4. A National Islands Plan
4.1. This section presents the findings relating to Questions 9-11, covering a National Islands Plan.
Question 9: The introduction of a National Islands Plan
4.2. Question 9 asked:
"Do you think the Scottish Government should introduce a 'National Islands Plan' Yes/No? Please explain the reasons for your answer."
4.3. Almost all of the respondents (95%) addressed Question 9. Of these, a large majority (85%) answered "yes", expressing the view that the Scottish Government should introduce a "National Islands Plan". Among the remainder, 12% answered "no" and 4% either answered "don't know" or did not express an overall view, but made other comments.
Chart 6: Should the Scottish Government introduce a "National Islands Plan"?
4.4. Respondents were asked to explain the reasons for their answer and most (88%) of those who addressed the question did so.
4.5. A large majority of the comments focused on the benefits of a National Islands Plan, or views of why there was a need for this. Just under one in ten respondents made comments about the potential drawbacks of such a Plan.
4.6. Many respondents made further suggestions about the requirements for such a Plan Further details of all of these comments are given below.
Benefits of, and reasons for a National Islands Plan
4.7. Among the perceived benefits of, and reasons for a National Islands Plan, common themes were:
- General positive views of such a development.
- The potential to address issues facing island communities.
- The provision of a structure and clarity.
General positive views
4.8. Many respondents expressed general positive views about a National Islands Plan. Some, for example, simply stated that they felt this was a good idea, or would be a positive development.
4.9. Several respondents gave examples of other plans ( e.g. the National Ferries Plan and the Gaelic Language Plan) which they considered to have been successful. A few stated that the approach would fit well with other national and local work, including Locality Planning and the Government's economic and social agenda. One individual stated that preventative planning was better than responding to problems at a later stage.
The potential to address issues facing island communities
4.10. Many respondents expressed the view that a National Islands Plan would have the potential to address the particular issues and challenges facing island communities. Some gave examples of these challenges, which were consistent with those issues raised in Section 2, and will not be reiterated here. It was also stated that a Plan would help to promote equality and prevent further inequality, and would promote the empowerment and involvement of island communities.
4.11. It was suggested that a Plan would allow regular and longer term action. Several respondents made the point that a National Islands Plan would increase the profile and recognition of island issues and keep them on the national agenda, enabling a continuing focus on these in the future.
4.12. Several stated that a National Islands Plan would recognise the changing nature of island communities' needs, and allow these to be addressed. A few stated that a Plan would place an obligation on future Scottish Governments and local authorities to take account of the needs of island communities.
The provision of a structure and clarity
4.13. A further very common perceived benefit of a National Islands Plan was the provision of a structure and clarity for action to address the issues facing islands. Several respondents, for example, stated that a Plan would provide a framework for: identifying goals and setting objectives; identifying and taking action; monitoring and review; and enabling accountability.
4.14. One respondent stated that it would cement the provisions of an Islands Act, and a small number stated that it could provide a useful focal point for an Islands Minister.
4.15. Several respondents suggested that a Plan would provide a focus for, and help clarify: planning; aims and expectations; actions; and responsibilities. It was stated that it would provide consistency and transparency, as well as helping to map out island-proofing requirements. A few respondents expressed the view that a Plan would demonstrate a Government commitment to the islands.
4.16. A number of other comments were made about the provision of a structure and clarity, including that a Plan could lead to: a more co-ordinated and collaborative approach; a standard for provision to islands; more proactive work; and continuity for the work of the Island Areas Ministerial Working Group.
4.17. Several respondents stated that a National Islands Plan would offer a means of monitoring progress and enabling accountability. Among the comments made were that a Plan would help to monitor the commitments made by the Scottish Government and others across policy areas ( e.g. following the island-proofing process), the actions taken and the impact of these.
Drawbacks of a National Islands Plan
4.18. Several respondents (almost all of whom answered "no" to question 9) identified drawbacks, or reasons why there should not, in their view, be a National Islands Plan.
4.19. Among these, the most common theme was that the islands should be empowered to make their own decisions ( e.g. about the need for a Plan, the production of any Plan, and any actions). One respondent argued that, if a Plan were produced by the island communities, the Scottish Government should be duty bound to negotiate the detail of the actions within it, and to implement those subsequently agreed.
4.20. A few respondents expressed disagreement with the general principle of having a National Islands Plan.
4.21. Other concerns raised, by small numbers of respondents, related to: the current nature of local representation; potential inaction or "window dressing" with a Plan; the danger of a "one size fits all" Plan; and the possible dilution of powers.
