Northern Isles MSPs Tavish Scott and Liam McArthur have this week revealed a package of amendments to the Islands Bill in a bid to “undo the damage of centralisation and a one-size-fits-all approach”.
Mr McArthur, who joined the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee to scrutinise the Islands Bill, has challenged the Scottish Government to support the Liberal Democrat amendments.
He said “the promise made to islanders was to introduce a bill that would genuinely empower island communities. As it stands, the Scottish Government’s Bill risks falling short. Our amendments aim to create a Bill with real teeth and meet both the expectations and needs of islanders”.
Stage 2 of the Bill, where MSPs will debate and vote on specific amendments, is expected to be taken this week in Holyrood. The amendments lodged by Mr McArthur and Mr Scott would:
· allow for retrospective impact assessments on Scottish Government policies and legislation;
· protect the boundary and functions of islands councils and islands NHS Boards
· create a mechanism to allow local authorities to make requests for additional powers.
· enshrine a right to minimum broadband provision;
· enforce a minimum level and standard for lifeline ferry services across Scotland;
· commit the Scottish Government to the introduction of an Islands Deal;
· deliver action to tackle unacceptable levels of island fuel poverty;
· ensure Crown Estate assets are devolved to local authorities;
· protect uninhabited islands.
In a joint statement, Liam McArthur and Tavish Scott MSP said:
“All too often we have seen an approach to legislation and policy-making that simply has not worked for island communities. This Bill offers an opportunity to undo the damage caused by an obsession with centralisation and a one-size-fits-all approach.
“Our package of amendments aim to do that by ensuring this bill has real teeth and actually meets the needs and expectations of islanders. For example, we want to ensure that ‘island proofing’ can be applied not just to future laws but also to addressing the worst cases of inappropriate current policy and legislation.
“Meanwhile, true empowerment means devolution of powers. That is why we want a mechanism to make that happen now and into the future.
“Our amendments will also hold the Scottish Government to account in addressing some of the big issues affecting island communities, that too often in the past, have been left at the back of the queue.
“On broadband provision, for example, we must make sure that those in our islands are not constantly left behind. On lifeline ferry provision, Ministers cannot be allowed to play one community off against the other and we need guarantees around levels of service. Firm commitments on an Islands Deal and devolution of the Crown Estate are also needed, as is a tailored and targeted approach to tackling fuel poverty, an issue that affects so many households in our islands .
“This bill should also signal a shared commitment to safeguarding local services. In the past, Ministers have made clear their wish to look at merging island health boards with counterparts on the Scottish mainland. While close cooperation in delivery of health and care services is essential, island boards must be allowed to continue reflecting the priorities of the island communities they serve. That is why we want this Bill to protect the status of islands health boards.
“If the expectations of those who live and work in our island communities are to be met, the Scottish Government must back our plans.”