigned to another authority. They also suggested that the Scottish Government should enact primary legislation to ensure that the three island authorities should continue to have all current special powers, and that no legislation should be passed which either derogated from these powers or varied territorial jurisdiction.
3.40. A small number of respondents expressed the view that there was a need to link additional powers to community empowerment and land reform, and one stated that local authorities should have more autonomy in general. A further suggestion was that more power should be given to communities ( e.g. as a pilot for Scotland). One respondent stated that any proposals to increase powers for island authorities, should also apply to local authorities with islands.
The environment and the Crown Estate
3.41. Many respondents made reference to the need for additional powers relating to the environment, and some mentioned specifically the powers currently held by the Crown Estate.
3.42. Many suggested that control of coastal waters and the seabed should pass to local authorities (with suggestions including, variously, 12, 20 and 50 mile limits around individual islands). One respondent suggested the introduction of a power of general competence for local authorities, extending over the seas adjacent to its coast, while another noted that similar control should be extended to the coastline.
3.43. Several respondents suggested that the powers of the Crown Estate and the revenues currently generated (as noted at para 3.37) should pass to local authorities. It was argued that the revenues could be reinvested for local development and to address issues such as fuel poverty. A small number suggested the devolution of the Crown Estate to individual islands, rather than local authorities. One argued that a named local authority should be invited to participate in the Crown Estate Stakeholder group.
3.44. One respondent suggested that any changes related to the Crown Estate should apply to mainland coastal areas, as well as islands. Another noted that any changes should be considered carefully in terms of their effect on the fishing industry, and stated that there would be a need for national level protections for the industry.
3.45. A small number of respondents suggested that local authorities should have:
- Greater control over energy production, and the development of renewable energy ( e.g. with the benefits able to be reinvested in local development).
- Greater powers to regulate and control fisheries, and take forward the management of marine designations ( e.g. to address current issues such as over-fishing, or the views of local communities being over-ruled in marine designations).
- Better involvement in Ministry of Defence ( MOD) land issues.
3.46. More generally, a small number of respondents suggested that local authorities should have greater control over the management of assets, including infrastructure. A further suggestion was that communities should be granted responsibility for common resources, such as, for example, wildlife.
3.47. Transport (in all forms) was identified by several respondents as a policy area in which there should be additional powers.
3.48. Among the suggestions made (by small numbers in each case) were that there should be powers to enable more local control of, or influence on:
- Strategic planning of transport, with holistic planning involving all modes.
- Investment decisions.
- All infrastructure, such as airports and ports.
- The awarding and management of contracts for ferry and air services.
- External transport links.
3.49. A small number of respondents suggested a need for protection against the operation of services providing external transport links "wholly for private external shareholder profit". One linked a lack of local representation to a diminishing of transport services in recent years.
3.50. Additional suggestions were that there should be:
- Legislation to protect transport services.
- A statutory requirement for relevant local authorities to be represented on bodies such as Highlands and Island Airports Ltd ( HIAL) and Caledonian MacBrayne ( CALMAC).
- Revisions to fare structures for all forms of transport.
- The development of a publicly-owned air service.
- Additional resources for bus services.
3.51. One respondent provided details of a partnership-based approach to bus services in one island which, in their view, could deliver benefits in other areas. A further suggestion was that motor vehicles which never left an island should be charged a lower rate of road tax.
3.52. A variety of issues relating to additional powers relevant to economic development were raised by respondents (by small numbers in each case).
3.53. Among the issues raised were that there should be powers to enable more local control of, or influence on:
- Key public services to enable economic development.
- Investment, planning and connectivity decisions.
- Renewable power generation ( e.g. with bills being charged as a premium to the council tax).
- Calibration of rent and rates levels set by the District Valuer, to help protect local businesses.
3.54. While not related to specific additional powers, a range of other suggestions were made (again by small numbers) including that there should be:
- Account taken of both economic and social objectives in decision-making.
- A statutory requirement for relevant local authorities to be represented on Highlands and Islands Enterprise ( HIE).
- A proportion of jobs related to transport contracts based in island communities.
- A more integrated approach to economic development (involving employment, housing, and resources).
- Local authority-run development banks to provide loans.
- More support for communities to obtain and use assets without having to purchase these at market value.
- Better recognition of the additional costs associated with the islands.
- Guidance on relocation of workplaces and offices to allow for consideration of whether they could be carried out in an island location.
- Location of Government posts designated as Gaelic essential / desirable within Gaelic-speaking island communities.
