Consultation on Provisions for a Future Islands Bill: Analysis of Responses
This short summary report presents the key findings of an independent analysis of responses to the Scottish Government's consultation on provisions for a future Islands Bill undertaken by Reid-Howie Associates Ltd. The consultation ran from 30 September 2015 until 23 December 2015.
Background to the consultation
Since 2013, there has been an increased focus on the place of island areas in Scotland and the roles of national and local government in addressing their issues. There has been growing recognition of both the strengths of Scotland's island areas and the challenges they face.
Three island local authorities (Shetland Islands Council, Orkney Islands Council and Comhairle nan Eilean Siar) launched a campaign in 2013 entitled 'Our Islands - Our Future (Ar n-Eileanan -Ri teachd)' to highlight such issues.
The 'Lerwick Declaration' was made in response to the campaign. In July 2013, the then First Minister, on behalf of the Scottish Government, announced the establishment of a Ministerial Working Group (the Island Areas Ministerial Working Group) to look at further empowerment for island communities. The declaration stated the Scottish Government's commitment to the principle of subsidiarity and local decision-making.
The Working Group (involving the island authorities and the Scottish Government) was instrumental in developing a series of proposals, some of which formed the basis of the consultation. In June 2014, the Scottish Government published the Empowering Scotland's Island Communities prospectus ‹ Island Areas Ministerial Working Group (2014) Empowering Scotland's Island Communities. Edinburgh: Scottish Government›. This set out a package of measures to empower Scotland's islands, which was predicated on the transfer of all powers to the Scottish Parliament in the event of a Yes vote in the 2014 Independence Referendum.
The prospectus committed the Scottish Government to: providing island communities with greater control over economic, fiscal and environmental issues; ensuring that island communities were represented in government; and that relevant measures implemented at a national and local level were properly 'proofed'. At the centre of the proposals was a commitment to produce an Islands Bill.
In February 2015 the Ministerial Working Group was reconvened to implement as many of the prospectus commitments as possible, within the existing powers of the Scottish Parliament and any future powers that would come through the Smith Commission recommendations and future Scotland Bill. As part of this work, it was considered important to seek wider views on the provisions which may be included in a future Islands Bill, and this consultation was carried out to gather these views. The findings will help to inform the Scottish Government's consideration of the way forward.
The questions and responses
A consultation document was issued on 30 September 2015, and respondents were asked to give their views on 14 questions, covering the following areas:
- Empowering Island Communities.
- A National Islands Plan.
- Statutory Protection to the Na h-Eileanan an Iar Scottish parliamentary constituency.
- Amending the Local Governance (Scotland) Act 2004
- Any other issues for consideration in a future Islands Bill.
The consultation closed on 23 December 2015, and 192 responses were received. The largest number of responses were from individuals (65%). Responses were also received from Community Councils (10%); third sector organisations (6%); public bodies (5%); representative bodies, trade bodies, or trade unions (5%); and local authorities (4%). Small numbers were also received from: private sector organisations or trusts (3%); politicians or political parties (2%); and other respondents (1%).
A large amount of detailed information was provided and the findings on each of the issues are summarised below. Further details are given in the main report which can be found on the Scottish Government website: www.gov.scot.
Questions 1-4 explored views of island-proofing, as follows:
Question 1: Is the concept of 'island-proofing' something the Scottish Government should consider placing in legislation through the proposed Islands Bill Yes/No? Please explain the reasons for your answer.
Question 2: If you answered 'Yes' to question 1, do you agree that Scottish Ministers should have the power to issue statutory guidance to other relevant public bodies related to island-proofing which they would be required to adhere to in exercising their functions and duties Yes/No
Question 3: If you answered 'Yes' to question 2, please state which public bodies, and what specific decisions you think this statutory guidance should relate to.
Question 4: Are there any other areas that you feel the policy of island-proofing should cover?
Overall views of island-proofing
There was a high level of support for the Scottish Government to consider placing the concept of island-proofing in legislation through the proposed Islands Bill. Almost all (91%) of those who expressed views believed there was a need for this.
There was also a high level of support for Scottish Ministers to have the power to issue statutory guidance to other relevant public bodies related to island-proofing. Almost all (98%) of those who expressed views on this believed this should be the case.
