The new chair of the Comhairle's Sustainable Development committee has highlighted declining population, a response to Brexit, renewables, and localised economic development as the main factors which need to be addressed by the committee.
Cllr Donald Crichton, Loch a Tuath, said he believed that Sustainable Development was 'a crucial committee with a wide ranging and diverse remit to help address the big economic challenges that we face in the Outer Hebrides'.
"Firstly, our population and demographics statistics are challenging – this is one of the key long-term issue that we face," said Cllr Crichton.
"In my view we need to look towards establishing a dedicated inter-Departmental / Community Planning Partnership team focused on population sustainability issues. It should focus on attracting new talent to the area; marketing the area as a business-friendly community; finding ways to help women set up businesses and building policy around the aspirations of our young people. Crucial to that is the successful rollout of superfast broadband so that businesses can prosper and grow.
"There has to be an economic outreach to the private sector and to Government. We need to put additional effort into a proactive programme of attracting new opportunities through, for example. oil and gas decommissioning. We need to build on the work that has been done to date to capture appropriate segments of the emerging decommissioning market. Another example is the potential of establishing a UK Spaceport in the islands. A bid to the UK Space Agency has been submitted and if this is successful there is a great opportunity to bring new, highly-skilled, highly-paid jobs to the area."
Secondly, said Cllr Crichton, with the looming prospect of BREXIT – the Comhairle needed to develop a strategy to attract new regional development funding to substitute for lost EU income.
"This is essential for the future of the crofting and fisheries sectors," he said.
"We need to make a robust case to UK and Scottish Government’s about the specific requirements of the Outer Hebrides and the need to replace lost European funds.
"Thirdly, renewables – the wind energy opportunity still exists. We need to redouble our efforts when a new UK Government is elected in June to make the case for the inter-connector. Work needs to continue with Government, regulators and developers to deliver this important economic opportunity. We also need to continue supporting local community renewable energy projects as they are integral to the development of an overarching renewables strategy."
Fourthly, said Cllr Crichton, ensuing economic development in each of the island localities needed to be a priority.
"I would like to see the remit of the Uist Economic Taskforce strengthened so it is more sharply focused and has a more campaigning purpose," said Cllr Crichton.
"The plans for Stornoway Regeneration are also important and will be a priority. We need to put in place appropriate strategies and plans for all our localities."
Cllr Crichton added: "In my view we need to be optimistic about our future as we have many positive economic opportunities. We have a vibrant arts and heritage sector, a strong creative industries sector and a growing tourism industry. There have been community buyouts with the potential of revitalising our communities. In all those areas this committee has been supportive and made a major contribution.
"Over the next number of years I want to build on the work of the Committee. I hope to be an active and dedicated Chairman and to be highly supportive of our dedicated staff."