Enhancing Islands Wellbeing
Supporting Economic Development
The Scottish Government is committed to delivering sustainable economic growth right across Scotland, particularly in our island communities. Highlands and Islands Enterprise ( HIE) as the Scottish Government's lead agency for economic development in the Highland's and Islands takes a lead role in seeking to create regional growth and development to identify investment opportunities that will be a catalyst for change and to ensure that the Highlands and Islands derives maximum benefit from existing and emerging opportunities. Working with partners, stakeholders, businesses and communities, HIE has improved the region's competitiveness and tackled the inequalities associated with sparsity, peripherality and the historically narrow economic base.
HIE's vision is for the Highlands and Islands to be a highly successful and competitive region in which increasing numbers of people choose to live, work, study and invest. In realising this vision HIE pursue a number of long term ambitions and by 2020 aims to see a Highlands and Islands that is:
- a world class digital region;
- an international centre for marine renewables;
- home to more growth businesses operating in international markets;
- recognised internationally for digital healthcare and marine science expertise;
- characterised by dynamic, sustainable communities;
- a globally-connected region; and
- an attractive region for young people.
These ambitions have a distinct resonance in island areas where opportunities related to marine renewables and digital developments are particularly significant. Through capitalising on the provision of new infrastructure and working directly with businesses to improve their competitiveness - through an increased focus on international markets and innovative business practices - HIE seek to help create more high-paying job opportunities to attract and retain economically active people across the islands. HIE's area policy ensures that those based in remote, rural and island communities have access to its wide ranging business support services. HIE is working to ensure that digital solutions are used to full advantage and travel subsidies are now in place for participation in a leadership development programme. Intervention rates reflect the challenges of bringing forward developments and are therefore higher in fragile areas.
In addition, major region-wide projects are having a considerable impact in the islands such as the roll-out of Next Generation Access Broadband through investments led by BT and the delivery of Community Broadband Scotland (on behalf of the Scottish Government). Other significant investments in recent months include investment to extend the BASF Pharma factory at Breasclete; investment in the Lews Castle development, led by Comhairle nan Eilean Siar; support for the growing Harris Tweed sector; assisting the new Isle of Harris distillery; and investment in a shellfish hatchery research project in Shetland.
In Orkney, HIE is building on its long-term investment in European Marine Energy Centre ( EMEC) and has recently provided support for the indigenous tidal developer Scotrenewables Tidal Power Ltd. Working with Orkney Islands Council, HIE is seeking to progress development of a research campus initiative which will support the growing marine renewables sector.
On energy policy, HIE continues to work closely with Island Councils and Scottish Government to support the case for island grid connections and influencing revenue incentives that will benefit our island communities.
HIE is working intensively with around 50 communities in its most fragile rural areas. Building on its long history of support in remote areas HIE is investing to encourage account managed communities which want to develop and implement plans for local growth. Working in partnership with local councils and other public agencies, the community account management initiative has identified and engaged with communities that are keen to lead their own development. HIE are currently working with the North Mavine, Fetlar, Unst and Fair Isle communities in Shetland; Sanday, Hoy, Papay and Birsay communities in Orkney; and Barra/Vatersay, West Harris, Lochs, Galson, South East Harris and North Uist communities in the Outer Hebrides. Major infrastructure investment in the islands includes the £10 million Lochboisdale harbour project in South Uist which opened officially in September 2015.
Finally, an important aspect of HIE's work over the past 20-years has involved providing support to communities to take ownership of land and assets. Significant purchases in the Outer Hebrides in the last two years have resulted in some 47% of the landmass coming under community ownership with over 70% of the population now living on community-owned estates. Major purchases supported by the Scottish Land Fund ( SLF) (delivered by HIE on behalf of BIG Lottery and the Scottish Government) include Carloway Estate Trust and Pairc Trust. A further three Outer Hebrides projects are in the SLF pipeline, along with two in Shetland and four in Orkney.
Island Innovation & Enterprise Zones
HIE is also working closely with Island Councils to support their future plans to establish local Island Innovation Zones to provide a clear focus on the specific opportunities available in each island area. The Scottish Government has also extended the duration of the Enterprise Areas established at Arnish in the Western Isles as well as Hatston and Lyness in Orkney by three years to 2020.
