About the Council of the Isles of Scilly: our corporate narrative

Developing a Corporate Narrative 

In October 2022, we invited the Local Government Association (LGA) to undertake a ‘Corporate Peer Challenge’ at our Council, with the aim of driving improvements and efficiency in specific areas.

Under the guidance of the LGA, a team of experienced officers and members from other councils visited the islands and conducted interviews with Councillors and various officers representing all areas of the Council. The peer team were then invited to provide challenge, share learning and make recommendations. Collectively, they spent over 100 hours arriving at their findings.

One of the recommendations from this Peer Challenge was for the Council to ‘develop a strong corporate narrative.’ The LGA describes a corporate narrative as ‘a great story, told well and truthfully, about your organisation and the place it serves…[it] helps people understand what you stand for, why you're important and your plans for the future.’

In addition to this narrative, our Corporate Plan sets out the objectives the council has agreed to work towards over a 4-year period. The Delivery Plan sets out how we intend to achieve these objectives. We encourage you to get in touch with your councillors to provide any views you may have on the extent to which these plans are in line with what the Council of the Isles of Scilly is here to do: we can’t make the changes you want to see unless you ask for them.

Our Council's Corporate Narrative

Photograph of the Town Hall as it looked soon after the council came into being in 1891, from the Gibson family collection donated to the Isles of Scilly Museum

The Town Hall as it looked soon after the council came into being in 1891. Credit: Isles of Scilly Museum Association; Gibson family collection.

History and remit of the council

The Council of the Isles of Scilly was formed under the Local Government Board’s Provisional Order Confirmation (No 6) Act 1890, under the Local Government Act 1888. It came into being in 1891, enabling people living on the islands to elect their own representatives for the first time.

The council was granted powers equal to those of mainland county councils to ensure that all aspects of the islands’ administration could be tailored to the needs of the islands and their inhabitants. This decision was made to acknowledge the unique challenges faced by those living so remotely from the mainland and, in the case of residents on the off-islands of Tresco, St Martin’s, St Agnes and Bryher, from the largest and most heavily populated island of St Mary’s.

Today, the council consists of 16 seats for elected members: 12 from St Mary’s and 1 from each of the inhabited off-islands. Elections are held every 4 years. The council remains one of only two sui generis unitary authorities in the United Kingdom, the other being the City of London Corporation. This unusual status means that some administrative law that applies in the rest of England applies in modified form on the islands and that the Council of the Isles of Scilly usually has to be specifically mentioned in legislation for it to apply.

Considering the tiny size of the administrative area, we are incredibly fortunate to have a council with wide ranging powers, offering a great degree of localised control and diverse employment opportunities. We are the voice of residents in discussions with government and other organisations, both on the islands and elsewhere, and we are often the operator of last resort due to a lack of suitable alternative organisations from other sectors on the islands. These factors combined mean that we have responsibilities relating to all of the following, in addition to the range of corporate and back-office functions which keep the authority running:

  • Registration of births, deaths and marriages
  • Benefits and taxation
  • Elections
  • Highways
  • Education
  • Family services
  • Social Services for adults and children
  • Libraries
  • Public Health
  • Housing
  • Waste management
  • Environmental Health
  • Planning
  • Building Control
  • Licensing
  • Flood Authority
  • Promotion of economic development
  • Emergency planning and business continuity
  • Animal health
  • Leisure services

Unusually for a local authority, we run an airport, a residential care home and a Fire and Rescue Service with stations on all of the inhabited islands (5 in total). The Council also makes provision for the coroner’s court whenever necessary and hosts the Isles of Scilly Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authority (IFCA), by providing the administrative and financial support necessary for it to function remotely from mainland IFCAs.

It’s clear from our archives that the issues facing our council and community haven’t changed very much over the years despite the influence of the modern world which has made many mainland villages and centres less recognisable or distinct than their communities would like. This is largely thanks to our geographical remoteness, which has always provided challenges, but which also puts a limit on the large-scale changes which can take place on the islands. We must still be careful that as we embrace the changes that make it easier to live and work on Scilly, the perspective of our community remains inherent in everything we do, and that the council’s on-island workforce remains resilient enough to support our geographically isolated community.

The current lack of housing availability, national policy constraints and remote working all put pressure on the council’s ability to offer a full range of services and employment opportunities (which in turn support the local economy) on the islands. Collaboration is the bedrock of all local authority work. All councils rely on external expertise or specialisms in the course of their work and there will always be a need to share information with other organisations and find common ground for the benefit of the islands. It nearly always seems more cost effective to look for solutions externally given the lack of economies of scale on the islands, but the council cannot always take the easiest or cheapest route to service delivery if this leads to an over-reliance on mainland-based organisations and outsourced functions, as this could ultimately jeopardise our ability to function independently.

