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Government ditches Islands Bond scheme after locals condemn it as ‘gimmick’

The initiative was drawn up to tackle depopulation on the islands (Andrew Milligan/PA)
The initiative was drawn up to tackle depopulation on the islands (Andrew Milligan/PA)

The Scottish Government has cancelled a scheme that would pay young people and families to relocate to or stay on the islands after “unequivocal” opposition to the plan.

The Islands Bond initiative – that would be worth up to £50,000 – was drawn up in a bid to ease depopulation on the islands.

But a consultation found “many” respondents living on the islands “were not convinced that the approach set out would achieve the objective of reversing population decline”.

Those who said they are strongly against the concept feel it is “wrong in principle”, describing it as a “sticking plaster” for the long-term issue of depopulation.

Others described the initiative as a “bribe” or a “gimmick” that could attract “the wrong people”.

Mairi Gougeon
Mairi Gougeon announced on Friday that the policy will not go ahead (Andrew Milligan/PA)

Respondents also told the Government the bond would not address the underlying issues causing depopulation.

Some also questioned the impact the plans would have on house prices, with an analysis of responses saying: “Respondents returned again and again to the lack of affordable housing, and the problems associated with the inflationary pressures caused by those moving to the island who often paid sums substantially above valuation in order to secure a property.”

The Scottish Government said respondents had been “unequivocal” in their belief “the bond as originally intended in the 2021-22 Programme for Government is not what communities need”.

Instead, the Government said it will focus on creating an action plan to address depopulation.

Islands Secretary Mairi Gougeon said: “I would like to thank everyone who responded as part of the consultation process, and especially our island communities for their constructive feedback and suggestions.

“It is directly because of the feedback from islanders that we are changing our approach.

“The Islands Bond was never intended to be a silver bullet to address our island population challenges. Rather, it was just one element of our wider work, across all Scottish Government, to support our island communities.

“We will continue to address the issue of depopulation on our islands with our National Islands Plan commitment to develop an action plan to address this issue, with a draft publication in 2023.

“The learnings and suggestions gathered through the Islands Bond consultation will be used to shape a range of practical policy tests to inform this action plan.”

Scottish Liberal Democrat MSP Liam McArthur – who represents Orkney – described the initiative as an “election gimmick”.

He added: “Rather than tackling the root causes of depopulation it risked opening up divisions within our island communities.

“This ill-conceived idea was not the brainchild of Mairi Gougeon, but thankfully the islands minister has had the good sense to listen to the overwhelming feedback from islanders and drop the proposals.

“I have repeatedly argued that there are far better ways to build the resilience of our island communities, through investing in transport links, broadband and affordable housing.

“Indeed, I have previously proposed using some of the Island Bond funding to support the introduction of a third aircraft on Orkney’s internal routes which would benefit a number of different islands.”

Mr McArthur went on to say that Ms Gougeon “deserved credit” for scrapping the plans.

Scottish Conservative islands spokeswoman Rachael Hamilton said: “The moment it was properly examined it became clear that it was a half-baked, ill-thought-out waste of taxpayers’ money unpopular with most islanders.

“As many pointed out, it would have been a short-term fix that would do little to reverse the SNP Government’s longstanding neglect and underfunding of local services, particularly in rural areas.”