Orkney MSP Liam McArthur today secured assurances from the Scottish Government on a range of “major issues” affecting island communities.
During the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee’s consideration of the Islands (Scotland) Bill this morning, the Islands Minister, Humza Yousaf MSP responded to amendments lodged by Mr McArthur and Shetland MSP Tavish Scott by offering to work with both Islands MSPs to make progress on issues ranging from ferry services to broadband provision ahead of the Bill coming before the full Parliament at Stage 3 next month.
The Islands Minister has also agreed he will look at how the government can make improvements to other pieces of draft legislation, such as the Warms Home Bill and the Crown Estate Bill, to ensure that they better meet the needs of islanders.
Speaking after committee, Mr McArthur said:
“This bill provides an opportunity to secure firm commitments from the government regarding the future provision of services in our islands.
“Our lifeline internal ferry services, for example, fall well below the minimum standard set in the government’s own 2012 National Ferries Plan. Mr Yousaf’s agreement today to instil a degree of urgency to the negotiations with Orkney Islands Council on a longer term solution to the delivery of these lifeline services is therefore welcome. So too, his willingness to provide funding to help develop the business case, including the purchase of new vessels. I look forward to him updating parliament on progress before the summer recess.
“In the area of fuel poverty too, important concessions were made today. Rates of fuel poverty are higher in Orkney than anywhere else in the country and tackling it will require a tailored approach. Inexplicably, the government has opted to redefine fuel poverty in a way that will artificially reduce the numbers of households affected and undermine efforts to deal with the problem in rural and island areas. This has led to serious concerns being raised by local groups in Orkney and across the Highlands & Islands who are involved in trying to make progress on this issue.
“Humza Yousaf appeared to accept that this goes against the entire purpose of the Islands Bill and offered to meet with me and the Housing Minister to discuss how these concerns can be addressed in the government’s Warm Homes Bill. If progress is not made, amendments to the Islands Bill may yet need to be brought back again at Stage 3. Hopefully, however, a sensible resolution can be reached that lets us get on and deal more effectively with a problem that blights too many households in our island communities.”
In other amendments discussed by the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee, Mr McArthur secured support to make explicit in the Islands (Scotland) Bill the importance of uninhabited islands in the context of efforts to promote biodiversity and provide species protection.
The committee will meet again next week [Wednesday, 28 March 2018] where Mr McArthur will move amendments calling for the boundaries and functions of the island councils and health boards to be protected and will seek support to enable retrospective impact assessments on Scottish Government policies and legislation.