Meeting helps put island case in front of Scottish cabinet

Rural affairs minister Mairi Gougeon.
Rural affairs minister Mairi Gougeon.

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Arran is a place of strong community, modest economic growth and a high quality of life, cabinet secretary for rural affairs and the islands Mairi Gougeon was told during a virtual meeting with island representatives the day before Mr Dey visited last week.

However, public service failures in transport and affordable housing threaten the long-term sustainability of the island. In addition, these failures threaten staffing and support to the health and education service. The responsibility for these public services failures and their impact on the sustainability of the island is the responsibility of local and Scottish government.

Within the Scottish government, the cabinet secretary for rural affairs and islands is responsible for implementing the National Islands Plan to remove these, island specific, public service inequalities.

The Arran Recovery Group, in consultation with the North Ayrshire Council leaders office requested a meeting with the cabinet secretary to discuss the impact of the public service failures and what each branch of Government was doing about it. The meeting happened through video conference on Thursday September 16 chaired by council leader Joe Cullinane.

Councillor Cullinane opened the meeting and thanked the minister for her participation. He outlined the work that was ongoing: community wealth building, the creation of the senior islands office and the baseline island economic work, conducted by the Fraser of Allander Institute, the paper used as the basis of the discussion.

The Fraser of Allander study quantified the heavy dependence on tourism and the disproportionate impact ferry disruptions had on the island community. The island representatives also stressed that contract renewal, with any service provider, must take into account island impact in planning and costing the service. The ferry can deliver £170k/day benefit or not, as well as the community benefits.

The minister listened to the discussion and confirmed that she was in regular consultation with the transport minister on ways to resolve the current issues. The acute lack of affordable housing and its impact on all sectors was also discussed.

Councillor Alex Gallagher, highlighted land issues and the need for reform to allow the council to acquire land for affordable homes more easily. The minister confirmed that the rural and island housing fund had received a further £45m which rural and island communities would be able to access. He stressed the difficulty in turning these funds into actual houses and she agreed to take this up with the housing minister.

The island representatives also highlighted that we are proactively working to turn the National Islands Plan strategy into actions prioritised by the island community, accessing whatever funds are available locally and centrally. This work is being driven by our senior island officer and funded by North Ayrshire Council, HIE and Scottish government.

Arran Recovery Group chairman Tom Tracey said: ‘This was an introductory meeting to share issues and concerns and the Minister did take time to listen and comment. Getting ministerial focus on our issues is at one level a success. There is also a commitment to visit soon, speak to the wider community, learn more and support the delivery of island priorities. As is normal with all these things, time will tell.’