A key driver for the launch of the Our Islands: Our Future campaign was to empower island communities to take more responsibility for their own growth, development and ultimately their futures. The passing into law of the Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act 2015 was therefore one of the key responses by the Scottish Government to the call from our island communities for more empowerment.
The Act provides a framework which will empower community bodies through the ownership of land and buildings and strengthening their voices in the decisions that matter to them. It is supported by the £19.4 million Empowering Communities Fund which has invested in hundreds of community-based organisations supporting thousands of people across Scotland, many within our island communities.
Another key tool for community engagement supported by the Scottish Government which is having a positive impact on our island communities is Participatory Budgeting ( PB) which sits alongside the objectives of the Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act 2015. Participatory Budgeting is seen as an important resource to build on the wider development of participatory democracy in Scotland.
Since June 2014 the Scottish Government has been raising awareness of Participatory Budgeting and setting the conditions for it to be delivered in a meaningful and sustainable way across Scotland.
During 2015/16, the Scottish Government is part-funding Participatory Budgeting consultancy support for a number of local councils across Scotland, including all those with direct responsibility for island communities. The Scottish Government have also invested over £500,000 in Participatory Budgeting projects across Scotland, including Highland, Shetland and North Ayrshire. Participatory Budgeting is now gathering momentum across Scotland with over 50 events giving people a direct say on budgets expected to take place in 2016, more than double the number organised over the last few years. On 28 February 2016 the Scottish Government announced a new £2 million Community Choices Fund to build on this investment which will massively expand opportunities for councils, communities and public bodies to get people involved in decision making.
Community Ownership/Land Reform
The Scottish Government's Land Reform (Scotland) Bill will fundamentally change the relationship between the people of Scotland and the land on which we all work, live and depend. We want to ensure that land delivers for the people of Scotland which is particularly important for our island communities where so many earn their living from the land. The Bill includes wide ranging measures to address issues of fairness, equality and social justice connected to the ownership of, access to and use of land in Scotland and will seek to build on the foundations laid by the Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act 2015.
The Scottish Government is committed to achieving its target of having 1 million acres of land in community ownership by 2020. To date over 500,000, acres are now in community ownership and further funding support is being made available through the Scottish Land Fund which will increase from £3 million to £10 million this year to help communities to buy local assets.
Regeneration is about building sustainable communities which means they are economically, socially and physically sustainable. The Scottish Government's regeneration strategy gives the framework for local action to tackle area inequality, create opportunities and improve communities. Regeneration is about targeting funding to support change according to the needs of communities. It means ensuring our activity focuses on outcomes and put communities first, involving local residents and empowering communities to take action themselves.
Through the Regeneration Capital Grant Scheme; the People & Communities Fund; and the Strengthening Communities Fund the Scottish Government is supporting numerous regeneration focused projects across our island communities.
The Scottish Government recognises the unique issues associated with provision of housing in rural Scotland, especially in our island communities. We have listened to rural stakeholders and to help address these issues we have introduced a new three year £25 million rural housing fund.
The Rural Housing Fund will increase supply of long term affordable housing in rural areas over the next three years by assisting the building of new homes and refurbishment of existing buildings. It complements existing investment in affordable housing directed through Registered Social Landlords and Local Authorities filling gaps in provision. The homes delivered through the Rural Housing Fund will contribute to the Scottish Government's commitment to build 50,000 new homes across Scotland over the next five years, backed by £3 billon.
The Scottish Government recognises the particular issues facing island communities in heating their homes affordably. This is closely linked to the additional costs for heating in the Islands as detailed in the energy section. As recommended by the Joint Housing Delivery Plan, the short-life Scottish Rural Fuel Poverty Task Force was established in August 2015 to identify the issues facing rural and island areas in providing affordable, warm homes and to propose solutions. The recommendations and potential solutions identified by the Task Force will feed into the development of fuel poverty policy and inform new energy efficiency programmes. The task force is made up of representatives from a range of organisations with an interest in energy efficiency and fuel poverty in Scotland's more remote areas, including representatives from each of the island areas, and is independently chaired by Di Alexander. The Task Force is due to report in the autumn of 2016. The report will inform the design and implementation of the Energy Company Obligation and Warm Homes Discount following their devolution to Scotland.
However, the Scottish Government is already doing what it can to help island communities improve the energy efficiency of their homes. In 2015-16, £48 million of the £65 million available for the Home Energy Efficiency Programmes for Scotland: Area-Based Schemes ( HEEPS: ABS) is allocated on the basis of need which takes into account levels of fuel poverty and reflects the different types of properties within rural areas. Since 2013 the maximum grant available to households in very remote rural areas (including all island communities) has risen by almost 40% to £9000.
