First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has said that islands like Shetland will benefit from all the income generated from activities within 12 miles of the shore.
Speaking at a meeting of the Convention of the Highlands and Islands (COHI) in Kirkwall on Monday, the first she has attended since becoming First Minister, Ms Sturgeon said that government focus was on ensuring devolution of the Crown Estate to the Scottish parliament took place “in a workable way”.
She also said that she did not believe the current Scotland Bill truly reflected the spirit of the Smith Commission proposals on which further devolution is based. Further consultation on how to implement devolution, including the Crown Estate, will continue after the devolution of powers to Holyrood.
Speaking on the future of the Crown Estate, Ms Sturgeon, also making her first trip to an island as First Minister,
said: “Once we have achieved devolution, we will consult on how the new body will operate in Scotland.”
She added: “I can confirm today that later this summer, we will launch a consultation on greater powers for Scotland’s islands. That consultation is the perfect opportunity to share and consider ideas about the future powers of the islands. We want to understand the best way to work with you to promote your economy, harness your resources, and enhance the wellbeing of your communities.”
Central to this process, she added, was the future of the Crown Estate.
Ms Sturgeon said: “The Scottish government’s current focus is on ensuring the devolution of the Crown Estate to the Scottish parliament takes place in a workable way – we do not believe the current Scotland Bill truly reflects the spirit of the Smith Commission proposals. Once we have achieved devolution, we will consult on how the new body will operate in Scotland.
Housing, connectivity, equalities, forestry, EU Programmes, etc. all coming forward from #springcohi2015 as topics for Autumn CoHI in Moray.
— Gary Robinson (@garyrobi) June 1, 2015
“I am committed to working closely with local authorities to involve local communities in the day to day running of the Crown Estate’s assets. As part of that, we’re planning that coastal and island councils will benefit from 100 per cent of the net revenue generated in their area from activities within 12 miles of the shore. People will gain a greater say in managing their local coastline – and communities will get a bigger benefit from the natural resources which are on their doorstep.
She added: “The principle in all of this is very clear. People who live in local communities are in the best position to take decisions about those communities. Giving more powers to local authorities, to islands and to local communities is an essential part of creating a fairer and more prosperous Scotland.”
Ms Sturgeon said that she welcomed the opportunity to discuss the specific challenges facing the Highlands and Islands in particular “empowerment”, broadband connectivity and transport infrastructure – issues that are “all the more important, the further you get from the central belt”.
The government, she said, saw the broadband project as “truly transformational”. Without public money, no commercial broadband would have been planned, but the target 84 per cent “of the Highlands should be a staging post rather than a final destination.
“That’s why Community Broadband Scotland is working with development trusts to explore how to deliver broadband services to the remoter islands,” she added.
“We’re determined to ensure that the Highlands and Islands isn’t left behind – and that your digital infrastructure enhances the sustainability and prosperity of your communities.
“Alongside that investment in digital infrastructure, we’re also investing heavily in road, rail, air and sea links.”
The Air Discount Scheme was being extended for a further four years to the end of March 2019 and new ferries were being ordered.
“What all of this represents is an unprecedented investment in the transport and digital infrastructure of the Highlands and Islands. I am well aware that it won’t resolve every difficulty or eliminate every inconvenience – but it should bring benefits for tourists, for businesses and for individuals in communities right across the area. Our investment in connectivity is a crucial part of how we create a fairer and wealthier nation in all parts of the country,” she added.
Equally important was how to give local authorities and local communities more power to take decisions for themselves. That push for greater community involvement had sprung from the release of political energy involved in the referendum debate.
“We need to find new ways of harnessing that democratic energy – not just in the great constitutional questions of our time, but also in the day to day decisions made by and for communities across the country,” said Ms Sturgeon.
Land reform was a good example and why the Scottish government was trebling the size of the Scottish Land Fund, which supports community buy-outs. In total, the Scottish government had set a target that a million acres of land should be in community ownership by 2020.
A Land Reform Bill is being introduced later this month on the back of strong public support for such legislation.
The bill will modernise the legal framework of rights and responsibilities around land – looking at issues such as land use, access, ownership and development. It will help to ensure that the “ownership and use of land in Scotland is in the public interest – that it contributes to the collective benefit of the people of Scotland.”
The Community Empowerment Bill will give community organisations the right to ask if they can purchase, lease, manage or use land and buildings which belong to public bodies. It will also require national and local public bodies to promote participation by members of the public in the decisions that affect them. And it refocuses the purpose of community planning, so that it is about how public sector bodies work with themselves, and with others, to improve outcomes and tackle inequalities.
Ms Sturgeon added: “We are making very specific steps to ensure that the needs of island communities are recognised and addressed. The Empowering Scotland’s Island Communities prospectus – which the previous First Minister launched here in Kirkwall last June – was the most comprehensive empowerment package for our Islands put forward by any government. Since then we have appointed a minister for the islands – Derek McKay – and established an Islands Area Ministerial Working Group. That group meets here tomorrow to discuss transport.”