Highlands & Islands

National plan for helping Scotland's islands

Lerwick Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Shetland is among the islands facing the challenge of depopulation

A National Islands Plan setting out the priorities for helping Scotland's islands has been proposed by the Scottish government.

Tackling depopulation, a lack of housing and the need for improvements to transport and health services are among the objectives.

The plan, promising a "framework for action" has been drawn up following consultation with island communities.

It comes about a year after the passing of the Islands (Scotland) Bill.

Debating the plan at Holyrood, Scottish Green MSP John Finnie called for investment being made in improvements to the A9 trunk road to be redirected towards the Northern Isles ferry services.

New Shetland Liberal Democrat MSP Beatrice Wishart called for full and fair funding for ferries to fulfil the basic needs of islanders.

In his responses, Islands Minister Paul Wheelhouse said the A9 was important for seafood sectors and was therefore a key arterial route for the islands, and reiterated his pledge to engage with isles councils on upgrading ferry services.

The plans "practical strategic objectives" also include improvements to economic development and digital connectivity, tackling fuel poverty and providing greater support for education and arts, culture and language.

Depopulation has been described as a "real threat" to the sustainability of many, although not all, of Scotland's island communities, according to the plan.

It said Orkney and Shetland are projected to lose 2.2% of their populations by the year 2041, and the Western Isles 14%.

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Image caption The national plan for Scotland's islands follows the passing of Islands (Scotland) Bill last year

The government has suggested working with young islanders to identify measures to encourage them to stay or return to the islands.

On transport, a long-term plan and investment programme for new ferries and the development of ports has been proposed.

A review of the impacts of Road Equivalent Tariff, a scheme allowing fares to be realigned with the equivalent cost of travelling by road, has also been proposed.

Mr Wheelhouse said the consultation involved visiting 41 islands to meet islanders.

He said: "The plan, and the objectives and commitments within it, are only part of the answer.

"I now look forward to taking the plan forward and translating it into action."

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