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Development chair wanted more industry response

Lerwick Town Hall.

THE CHAIRMAN of Shetland Islands Council’s (SIC) development committee says he is disappointed local industries did not get more involved in shaping the council’s economic development strategy for the next four years.

Members of the committee met on Monday to back the strategy, which aims to see 250 new private sector jobs created in Shetland by 2022.

But chairman councillor Alastair Cooper said he was disappointed by the lack of response from industry representatives when a draft plan went out to consultation in the summer.

It is understood that while a series of industries from fishing to tourism and construction had been asked for their views, the only responses received by the council were from bodies like Highlands and Islands Enterprise and community planning.

“I think the council’s strategy is very important for the way in which economic development engages with industry and I would have liked the industry to have been more involved in shaping that document and saying what they require and the extent to which that document meets their requirements,” Cooper said after the meeting.

“But I think it’s incumbent now on economic development to go out to industry and have that engagement so that next year when we reflect on the document and see if it’s delivering what we’re wanting, that we have a better idea what industry are wanting and the extent to which the local authority can meet that.”

The council’s development team have put together a refreshed strategy to guide the isles’ economy through the next four years – although they admit the effect of Brexit will add an unknown certainty to how things will pan out.

The strategy, written by business development project manager Thomas Coutts, says the “challenge for Shetland Islands Council and its community planning partners is to build on the high performance of our key sectors – fisheries, oil and gas, engineering – while ensuring that the economy diversifies”.

“The creative sector, local food and drink production, new technology and developing new attractions for visitors will be key to this,” it added.

A list of aims in the strategy also includes the support of two new business improvement districts by 2022.

Lerwick is Shetland’s only business improvement district at the moment, led by Living Lerwick.

It also wants to support the development of five new district heating schemes across the isles by 2022, as well as the creation of a network of cultural and creative centres in rural locations.

Officials are also keen to see six commercial kitchen workshops developed by 2022 to support the use of local produce.

Lerwick councillor John Fraser recommended that the council should aim high when setting goals, saying the 250 jobs goal should read a minimum of 250 jobs, for instance.

Fellow town member Peter Campbell also asked if the council would be likely to reach its goals for graduate placements, while south mainland councillor Allison Duncan questioned what the “worst case scenario” could be for the isles’ economy when it came to Brexit.

Development director Neil Grant said approaching Brexit on the front foot was the best way forward and used Shetland bolstering its fish markets in Lerwick and Scalloway as an example of how the isles are planning ahead regardless.

“I think the best way for us to approach this is being proactive,” he said.

A draft of the strategy was put out to consultation in July and August, and the amended version was approved by the development committee on Monday.

It will be presented to the policy and resources committee next week before going in front of the full council for approval on 31 October.

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