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The government in Edinburgh may have belatedly realised that something has to be done to stop the Western Isles from going over the brink into economic oblivion.

SNP MSP for Na h-Eileanan an Iar, Alasdair Allan, has welcomed the announcement from the Cabinet Secretary for Finance, Shona Robison, that the Islands Cost Crisis Emergency Fund would be increased from £1 million to £5 million.

The Cabinet Secretary indicated that she would work with the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (COSLA) to review the effectiveness of the Special Islands Needs Allowance (SINA) for future budgets, given the significant additional costs incurred in delivering public services in island communities.

Ms Robison also confirmed that the Scottish Government would increase the Islands Cost Crisis Emergency Fund from £1 million to £5 million to support island local authorities in providing essential services and supporting islanders through the cost-of-living crisis.

Alasdair Allan MSP said: “Against a hugely challenging financial backdrop, it is encouraging to see this Scottish Government using its limited financial powers to help local authorities further support our island communities get through a Tory-imposed cost-of-living crisis.

“While this is a budget in which extremely difficult decisions have had to be taken, due in no small part to the real-terms cut to the Scottish Government’s budget from the UK Government, this substantial funding increase to the Islands Cost Crisis Emergency Fund is very welcome indeed. I also welcome the Scottish Government’s commitment to reviewing the effectiveness of the Special Islands Needs Allowance with COSLA.” 

And the Scottish Government published their Addressing Depopulation Action Plan (ADAP) last week to identify a pathway to implement measures and actions to reduce population decline through collaborating with local and regional partners.

The Outer Hebrides, along with Inverclyde, are the only Scottish Local Authorities forecast to have the more people leave the regions by the end of 2028 than move there.

Comhairle nan Eilean Siar says they recognise that work needs to be done both nationally and locally to reverse this trend.

Councillor  Donald Crichton, Chair of the Comhairle’s Sustainable Development Committee said: “I welcome the publication of the ADAP and many of the initiatives outlined in the plan.

"I recognise, however, that publication of ADAP is only a first step and that much work is required to impact on the challenges of depopulation. To ensure its effectiveness it is essential that there is a proactive and well-resourced approach to delivering the actions. 

“I note that the Plan states that 'stakeholders have been unequivocal that the delivery and availability of affordable housing is absolutely essential to addressing our population challenges'.

"It also states that: 'Supporting affordable housing priorities in different areas requires flexibility'.

"I wholeheartedly agree and would urge the Government to review and update their approach to affordable housing. I would call on the Government to follow through on the ambition of the ADAP and what it says about Local Authorities being an essential partner and the need to deliver flexibility around affordable housing, by devolving affordable housing monies directly to the Comhairle and for these monies to be used in a progressive flexible manner that seeks to underpin population in our most peripheral communities.”

“The Outer Hebrides is one of the areas that faces the greatest population decline and I believe the ADAP should place its initial focus on the areas facing the greatest challenge.

"I welcome the establishment of an Addressing Depopulation Delivery Group to monitor and report on the delivery of actions. It is essential that areas such as the Outer Hebrides are represented, and I would urge Comhairle representation on the Delivery Group. Local Authorities are an essential partner in addressing depopulation and to agreeing priorities for development in their locality.”

Through the Uist Repopulation Working Group, the Comhairle, along with its delivery partners, are piloting the delivery of various collaborative actions to reduce depopulation in Uist, and these can then be applied in other communities throughout the islands. This includes – but not limited to – tackling issues including housing, infrastructure and connectivity, childcare, employment, and skills shortages. A Community Settlement Officer, part-funded by the Comhairle and the Scottish Government, supports the delivery of these whilst also advising those wishing to move to the islands.

The Addressing Depopulation Action Plan can be viewed at - https://www.gov.scot/news/tackling-scotlands-population-challenges-1/