Council Leader James Stockan has welcomed the cross-party support given to the Islands Bill which was debated in the Scottish Parliament on Thursday (8 February).
Councillor Stockan commented: “I followed the debate and it was gratifying to hear praise for the Our Islands Our Future campaign, which secured the commitment from the Scottish Government for an Islands Act.”
Last year, the Parliament’s Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee visited Orkney to take evidence that led to recommendations for the Bill.
Councillor Stockan said: “When I gave evidence to the Committee, I made the case that the Bill would be strengthened by the inclusion of greater enabling powers for the Council, and by the provision of ways for our community to benefit directly from development activity in our islands.
“I am pleased that the Committee supported us in this – and made a welcome recommendation in regard to retrospective island proofing.
“It was heartening, during the debate, that many MSPs supported the inclusion of ways to assess existing legislation retrospectively, where there is potential for an adverse impact on island communities.”
He added: “Other than the provision to extend the Council’s jurisdiction over marine licensing out to 12 nautical miles, the Bill at this stage does not empower local communities.
“Unless it results in island communities have a greater flexibility over local decision making, it could be considered that the Bill misses an opportunity to be truly transformational. This is particularly pertinent given the uncertainty emanating from Brexit.
“It was clear from the debate that MSP’s were cautioning Scottish Government that expectations will require to be managed. In simple terms, our communities will ask what difference the Bill will make to them. In the absence of any real empowerment, this places extra responsibility on the Government to ensure the National Islands Plan is truly empowering for our communities. We are now entering the amendment stage of the Bill and will work with Government and MSP’s to improve the Bill by way of amendments.
“To date, the engagement with the Government and the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee has been first class.”
Among the Council’s ‘asks’ for the Bill which were supported by the Committee are: