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Food festival gets the chop

What next? Last year's Scottish chef of the year Neil Forbes plates up with Ian Morrison and Alison Moar at last year's Shetland Food Festival's Ready, Steady Shetland. Pic. Billy Fox/SIC

SHETLAND’S local food producers may band together to run their own food festival after the local authority withdrew its funding for the annual event due to take place in November.

Producers were informed just last week that the £25,000 budget could not be justified at a time of spending cuts at Shetland Islands Council, where £30 million annual savings are being sought over the next two years.

SIC economic development executive manager Douglas Irvine said: “We took the decision that we couldn’t go ahead with such funding at a time when schools are being closed and there’s likely to be cuts in other services.”

The food festival was established five years ago with a grand opening featuring French celebrity chef Jean-Christophe Novelli.

The event has grown in popularity, especially since it was linked with the Shetland Craft Fair two years ago, and last year’s Ready Steady Cook event drew enthusiastic crowds. Estimated visitor numbers over the 10 days ran into the thousands, with 22 stall holders representing even more producers.

Designed to promote Shetland produce, local firms said that it was one of the highlights of their year.

Jay Hawkins, of Shetland Cheese, said: “It was our biggest individual event of the year for sales.

“It was an opportunity to meet customers you didn’t see at farmers’ markets, I was able to sell lots of products for Christmas hampers and could try out new products on large numbers of people.

“It’s very disappointing that this has happened, but I can understand in the bigger scheme of things I would rather my son’s school stayed open, and if this can help then so be it.”

Ann Johnson, of Scoop Wholefoods, added: “It was a shop window, it showed people there was a good range of good quality local food available with very low food miles, which I think is often forgotten.

“I am disappointed, but people understand keeping schools open is far more important than a food festival.”

Producers have started speaking amongst themselves to see if they could collaborate in some kind of event beside the craft fair in November.

The annual craft fair at Lerwick’s Clickimin Leisure Complex has been funded entirely by local craft producers for the past eight years, after being initially launched with the help of local authority funding.

The SIC’s economic development unit is also considering how it can assist the producers to set up their own event in the future.

“We are going to work more closely with the industry to see how they might be more involved in helping to meet the costs for such events,” Irvine said.