In addition, the national fuel poverty scheme HEEPS: Warmer Homes Scotland was formally launched in September 2015. The scheme is being delivered on a regional basis by Warmworks (including a separate Islands region) to ensure that all households, including those living in more remote parts of the country get the same level of service as those in urban areas. Warmer Homes Scotland has a strong focus on fabric measures, such as insulation to improve the energy efficiency of the Scottish housing stock. It also includes microgeneration measures to offer a wider range of heating options to off-gas households. The contract also includes an obligation on Warmworks to engage with community groups, improve skills, create jobs and training opportunities. It was the first Scottish Government contract to require payment of a Scottish Living Wage for both core staff and subcontractors.
Another key commitment from the 2014 prospectus was to create an Islands Transport Forum. The first meeting of the new Forum chaired by the Minister for Transport and Islands took place on 12 January 2016. The Forum will meet twice per annum. The remit of the group was agreed and will cover strategic transport issues affecting the islands. It will ensure a greater involvement of the Islands Councils and those other local authorities with inhabited islands in the design, commissioning and where appropriate properly funded delivery of Transport Services to, from and within the Islands with the purpose of achieving:
- continuous improvement in air and ferry services to, from and within the Islands;
- the most fair and efficient use of air and ferry resources, to the benefit of the Islands and Scottish Government; and
- integrated transport services that are designed and commissioned with a view to ensuring sustainable economic growth and community development within the Islands.
The Scottish Government is fully committed to delivering first class sustainable ferry services to our island and remote rural communities and recognises the importance of all Scotland's ferry services and the significant contribution that they make to the social, cultural and economic wellbeing of our islands.
A clear commitment has been made to our ferry services to support our island communities with an investment of a record £1 billion in port infrastructure, vessels and services in the Clyde and Hebrides and to the Northern Isles since 2007. This has included the complete roll out of the Road Equivalent Tariff ( RET) to all ferry routes in the Clyde and Hebrides network; investment in new vessels including the MV Loch Seaforth at a cost of £41.8 million; two new 100m duel fuel vessels at a cost of £106 million; and three hybrid vessels, the latest of which, the MV Catriona, cost £12.3 million. Alongside this, the Government has also invested heavily in harbour infrastructure in Ullapool, Stornoway, Brodick and Kerrera with improvements worth over £45 million either made or underway. Ferry services to the Northern Isles are supported by a £223 million, six year contract awarded in 2012. There is also the ongoing procurement of the new Clyde & Hebrides ferry services contract which will be awarded later this year. The contract is for eight years with an estimated cost of some £1 billion.
Transport Scotland is jointly funding Scottish Transport Appraisal Guidance ( STAG) style studies for both Orkney and Shetland Islands to consider future internal transportation and infrastructure requirements. Transport Scotland is also leading a study to inform the specification for the next external Northern Isles Ferry Services contract.
The Scottish Government is committed to the principle of fair funding in the provision of ferries. This is particularly true in relation to the revenue and ferry replacement costs of both Orkney's and Shetland's internal ferry services. The Scottish Government is fully engaging with both Councils on this issue and will be considering their proposals in detail in order to achieve that fair funding position.
The Scottish Government remains committed to supporting air services to the Highlands and Islands through funding of Highlands and Islands Airports Limited ( HIAL), the Air Discount Scheme ( ADS) and our Public Service Obligation ( PSO) routes.
ADS has been extended to 2019 and in recognition of concerns around affordability of air travel in the Highlands and Islands, the ADS discount has been increased from 40% to 50%, the maximum allowable.
Two new aircraft for use on the PSO air services from Glasgow to Campbeltown, Tiree and Barra have been purchased at a cost of £10 million. This has enhanced the services for the new contract period from 2015 to 2019 by providing additional services on all three routes.
Islands face particular challenges in relation to the longer-term provision of air services. Scottish Government has recognised these challenges and, following discussion at the Island Areas Ministerial Working Group, it was agreed that the Island Councils would produce a scoping study to look at these vital services in their totality. The report is due soon.
