SHETLAND Islands Council has now been formally invited to the first meeting of a UK-wide ‘islands forum’ designed to “level up” communities.
It will also allow the UK Government to hear and learn from island communities to inform future policy.
Orkney has been chosen as the location for the first islands forum, which will be chaired by secretary of state Michael Gove and held in September.
The forum has been set up as part of the UK Government’s Levelling Up initiative, which aims to spread opportunities across the country.
The UK Government has invited council leaders and chief executives of island communities in all parts of the UK to take part in the first forum.
The devolved administrations will also have a key role, with ministers from the Scottish and Welsh governments and the Northern Ireland Executive invited.
Gove said: “Island communities contribute a huge amount to the UK and often face common challenges.
“Our new Islands Forum will bring communities together and give our islands a stronger voice.
“Whether it is the requirement for better transport connectivity or opportunities for economic development, I want to hear directly from island communities across the UK what they need to unlock their full potential.
“The UK Government’s goal is to unite and level up our whole United Kingdom, from Shetland to the Scillies. This new forum will make sure that our islands are placed right at the heart of our levelling up mission.”
Shetland has yet to benefit from the government’s Levelling Up fund.
However, the council is submitting a second bid for a replacement Fair Isle ferry and associated harbour works.
Its first bid failed, but the council was given feedback about trying again.
Northern Isles MP Alistair Carmichael warned though that the forum must be about action, not words.
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“The Northern Isles are at the forefront of many vital issues not just to island communities but to the UK as a whole, whether on the pressing challenges of energy and the cost of living, green innovation projects or the future of lifeline transport connections,” he said.
“It is welcome, too, that the Secretary of State will be chairing the first forum. Whatever our political differences, it is good that islands matters are being heard and acknowledged at the top of government.
“This sort of direct line to ministers can be a powerful tool in getting the issues we care about on the national agenda – but the Forum must fundamentally be about action more than words.
“When the Islands Forum was first announced earlier this year I challenged the Levelling Up secretary to ensure that this would be more than just a ‘talking shop’, and that serious issues of investment and infrastructure – like fixed links – would be part of the agenda. This will be even more essential following a summer of political organising around fixed links in Shetland.
“As we approach this first islands forum in the autumn I look forward to ensure that these matters, and the many others of vital interest to the isles, get a full hearing.”
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