Island communities will be targeted as part of the UK Government’s plan to invest directly north of the border, we can reveal.
Tory minister Michael Gove’s so-called levelling up agenda will include a new forum for island authorities all over the UK, including the Western Isles, Shetland and Orkney.
Mr Gove said: “Talent is equally spread across the United Kingdom, but opportunity is not.”
The UK Government has been drawing up plans to “level up” parts of the country considered to be missing out.
The government said other areas with island communities have already received financial help.
Transport and population concerns
Argyll and Bute Council was promised £173,400 to explore using drones to transport medical supplies to islands, as we revealed last month.
Mr Gove will lead the first meeting of the island forum later this year with a focus on transport and depopulation concerns.
Councillor Roddie Mackay, leader of Western Isles Council, says anything to boost funding coming into Scotland’s islands is a welcome move.
The leader of Western Isles Council told us: “If money comes directly to local authorities in the islands that is good news because often people don’t understand the challenges we feel here are not felt the same in an urban context.”
He added: “For example, spend in the Central Belt might not be as relevant as spend on an island.
“I think the principle of being close to decision-making is something we want to see both the Scottish Government and the UK Government embracing.”
Councillor Mackay and Mr Gove met in Stornoway on the Isle of Lewis at the end of 2021 to discuss the plans for Scotland’s islands.
Both governments can play a part
Councillor Mackay added: “Michael Gove was interested and knows we are actively following whatever avenue we can take to increase prosperity here.
“If there is money coming directly from the UK Government to local authorities it is very important the government sets up a forum like this to understand what we need resources for.”
He continued: “If both governments want to assist with funds we will deal with both governments, but I don’t see any disadvantage to dealing with the UK Government to get benefits.”
Revealing his plan, Mr Gove said: “Our island communities face shared challenges and I want us to work together to overcome them, as we work to unite and level up the whole UK.
“A number of island communities have already benefitted from the levelling up fund and community renewal funds.
“Creating a new islands forum takes our commitment one step further and provides a new opportunity for island communities to work together to help their communities prosper.”