The history of the council cannot be separated from the history of the islands and the council remains a unique and living part of our culture and heritage. We must ensure above all else that the council can continue to support future generations to enjoy life on Scilly in full. In order to be useful to the community, the council must be in a good state of health and be a trusted organisation. Maintaining a functioning unitary authority on the islands is an extremely ambitious project in its own right and we believe that the council is most secure and serves the community most effectively when it focusses on enacting its existing duties well without taking on too many additional activities. This means being mindful of our size and being selective about which opportunities we pursue and the number of projects we can sustain at any given time.

What the council is here to do

Whilst the council has a number of regulatory roles and functions, we think you also want the council to use its powers, funding and influence to maintain and enhance everything that the community holds dear and makes Scilly unique: what is often referred to as the ‘character of the islands.’ We never want to lose focus on these aspects of life on Scilly:

  • Feeling and being safe. People frequently comment on how safe they feel on the islands compared to the mainland and the greater sense of freedom and community this affords. It is easily taken for granted and the local authority has a role to play in helping to maintain this by managing highways responsibly, doing what we can to enable a good standard of living and high rates of employment, and working with local police and other emergency services to reduce the factors which lead to the escalation of crime and disorder.
  • Excellent localised services for all. Committing to life on Scilly is only a possibility through access to on-island services and facilities, such as the school, leisure centre, hospital, health centre and care home. This access is important in ensuring that those who move away from the islands are doing so by choice, rather than because they are not able to access basic services. We think you appreciate services which are inclusive, run locally and are familiar with and focussed on island concerns, such as access for those living on the off-islands. All businesses and organisations that employ people based on the islands contribute to the sustainability of the community and the availability of the services we rely on. As the employer with the largest on-island workforce, the council has a disproportionate impact on the availability of people to take up other roles (paid or voluntary) on the islands.
  • Local ties and knowledge. We don’t think anyone wants to lose the longstanding ancestral connections, local characters or skills and stories that have been passed down through generations on the islands, as this is a large part of what gives Scilly its identity. The council has a role in providing the housing, services and infrastructure necessary to ensure it remains possible for people already resident on, or wanting to return to the islands, to live in the place they know and love. These same provisions are necessary if the islands are to continue to welcome people from all over the world and encourage them to make their homes here for the benefit of the whole community.
  • Local industries and culture. Our local industries are important to us and form part of the islands’ character. Visitors to the islands are also interested in how our local economy and industries have changed over time, but also how some of our traditions have remained. We think you want to enable traditional industries such as flower farming, boat building and fishing to remain viable for years to come and for the council to support these sectors, whilst also encouraging innovation and diversification of the islands’ economy.
  • Local career and income opportunities. One of the things that enables people to remain on or return to the islands is the provision of opportunities to learn, develop and be employed well here. The council has a role in enabling this to continue for future generations by offering a diverse range of roles at the council itself and also encouraging a more diverse and sustainable economic landscape. We should not underestimate the impact of the council employing people locally on the economy of the islands.
  • Beautiful landscape, dark skies and nationally important habitats. The landscape of the Isles of Scilly is recognised as outstanding, and this community has kept it clean, quiet and as natural as possible for generations. As well as making sure we don’t disrupt this precious environment, we want to do everything we can to preserve and enhance biodiversity on the islands to help native species survive. We should remember that Scilly is a place people want to visit and live because it’s not like anywhere else.
  • Being ‘in it together.’ We want to ensure that Scilly remains egalitarian and community-spirited, with people sharing the same experiences, being treated fairly and having equal opportunities no matter their background or circumstances. We think part of Scilly’s appeal is the ability of the community to pull together when events isolate them from mainland services, such as during the coronavirus pandemic, or when transport links are compromised. We need to be mindful of ensuring we are always able to do this effectively, which means retaining a strong and sustainable on-island workforce across all organisations and sectors.

What we can do well

It’s easy to focus on the difficulties of being a small and remote Local Authority: delivering services here is often more complex, labour intensive and expensive and we constantly have to explain our unique context to other organisations that do not face the same challenges. However, we believe that any challenges are far outweighed by two fundamental advantages, which the community has long fought to establish and preserve, and which we think you want to see strengthened:

  • We’re able to represent our community’s needs directly to government. We recognise that villages with population numbers similar to ours would give anything to have the level of autonomy, employment opportunity and localised services that our council’s status affords these islands. These powers, unique to unitary authorities, mean we can effect change based on what is right for our community and represent you with much greater weight than would otherwise be the case at regional and national level. We can do this without reference to any other council or organisation and without further devolution, which is something that many mainland Local Authorities are still striving to achieve.

    As the current custodians of the council, we accept that one of our primary responsibilities is to maintain and strengthen this unique local authority so its heritage lives on and it can provide for future generations of islanders.
  • Direct connection to the community. With an on-island workforce who share and understand your day-to-day experiences comes the ability to provide better and more face-to-face customer service in a world where everything is becoming increasingly remote. We think you value this human connection. The fact that your councillors also share your experience of island life means the needs of the community can be prioritised much more easily than in larger authorities and we recognise that whenever we allow this connection to our community to dwindle, we must return our focus to achieving it.