The Islands Bill and following on from that the National Islands Plan is going to have a significant impact on governance and policy implementation in Orkney. On Monday and Tuesday, 2nd and 3rd of October the Rural, Economic, and Connectivity Committee (RECC) of the Scottish Parliament came to Orkney to hear from a selection of groups, organisations and individuals.
It also convened a committee meeting chaired by Edward Mountain MSP and attended by members of the public in the Orkney Theatre on the Monday evening.
Presenting evidence to the RECC was Paul Maxton, Councillor Steven Heddle and Leader of OIC James Stockan. Representing Shetland Islands Council was SIC Convener Malcolm Bell and Chief Executive Mark Boden.
Rhoda Grant MSP asked if the Islands Bill as published meets the expectations of Orkney and Shetland. James Stockan replied that he was delighted with the Bill but cautioned that he saw this as only a start. That he wanted to see, ‘how far the Bill could go, as it could be ‘transformational’.
Malcolm Bell also welcomed the Bill but he saw the National Islands Plan proposed within the Bill as the key feature.
Councillor Steven Heddle who had been instrumental in working with the 3 Island Authorities to develop ‘Our Islands Our Future’ gave a comprehensive response. He saw the Islands Bill as part of a jigsaw with many pieces, picking out both The Islands Deal and Islands Proofing.
Councillor Heddle saw the Islands Bill as key to Orkney’s aspirations for sustainable development with enabling powers which could deliver community benefit. The concept of community benefit was one both he and James Stockan came back to alongwith the use of revenues from the Crown Estate to come to the local economy.
Following up on the points raised, Rhoda Grant MSP asked if there was enough in the Bill to empower the Island Authorities. Paul Maxton answering stressed the need for a flexibility of approach and that it was not a ‘case of power for powers sake‘ but that it would enable the improvement of fuel poverty schemes. We have our ‘own ideas and solutions.’
Questioned by John Finnie MSP on the European Charter for Local Self Government, James Stockan responded by stating that ‘we want the levers to make our economy work….compared to other islands in the EU we are light years behind.’
Malcolm Bell, Shetland, returned to the National Islands Plan as where empowerment would lie.
Quizzed by Stewart Stevenson MSP, on whether Orkney had local empowerment to areas out with Kirkwall, James Stockan answered that OIC was doing that.
Mark Boden referring to the National Islands Plan said that the plan does not have to be one size fits all. All 3 Island Authorities stressed the diversity of the islands and the need for flexibility. He said that the Bill was a one off but the National Islands Plan ‘can be renewed and adapted‘ and that it would be a public document. He stated that centralisation was not a concept that Shetland Islands Council would recognise. He said that although S.I.C. covered a dispersed population that there was a close relationship between the councillors and the electorate with a unity of purpose.
Islands Proofing was stated by all those giving evidence as a key part of the proposals. They all stressed that the Island Authorities must have a large say in putting together the National Islands Plan. The Plan would need to be clear on outcomes which must be measurable. To allow for diversity the Plan should have chapters for the specific needs of individual islands where necessary.
It was felt by the representatives of Orkney and Shetland that the National Islands Plan could be drawn up in a year as there was 100% commitment to it from all three island authorities. Steven Heddle even saying, ‘we could write it for you.’
‘It’s an attitude of mind’, said Mark Boden and was about ‘dialogue and partnership working’. ‘Speak to the relevant islands at an early stage’, he said.
There was some criticism of the Bill as published as it had no provision for any review. All those giving evidence, however, did not want to see a slowing down of things but that the ‘impact assessment must be proportionate,‘ according to Mark Boden.
The importance of the guidance that will be issued with Islands Proofing was pointed out by Paul Maxton who felt that the Islands Minister Humza Yousaf had given assurances that the Islands Strategic Group will have a major part to play in this.
The Islands Bill also refers to the number and distribution of councillors in the islands and there was a mixed response to this from OIC and SIC. James Stockan was interested in the concept but that OIC would need to ‘considerate it more‘.
Being questioned by John Finnie MSP on the accountability of independent councillors, James Stockan replied that they were accountable at every election.
Peter Chapman MSP raised the issue of Marine Licensing. For Shetland, Mark Boden informed the committee that due to the Zetland County Council Act they have jurisdiction out to the 12 mile limit and it has been a great success. They do not want to see any change to that. The Orkney respondents , however, stressed that OIC is currently limited to Scapa Flow and parts of Kirkwall Bay so they would want to extend that to the 12 mile limit.
Both island authorities stressed that they wanted the management of the Crown Estate and the revenues from it. The ‘revenue must follow the activity‘ said James Stockan. Steven Heddle reminded the committee that the islands had already been promised the revenues from the Crown Estate. It was also hoped that with more powers that there would also follow the relocation of civil service jobs.
Key Facts Arising from the Discussion of the Islands Bill
For James Stockan it would be :
- enabling powers
- the secure status of the island groups
- community benefits
For Malcolm Bell it would be:
- being a statutory consultee to the National Islands Plan
- being consulted on the guidelines
The meeting then closed to enable members of the public to ask questions of the committee.
You can view the Islands Bill here
“A Bill for an Act of the Scottish Parliament to make provision for a national islands plan; to impose duties in relation to island communities on certain public authorities; to make provision about the electoral representation of island communities; and to establish a licensing scheme in respect of marine development adjacent to islands. “
You can read about the Islands Bill here: What is the Islands Bill?
You can read the latest about the Crown Estate in: Crown Estate Under Discussion
Contributing your views to this important Bill can be done online or in writing. Views must be sent in no later than Monday 25 September 2017
How to submit your evidence
You can submit views using a template and send them electronically to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Hard copy responses may be sent to: Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee,
T3.60, Scottish Parliament, Edinburgh EH99 1SP
Ideally, responses should be no more than four sides of A4 in length.
You can also share your views using an online survey.
The Islands Bill Share Your Views
- The Bill creates a duty to publish a national islands plan and lay it before the Scottish Parliament. What are your views on this provision?
- The Bill will require Scottish Ministers and certain Scottish public authorities, to prepare island impact assessments. Do you agree with this provision? How do you think it should work in practice?
- The Bill proposes to protect the Scottish Parliamentary constituency boundary of Na h-Eileanan an Iar (the Western Isles) from change. Do you agree with this?
- The Bill proposes to make an exception to the rules for local government electoral wards to allow areas with inhabited islands to return 1 or 2 members (instead of the usual 3 or 4). What are your views on this proposal?
- The Bill will provide a regulation-making power for the Scottish Ministers to create a marine licensing scheme for coastal waters. Do you agree with this power? Do you have any comments on how it should be used?
- Does the Bill achieve its aims and are you in favour overall? Is there anything else that you feel should be included or excluded from the Bill?
- Do you have any comments on the bill in relation to human rights or equalities?
Reporter: Fiona Grahame