Councillor Angus Campbell speaks to the conference

Organisations across the Western Isles have a major responsibility in halting a decrease in population and correcting the demographic imbalance in the area.

This was the conclusion of Councillor Angus Campbell, Chair of the Outer Hebrides Community Planning Partnership, on the closing day of a Population and Migration Seminar held in the Harris Hotel, in Tarbert.

While Scotland as a whole is expected to increase its population by 7%, the Western Isles is expected to experience a population decrease of 14% by 2039; the biggest fall for any local authority area in Scotland.

The current population estimate for the Outer Hebrides is 27,070 as at 30 June 2015.

This represents a decrease in the overall population of 180 persons (-0.7%) from mid-2014 to mid-2015. 

The decrease in the population is due mainly to the highest levels of negative natural change over the last decade.

Creating Communities of the Future is the Outer Hebrides Community Planning Partnership’s (OHCPP) Economic Strategy for the period up to 2020.

The ambition is to work with the private and community sectors to create a confident Outer Hebrides that has at its heart a stable economy that offers new growth opportunities; that has strong communications links both within and without the Hebrides and that values its Gaelic, cultural and natural heritage; that is a place where young people are highly valued and where the population is stable and moving towards growth.

Cllr Campbell told today’s seminar that the recent figures had made it plain that previous efforts to address the decline in the islands’ population had simply not worked.

“We should start recognising that we have to do things differently, and to be bolder,” he told assembled delegates.

Communities of the Western Isles had made representations that there were key issues to be tackled, including jobs, housing, connectivity, and affordable transport. 

Land ownership and control of the marine environment were also areas which needed to be looked at.

Cllr Campbell asked: “Have we been asking enough of ourselves or of government?

“I think the answer to that is no. We have to do more as agencies working across the Outer Hebrides, we have to do more as communities, but we also have to make sure that our governments, wherever they sit, invest more in the islands if they want them to succeed. 

“Part of that investment will be giving us the power to decide how to use existing resources in a way that brings the best outcomes for the islands.”

Cllr Campbell suggested the formation of a partnership across the islands to encourage people to come here and to stay here. 

“Are we willing to find out what it takes to make that happen?” he asked.

“If our conversations here only last two or three days and do not affect our own communities, we have failed. 

“We need action, and this has to happen very quickly. This is so important that politics should not matter. If we all recognise this is the most important thing we can do let’s get on and do it. “

He added: “Let’s be demanding of ourselves and of others and let’s have one big target – to do big things.”

It was agreed at the conference that a similar event be held one year from now, to gauge how key recommendations had been implemented.