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Politics / New islands forum should not be ‘box ticking exercise’

Photo: SIC

A WARNING has been made that a proposed forum for island communities around the UK should not just be a “talking shop”.

Northern Isles MP Alistair Carmichael welcomed the proposal, which was included in the UK Government’s newly published Levelling Up white paper but said it must result in action.

The Levelling Up strategy sets out how the government will “spread opportunity more equally across the UK” over the coming years.

While issues like broadband are included, perhaps the key aspect for Shetland is the proposal to launch an islands forum.

Alistair Carmichael. Photo: Shetland News

The government said this will “provide a regular means of engagement with island communities across the UK”.

“This will support the unique challenges faced by these communities which are often cross-cutting – for instance, issues with connectivity and infrastructure, fuel poverty and demographic trends,” the white paper added.

“The forum will provide the UK Government with the opportunity to better understand these challenges, as well as create space to discuss potential resolutions and shared opportunities.”

Speaking in parliament this week Carmichael questioned secretary of state Michael Gove as to whether fixed links for Shetland might be on the agenda.

When asked if he is “up for that challenge”, Gove responded: “Completely up for it. There are issues in Orkney and Shetland, in the Western Isles, in Anglesey and the Isle of Wight of connectivity and access to good quality services and investment.

“While they are very different communities, they have shared interests and I will absolutely do what he says.”

But speaking afterwards Carmichael stressed the forum “must be about action rather than a box ticking exercise”.

Meanwhile Shetland Islands Council leader Steven Coutts echoed Carmichael’s view on the forum needing to result in action.

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“We welcome the recognition of the need for investment into our island community,” he said.

“We look forward to understanding what form this engagement will take and importantly establishing how we translate the talks into action.”

Shetland Islands Council previously missed out on funding for a new Fair Isle ferry through the first round of Levelling Up funding, but the local authority was encouraged to try again.

Development committee chairman Alastair Cooper said the challenge for Shetland is to bring forward a “more coherent policy” on tunnels to create “robust arguments” for fixed links.

He felt the Scottish Government seemed unlikely to fund anything anytime soon, “so I think we have to go to the UK Government, and he [Gove] seems to be opening the door”.

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