I read with interest the ‘Where all the money goes’ article (SN 2/12/14). The article says that campaigners against rural school closures have railed against what they perceive to be Shetland Islands Council’s agenda of centralising services to Lerwick, and that the perception exists that Lerwick benefits from largesse at their expense.
The outgoing head of finance has prepared a table to contradict this “widely held belief”, and demonstrates in the table that spending per average on each Shetland citizen is much less in Lerwick than in rural areas, particularly regarding the spending per head of population in Shetland’s nine main inhabited islands.
I would like to counter this by saying that this table of figures is irrelevant. The centralising of services is a different thing from the expenditure per head of population, and it is not expenditure per head that rural communities are complaining about.
It is no secret that remote areas with a small population such as in Shetland, and the Scottish highlands and islands, have to be subsidised because of higher costs for maintenance/transport/ delivery etc. But that is because most amenities and services are not near them. The fact that services and amenities are centralised actually causes more necessary expenditure per head in outlying areas.
Shetland, being relatively small, should geographically be more able to provide amenities throughout the area, but has instead focussed on Lerwick, causing the town to be more attractive than other areas.
For example, to name but a few recent developments, the Shetland Museum, Mareel, Tesco.
Why could any of the above not have been built in Tingwall, or Scalloway, or Cunningsborough, or Brae, or Voe, or Bixter, or Whalsay and so on and so on? Why is it fair that people always have to go to Lerwick to enjoy these amenities?
Ridiculous as some of these suggestions might be, the reality is that if one wants to see a film at Mareel, if you live in Hillswick you have to drive 30 miles there and back to do so. Or if you live in Whalsay, you have to get a ferry for 30 minutes, then drive for 15 miles to Lerwick then rush back to get the ferry home.
If Tesco had been built in – Aith for example – it would have brought jobs to the area and people would have travelled there as they do to Lerwick. Lerwick folk might have had to experience what others have to do, i.e. travel for miles to do their supermarket shopping.
People who are complaining about ‘centralisation’ in Shetland have a very legitimate grievance when it comes to the provision of amenities. It is very similar, for example – albeit on a much larger scale – to the lament of southerners who complain about London receiving more amenities than anywhere else in England.
Yes, less might be spent by the council per head of population in Lerwick, but it is at the personal expense of people living elsewhere in Shetland.
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