Benefits of island-proofing, and reasons for need
Many respondents mentioned the benefits of island-proofing, and the reasons they felt there was a need for this. A very common theme was that islands faced their own issues and challenges (e.g. isolation; remoteness; environment and climate issues; and population issues), which could impact on all aspects of life, including social and economic issues and service delivery.
Related to this, many respondents stated that a 'one size fits all' approach to legislation, policy and services was inappropriate, and that national solutions, or those designed for central Scotland, did not adequately reflect the circumstances of island living. This, in turn, could lead to negative consequences for island communities.
Many identified other benefits of island-proofing. These included, for example that it could lead to: increased joint working; equality; greater understanding of island issues and better solutions. It was also suggested it could bring: more sustainability; greater accountability of authorities; empowerment of communities; consistency with European provision; more efficient use of resources; and wider benefits to the Scottish and UK economies.
A small number of respondents mentioned drawbacks of island-proofing, which focused on a perceived lack of need for this, disagreement with the overall principle and concerns about potential negative consequences.
Coverage of the statutory guidance
When respondents were asked to identify which public bodies and decisions the statutory guidance should relate to, a very common theme was that all public bodies and / or all of their decisions should be covered by this.
A number of public bodies and decisions in particular policy areas were also highlighted. These policy areas were:
- Community safety.
- Economic development and planning.
- Education, arts and culture.
- Employment and benefits.
- Energy and power.
- Environment and tourism.
- Health and social care.
- Housing and building.
- Waste management.
Within these, many topics for inclusion were mentioned. Many respondents also made suggestions about specific public bodies for inclusion and a full list has been provided in the report.
Other areas for the policy of island-proofing to cover
A number of additional suggestions were made for the policy of island-proofing to cover. For example, many respondents suggested some broad issues that island-proofing should take into account, such as the need to consider all aspects of island life and the impact of specific issues.
Many comments were made about the overall approach that should be taken to island-proofing, such as that it should be embedded in the decision making process, and promote: equality; diversity; flexibility and proportionality; responsiveness and meaningful action; community empowerment; joint working; transparency and accountability.
Some comments were also made on the types of issues that should be covered in the statutory guidance (e.g. the definition and implications of island-proofing; consultation; and the nature of other relevant legislation).
Many respondents commented on other issues for consideration in taking island-proofing forward. For example, some respondents found the term 'island-proofing' to be unclear or inappropriate, and suggested that it should be refined and clarified.
Several respondents stated that the focus of the Islands Bill could be extended to include other remote and rural areas facing some of the same challenges (although a small number expressed the view that this should not be the case).
A further issue raised was the need for a process for monitoring, scrutiny, challenge and review of policy and decisions.
Empowering Island Communities
Questions 5-8 explored views of empowering island communities, as follows:
Question 5: 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?
Question 6: 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.
Question 7: 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.
Question 8: 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.
Overall views of the sufficiency of current powers of island councils
A clear majority (73%) of respondents who expressed their views stated that current powers of island councils, and councils with island responsibilities, were not sufficient to deliver positive outcomes for their local island communities.
Reasons for powers being considered insufficient
Three main reasons were given by respondents for the view that the powers were considered insufficient.
The first related to issues with the nature of current powers and the current approach to these. Respondents identified problems with: remoteness from decision-making; 'top-down' decision-making; the imposition of directives from the centre; and some policy areas having a major impact on island communities being outwith the functions of local authorities.
The second related to the need for equity between areas. Views included a need for: all islands to have similar powers (not only island authorities, but also authorities with island communities); and parity between islands and individual communities within the same local authority area. Several respondents stated that local authorities should be able to devolve decision-making to individual islands.
The third was the potential for the extension of powers to bring positive benefits. Examples included: additional control of key areas (e.g. inshore fisheries; coastal zone; and on and offshore energy). A small number of respondents also identified potential positive impacts on: transport; land ownership; general responsiveness to island needs; and improved service delivery.
Concerns and points for the Scottish Government to consider in the extension of powers
Although a majority believed current powers to be insufficient, a number of issues were raised for the Scottish Government to consider in the extension of powers.