4.22. One respondent expressed the view that a Plan would become unwieldy and bureaucratic, and expressed the view that the Gaelic Language Plan had been wasteful of time and money. Another stated that a Plan would be an expensive and unnecessary exercise.
Overall requirements for a National Islands Plan
4.23. Many respondents (most, but not all of whom were in favour of a National Islands Plan) commented on what they saw as particular requirements for this. Common themes were:
- Recognition of existing work and the overall context.
- Inclusion and involvement of local communities and relevant organisations.
- Accountability, reporting and review.
- The general nature of a Plan.
Recognition of existing work and the overall context
4.24. Several respondents suggested that a National Islands Plan should be similar to other plans (mentioned previously at para 4.9) and should focus on individual islands' needs and key areas.
4.25. Some also stated that it should fit with the existing structure, and with Locality Planning. A few stated that it should be aligned to the development of Community Plans, Single Outcome Agreements, and Local Outcomes Improvement Plans, as well as being consistent with UK and Scottish Government plans and proposals. It was also stated that it should underpin, and be underpinned by, island-proofing.
4.26. A further issue raised was that a Plan should recognise the differences between islands, and the diversity of their circumstances and priorities.
Inclusion and involvement of local communities and relevant organisations
4.27. A further very common requirement for a Plan was that local communities and relevant organisations should be involved in preparing and monitoring this. Comments included the need to avoid a "top-down" approach, and for input at a local level (including, for example: consultation; local formulation of a Plan; and collaboration). A few respondents expressed a specific wish to be involved.
4.28. A small number of comments were made on specific roles. One respondent, for example, suggested that local Community Planning Partnerships ( CPPs) should play a key role in facilitating national and local links. One respondent suggested that it would be useful if community development work was led by one body.
4.29. Two respondents stressed a need to ensure that the nature of consultation was understood, and to avoid tiring people of this ( e.g. by the Scottish Government combining their efforts with development trusts and councils).
4.30. A few respondents mentioned the particular importance of local decision-making, and one stated that they would not support a Plan that reduced subsidiarity or constrained the current powers and responsibilities of local government. Another stated that a Plan should not give Scottish Ministers the power of direction that may conflict with local decision-making.
4.31. A small number of respondents stressed that a Plan should not increase bureaucracy. A few stated that it would need resources, or an identified budget, and one expressed the view that there should be no additional financial burden on councils as a result of a Plan, unless fully funded by the Scottish Government.
Accountability, reporting and review
4.32. Some respondents mentioned the need for mechanisms for accountability, reporting and review. A few expressed specific support for a requirement for Ministers to report annually to the Scottish Parliament on progress with the Plan. A few stated specifically that the Plan should demonstrate and report on community benefit, while a few suggested particular measures ( e.g. the assessment of well-being of individuals or communities; and the use of population as a measure of success).
The general nature of a Plan
4.33. Comments were also made on the general nature of a Plan. Additional perceived requirements for a National Islands Plan (mentioned by small numbers in each case) were that it should be:
- Active and "working".
- Clear and focused.
- Realistic and deliverable.
4.34. A small number of respondents raised concerns about the terminology. A few stated that it should not be called "national", or suggested that it should be named a "Scottish Islands Plan". One respondent suggested the use of the term "Islands Charter". One respondent suggested that there should be greater guidance on the purpose and desired outcome of a Plan.
Question 10: Areas for a Plan to cover and report on
4.35. Question 10 asked:
"Are there any specific areas you feel the plan should cover and report on?"
4.36. Just under three quarters (71%) of respondents addressed Question 10, and most of the comments focused on identifying the areas respondents felt should be covered and reported upon in a National Islands Plan.
4.37. A small number of respondents made reference to their answers to previous questions and did not provide further comment. A few stated that it should be for the island local authorities themselves to determine the specific nature of the content.
4.38. Among those who provided details, three common overall themes emerged. These were the need for the Plan to cover and report upon:
- Overall challenges affecting island areas.
- Issues relating to specific policy areas.
- The general coverage and approach of the Plan.
Overall challenges affecting island areas
4.39. Many respondents stated that a Plan should cover and report on overall challenges facing island areas. Among those identified, the three issues mentioned most commonly were population, overall sustainability and service delivery issues.
4.40. Some respondents, for example, mentioned the overall importance of population issues, or the general need to understand how island communities were monitoring pressures and planning for demographic change. Several mentioned the need to include specific population issues such as: the age balance of the population; depopulation; sparsity; out-migration; and the retention and attraction of population (including young people).
4.41. Several respondents mentioned the need to include sustainability issues, both in specific policy areas (discussed below) and more generally. Comments were made, for example, about: the general need to promote island sustainability; the need for infrastructure to support this; and the need for sustainability of communities, culture, economy and specific services.
