NEW Scottish cabinet secretary for communities and local government Aileen Campbell made Shetland her first port of call on local government matters with a visit to the isles in Tuesday.
After a meeting with Shetland Islands Council leader Steven Coutts and chief executive Maggie Sandison on Tuesday, Campbell said that discussions on food banks and fuel poverty had featured prominently ahead of a bill coming through parliament.
“There was real commitment to work together with national government,” she said.
“There has been recently a lot of strengthening of the prominence of our island communities through the legislation passed recently.
“Clearly we are wanting to reiterate and underline the fact that parts of Shetland, the remoteness, the rurality, the fact that it’s island communities, adds significantly to the cost of living, and fuel poverty is a real big issue that the council is looking to work through and certainly we heard that at national government level.”
Campbell said that she was disappointed that figures for food bank usage were on the increase in Shetland and that, ideally, there would be no need for food banks.
One of her first ministerial measures had been to announce money for children during the school holidays to allow access to food over the holiday period.
She said: “These are really challenging holiday weeks for many families who are having to cope with that extra cost of a child being home. That lack of secure access to food is not something we want to see in a Scotland that is rich in resources.”
The minister’s comments were made during a visit to social enterprise company COPE’s Shetland Soap subsidiary.
COPE chief executive Ingrid Webb said that the visit was “really important” because it gave COPE staff the chance to highlight the benefits of social enterprise, a movement in which Scotland was “seen as the world leader”.
Webb added: “I suppose for us, it’s again, showing that people with learning disabilities are really capable and should be valued members of our community because they are making exceptionally high quality products day in day out.”
The visit also gave Cope staff the chance to speak to the cabinet secretary about the “barriers” to the growth of social enterprise.
Webb added: “As a whole I think the Scottish Government have been really supportive of social enterprise. There’s a cross party group about social enterprise going to start meeting again in September and I hope to be part of that.
“There is, I would say, real buy-in from the Scottish Government about a more social economy, as opposed to just looking at our GDP and that not meaning anything.
“I am optimistic and I think that there is so much more that we can still be doing.”
Cope employability manager Alison Moar said that it was an “absolute honour” to have the cabinet secretary at the Shetland Soap Company.
“It’s been great for us and great for the participants who have been really excited about her coming along to visit and to show her exactly what goes on here at Cope.
“It’s great to have her hearing and to share what exactly we are doing here and how we are developing opportunities for people with learning disabilities. She can take things back down the road.”