Small numbers of respondents raised concerns relating to:
- Current local authorities or elected members and the nature of local decision-making (e.g. lack of responsiveness; expertise; or vision)
- Local democracy and representation (e.g. representation of individual islands; conflicts of interest; and availability of elected members).
A few raised other concerns about the potential extension of powers, or identified further points for consideration. Issues included: the potential impact on other organisations or key sectors; the potential costs; and the means of implementation. Suggestions were also made about a need for: research; resources; clarity and definition of the proposals; a wider democratic base; and decentralisation of power.
A few respondents identified that there would be a need to link any new powers to developments in community empowerment and land reform. Some suggested that local authorities should be given more freedom in using existing powers, and in setting priorities for the use of funds.
A small number of respondents indicated that, in their view, existing powers were sufficient and there was no need for additional powers.
Additional powers required
Many respondents identified additional powers seen to be required. The most common theme was to suggest additional powers relating to legal and fiscal issues. Points raised included that local authorities should be given:
- The power to make variations to, or derogate from some laws (e.g. road traffic; roads and other infrastructure; building control, and aspects of health and social care).
- More fiscal freedom (e.g. that they should receive and control revenues generated by the Crown Estate, business rates, council tax and taxes on whisky; or should be able to raise taxation).
- The discretion to exercise initiative over any matter not specifically excluded, nor assigned to another authority (under the principles of the European Charter of Local Self-Government) along with continuation of all special powers for the three island authorities.
A further common theme was that there should be additional powers relating to the environment and the Crown Estate. Suggestions included that local authorities should have greater:
- Control of coastal waters, energy production, fisheries and the seabed.
- Control of the powers of the Crown Estate and the revenues generated.
- Control over energy production.
- Powers to regulate and control fisheries and take forward the management of marine designations.
- Involvement in Ministry of Defence ( MOD) land issues.
- Control of assets and resources.
Another area in which additional powers were suggested was transport, with respondents stating that there should be 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.
Comments were also made on additional powers relating to economic development and infrastructure. Among the issues raised were that there should be more local control (e.g. by local authorities or communities) of:
- 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.
Other policy areas in which small numbers of respondents identified a need for powers to ensure greater local control or influence on were:
- Education (e.g. investment in, and resources for education; educational priorities; and some specific aspects of policy).
- Community and public health and social care (e.g. priorities).
- Income generation (e.g. to fund the infrastructure to support the Gaelic language).
- Insulation levels, or the fuel sources used for public buildings and new houses.
Respondents also made suggestions about ways in which any changes to powers should be taken forward. These included, for example, the need for: subsidiarity in the operation of all powers; delegation of more power to local communities; and for island communities to be properly represented. A number of suggestions were also made about alternative administrative structures, or models of local government.
Additions to the Zetland and Orkney County Council Acts of 1974
Respondents' views were evenly split on whether or not additions should be made to the existing Zetland and Orkney County Council Acts of 1974. Comments were made on the reasons for the need for additions, and the nature of such additions.
The reasons suggested for the need for additions included the views that the powers needed to be 'modernised' or 'updated' and that the powers available to Shetland Islands Council should be mirrored for Orkney Islands Council. A few respondents 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.
Comments on the nature of the additions seen to be required related most commonly to aspects of the environment, particularly the need for additions to enable greater control of the seabed, coastal waters, harbours and the Crown Estate. A small number of suggestions were made about additions relating to other policy areas (e.g. economic development; planning; and taxation).
Extension of powers to the Western Isles
Over three quarters (77%) of those who expressed their views of whether the powers currently set out in the Zetland and Orkney County Council Acts of 1974 should be extended to the Western Isles and other relevant councils believed that this should be the case.
Many suggested that this should be done in order to have parity with Shetland and Orkney, or to be fair, and some identified similarities between the Western Isles, Shetland and Orkney.
The nature of powers suggested for extension related to:
- Coastal waters and the seabed.
- Crown Estate powers.
- Other specific issues (e.g. planning and licensing; development control; compulsory purchase; works licensing; and financial powers, including borrowing).
A small number of respondents made comments on the means of taking forward the extension of powers (e.g. where these powers should lie and the areas to be covered).
