A NEW 13-point plan has been launched to tackle declining populations on Scotland’s islands, boost public services and improve the quality of life for communities.

In a document published yesterday, the Scottish Government listed the 13 objectives, including improving public utilities such as housing, transport and digital connectivity, and boosting health and social care services.

The National Islands Plan also pledges to help address climate change and support the arts, culture and language of the islands, with more than 100 measures to achieve the objectives.

Islands Minister Paul Wheelhouse heralded the plan as a “key milestone”, and stressed the Government will ensure it is implemented.

He said: “The plan has been created with the input of many islanders and those with a stake in our islands’ future, and I am extremely grateful for all their contributions and ideas.

“Since spring this year, we have visited 40 islands, engaged online and consulted with stakeholders. I hope those who took part will recognise this unparalleled level of engagement with islanders has been captured in the final plan and that the plan reflects the priorities identified by those who live and work in these communities.

“The plan is a key milestone, but it cannot be allowed to just sit on a shelf – I now look forward to working with colleagues and partner organisations to put the plan into action.

“Through the plan’s development, Scotland is showing our island communities that they are very important to our nation, we care about their futures and that their voices are strong and being heard.”

The plan was welcomed by Eilidh Carr, who runs the Coralbox gift shop on Berneray, North Uist. She moved to Aberdeen in her teens and returned after she finished her studies, in common with some – but not all – of those who leave.

The National:  Eilidh Carr's gift shop Coralbox Eilidh Carr's gift shop Coralbox

READ MORE: ‘I can’t imagine having Coralbox anywhere but Scotland’

“A lot of people move away when they’re 17 or 18 for higher education, university and a lot won’t come back,” she said.

“I came back five years ago and there are a lot more people in their mid-20s up to their 30s and 40s coming back to have families and have perhaps a quieter pace of life, but that also causes problems because there’s not much in the way of rented housing.

“I still live at home, as do a lot of other younger ones but it is good to have younger people coming back but there is a need for improved housing.”

She continued: “I had a read over the National Islands Plan online – it does look a great plan that is currently needed on the islands to help improve our way of life. Each of the objectives works alongside the other and in time there should be improvements and hopefully help with depopulation, connectivity etc.”

Norma Macleod, who runs Immerse Hebrides outdoor swimming tours on Stornoway, had read about the plan and was aware of some of the changes being made in her other job as a cardiac nurse.

READ MORE: Taking the plunge with outdoor swimming tours in the Hebrides

However, as a former teenage competitive swimmer with no access to funding to attend competitions on the mainland, she was particularly pleased with the Athlete National Travel Award Scheme. She said: “My parents had to fund nearly all of my travel, except from one year where I received sponsorship from British Airways for six return flights.

“I was a promising swimmer at the time and made the Scottish Junior Youth Squad but without continued financial support my opportunities to develop were limited and I gave it up at age 16 when the pressures of time away and exams began. To hear the Scottish Government’s plans to encourage better access for young island athletes is very welcome.”

She added: “Now all we need is better and more affordable transport links to make this happen without interrupting time away from school and families.”