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Islands Funding: Fair or No Fair ?

The Scottish Government’s Islands Bond scheme which was cancelled after most islanders voiced their concerns over it has had its allocated funding redistributed.

Answering a question from Highlands and Islands Labour MSP Rhoda Grant, Deputy First Minister John Swinney informed the Scottish Parliament that the “£300,000 that was allocated to the islands bond in this financial year will now support projects that will deliver on priorities that are identified by our island communities.”

John Swinney went on to state that The National Islands Plan “will see a total of £8.3 million invested in critical infrastructure projects.”.

Emma Roddick who is the SNP MSP for the Highlands and Islands wanted to know how the remainder of the money from the Islands Bond Scheme – £4.45 million – had been allocated.

The money is to be shared out across 31 islands, in six island local authorities and particularly those islands which have populations in the low hundreds.

John Swinney said:

“The projects include the development of digital and community hubs, which will provide or safeguard key economic and social infrastructure to support healthy, thriving islands.

“The largest single award of £1.3 million will support a major new nursery development on mainland Orkney, which will benefit all of Orkney’s islands. The project is directly linked to population retention and growth, but it will also address child poverty and provide practical training opportunities for employment.”

You can read more about that here: £1.5million for Orkney’s New Nursery

Commenting later Emma Roddick said:

“The Scottish Government rightly dropped its proposals for an Islands Bond after consultation with islands communities made it clear that they did not believe it was the correct course of action to help tackle depopulation. The focus on supporting on digital and community hubs on our islands will be a fantastic boost; ensuring that businesses and communities will have the necessary infrastructure they need to thrive.

“The sums allocated to a new nursery on the mainland of Orkney will be especially welcome for families across the Orkney Islands, ensuring that families will be able to remain on the islands and help to tackle childhood poverty.”

Liam McArthur, Orkney Constituency MSP, LibDem, again raised his idea of using the funding to increase inter islands air services. The Scottish Government is considering the suggestion under a range of measures aimed at tackling depopulation.

Liam McArthur also raised the overall funding from the Scottish Government to Orkney Islands Council pointing out that Orkney receives £367 per head less than Shetland and almost £700 less than the Western Isles.

 In his reply the Deputy First Minister whose late grandmother was Orcadian and whom he visited on many occasions, reminded the Scottish Parliament that the funding allocations for Scotland’s Local Authorities is negotiated through COSLA, their representative body.

Speaking after the exchange Liam McArthur said:

“The acute underfunding of Orkney Islands Council has long been a source of concern. It is made worse, however, as Orkney’s population has increased markedly over recent years in comparison to the other island authorities.

“The disparity in funding per head of population simply cannot be excused, even if it can be explained. The cost of this disparity is more severe cuts to public services in Orkney.

“After years of being short-changed, it is clear the budget mechanisms are stacked against Orkney. Scottish Ministers must now look at practical ways to address this inherent unfairness and put all island authorities on a more level playing field.”

WATCH: Mairi Gougeon Announces Islands Funding – Mike Robertson speaks to Mairi Gougeon about the Scottish Government’s funding for Islands.

Fiona Grahame

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