4.42. Many comments were made about planning and delivery of services in specific policy areas, and these are discussed below. Some respondents also made comments about a general need for a Plan to cover and report on the service challenges for island areas. Issues raised included: the delivery of key public services; the level of services; access to services; service charges and equality of public and private services; and the need to include third sector and volunteering services.
4.43. Other overall challenges facing island areas identified for inclusion (by a small number of respondents in each case) were:
- Cost and affordability of island living.
- Isolation and remoteness.
- Weather and climate.
- The negative impact or unintended consequences of some previous initiatives (with a few examples provided).
4.44. A small number of respondents stated that the uniqueness and reality of island life should be emphasised within a Plan. One respondent suggested the inclusion of a baseline analysis of "what an island is".
Issues relating to specific policy areas
4.45. A further very common theme was the identification of specific policy areas and issues that a Plan should cover and report upon.
Specific policy areas
4.46. The policy areas identified for a National Islands Plan to cover were the same as those suggested at para 2.39 for coverage in the statutory guidance.
4.47. Among them, those mentioned most frequently for inclusion in a National Islands Plan were: transport; economic development and planning; education, arts and culture; communications; and energy and power. Health and social care, and housing and building were also common suggestions. Also mentioned were the other policy areas of: community safety; employment and benefits; environment and tourism; finance; and waste management.
4.48. Within each of the policy areas, as was the case in relation to the statutory guidance, respondents highlighted particular issues they felt a National Islands Plan should cover and report upon.
Issues identified by policy area
4.49. The most common communications issues mentioned for inclusion in a National Islands Plan were broadband and mobile coverage, as well as general digital infrastructure and connectivity. A few respondents mentioned the need for inclusion of telecommunications generally, and a few postal services.
4.50. Many respondents mentioned economic development and planning issues for a Plan to cover and report on. Those mentioned most frequently were: general opportunities for economic development and growth; and support for businesses and social enterprises. Comments were also made on specific sectors, such as: fishing and fisheries; agriculture; crofting; planning (and marine planning); food, drink and tourism. A small number of respondents stated that there should be recognition in a Plan of wealth generation on the islands and of the added value Scottish islands products can bring.
4.51. Many respondents mentioned education, arts and culture issues for inclusion in a Plan, and the most common was the protection and promotion of island cultures, languages and dialects. Other issues suggested included: educational attainment; and rural education and schools (including funding, roles and quality).
4.52. Several respondents mentioned employment and benefits issues for inclusion in a Plan, such as: general employment and unemployment issues; income levels; opportunities for young people; apprenticeships; volunteering; feeding the local employment pipeline; job creation; and investment in training and employment incentives for island-based companies.
4.53. A further commonly mentioned area for inclusion was energy and power, and the most common issues mentioned for a Plan to cover were: power grid and connectivity; measures to address fuel poverty and energy costs; energy production and export; support for innovative energy solutions; renewables; emerging technologies; and energy ownership and regulation.
4.54. A few respondents mentioned environment and tourism issues for inclusion in a Plan, such as: natural resources and protection of the marine and coastal environment; the local community environment; and the needs of the changing environment. One respondent suggested that the Plan should consider National Park status for Shetland (an issue mentioned previously). A few commented on the general need to include tourism, and to develop and encourage sustainable tourism (related to economic development, as noted above).
4.55. A small number of respondents mentioned financial issues for inclusion in a Plan, and the issue raised most frequently related to Crown Estate monies and their disbursement to island communities. Other financial issues suggested were: development funding (including EU funding); investment ( e.g. in island infrastructure); procurement; island subsidies; and funding for service provision.
4.56. Several respondents mentioned health and social care issues for inclusion. Several focused on the general need to cover these issues, with specific comments on the need for a Plan to cover: rural surgeries; GP and health worker provision (including out of hours); maternity care; mental health care; care for older people; and the ambulance service.
4.57. A further policy area mentioned by several respondents was housing and building issues. Comments were made on the need for a Plan to cover affordable, innovative, cost-effective and appropriate housing (including rented housing), as well as: planning regulations; building standards; housing standards; housing repairs; and housing grants.
4.58. A few respondents highlighted community safety issues, and those mentioned for a Plan to cover and report on were: police; fire and rescue services; and the coastguard.
4.59. Many respondents suggested that a Plan should cover and report upon transport issues. Common issues mentioned included: general transport provision and development (including air, ferry and bus services); transport links, integration and connectivity; and fares (particularly air and ferry fares). Other issues mentioned included: freight and haulage; transport infrastructure; "lifeline" services; and RET.