3.55. A small number of respondents identified the need for improved connectivity, particularly in relation to broadband in island areas, and the constraints which local authorities faced in seeking to improve this.
3.56. One respondent stated that the level of deprivation in a specific area (a remote rural area of mainland Scotland) required "special attention" to boost the local economy.
Other miscellaneous powers
3.57. Other policy areas in which respondents stated there should be powers to enable greater local control or influence (mentioned by small numbers in each case) were:
- Education ( e.g. investment in, and resources for education; educational priorities; teacher numbers and ratios; length of the school day; models of school management)
- Community and public health and social care, including priorities.
- Income generation to fund the development of social and economic infrastructure in support of Gaelic.
- Insulation levels, or the fuel sources used for public buildings and new houses.
3.58. It was also argued that there should be:
- Protection for rural culture and music.
- Additional resources for social care.
- More flexibility to access money for housing improvements in areas with poor housing stock and no contractors eligible to work on national insulation schemes.
Points to consider in implementing new powers
3.59. Some comments were made on points to consider in implementing new powers. A number of respondents, for example, made comments about the need for subsidiarity in the operation of all powers, including extended powers.
3.60. Many respondents suggested that local authorities should delegate more power to local communities, to sub-committees or to community councils. A small number of respondents suggested that Community Councils specifically should be empowered by local authorities and the Scottish Government.
3.61. Several respondents stated that island communities must be properly represented. Some provided examples of particular bodies on which they felt island communities should be represented ( e.g. local authorities; committees; Ministerial Advisory Groups; and NDPBs). One suggested that the Local Government Boundary Commission for Scotland ( LGBCS) should address the need for some islands to have an elected member (discussed further in Section 5).
3.62. Several respondents suggested alternative structures or powers which could represent island communities' interests. Examples included a "Three Islands Parliament"; the realignment of boundaries or amalgamation of particular authorities; and, variously, for islands to have the same arrangements or powers as:
- The Isle of Man.
- Aland in Finland.
- Those available to Orkney and Shetland.
- Those available to British Overseas Territories and Crown Dependencies.
- The Faroe Islands (specifically in terms of not being in the EU, while retaining the benefits of being in the UK for defence and international relations).
3.63. One respondent suggested that the Scottish Government should set up island-based departments, including transport, crofting, enterprise and tourism.
3.64. A small number of respondents suggested that individual islands should be given autonomy from the relevant local authority. A few suggested that some island communities needed "protection" from their local authority ( e.g. due to a lack of consideration of individual island communities in drawing up improvement plans and policies).
3.65. A few respondents made other suggestions for consideration including that:
- All inhabited islands with a population of more than 3,000 should have a "formal governing body", at least a constituted Community Council.
- Individual communities should be given the power to "flag-up" issues requiring to be proofed for that island by the local authority.
- In the event of constitutional change, people of that area should be given an opportunity to seek the power of self-determination.
- There should be improved partnerships and communications between Community Councils, local authorities and national government.
- Any extension of powers would require increased accountability, transparency and good governance.
Question 7: Additions to the existing Zetland and Orkney County Council Acts 1974
3.66. Question 7 asked:
"Do you feel there is a requirement to make any additions to the existing Zetland and Orkney County Council Acts of 1974 Yes/No? If 'Yes' please state what additions should be made and give the reasons for your answer."
3.67. Almost three quarters of respondents (73%) addressed this question. Among them, views were evenly split about whether any additions to the existing Zetland and Orkney County Council Acts were required. Over a third (38%) answered "yes" and the same proportion (38%) answered "no". The remainder (24%) were unsure, or did not answer "yes" or "no" but made comments at this question.
Chart 4: Is there a need for any additions to the Zetland and Orkney County Council Acts of 1974?
3.68. Almost two thirds of respondents made further comments, and these focused on the reasons for additions to the Acts, or the nature of the additions seen to be required.
Reasons for additions to the Acts
3.69. Several respondents made comments on why they believed additions to the Acts were required. Among these, some made general comments in support of this, while others referred to a need for the powers to be "modernised", or updated".
3.70. A small number suggested that there was a need for the powers available to Shetland Islands Council to be mirrored for Orkney Islands Council (with most suggesting that no changes were required for the former). A few stated that the only amendment required to the Orkney County Council Act 1974 was an extension of territorial jurisdiction similar to that in the Zetland County Council Act 1974. It was suggested that this would allow the council to respond to opportunities relating to energy and enable a greater local control of inshore fisheries.
