SIC - Orkney & Shetland valuation joint board

Opinion: Invest locally

Shetland Livestock Marketing Group chairman Ronnie Eunson

Shetland Charitable Trust continues to invest community funds on the stock markets of the world with only limited and unpredictable returns. Is this what Shetlanders need?

According to Shetland Livestock Marketing Group chairman Ronnie Eunson, at least part of the answer lies in investing in our own local businesses. In this article he urges the Shetland Charitable Trust to once again consider placing their faith in local folk.

Shetland Charitable Trust used to offer reasonably rated loans to agricultural units for everything from expansion to development. This was a very significant route for funding to those who had no other options to find money.

This period of SCT loan finance marked a time of great internal investment in agricultural development.

The bogeyman of state aids seemed to scare decision makers away from this use of community funds. How can investment in a range of dubious multinational companies be justified, when folk at home could be using this money and making repayments?

From the agricultural perspective we need more livestock to supply markets. Stock numbers have dropped dramatically over the past 10 years leaving buyers to look elsewhere than Shetland. The basic problems were not created here, but nationally and internationally. National changes in agricultural policy have resulted in putting many folk off working their land fully.

The Scottish government’s support schemes, which might have encouraged internal investment, like the Scottish Rural Development Programme (SRDP), have been accessible to only a few and have been characterised by the dead hand of unfathomable bureaucracy. Unfortunately local loan funding which had filled the gap also became hide-bound with precautionary obstacles, which largely removed it from being an option.

We have just opened a new abattoir, which is processing large numbers of stock to supply an ever-growing demand. I would not like the opening of the new facility to have created such a demand only to find that it runs out of stock. Shetland was self-sufficient in a range of agricultural products, but these have been replaced by imports, which benefit few.

We need to bring back the desire among Shetlanders to grow their own businesses and not just agricultural ones. We should be encouraging smaller scale economic growth. Banks do not lend on croftland, the charitable trust did. They always got their money back with interest.

If the SIC is agonising over the charitable trust let’s see them get their returns by investing in Shetland’s future.

Shetland’s agriculture may only be a small part of our economy, but it has a disproportionately high importance because of the large number of folk who benefit from its income. It may only generate £16 million or so, but that money is spread throughout families the length and breadth of the isles.

Shetland needs a balanced and active economy, large foreign-owned businesses may have turnovers many times those of agriculture, but where do the profits go?

I would like to see the SIC pay heed to their own efforts to canvas opinion on the future of Shetland by making more funds available for lending to all sizes of local investment. At least these funds will remain in Shetland.