4.60. Waste management issues were mentioned by a small number of respondents, with a suggested need for a Plan to include water and waste water infrastructure, and zero waste and circular economy strategies.
The general coverage and approach of a Plan
4.61. The third very common theme was the general coverage and approach of the Plan. Within this, the issues raised most frequently were: the overall areas for inclusion (policy and geographical); proposals and measures; empowerment and inclusion; and equality.
Overall areas for inclusion
4.62. Many respondents made comments on the overall areas for inclusion in a Plan. Several stated, for example, that it should address all aspects of community life, or all areas of policy, planning, economic and cultural development. A small number stated that it should be based on the issues which emerged from the "Our Islands, Our Future" campaign.
4.63. Several respondents expressed the view that a Plan should cover all public services or the work of all public bodies. A few stated that it should cover all areas of devolved Government, or the issues and responsibilities held at Scottish level. Some suggested that it should recognise not only issues controlled by the Scottish or UK Government, but also EU issues.
4.64. A small number of comments were also made on the geographical coverage of a Plan. These included the suggestion that it should cover the whole Highlands and Enterprise area, and the suggestion that it should include provision not only for island authorities, but also for islands within local authorities. A few respondents stated that the coverage of a Plan should be extended to other remote and rural communities.
Proposals and measures
4.65. Many respondents stated that a Plan should detail the proposals for island communities, as well as the measures and activities undertaken (by all relevant parties). Comments included, for example, that it should include a vision for Scotland's islands, and that it should develop a set of priorities (national and local). It was also suggested that it should include long term commitments.
4.66. A few respondents expressed the view that it should also identify any additional resources required for its implementation.
4.67. It was also suggested that a Plan should detail how island-proofing had been addressed, in order to help ensure its effective implementation and measure its impact. A few respondents stated that it should establish core indicators to evidence the outcomes, and that these should be tracked.
4.68. Several respondents also stated that a Plan should record all legislation and policy development where island-proofing was not considered necessary, and the reasons for this.
Empowerment and inclusion
4.69. A further area raised frequently for a National Islands Plan to cover and report on was the issue of community empowerment and inclusion. Comments included, for example, the need for it to cover: a greater obligation for consultation by public bodies; community capacity building; community enterprise; community representation on decision-making bodies; community ownership of assets; local decision-making and the principle of subsidiarity.
4.70. The need for a Plan to cover and report upon equality issues was also a common theme. Respondents suggested, for example, that it should focus on reducing and preventing inequality and should ensure that islands are treated fairly and equitably, recognising the specific issues they face.
Other comments on general coverage
4.71. A small number of other comments were made about the general coverage and approach of a Plan. For example, a small number of respondents suggested that it should cover issues such as: managing expectations in the islands; the downsides, as well as benefits of measures; and local accountability.
Question 11: The appropriate life span for a Plan
4.72. Question 11 asked:
"If such a plan was introduced, what in your view would be an appropriate life span for the plan - e.g. 3 years/5 years/other?"
4.73. Just over three quarters (78%) of respondents addressed this question. This question did not provide a "tick-box" option, so it is not possible to give definitive quantitative information for distinct time periods, as some respondents expressed positive views about more than one period, or suggested a maximum and / or minimum period. It is possible, however, to determine the overall pattern of views from the qualitative responses.
4.74. On this basis, the largest number of respondents made positive comments about a lifespan of five years for a Plan. Just over half of the respondents made positive comments about such a period (although sometimes alongside positive comments about other possible periods).
4.75. Around a quarter of respondents made positive comments about a three-year period in some form, and a similar proportion expressed such views about a longer period (over five years). Again, some of these respondents suggested more than one potential period.
4.76. A very small number of respondents suggested a lifespan of under three years. Some general comments were also made about the timescale.
A five-year lifespan for a National Islands Plan
4.77. As noted, many respondents made positive comments about a lifespan of five years for a National Islands Plan, and this was the most common theme. Many respondents stated specifically that they favoured a five-year period, while others suggested a five-year period in some form, while making additional comments.
4.78. For example, many respondents stated that five years should be the minimum period for a Plan. Among them, several suggested a period of 5-10 years, or a ten-year period with a five-year review. A small number suggested a period of 5-7 years, and a few suggested a five-year lifespan with provision to amend the Plan, if required.
4.79. Several respondents suggested that a five-year lifespan should be part of a longer term process ( e.g. two, three or more five-year plans, with reviews), emphasising the need to continue over a lengthier period. A small number suggested that five years should be the maximum period, with these respondents generally suggesting a 3-5 year period.
