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Listening to the Concerns of Islanders: Islands Bond Cancelled

A Scottish Government plan to create a payment – an Islands Bond – to provide up to £50,000 each for up to 100 households for island residents to remain in their community, or to encourage people to move there, has been dropped.

Image credit Noel Donaldson

The intention of the Islands Bond was to address the serious issue of depopulation in island communities.

A Scottish Government consultation was launched and several in- person and online meetings were held with islanders and their representatives. The cancelling of the Islands Bond is a a result of the concerns raised during these consultations. The dropping of the initiative has been welcomed across the political spectrum.

Orkney Constituency MSP Liam McArthur, LibDem, called the Islands Bond an ‘ election gimmick’. He said that “it risked opening up divisions within our island communities.”

He continued:

“The Islands Minister has had the good sense to listen to the overwhelming feedback from islanders and drop the proposals.

“I have repeatedly argued that there are far better ways to build the resilience of our island communities, through investing in transport links, broadband and affordable housing. Indeed, I have previously proposed using some of the Island Bond funding to support the introduction of a third aircraft on Orkney’s internal routes which would benefit a number of different islands.

“Mairi Gougeon deserves credit for ditching the unworkable Island Bond plan and I look forward to working the Minister on more realistic proposals that can deliver the objectives of supporting and sustaining our island communities.”

Emma Roddick, the SNP MSP for the Highlands and Islands said that cancelling the Islands Bond demonstrated that the Scottish Government was listening to the concerns of islanders. She said:

“If nothing else, the change of plans on the Islands Bond shows that the Scottish Government is listening to island communities. 

“I encouraged constituents last year to engage with the consultation, and I am glad to see that they have and that this has caused the government to change its mind.  What we must see now is significant investment in the things that will make the most difference to depopulation instead: accessible, affordable housing, reliable transport, and improved digital connectivity.”

Image credit: Mark Woodsford-Dean

Kirkwall East Councillor, John Ross Scott, Scottish Greens commented:

“You cannot stem depopulation by throwing money at it in the form of what amounted to lucrative bribes to individuals. This initiative was purely an ill thought out gimmick to grab votes.

“The heart of reducing depopulation lies with communities not individuals – money needs to be pumped into island communities to invigorate life there then, hopefully, folk will be attracted there for genuine reasons.

“The dropping of this scheme comes as no surprise to me, island communities need to have full say in how to tackle depopulation and not have someone in an ivory tower in the Central Belt telling them how it should be done”

Now that the Islands Bond has been dropped what can be done to address the challenges faced by Orkney and other island communities in Scotland?

Examining the evidence from the consultation and the related engagements around it, the Scottish Government has said that there is now a far better understanding of the issues faced across Scotland’s diverse island communities. The Islands Act established from the work built by ‘Our Islands Our Future’ will play an essential role in future planning.

The Convention of the Highlands and Islands (CoHI) will also be key in exploring actions to tackle depopulation in the region.

During the Islands Bond consultation process, islanders said that they welcomed the focus on depopulation but ” that the Bond as originally intended in the 2021/22 Programme for Government is not what communities need.”

Over the next 12 months an Action Plan will be formed by working with islanders, their representatives and building on the evidence gathered during the consultation process.

Rural Affairs and Islands Secretary, in the Scottish Government, Mairi Gougeon said:

“I would like to thank everyone who responded as part of the consultation process, and especially our island communities for their constructive feedback and suggestions. It is directly because of the feedback from islanders that we are changing our approach.

“The Islands Bond was never intended to be a silver bullet to address our island population challenges. Rather, it was just one element of our wider work, across all Scottish Government, to support our island communities.

“We will continue to address the issue of depopulation on our islands with our National Islands Plan commitment to develop an Action Plan to address this issue, with a draft publication in 2023.

“The learnings and suggestions gathered through the Islands Bond consultation will be used to shape a range of Practical Policy Tests to inform this Action Plan.

“Additionally, we are investing £8.3 million this year to deliver the National Islands Plan and critical infrastructure projects based on local priorities.

“Consultation with communities who are directly impacted by the introduction of new policies or strategies is a crucial part of policy development. Taking the decision demonstrates our continued commitment to listen to island communities and ensure policy is delivered in collaboration with them, rather than to them.”

Lack of affordable housing in Orkney, and in many island communities, has resulted in young people, families and people wishing to come into the islands where they have secured employment, being unable to find homes to live in. The growth in holiday accommodation, including AirBnBs, and multiple home ownership has resulted in a housing market that no longer serves the needs of its communities. Until the issue of housing is addressed our islands will continue to lose its young working age people.

Alfred Street Stromness

Fiona Grahame