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Islands deal discussions continue

There are hopes that 700 jobs could be created in Shetland as a result of the growth deal

Lerwick Town Hall.
Lerwick Town Hall.

A LONGLIST of over 50 projects has been whittled down to a shortlist of around ten as negotiations continue over which proposals Shetland will put forward in its bid for funding from a possible islands deal.

There are hopes that the economic boost of the proposed islands growth deal could result in 700 new jobs for Shetland over time.

The islands deal is proposed by the UK and Scottish governments to drive growth in Shetland, Orkney and the Western Isles.

Negotiations on a deal have been ongoing for a number of years as the two governments look to extend growth deals already established in certain cities and regions to the Scottish islands.

The islands deal negotiations, however, now appear to be coming to their finale. They have involved the chief executives and development directors of the Shetland, Orkney and Western Isles councils, who undertake a video conference every month.

In Shetland, Highlands and Islands Enterprise and NHS Shetland are members of the project board and are “key partners” in developing the proposals.

Shetland Islands Council development director Neil Grant said he would not drawn on the level of funding which could come north if the deal is signed off.

The Inverness and Highland city-region deal however, which was struck in 2017, was worth a total of £315 million.

Grant said projects which are being proposed from Shetland include the Knab site redevelopment, aquaculture, skills and learning and a scheme to sustain activity in the oil and gas sector.

He said they are all projects which are already being pursued regardless of the deal.

“There’s another one around primary industry innovation, Grant added.

“So, recognising that the biggest parts of economy are things like the seafood industry. It’s an innovation project around the big primary industries.

“The two fish markets, the ones that are being built at the moment, stand up on their right by way of business case, so they’ve gone ahead anyway, but that is the type of project that could come into the ask.”

Some of the outcomes which are being prioritised are the demographics of the three island groups, and attracting people to work in places like Shetland.

“It’s the same basis that we identified in the ten year plan to attract people to Shetland,” Grant said.

“We’re looking at about 700 new jobs. In terms of creating that, for a community our size, it’s a big challenge, but it’s no different to the one that we set out in the ten year plan.

“The other challenge that sites with it is that if you just take Shetland as it stands at the moment, on average we need to replace about 400 jobs each year. That’s with people retiring, moving on, jobs becoming vacant – just turnover.”

For NHS Shetland, meanwhile, an islands deal could help to counter its difficulty in recruiting staff.

The discussions have also had a focus on digital health care and how to approach “healthy ageing”.

Interim NHS Shetland chief executive Simon Bokor-Ingram said the aims of the islands deal align closely to those of the Shetland Partnership Plan, which “NHS Shetland has been very involved in developing and which we support”.

“These seek to create the conditions for a more sustainable future for our economy and communities,” he continued.

“NHS Shetland, with the SIC and Highlands and Islands Enterprise, has participated in the development of the deal through the local project board. Supporting a vibrant, and more equal, economy through the creation of high quality, well paid jobs will help to encourage people to live and work in Shetland. This helps NHS Shetland to attract staff to work in our islands.

“It also helps to create a more balanced population, to address our demographic challenges, with the conditions for a more sustainable health and care service. We are exploring how the deal could build on work across the islands to develop digital health and care and approaches to healthy ageing.

“This is something that is ongoing for NHS Shetland but can be further developed through investing in new technology and informing and enabling the community to use this technology and so make their access to healthcare easier.”