4.80. Many respondents mentioned perceived benefits of a five-year period, in some form. The most common view was that this would accord with the wider context. For example, some respondents stated that this would be appropriate to coincide with parliamentary and political cycles, or that it would align with key local plans and strategies. One respondent stated that this would be comparable to the timescale for the Gaelic Language Plan. A small number of respondents noted that some EU funding programmes covered a period to 2030, and suggested a need for a number of plans, with reviews.
4.81. A few respondents stated that a five-year period would allow strategies to be put in place, as well as allowing time for the Plan to be effective, and ensuring sufficient time for monitoring and reporting. One respondent expressed the view that a five-year plan, with a longer term strategy, would address short and longer term needs.
4.82. A few expressed the view that a three-year period would be too short. A few stated that the period should be no longer than five years or, for example, the Plan may become dated.
A three-year lifespan for a National Islands Plan
4.83. Around a quarter of respondents made positive comments about a three-year lifespan for the Plan, and several stated specifically that they favoured this period. Others suggested a three-year period in some form, while making additional comments.
4.84. For example, a few respondents stated that this should be the minimum period (with these respondents generally suggesting 3-5 year cycles). One suggested starting with three years, and changing to five when the Plan was better established. As was the case with those who suggested a five-year period, some respondents stressed that this should be part of a longer term process ( e.g. a "rolling" Plan).
4.85. Several respondents mentioned perceived benefits of a three-year period. The most common view was that this would provide a regular opportunity for monitoring the targets, implementation and outcomes of a Plan.
4.86. A few respondents stated that 3-5 years would fit with Community Planning cycles, and one stated that it would take account of changing Government and policies. It was also suggested that this would ensure a continuing focus on island issues, and that it would allow for any changes required. One respondent stated that a three-year Plan would not be onerous.
A lifespan of over five years
4.87. Around a quarter of respondents made positive comments about a lifespan of over five years for the Plan. A few stated that it should be five years plus. Several suggested specifically that it should be 5-10 years, and a common view was that it should be a minimum of five years, or a ten-year period with a five-year review.
4.88. Other suggestions, by small numbers in each case, included: 6-8 years; 5-7 years; 10 years; 15 years; and 20+ years. Again, some respondents suggested a long term process with reviews at different points.
4.89. Among the benefits of a lifespan of over five years, respondents cited a need for longer term thinking and goals. It was suggested that this would provide a sufficient period for development, actions, change and measurement. A few respondents mentioned that a Plan over a shorter period would be vulnerable to political change or interference.
A lifespan of under three years
4.90. A very small number of respondents stated that the Plan should have a lifespan of under three years, suggesting a rolling annual Plan, or a one-year Plan in the first instance, increasing to three thereafter.
Other comments about the lifespan of a Plan
4.91. Many respondents made additional comments relating to the lifespan of a Plan. These included comments on: the general nature of the timescale; factors to consider in determining the lifespan; and the need for review.
The general nature of the timescale
4.92. Several respondents made suggestions about the general nature of the timescale. Among these, several commented (as has been clear above) on the longer term nature of the overall timescale, and / or the importance of a rolling Plan. It was argued, for example that this would allow a long term vision and goals, enable effective implementation and monitoring, align with other longer term programmes and work, and enable the Plan to respond to changing circumstances.
4.93. Other comments on the general nature of the timescale included that this should enable flexibility and amendment of the Plan and ensure continuing action over the period. One respondent suggested that there should be an overall plan for Scotland, broken down for each community.
4.94. Additional suggestions included a long-term plan and more specific short-term plans or goals, and a short period to the first revision, followed by longer periods in future.
Factors to consider in determining the lifespan
4.95. Several respondents mentioned factors they felt should be taken into account in determining the lifespan of a Plan. These included:
- The level at which a Plan was pitched.
- The maximum period for which effective forecasting could be undertaken.
- The issues covered within a Plan
- The lifespan of the Scottish Parliament (with the suggestion that a new Government should be required to present a draft Plan within a given period, subject to consultation before a final Plan).
- The local authority electoral term.
The need for review
4.96. Several respondents stressed the importance of having a process of review for a National Islands Plan, and a common suggestion was that this should take place mid-term of its lifespan. A few respondents suggested an annual review.
4.97. Other comments included that a review process would:
- Help ensure that actions were appropriate.
- Allow a regular check on whether island-proofing was delivering meaningful change, and identify examples.
- Enable a Plan to be updated and respond to emerging issues.
- Allow a longer term process to embed.
4.98. It was also suggested that Islands Councils and members of the community should have an input to the review process.