The nature of additions
3.71. The most common additions identified related to aspects of the environment, including the sea bed, coastal waters, harbours and the Crown Estate. Among the specific suggestions made were a need for additions to enable:
- Control of planning and licensing relating to all developments in these areas.
- Control of energy production.
- Control of relevant revenues, including these currently managed by the Crown Estate and those from oil and renewables.
- Powers to protect sea areas from harm.
- Additional powers over harbours in relation to requiring the input of fishing operators, or for harbour authorities.
- More control over inshore fisheries.
- National Park status for Shetland and surrounding waters.
- Support for new models of development, and models of best practice.
3.72. One respondent stated that communities should be allowed to take a share in offshore renewables. Another suggested allowing communities to be exporters of renewable energy, with support being provided for the network infrastructure.
3.73. A small number of suggestions were made about additions relating to other policy areas. A few respondents, for example, suggested that there should be an extension of the powers granted under Section 69 of the Orkney County Council Act 1974, to help achieve sustainable economic growth, and to allow needs to be met with bespoke solutions.
3.74. One respondent suggested that local authorities should be given full control over local taxation, with changes in local government procurement to allow more to be sourced locally. Two suggested more autonomy, or full control of planning for the local authorities.
3.75. A small number of respondents suggested that the additional powers should be granted to individual islands, rather than to local authorities. One argued that, rather than additions to the current Zetland Act, a new approach was required which would develop autonomy for the area.
Question 8: Extension of powers to the Western Isles and other relevant councils
3.76. Question 8 asked:
"Should any of the powers currently set out in the Zetland and Orkney County Council Acts of 1974 be extended to the Western Isles and other relevant Councils Yes/No? If 'Yes' please explain which powers and give the reasons for your answer."
3.77. Almost all respondents (88%) addressed question 8. Over three quarters (77%) answered "yes" to indicate that the powers currently set out in the Zetland and Orkney County Council Acts should be extended, as described. Among the remainder, 11% answered "no", and 11% did not tick "yes" or "no", but made comments at this question.
Chart 5: Should any powers in the Zetland and Orkney County Council Acts of 1974 be extended to the Western Isles and other relevant councils?
3.78. Most (84%) of respondents provided additional information, and the comments focused on reasons for the extension of the powers and the nature of the powers for extension. Some respondents also made suggestions about the means of taking forward the extension of powers.
Reasons for the extension of the powers
3.79. Many of those who supported the extension of powers to the Western Isles and other relevant councils suggested that this should be done in order to have parity with Shetland and Orkney, or to be fair. A number suggested that the current arrangements were unfair or expressed a need for equal treatment or a level playing field. Some stated that the existing powers had brought benefits to Shetland and Orkney.
3.80. Several respondents stated that the Western Isles, Shetland and Orkney shared similar populations, issues or characteristics (including relative isolation, transportation issues, renewable energy, oil development, the loss of population and connectivity). It was suggested that, as such, the powers should be extended to the Western Isles.
The nature of the powers for extension
3.81. The powers identified most commonly for extension related to coastal waters and the seabed, with many comments on the need for these communities to have control of such developments, and to benefit from these.
3.82. Some respondents specifically mentioned control over developments such as oil exploration, or off-shore wind farms. A small number, reiterating points made previously, referred to the need to transfer the powers of the Crown Estate, as well as those available to Orkney and Shetland.
3.83. Several respondents also identified specific issues relating to energy, particularly the need to benefit from developments. A number of respondents mentioned renewable energy specifically, as well as oil. One suggested that an extension of powers could help these areas win decommissioning work.
3.84. Several respondents suggested that Parts I, II, IV and V of the Zetland County Council Act 1974 were particularly relevant to the Western Isles, and should be extended to that area. Another suggested an extension of the geographic application of works licensing powers contained in the Orkney County Council Act 1974.
3.85. A small number of respondents suggested the extension of powers relating to other issues. Those mentioned included:
- Planning and licensing.
- Development control.
- Compulsory purchase.
- Works licensing.
- Financial powers, including borrowing.
Means of taking forward the extension of powers
3.86. Some comments were also made on the means of taking forward the extension of powers.
3.87. A small number of respondents, for example, as at question 7, suggested that the powers should be vested in individual islands, rather than council areas. One argued that the extension of powers should encompass mainland coastal areas, as well as islands, citing an example of the current differences in the powers available to communities only a short distance apart.
3.88. One respondent suggested that the extension of powers could be achieved in an Islands Bill by normalising powers across all island areas. Another suggested that the extension of powers could be phased in, and could be achieved through secondary legislation on the basis of being able to demonstrate that these powers would enable them to protect the island communities they serve better.