Nicola Sturgeon vow: More powers for Scots islands

Sturgeon wants to be able to enable communities to have a greater say in local decision making. Picture: Jane Barlow
Sturgeon wants to be able to enable communities to have a greater say in local decision making. Picture: Jane Barlow
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NICOLA Sturgeon has promised a radical package of devolution to Scotland’s islands to allow the region’s authorities to “take decisions for themselves” as she announced that a consultation will be launched on the plan this summer.

Ms Sturgeon, in a speech to the Convention of the Highlands and Islands, said she wanted people in the islands to be able to do more to “promote your economy” and “harness your resources”, as she hinted at devolving greater economic powers from Holyrood.

People will gain a say in managing their local coastline

Nicola Sturgeon

She said that island communities should be handed powers over the revenues of the Crown Estate, which manages mineral and salmon fishing rights, as well as about half of the coastal foreshore and almost all of the seabed, when the responsibilities are devolved to Holyrood.

Island councils and politicians last night called on Ms Sturgeon to spell out how she would deliver the pledge to allow revenue to be redirected from the Crown Estate ahead of a meeting with her ministerial team today .

There were also calls from councils for more control over the marine environment and fishing to be part of the islands bill, which has yet to be drafted.

In a speech in Kirkwall yesterday, Ms Sturgeon suggested that the islands had specific needs over transport and digital links due to their distance from Scotland’s Central Belt.

Powers over the Crown Estate are to be devolved from Westminster to Holyrood following the recommendations of the Smith Commission, tasked with delivering more powers for Holyrood after last year’s independence referendum.

Ms Sturgeon said coastal and island councils will “benefit from 100 per cent of the net revenue generated in their area from activities within 12 miles of the shore”.

She said: “We have previously committed to looking at devolving more autonomy to our islands and decentralising decision making to those who live and work in these unique parts of Scotland. We want to make our islands stronger.

“We are bringing through the Community Empowerment Bill, which will enable communities to be more involved in local decision-making. The forthcoming consultation will build on this and empower our island communities – it’s the perfect opportunity for ideas to be shared and considered before any decision is made on their future.” The First Minister went on to state that the government was committed to “ensuring the devolution of the Crown Estate to the Scottish parliament takes place in a workable way”.

Ms Sturgeon said: “I am committed to working closely with local authorities to involve local communities in the day-to-day running of the Crown Estate’s assets.

“As part of that, we’re planning that coastal and island councils will benefit from 100 per cent of the net revenue generated in their area from activities within 12 miles of the shore.

“People will gain a greater say in managing their local coastline – and communities will get a bigger benefit from the natural resources on their doorstep.”

Ms Sturgeon also suggested that the islands needed more powers over areas such as broadband and transport.

She said: “I want to concentrate on two issues in particular which are important across the whole of Scotland, but which are perhaps all the more important, the further you get from the Central Belt.

“The first is connectivity – building the transport and digital links which connect island and rural communities more quickly to Scotland and the wider world. And the second is about empowerment – how we give local authorities and local communities more power to take decisions for themselves.”

Island councils last night restated a call from their “Our Islands – Our Future” campaign from last year’s referendum for greater revenue-raising powers, improved energy connections with the mainland and control of the sea bed and for revenue to be redirected from the Crown Estate to the local area.

Orkney Islands Council convener Steven Heddle said: “One of the areas we are actively discussing with the Scottish Government is for our communities to benefit directly from the income generated by projects in our coastal waters – income that currently goes to the Crown Estate.

“Our discussions tomorrow, when the three councils meet in Kirkwall with four of Nicola Sturgeon’s ministerial team, will include looking at how this is to be achieved.”

Western Isles council leader Angus Campbell, said: “Work has been ongoing but it is vital that we maintain the momentum to ensure that it actually happens in a reasonable timescale and includes the management of the resources around our islands.”

Shetland Liberal Democrat MSP Tavish Scott said: “SNP ministers must bring forward meaningful plans to devolve powers to island communities, otherwise we can only assume that the SNP remains stuck in its centralising ways.”

Convention of Scottish Local Authorities vice-president Michael Cook said: “We applaud anything which builds in flexibility and discretion and which pushes power down to an appropriate local level.”