In the 2014 prospectus the Scottish Government committed to supporting a stronger partnership between key partners to make the most of the opportunities to promote tourism to Scotland's islands. Recognising the strong brand identity of Scotland's islands, VisitScotland delivered inspirational campaigns to encourage more people to visit Scotland's islands in 2014 and 2015.
A key campaign was Brilliant Island Moments which, working with Calmac and Northlink Ferries saw some 8,000 free ferry tickets made available to the public through competitions. This campaign underscores the close working relationship VisitScotland has with ferry operators, local councils and Destination Management Groups. VisitScotland also has a memorandum of agreement with Orkney Islands Council which sees the council purchase marketing services from VisitScotland each year. VisitScotland then delivers bespoke campaigns highlighting Orkney in agreement with the council and local businesses.
VisitScotland also works closely with the Shetland Amenity Trust and Promote Shetland, featuring Shetland imagery in the successful UK and International Brilliant Moment Campaigns. It has developed a strong relationship with proactive Outer Hebrides Tourism, presenting at their conference in 2015 and working with them to support the creation and delivery of their brand.
Throughout 2015 the Chief Executive of VisitScotland met with local groups, businesses and community groups from the Islands (Shetland, Orkney, Outer Hebrides, Arran and the Inner Hebrides) to discuss future ways of working and priorities for the coming year.
As part of VisitScotland's strategy to widen its footprint of information points they have been engaging with businesses, social enterprises and local community groups across our islands to seek their input to information provision. In the Outer Hebrides, as an initial step, groups and businesses are being encouraged to become part of the VisitScotland Information Partner Programme ( VIP). The VIP programme has been developed to recognise and support the great effort that businesses across all sectors undertake to bring Scotland to life and help visitors make informed choices to ensure they get the most from their visit. It recognises that that very local knowledge is what visitors are looking for.
The Scottish Government will also work with the Island Councils to take advantage of the opportunities provided by the cruise industry.
Culture and Creative Industries
The Scottish Government is committed to working with our Island Councils, Creative Scotland and other partners to support the distinctive, diverse cultures of island communities and assist their development and growth.
Our island communities have proud traditions with rich and vibrant cultures. It is however recognised that cultural organisations and individual artists working in remote, rural and island locations do face distinct challenges perhaps not faced by those in urban areas. Through Creative Scotland, the Scottish Government is committed to trying to ensure that communities across Scotland can access high quality arts and have opportunities to participate in creative activity.
The Scottish Government recognises that our islands' culture and heritage is of unique and exceptional value to Scotland, and arguably the world, in terms of its creative quality and the contribution it makes to sustaining island communities socially and economically. The Scottish Government is committed to exploring the opportunities presented by Norse culture and will engage with the Island Councils in this regard.
Creative Scotland funds five organisations on a regular basis in the Orkney Islands, Shetland Islands and Outer Hebrides in addition to awarding a wide range of project grants to companies and individuals across Scotland's island communities. This includes the Shetland Arts Development Agency, the Pier Arts Centre (Stromness) and St Magnus International Festival (Kirkwall), An Lanntair (Stornoway) and Taigh Chearsabhagh (Lochmaddy).
Creative Scotland also fund projects across a wide range of artforms delivered by individual artists and organisations. It's project funding covers a wide range of activities, including festivals, which play a very important part in island life as well as attracting tourists who contribute to local economies. Infrastructure development has played an important part and Creative Scotland have contributed significant capital funding to a number of building projects including the Pier Arts Centre and the Pickaquoy Centre in Orkney, Mareel in Shetland, and An Lanntair and Taigh Chearsabhagh in the Outer Hebrides.
The Scottish Government is a strong supporter of all Scotland's indigenous languages and wants to see all bodies working together to support and promote their use. We recognise the cultural, economic and social benefits that they bring to the whole of Scotland. To ensure that our languages remain supported at a national level the Scottish Government has ensured that our budgets have been protected with £28.75 million in 2015/16.
The Scottish Government also recognises the important role that MGAlba has in supporting the Gaelic language and Scottish based production companies. Through the commissioning of programmes it continues to have strong reach and the Gaelic channel BBC Alba attracts an average of around 700k viewers per week. With this cultural and economic value embedded the channel has baseline funding of £11.8 million.
Digital - Broadband/Mobile
Ensuring that everyone in Scotland can access high quality digital connectivity is a priority for the Scottish Government. The Scottish Government recognises the economic and social importance of broadband access to remote and rural communities across Scotland. Telecoms regulation is currently reserved and we continue to lobby to explore how a universal service obligation ( USO) for broadband could be implemented. This underpins our economic strategy - helping our businesses reach new markets while ensuring that people can work flexibly wherever they are in Scotland.
Launched in 2013, our Digital Scotland Superfast Broadband ( DSSB) programme led by Highlands and Islands Enterprise ( HIE) in the Highlands and Islands region is bringing fibre broadband into those areas where the market would not invest. Under the contract significant progress has now been made with new subsea cabling now providing high-speed, high capacity backhaul to Orkney, Shetland and the Western Isles. Furthermore, the benefits of the first phase of the roll-out that will see a minimum coverage of 70% in each of the Island Councils are now starting to be realised. Delivery of fibre broadband across all three Island Councils will progress during the course of 2016 and working with the councils the Scottish Government will seek to take forward the next phase without delay. £42 million funding has been made available so far for a second phase of our broadband programme. This funding will target those local authorities with the lowest overall coverage to bring them up to at least 90% coverage and consequently directly benefit the Island Councils. The Scottish Government intends to announce our procurement plans later this year.
In parallel, Community Broadband Scotland ( CBS) continues to make good progress. The pioneering of an aggregated approach to procurement, first trialled in the Gigaplus Argyll Project, allows CBS to attract greater market interest yielding better value for money and wider community benefits. We are pleased that there is positive engagement between CBS and many island communities to support the development of projects, such as those currently in train on Orkney, North Skye and the North Isles of Shetland. CBS continues to work with the Scottish Wide Area Network ( SWAN) programme to identify opportunities to use its infrastructure to benefit community projects.
Mobile connectivity holds enormous importance economically, socially and in terms of emergency cover and we are committed to ensuring no part of Scotland is left behind. Commercial 4G rollout will see 95% of Scottish premises with indoor coverage by the end of 2017. The Scottish Government successfully lobbied Ofcom to ensure the coverage obligations associated with 4G spectrum licenses contain a specific target for Scotland and not merely a UK-wide one. This will help avoid the failure of 3G rollout which left many parts of Scotland, including many island communities, without coverage.
Working with HIE, Scottish Futures Trust and the mobile industry we are developing a collaborative approach designed to maximise the coverage of 4G in Scotland. We are committed to removing barriers to investment in mobile. On 1 April 2016 we will launch a scheme offering non-domestic rates relief on new masts in non-commercial areas. Initially being piloted in Arran and Cairngorm, if successful, we will extend the scheme throughout Scotland. Furthermore, we are also examining how further planning reform and the use of public sector assets could remove any unnecessary barriers to commercial rollout. We are also working closely with the Home Office to exploit opportunities to future-proof some of the masts built as part of the Emergency Services Mobile Communication Programme ( ESMCP) to ensure wider benefits accrue to remote and rural areas. These activities will form part of a joint government and industry action plan on mobile which we are developing and on which we will consult with wider stakeholders, including the Island Councils.
Scotland's Schools for the Future Programme
A key commitment of this Government is investment in our Education system. Scotland's Schools for the Future Programme is seeing a £1.8 billion investment in schools infrastructure which includes support for a number of key school building projects across our Islands including Shetland, Orkney and the Western Isles.
Islands Education Partnership
Alongside this the Scottish Government in partnership with Education Scotland and the three Island Councils is working collaboratively to develop a partnership agreement to address the key challenges faced in delivering an education service within rural, remote island communities. This includes the development of common work plans for early intervention; early years collaborative; developing the young workforce; and providing equality of opportunity and choice for pupils through enhanced e-learning.
The Government is also working closely with Comhairle nan Eilean Siar in the development of its e-learning plans which will enable all senior phase students to have access to the full curriculum irrespective of which school they attend. Once operational, the hope is this system can be shared between all three Island Councils. Other initiatives include the development of a joint approach to using performance data more effectively to target intervention and measure and evaluate improvement; and for the three Councils and the Scottish Government to work more closely to 'island-proof' future strategies.
The Scottish Government is committed to continuing to develop skills training capacity on the islands to service local industries. The Highlands and Islands Skills Investment Plan ( SIP), endorsed by Convention of the Highlands and Islands in October 2014 includes an action plan to further align skills provision with the local labour market needs. Although published the SIP remains a 'live' document with the public sector agencies continuing to work with local businesses and partners to support their local training and labour market needs.
