Apprentices in the Western Isles will be among the first in Scotland to be supported in the process of accessing low-cost housing as part of a new initiative to encourage young people to stay in the islands.

The innovative commitment is a key feature of a new Charter Agreement which was signed yesterday (Monday October 28) between Comhairle nan Eilean Siar and Skills Development Scotland (SDS) at the Convention of the Highlands and Islands in Inverness.

The Charter is a first-of-its-kind agreement between a local authority and Skills Development Scotland, outlining a joint commitment to developing, delivering and monitoring services to ensure the needs of the people in the Western Isles are met in terms of education, employment and skills for the benefit of the Islands’ economy.

The agreement was signed by SDS Chair, Frank Mitchel,l and Comhairle nan Eilean Siar Chief Executive, Malcolm Burr, with Minister for Energy, Connectivity and the Islands, Paul Wheelhouse.

Paul Wheelhouse MSP said: “The provision of good, low-cost housing, the accessibility of education and skills pathways, and the availability of good job prospects are major factors for young people when choosing whether to stay on our islands or seek out opportunities elsewhere. Since the introduction of the Islands Act last year, the Scottish Government has been ramping up our efforts to engage with island communities to help us better understand the key issues, which helps us to make real inroads to ensuring a vibrant, sustainable and productive rural economy. So it’s great to be involved in such a collaborative and innovative project with the same aims.”  

Comhairle Chief Executive, Malcolm Burr, said: “This charter will deliver a unified approach and offer to young people throughout the Western Isles on behalf of the local authority, Scottish Government and SDS, and in full collaboration with local providers. As part of the Agreement, the Comhairle has committed to providing low-cost housing for apprentices as a means to encourage young people to stay in the Islands.

“The Comhairle is committed to reversing depopulation and this Agreement, through the combined offer of an apprenticeship and housing, will enable young people to earn, learn and live in the islands, providing them with further opportunity to stay in their own communities.”

Skills Development Scotland Chair, Frank Mitchell, said: “This agreement will allow organisations across the Western Isles to deliver sector-leading services to young people, including careers, employability programmes and apprenticeships.

“The main premise of the Charter is to sustain population in the Western Isles, to support local employers and to ensure that local people have the skills and support they need to thrive in employment.

“We look forward to working in partnership with the local authority on this exciting new approach. Work is already underway to produce similar agreements with other Island local authorities. This new approach will create real opportunities for the people of the Western Isles, and I look forward to seeing the impact it has on this rich and diverse part of Scotland.”

The Charter will also introduce a new ‘joined-up’ approach to local services, including the development of a new Hub facility in Stornoway which will provide a one-stop shop for local careers and employability services, as well as a new digital hub to widen access to support and information.