MP summit has Islay and Jura top of the agenda How to build a strategic, long-term plan for sustainable economic growth on Islay and Jura was the only item on the agenda at a high-level Summit meeting organised by Argyll & Bute MP Brendan O’Hara (Wednesday, 4th April).
Among those attending the Summit at the Gaelic Centre in Bowmore were three Scottish government ministers, Humza Yousaf (Transport and Islands) Fiona Hyslop (Tourism) and Michael Russell MSP (Brexit), as well as the Chief Executives of both Argyll & Bute Council and Highland & Islands Enterprise.
The views of the whisky industry were articulated by The Scotch Whisky Association and Diageo, as well as representatives of numerous distilleries on Islay and Jura.
Also present to give the all-important view of the local population were both the Islay and Jura Community Councils, the local Ferry Users Group and the islands’ Tourism and Marketing Group.
They were joined by senior management from CalMac, Transport Scotland, Visit Scotland and Mundell’s Hauliers.
In opening the Summit Mr. O’Hara explained his reason for bringing together so many representatives of national government, local government, the community, public bodies and industry together on Islay.
“Both as MP for Argyll & Bute and as the Chair of the All Party Group on Scotch Whisky at Westminster, everyone I speak to talks about their plans to increase spirit production on these islands and the rise in tourist numbers that will inevitably follow.
Yet at the same time, I know the people of Islay and Jura are at the end of their tether over the crumbling road infrastructure and the huge challenges posed by a ferry service that is very often unreliable and occasionally bursting at the seams.
So I just couldn’t see how increased spirit production, coupled to the inevitable rise in visitor numbers would be possible given the already huge demands being put on both the roads and the ferries.
It seemed that everyone was happily ploughing their own furrow, without any strategic overview or a long-term plan for sustainable economic growth.
That couldn’t go on and I felt it essential that all the stakeholders, from community to national government got together to arrive at a shared vision for the future wellbeing of Islay and Jura.”
Following the meeting, he went on to say,
“And I am absolutely delighted at the announcement by Transport Scotland today that Islay will be the first in line in the next vessel procurement exercise to replace the MV Hebridean Isles. I am also delighted to hear that everyone present at this summit is in agreement about one thing and that is a need for better and more collaborative working and I welcome Humza Yousaf commitment to do everything as practicably possible to ensure the challenges are met and the islands’ potential is realised.”
Immediately after the Summit finished, Mr. O’Hara travelled to Craighouse on Jura to host a public meeting with Humza Yousaf MSP before returning to Bowmore to meet with several local groups including TSI, the Seniors Forum, local councillors, the National Farmers Union of Scotland, South Islay Development, The islands’ Health and Social Care partnership and the small business forum to share how the Summit meeting went and to discuss what steps the local community want to take next in advancing the interest of Islay and Jura .
The day ended with an open meeting at which O’Hara fielded questions from the public about the Summit.