Skills Development Scotland ( SDS) has formalised the support and governance of the Highlands and Islands Skills Investment Plan, with the establishment of a Programme Management Board, chaired by Norman MacDonald, Convener of Comhairle nan Eilean Siar. The Programme Board is committed to having all Local Authority Skills Action Plans aligned to the H&I SIP and in place by October 2016. SDS is providing financial support and expertise to assist those working to finalise their plans. The Programme Board has committed to regular meets that will be held across the Highlands and Islands allowing members to access and explore innovation and good practice in projects and initiatives that support skills development, promote career awareness and course development relevant to the needs of the local economy.
Additionally, the Scottish Government aims to support the establishment of up to 21 industry-led Developing the Young Workforce ( DYW) Regional Groups across Scotland by the end of June 2016. The groups aim to: encourage and support employers to engage directly with schools and colleges; and challenge and support employers to recruit more young people into their workforce.
European Structural Funding is a key driver for change in our island communities. The Scottish Government is currently implementing the 2014-2020 European Structural Funds Programmes. The funds are focused on EU priorities in areas such as employment, innovation, education, poverty reduction, climate/energy. They align with Scottish Government priorities to reduce poverty and social exclusion, boost educational attainment and skills development, grow employment levels, economic activity and innovation, and climate change/renewable energy, all key issues affecting our island areas.
Activity is delivered through strategic interventions ( SI) and to date Scottish Ministers have approved SIs for Orkney (Employability Pipeline funding to end of 2018 - £533, 500); Shetland (Employability Pipeline funding to end of 2018 - £500,021 and Poverty and Social Inclusion funding to end of 2018 - £120,000); and Western Isles (Employability Pipeline funding to end of 2018 - £770,000). The Scottish Government is also working with Orkney and Western Isles on their respective Poverty and Social Inclusion proposals.
The Scottish Government is implementing the Procurement Reform (Scotland) Act 2014 and the three 2014 European procurement directives. Collectively, these will provide the statutory foundations for the Scottish Model of Procurement standardising and streamlining procedures for both businesses and public bodies. This will place sustainable and socially responsible purchasing at the heart of the process. Alongside this, the Scottish Government has committed to continuing to work with the Island Councils to assist with the implementation of the Act and where possible enhance local business opportunities.
The Scottish Government remains committed to working with the Island Councils and our island communities to explore key planning issues. The independent panel which was recently appointed by Ministers to undertake the ongoing review of planning agreed to look at island-proofing their recommendations. As part of this, the three island Councils provided a joint response to the call for written evidence and an Island Head of Planning was one of a limited number of stakeholders who was invited to give oral evidence to the panel session. The panel has been asked to keep in view whether further 'island-proofing' can be undertaken as the recommendations from the work begin to emerge.
Postal Delivery Services and Royal Mail
The Scottish Government recognises the concerns about high costs of parcel delivery in remote and rural areas and is committed to ensuring that the parcels delivery market across Scotland works in the interests of consumers and businesses. Finding sustainable solutions to these problems not only benefits consumers, but also promotes further business growth.
The Minister for Business, Energy and Tourism launched the Statement of Principles for parcel deliveries in November 2013, which the Scottish Government helped to develop working with a range of stakeholders from retail, consumer and courier sectors. It sets out best practice principles for retailers to provide delivery services that meet the needs of their customers. The Scottish Government was pleased that the UK Government announced in July 2014 that the Statement of Principles has been adopted across the UK.
Although voluntary, the Scottish Government believe the principles help to support businesses and can lead to improvements in the number of customers abandoning purchases that they would otherwise have made. However, while the Scottish Government have worked on a voluntary approach, the regulation of prices for parcels is reserved to Westminster. The UK Government must do more to increase buy-in to the principles as many internet retailers are based outside Scotland.
The Scottish Government is also supportive of the work of Citizens Advice Scotland ( CAS) which has statutory responsibility for consumer advocacy in relation to postal services. Its latest research report, The Postcode Penalty: The Distance Travelled, was published in September 2015 and examined the extent to which retailers' practice has improved since CAS's previous survey in 2012. While some improvements were noted it still found that customers were facing disproportionate restrictions when it came to the delivery of their purchases. The Scottish Government is studying the recommendations carefully and have already had discussions with CAS and other stakeholders to explore a range of sustainable solutions for rural communities.