Isle of Wight leaders in Orkney for first ever Islands Forum

Orkney's Kirkwall and inset, the Isle of Wight. (Pixabay/IWCP)
Orkney's Kirkwall and inset, the Isle of Wight. (Pixabay/IWCP)

Isle of Wight Council Leader, Lora Peacey-Wilcox and Chief Executive, Wendy Perera were among delegates at the first ever Islands Forum, this week.

Ministers and representatives from ten councils gathered, for the first time - meeting in Orkney, Scotland.

As well as the Isle of Wight, the Isles of Scilly; Rathlin, off Northern Ireland's North Antrim coast; the Welsh island of Anglesey; and a host of Scottish islands were represented.

On Wednesday, as the two-day event drew to a close, Levelling-Up Minister, Dehenna Davison, revealed to journalists she had not personally spoken with the Isle of Wight delegation.

"Investment and innovation"

Net zero and renewable energy were key discussion points.

Ms Davison said: "Islands are already at the forefront of these technologies. They want to unlock further investment and innovation, both to help them meet their net zero targets, and also for the skills and local job opportunities that brings.

"I don't want to see a young person feel they have to leave their home town in order to get a good job and get on in life."

On the controversial issue of investment zones, which prompted an attack on government policy, by the RSPB, Hampshire and Isle of Wight NHS Trust and the National Trust, this week, Ms Davison said: "No investment zones are going to be enforced, or imposed.

"It's about local areas buying-in. It's about working with local communities".

Isle of Wight Council Leader Lora Peacey-Wilcox.

How did the Islands Forum get started?

Former Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, Michael Gove, had been expected to attend this inaugural Islands Forum.

He announced it earlier this year, saying: "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."

In February, Isle of Wight MP Bob Seely welcomed its creation, calling it a 'collective voice at the heart of Government.'

At the time, he said: "I thank the Secretary of State so much for taking forward the Islands Forum idea.

"Can he assure us that the Islands Forum will give a voice to islands, such as the Isle of Wight, to be part of the prosperity agenda: in education, in high-quality jobs as well as landscape and escape protection for some of the most unique and beautiful parts of Great Britain?"

Michael Gove said: "The Islands Forum is an idea developed following conversations and advocacy from my Honourable Friend [Mr Seely] because we recognise absolutely, as he has consistently pointed out, that there are particular challenges that island communities face that are the result of distance and dispersal and we need to tackle them."

In June Mr Gove added: “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.

However, on July 6, Mr Gove was sacked by former Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

His successor, Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, Nadhim Zahawi, attended instead, but he was not available to speak to journalists from the Isle of Wight, on Wednesday.

He had been expected to tell island communities they are at the 'heart of the new Prime Minister’s drive for spreading opportunity and prosperity'.

Mr Zahawi was expected to say: "We want to do more to work with all levels of government, including local leaders, to deliver the best for citizens.

"Our islands will be at heart of levelling up, so that opportunity and prosperity – like our inherent talents – extend to every part of the UK."

A second Islands Forum will be held in March.

Its focus and location have yet to be decided - with Island members being encouraged to bid to host it.