Support for Islands
Scotland is a maritime nation and our islands make a huge contribution to our culture, heritage and identity. For our part, the Scottish Government is determined to ensure that our islands thrive economically, socially and environmentally.
The last few months have been perhaps some of the most challenging that many of us can remember. The overwhelming majority of people across Scotland have done what has been asked of them and have stayed at home wherever possible, to help combat the spread of COVID-19.
Whilst we’ve clearly had far less physical interaction with our friends, family and loved ones – we’ve been brought closer together than ever before in other ways.
That is especially true for our island communities. The appetite and, indeed, enthusiasm of residents to work together to support each other has been incredible and hugely impressive. The challenges our islands continue to face as we fight against COVID-19 are significant, which is why we must do all we can to support them.
We know tourism is crucial to many of our island communities, so over £2.2 million of the Rural Tourism and Infrastructure Fund has already been invested on Scotland’s islands, with applications open now for the third round of funding. This money has been used for activities such as increasing car parking opportunities and creating scenic camping spots.
We are also committed to investing up to £50 million through the Islands Growth Deal in the Western Isles, Orkney and Shetland. This funding – which will be distributed over the next ten years – will target sectors such as tourism amongst others. This significant investment will support the aim to create world renowned visitor attractions, support growth and help retain young people as well as to attract young and exciting talent to our islands.
Furthermore, in September we launched our draft Infrastructure Investment Plan and this is crucial as infrastructure plays a part in everyone’s day to day lives – especially those from our island communities – whether it is the homes we live in, our supply of fresh water and energy or even just how we travel about every day.
We know that for those on Scotland’s islands travelling is an important part of day to day life and indeed islanders depend on lifeline services. That is why in the most recent year we have increased investment in our travel sector. Ferry services have seen an increase of £22 million in funding from the previous year, and while local authorities are wholly responsible for their own internal ferry services we understand the challenges they are facing and have provided increased funding to £11.5 million for inter ferry services as part of the 2020/21 Budget, to supplement underlying formula based funding for such services that is allocated to relevant Councils via the annual local government funding settlement. We have also contributed over £19 million to modernise Brodick Ferry Port in Arran which has helped establish a strong, reliable travel link to one of Scotland’s most popular travel destinations. My colleague, Michael Matheson, Cabinet Secretary for Transport, Infrastructure and Connectivity, has continued the Air Discount Scheme which provides residents of some of Scotland’s island communities with a 50% saving on the core air fare on eligible flights and the Cabinet Secretary has also approved over £280 million to support bus networks across Scotland, including on our islands. The work of our ferry services and the crews and staff that provide them has been instrumental in helping our island communities in the past few months, and they have continued to allow for the distribution of vital services and goods to our most remote island and mainland communities.
As part of Programme for Government 2020-21, we launched the Islands Green Recovery Programme (IGRP) with a ring-fenced £2 million for locally-led green projects to help island communities recover from the economic impact of COVID-19.
Scotland is a global leader in the fight against climate change, and we are transitioning Scotland to reach net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2045 for the benefit of our environment, our people, our planet and our prosperity. The IGRP will help stimulate economic activity across our islands and help create quality, green jobs and interest in the fund has been very strong.
Together with the European Regional Development Fund, to boost the circular economy on our islands we’ve also invested £600,000 in grant funding to empower shops and local businesses on our islands to move towards reusable packaging options and steer away from single-use packaging. This funding will provide reusable equipment that will allow customers to purchase groceries in reusable containers brought from home.
As we focus on containing the spread of COVID-19, we must not lose sight of our longer term goals such as achieving net zero and building resilience to climate change. Through these and wider initiatives, including a proposed £30 million stream of funding, under the draft Infrastructure Investment Plan, to support delivery of the objectives islanders have helped identify within our National Islands Plan, we want our islands to flourish in the future and we will achieve this by supporting our islands to further enhance their attractiveness as places for people to live in and work in, as well as being places to visit.