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Island communities get new platform to raise concerns at Holyrood

Jamie Halcro Johnston MSP, in Hoy, Orkney

Islanders have been given a new direct line to Holyrood after concerns decisions are being taken on key issues “Edinburgh doesn’t really understand”.

A new cross-party group aims to make sure specific needs on ferries, broadband, tourism and depopulation will be discussed.

People living on the islands will be able to attend meetings virtually so they can take part without having to travel to parliament.

Islands have ‘unique circumstances’

Cross-party groups include MSPs from different political groups and meet at least twice a year to discuss issues of interest to the group.

Highlands and Islands MSP Jamie Halcro Johnston, who comes from Orkney, will lead the group.

He said: “We recognise islands have their own unique circumstances that Edinburgh doesn’t really understand.

“Transport, predominantly ferries, will be a key issue.

Ferries have been a problem for the last few years on the west coast, but communities there and in Orkney and Shetland are also all extremely reliant on internal ferries too.

“Another concern is the ferry fleet is getting older and less reliable.

“Over the last four years this has been raised time and time again, so we are determined to give individuals and groups on the islands the opportunity to engage with us on this.”

The Isle of Harris

Other issues the group plans to look at include broadband, providing education and health services, rural housing, and making sure there are plenty of opportunities on the islands to stop depopulation.

He added: “Businesses want people to come to the islands as tourists, but in places like Orkney, Shetland and the Western Isles capacity on transport is being put under real pressure.

“So we need to look at how we can support tourism while still providing services and accommodation for people who live and work there.”

Keen to push forward with ideas

MSPs from all the political parties in Holyrood have expressed an interest in joining this new group on islands, and the initial members of the group are keen to make sure the group does not become just a “talking shop”.

They are also keen to make sure islands that are not classed as ‘the Highlands and Islands’ are fairly represented.

Mr Halcro Johnston added: “Right from the start we need to listen to people and make sure this new cross-party group is not just a talking shop but something that pushes forward and comes up with concrete solutions.

“We need to be dynamic and flexible because there are so many issues facing our island members.

“Before we have our first meeting I want to make sure we listen to different organisations on the islands to find out what their concerns are.

“I hope the new group will ensure the voices of island communities will be amplified at Holyrood and that islanders feel better engaged with an institution that I know can too often feel remote from their concerns.”

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