A National Islands Plan
Questions 9-11 explored views of a National Islands Plan, as follows:
Question 9: Do you think the Scottish Government should introduce a 'National Islands Plan' Yes/No? Please explain the reasons for your answer.
Question 10: Are there any specific areas you feel the plan should cover and report on?
Question 11: 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?
Overall views of a National Islands Plan
There was a high level of support for the Scottish Government to introduce a National Islands Plan. A large majority (85%) of those who expressed their views of this believed that such a Plan should be introduced.
Benefits and reasons for need for a Plan
Many respondents mentioned the benefits of a National Islands Plan, and the reasons they felt there was a need for this. Some expressed general positive views of this, giving examples of other plans they felt had been successful, or stating that such an approach would fit well with other national and local work.
Many respondents stated that a National Islands Plan could address the particular challenges faced by island communities (mentioned earlier), and that it could promote equality and empowerment, and keep a focus on island issues in the future, while responding to changing needs.
Another common view was that a Plan would provide a structure and clarity for action. It was suggested that it would provide a framework for identifying and making clear the goals, objectives, actions and responsibilities, as well as enabling monitoring, review and accountability. Some respondents also felt that a National Islands Plan could help provide consistency, collaboration and continuity of action.
A small number of respondents identified drawbacks, or reasons why there should not, in their view, be a National Islands Plan. The most common theme was that the islands should be empowered to make their own decisions. A few disagreed with the overall principle, or expressed concerns about potential negative consequences of a Plan.
Areas for a Plan to cover and report on
Three main areas were identified for a Plan to cover and report on. One was the overall challenges affecting island areas. The issues mentioned most commonly were population, overall sustainability and service delivery issues (although a number of other challenges were also highlighted).
A further common theme was that a Plan should cover and report on issues relating to specific policy areas. These areas were the same as those identified for coverage by the statutory guidance (noted earlier).
The third common theme related to the general coverage and approach of a Plan, including that it should cover and report on: all relevant areas and / or bodies; all proposals, measures and activities; empowerment and inclusion; and equality.
Overall requirements of a National Islands Plan
Many respondents commented on what they saw as additional requirements for a National Islands Plan. Several respondents suggested that it should recognise the overall context and existing work.
A further common view was that local communities and relevant organisations should be involved in preparing and monitoring a Plan. Related to this, several mentioned the need for mechanisms for accountability, reporting and review.
Other requirements mentioned were that a Plan should be: active; ambitious; clear; flexible; outcome-focused; realistic; and 'rolling'. A few suggestions were made about terminology.
Lifespan of a Plan
The most commonly suggested lifespan for a National Islands Plan was five years, although other suggestions were made (particularly three years, and over five years).
Among the perceived benefits of a five-year period were that it would align with the timescales for parliamentary and political cycles, other local plans and strategies, and that it would also allow time for strategies to be put in place and for monitoring and reporting.
Statutory Protection to the Na h-Eileanan an Iar Scottish parliamentary constituency
Question 12 explored views of giving statutory protection to the Na h-Eileanan an Iar Scottish Parliamentary constituency, as follows:
Question 12: Do you agree that statutory protection should be given to the Na h-Eileanan an Iar Scottish parliamentary constituency Yes/No? Please explain the reasons for your answer.
Overall views of giving statutory protection
There was a large majority (86%) in favour of giving statutory protection to the Na h-Eileanan an Iar Scottish parliamentary constituency among those who expressed views on this issue. Comments were made on the reasons for giving statutory protection, and issues for the Scottish Government to consider.
Reasons for giving statutory protection
The reasons provided for giving statutory protection included a need for fairness and equity, and parity with Orkney and Shetland. A further theme was the distinctive nature of the Western Isles and the need for provision of a 'voice'.
Issues for the Scottish Government to consider
Among the additional suggestions for the Scottish Government to consider, several respondents suggested that protection should only be extended to the parliamentary constituency, not the local authority. Suggestions also included that there should be scope for future flexibility; that the statutory protection should be extended to other islands and remote rural areas; that a few issues should be clarified; and that a small number of other approaches could merit consideration.
