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Isles’ ‘challenge’ to replace £20-30 million of EU funding

SIC development director Neil Grant.

IT WILL be a “challenge” to replace the £20-30 million in European Union funding that comes to the isles every year once Britain exits the EU, a meeting of the Shetland Partnership Board heard on Tuesday.

SIC development director Neil Grant presented a briefing note in which he outlined that it may be necessary to commission research to assess the economic impact of June’s referendum, which resulted in a 52-48 margin in favour of leaving the EU.

In Shetland 56.5 per cent voted to remain, which Grant said indicated a result that “while seemingly unequivocal, may not represent some of our larger industry sectors’ perspectives” – noting the widespread opposition to the EU within the fishing industry in particular.

He said it was essential that “hard data must be collated” and government lobbying by the public sector and key industries in Shetland would be needed.

Some industries are already getting on with that job, Grant noted, and he highlighted the need to impress upon government the huge role European nationals play in the public and private sector workforces of these islands.

“We really need to try hard to protect the workforce,” Grant told BBC Radio Shetland, “and from a Shetland community point of view, it’s really important that we all and the UK government understand the value that the European workforce in Shetland provides.”

Grant said Shetland College was “maintaining a watching brief” because any move it made following the referendum result “could easily become null and void depending on what the negotiations throw up”.

He said likely implications for colleges and universities include changes to funding streams currently accessed via the EU such as ERASMUS+. There could also be an impact on activity between countries and on the ability to attract students from EU countries.

The NAFC Marine Centre has already conducted research on behalf of the Shetland Fishermen’s Association showing that 58 per cent of fish and shellfish landed in the UK’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ) was caught by non-UK boats.

Meanwhile, Scottish Fishermen’s Federation (SFF) chairman Bertie Armstrong said following more talks with the UK government in London on Wednesday that “Brexit for fishing is not the same as Brexit for most other industries”, describing it as a “sea of opportunity” that would bring back control of some of the world’s fishing grounds in the world.