It’s an exciting time for Scotland’s island communities, as the Islands Deal begins to take off. Our own Kim Fellows went along to the Islands Deal Holyrood Reception reception in February to find out more.
If not us, who? If not now, when? These were the key questions posed to a gathering of MSPs, Ministers, Island Council leaders, council officers and partner organisations at the Islands Deal Holyrood Reception on Wednesday 27th February.
We heard from a number of speakers talking passionately about the opportunities and potential that a truly inclusive Growth Deal for the Islands could deliver, not only for the islands themselves but also for Scotland and the UK as a whole. The islands have world class assets and each have their own individual strengths.
I cannot do justice to all the content in this short blog so I intend to reflect on the main themes and key messages that I took away from the evening.
The first theme I picked up was that each island group, whilst sharing some of the same characteristics, has its own unique identity in for example music, culture, renewable energy, historic sites, food and much more. What unites these areas together in an ‘Islands Deal’ is the shared desire to work collaboratively to achieve sustainable economic growth for all.
Secondly, it was clear that there is a unique opportunity presented right now with the recent passing of a place-based bill to become the Islands (Scotland) Act 2018. In this context, an islands deal would be the right intervention at the right time to support and kick-start innovation on work like decarbonising transport, trialing autonomous vehicles, tackling fuel poverty and developing cultural heritage. The islands deal is needed for these remotest parts of Scotland both to reach their full potential and contribute even more to the economy and patrimony of Scotland and the UK.
Thirdly, the work to date on the islands deal has involved a host of partners and a wide variety of agencies. The proposal that will be submitted in March will be both ambitious and innovative. The challenges that the islands face are largely demographic and need to urgently address how they can retain and grow the working age population. How can you support lifelong careers with sustainable jobs? Often two-career households now need jobs that can be flexible and adaptable whilst making the most of existing assets e.g. marine, low carbon energy, digital and heritage. Indeed, how can this workforce challenge be re-framed as an opportunity?
Finally, the islands offer us a chance to look at a whole-system approach to tackling universal themes that all parts of the UK are dealing with: healthy ageing, affordable housing for young people, sustainable food and renewable energy. The plan intends to work collaboratively with innovation centres in other parts of Scotland focusing on areas such as aquaculture, data driven innovation, advanced manufacturing and barley crops.
In summary, one could not help but be impressed with the level of thinking and opportunity this Deal presents. My final take-home message was this submission will be an ambitious and far-sighted plan built on clear and palpable collaboration with the vibrant spirit of forward thinking. And a plea from those involved to fire the starting gun in order to begin working towards the shared vision .