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SIC’s economic record

SHETLAND Islands Council’s economic development unit has laid claim to preserving 310 jobs and potentially creating up to 484 over the five year lifetime of the current council.

The final meeting of the council’s development committee prior to May’s election heard the department had made a huge contribution to keeping unemployment down in the isles.

Committee chairman Alastair Cooper joined the collective praise of the department on Friday, however warned that there was a steep hill to climb for the next council to stimulate the local economy at a time when budget cuts are biting hard.

“We are going to have to make sure that the money we put in provides the infrastructure the business community is needing in order that they can be more cost effective and can survive in the new marketplace, that’s going to be the challenge for the next council going in,” Mr Cooper told BBC Radio Shetland.

The department is proud of its new promotional arm Promote Shetland and the work it has done supporting the traditional industries, such as fisheries, agriculture, tourism and knitwear.

Over five years it has paid out £29 million in grants and £8.5 million in loans, securing £7.6 million in external funding.

Major achievements include local businesses gaining work at the new Total gas plant, the Viking Energy project being developed to a planning application, a fibre optic broadband service to be launched this month, Mareel to open this year and successful Hamefarin and Tall Ships festivals.

Forecast job figures include 200 permanent jobs when the new gas plant opens, the number of construction jobs at Sullom Voe rising from the current 300 to 1,000 and potentially 100 or more jobs if Viking Energy goes ahead.

However plans for a Shetland Chamber of Commerce were not achieved and it was recognised that the council had a “general weakness” engaging with industry, which had to be addressed.