Amendment of the Local Governance (Scotland) Act 2004
Question 13 explored views of the amendment of the Local Governance (Scotland) Act 2004, as follows:
Question 13: Should the Scottish Government consider amending the Local Governance (Scotland) Act 2004 to allow the LGBCS the power to make an exception to the usual 3 or 4 member ward rule for use with respect to populated islands Yes/No? Please explain the reasons for your answer.
Overall views of amendment of the Act
There was a high level of support for the Scottish Government to consider amending the Local Governance (Scotland) Act 2004 to allow the Local Government Boundary Commission for Scotland ( LGBCS) the power to make an exception to the usual three or four member ward rule for use with respect to populated islands. A large majority (86%) of those who expressed their views were in favour of this.
Benefits of, and reasons for need for amendment
Many respondents identified perceived benefits of, or reasons for amending the Act. A very common theme was the need for adequate representation of island communities, and the provision of a 'voice' for them, including those with small populations.
Many respondents stressed the importance of having a local member of the community representing island views, and some stated specifically that elected members should be residents of the island and based in the community they serve. This, it was argued, would enable them to focus on and understand local issues and participate fully in community life, addressing practical problems such as travel.
A further very common theme was that having a dedicated elected member in an island community was an important strand of democracy, and could strengthen local democracy and accountability. Several respondents stated specifically that there was a 'democratic deficit' in the representation of individual islands in local government.
A small number of respondents identified drawbacks with the amendment of the Act, focusing on: a lack of need; potential unfairness; cost; impact on governance; and the potential for the same issues to affect other communities.
Suggestions or issues to consider relating to the amendment of the 2004 Act
Respondents made a number of suggestions or additional points about the way forward, focusing on comments about the nature of changes to the Act and the overall principles and approach.
Suggestions were made, for example, that there should be one or two member wards, or about the specific nature of these. A few made comments on the LGBCS review, and whether change would be reflected in the 2017 local government elections. A small number noted that amending the 2004 Act would not, in itself, address representation issues fully.
A few respondents stated that it would be better to allow the council to vary the ratio of councillors to electors on islands.
Several respondents made comments on the principles and approach required, including the need for: community empowerment; locality planning; flexibility and equality. A few stated that there should be a minimum population threshold, and a small number made other individual suggestions.
Other issues for consideration in a future Islands Bill
Respondents were given a further opportunity at the end of the consultation questions to give their additional views, as follows:
Question 14: Please provide details of any additional issues, not addressed in your other responses, that you think should be considered in relation to the introduction of a future Islands Bill and its potential provisions.
Overall types of additional issues raised
Many further comments were made about key issues for consideration in relation to a future Islands Bill. There were three broad themes: the consultation itself; the proposals overall; and areas already discussed at other questions (particularly current challenges facing island communities and the overall approach required).
Several respondents made comments on the consultation itself. Some, for example, provided details of their own, or their organisation's: expertise; area of work; aims; or the nature of their response (e.g. whose views it covered, or how it was generated).
A small number of respondents made comments on the consultation overall, the most common being to welcome the opportunity to respond to this. A few raised issues with the nature or focus of the consultation (e.g. the nature of some questions; the overall focus of the proposals on retention of power at the centre; and the difficulty of participation for some community members).
The proposals overall
Comments on the proposals overall included general positive comments from several respondents (e.g. welcoming the proposals or specific aspects of the proposals).
Several respondents also raised general issues or concerns with the proposals. A few, for example, expressed the view that there should not be a Bill, or expressed overall disagreement with the principles or potential negative consequences of a Bill. A small number raised other general issues (e.g. the coverage of the proposals; the lack of reference to the Smith Commission's recommendations; and limitations to the options available).
Areas already discussed
There were many additional comments on areas already discussed. Recurrent themes were the current challenges facing island communities, and the overall approach that should be taken, including a need for:
- Account to be taken of other commitments and provisions.
- Increased local powers and subsidiarity.
- Recognition of the uniqueness of islands, their diversity and the need for flexible solutions and actions.
- Empowerment and representation of local communities.
- Equality and fairness.
- Monitoring, review and challenge.
- Consideration of extension of the coverage of the Bill.
- Actions in specific policy areas.
All of these findings, along with the detailed material within the full report and the individual responses, will help to inform the Scottish Government's consideration of the way forward.