Orkney and Shetland MP, Alistair Carmichael, has today recognised the inclusion of a new “Islands Forum” within the government’s new Levelling Up White Paper. The forum is intended to “provide a regular means of engagement with island communities across the UK”, with direct lines to the UK government. Mr Carmichael welcomed the proposal in principle but said that such a forum must be aimed at action on critical future infrastructure rather than being a “talking shop” with no clear purpose.
Speaking in the House, Mr Carmichael said:
“Can I welcome the creation of the Islands Forum referred to on page 132 of the White Paper and the news that the Secretary of State will chair the first meeting of it. It’s in his hands to ensure that this is not a talking shop.
“Item number one on the agenda for that meeting has got to be islands’ future transport links. Communities in Shetland are desperate to see the construction of tunnels and fixed links. He could be the person to bring the Scottish Government and Treasury together and deliver it. Is he up for that challenge?”
Responding, the Secretary of State Michael Gove MP said:
“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.”
Reacting after the exchange, Mr Carmichael said:
“A new Islands Forum with a direct line to government could be a powerful tool in getting the issues we care about on the national agenda but this must be about action rather than a box ticking exercise.
“There are major opportunities of investment and infrastructure for the isles that we face in the coming years. Our working relationships with the UK and Scottish governments will be vital in securing successful outcomes – we must ensure that any new Islands Forum enhances those relationships.”