Islands summit to be followed by oil and gas forum
An islands oil and gas forum will take place next month in Aberdeen following the first ever islands summit in Lerwick last Thursday.
The same day guidelines on “island proofing” were published by the Scottish Office, which are intended to prevent any legislation having a negative impact on the remote island groups.
The summit brought together the UK government with Orkney, Shetland and Western Isles councils to build on the commitments set out in the UK government’s Framework for the Islands published last August.
It focused on reviewing progress on key government policies such as connection to the national energy grid, measures to address fuel poverty, and improving connectivity with mobile and internet services.
After the meeting, chaired by Scottish Secretary Alistair Carmichael, the isles MP said he was delighted at the progress to ensure the interests of the Scottish islands areas are “ingrained in UK government policy”.
Mr Carmichael said: “In partnership with the islands councils, we have agreement on the first set of guidelines that aims to ensure that the unique circumstances of the islands are reflected in UK government policy across a number of key areas including energy and welfare.
“I’m also pleased to confirm the first ever islands oil and gas forum will take place next month.”
The meeting on 28th April will focus on issues such as community benefit for the islands and decommissioning, bringing together various industry bodies and the new Oil and Gas Authority.
“This summit takes this work to the next stage and together with further powers on the way to Scotland through the Smith Commission process there is scope to do even more in the months ahead.
“Overall the summit was very positive. Already that new level of access and engagement with the UK government is paying dividends for the islands councils.”
Mr Carmichael said that island proofing was intended to avoid “one size fits all” legislation and was a “significant medium to long term piece of work”.
The summit was preceded by a discussion with UK government officials on how areas set to be devolved to the Scottish government – through a forthcoming Scotland Bill – will impact on the islands.
SIC political leader Gary Robinson said on behalf of the Our Islands Our Future campaign: “We’re delighted to have hosted this first Islands Summit in Shetland.
“This will be an important mechanism in the years ahead to allow the three islands to regularly meet with the Secretary of State for Scotland, along with key civil servants, to monitor progress against the Framework for the Islands which was agreed last August.
“We’re pleased with the progress we’ve made with the UK government, even over this short period of time, and it’s extremely important we maintain the momentum we’ve generated beyond May’s general election.
“The summit gave us the opportunity to agree the islands proofing process, secure commitments made on the Crown Estate, review our progress, and, most importantly, look ahead to the coming year.”
Guidelines were also published to help UK government departments understand the “unique set of challenges” faced by island communities, “some of the most remote regions of the UK and Europe”, and how that might influence policy in those areas.
The document states: “The core aim of the proofing process is to identify any previously unintended consequences of a policy change, therefore allowing negative or disproportionate impacts to be properly considered and evidenced at the appropriate stage of the policy making process.
“Where an impact on the islands has been identified through the proofing process, the Scotland Office will facilitate further discussions with the relevant UK government policy team on the extent of these impacts.
“Potential mitigating measures, or a need for continued evaluation of policy implementation, can be considered as part of these discussions.”
The framework has also committed the UK government and the islands councils to keep each other informed of developments in the area of responsibility of the other. The islands proofing process, and the establishment of an islands desk within the Scotland Office, forms the core of this.
The three islands councils will nominate a principal point of contact to work with the islands desk. It is anticipated that this person will be nominated on a rotating basis by the three islands councils – with executive services manager Peter Peterson acting for the SIC.