SHETLAND is leading the field in Scotland for providing physical recreation for its local population, according to a report published on Thursday.
Local government watchdog Audit Scotland is concerned that local authorities will find it hard to maintain recreational facilities during the tough economic times that lie ahead and want councils to do more to encourage their use.
However these conclusions from its report “Physical recreation services in local government” do not appear to fit Shetland, where in 2008/9 more than twice as much was spent per head of population on sporting facilities than anywhere else.
Shetland spent £319 per person, more than half of which (£168) came from the charitable trust, with £76 coming from Shetland Islands Council and £75 from entry fees and other direct income.
Its nearest rival is Glasgow City who spent £130 per person, £100 of which came from the council and the rest from receipts. The Western Isles spent just £60.
Shetland’s sport and leisure facilities are also the best used in the country, with the equivalent of every man, woman and child using a leisure centre or swimming pool more than 12 times a year.
The figures are, of course, the result of Shetland Charitable Trust providing the best local facilities in the country, more than making up for the lack of private investment that larger, less remote communities enjoy.
Former SIC councillor and director of leisure and recreation John Nicolson, who led the work programme, said the trust had made an enormous difference to the health and wellbeing of islanders.
Leisure time in remote communities could be dismal during the 1950s of his youth, with many people turning to alcohol as a leisure pursuit.
Now remote islands and rural communities are fielding players of sufficient skill and experience to represent Shetland at regional and even Scotland at national level.
“We are seeing the impact already in competitive situations. Where at one time the inter county teams were basically whatever team was playing in Lerwick – the badminton team was more or less the St Clements Hall club – now they come from the likes of Aith and Yell,” Mr Nicolson said.
The demand for sporting facilities became clear through a survey carried out shortly after the oil money started to flow, taking second place only to road improvements in people’s list of aspirations.
SIC services committee chairman Gussie Angus said the investment in sport and leisure facilities had transformed life for islanders.
A regular swimmer himself, Mr Angus said he could remember rattling a collection tin to raise funds for a Lerwick swimming pool in the 1950s, only managing to accumulate enough for a changing room that still stands beside the Waari Geo, by Breiwick Road, where it was customary in those days to take a dip.
“Probably more than most people in the community, I really appreciate the facilities that we have and go swimming two or three times a week,” he said.
The range of sports on offer in the isles has increased immensely, culminating in the 2005 Island Games where one of the least populated island groups managed to cater for the high standards demanded of such an the international event.
Now the Shetland Recreational Trust is having to trim its cloth along with every part of the islands’ public services as the recessionary chill starts to bite, but it remains in a far stronger position than anywhere else in the country.
In his report, Audit Scotland chairman John Baillie says that more needs to be done to encourage people to use what facilities are available throughout Scotland. This time his strictures need not be applied to this local authority.