Ten year plan to boost isles’ economy

Shetland Islands Council is a major player in the ten-year plan, which has been devised through the Shetland Partnership Board.
Councillors will meet on Wednesday to discuss the implications of the Scottish Government's draft budget. Photo: Shetland News

SEVEN hundred new private sector jobs could be created in Shetland by 2028 if an “ambitious” new ten year plan developed to attract people to live, study, work and invest in the isles is successful.

The plan also reveals a desire to grow the student population by 20 per cent and see the proportion of people living in Shetland aged between 16-29 rise by four per cent.


There are also a number of draft actions included which are designed to boost industry, including looking into developing a maritime transport test centre in Shetland and a national fisheries research and management centre.

Alastair Cooper says Shetland needs to widen its "economic base" going forward.

Shetland Islands Council’s development committee chairman Alastair Cooper said the isles needs to “broaden its economic base” to allow more businesses to expand.

The plan, which has been presented to the Shetland Partnership Board and has already been endorsed by its members, was developed with a primary aim of growing the isles’ economic activity and attracting people to work in Shetland.


It has been “designed to align with the aspirations set out in the ongoing islands deal negotiations and will provide a strong platform for any negotiations with the UK and Scottish governments on the development of regional policy for the post Brexit era.”

The report says it is an “ambitious plan set against a backdrop of ongoing financial challenges for the public sector” – but one that community planning partners need to embrace.

It reiterates that Shetland has “particular problems in attracting the skilled workforce that we require” and adds that proportion of older people in the population is projected to increase faster than the rest of Scotland.


“Opportunities to diversify the economy are challenging, mainly due to the cost factors associated with supply of materials and labour and the added costs of shipping/exporting goods and services,” it says.

“Future market sectors are likely to include creative industries, food and drink and activity/adventure tourism. These are likely to be more ‘niche’ markets, particularly around quality products with sourced provenance.”

The plan adds that it is “essential that community planning partners adopt an economic development strategy that focuses support on sectors that offer the most opportunity for growth and high value job creation”.

These include energy, food and drink (including fisheries and aquaculture), creative industries, tourism and the public sector.

The plan says: "We cannot attract people to Shetland if we are not visible, and in this modern world, visibility means a digital presence and digital accessibility."

SIC economic development manager Douglas Irvine said the national fisheries research centre idea “relates to Brexit and the UK achieving full control of its territorial waters for fishing.”

“The concept is based on persuading the UK and Scottish governments to locate the research close to where the main stocks of fish are,” he added.

“The project would not involve any council expenditure and I would not expect much to be done on the idea until the UK’s post Brexit policies are a bit clearer than they currently are.”


There is also a recommendation in the plan to develop an “entrepreneur-friendly ecosystem” within the isles that would give people better tools to develop their own businesses.

Emphasis is also placed on encouraging young people to stay or move back to Shetland, ensuring digital connectivity, having enough accommodation and developing a range of programmes in study and training.

The report also says there are hopes to develop a “dedicated digital business investment portal” which would market Shetland’s infrastructure, land and buildings for businesses online.

There are a number of draft actions for 2017-20 listed in the ten year plan, including:

  • Undertake a feasibility study into establishing a maritime transport test centre in Shetland (lead partner: Shetland Islands Council)
  • Undertake a feasibility study into the development of a national fisheries research and management centre in the heart of the UK’s most productive fishing grounds (SIC)
  • Seek to facilitate investment in infrastructure to enable Shetland to become a decommissioning centre of excellence which will rival decom yards in Norway (Highlands and Islands Enterprise)
  • Develop a Shetland tourism strategy which will aim to increase the number of non-cruise ship tourists to Shetland
  • Build strong and effective dialogue with the oil and gas industry in order to influence the use of more skilled residential workforce as opposed to an itinerant or travelling workforce (SIC)
  • Undertake a feasibility study to establish a chair in seafood industries in Shetland (Shetland colleges)
  • Influence UHI provision of student accommodation in Shetland with a view to establishing an accommodation facility in Shetland by 2020 (Shetland colleges)
  • Pilot an innovative graduate placement programme which will enable graduates to work part-time at the council and part-time developing their own business idea (SIC)
  • Develop a programme to specifically target women in part-time work to explore opportunities in self-employment (SIC)
  • Develop a ” challenge” to all public and private organisations in Shetland to provide a positive welcome to people who come to live and work in Shetland e.g through special offers etc (Shetland Partnership Board – lead by HIE)

The plan, which was also given to bidders for the Promote Shetland service this summer, will be reviewed and scrutinised by the Shetland Partnership Board on an annual basis.

Shetland Partnership brings together a host of organisations and agencies, including Shetland Islands Council, NHS Shetland, Highlands and Islands Enterprise, the emergency services and Visit Scotland.

SIC man Cooper, who has overseen the local authority’s development committee for a number of years, said there is a growing need to expand the pool of available workers in Shetland to enable companies to grow.

“From a development perspective, we’re trying to encourage folk to come and domicile in the island and broaden the economic base,” he said.

“We have a lot of businesses here in Shetland that can’t expand because they can’t get anymore staff. What we’re looking to do is to encourage another 800 or so folk to come and live and work in Shetland and help to strengthen the economy.”

Cooper added that Shetland needs to maintain – and increase – its ‘pull’ factor to see more young people who have left the isles to get a degree return home.


“We want our young folk to ideally go away and get an education and come back and use that in Shetland,” he said

“If you look now, there are more opportunities for a wider education to be utilised in Shetland than what it was in daresay my young day.”

He said the historically the main routes for people to return to Shetland with a qualification was in areas such as teaching, road engineering or law – but that has all changed.

“There weren’t many opportunities. But if you look at the aquaculture industry now, people can go to university and get a degree in environmental sciences or whatever and come home and help to push our economy upwards.

“There are more opportunities for university degrees to be applied locally now.”