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Council / SIC looking to push UK and Scottish governments on islands deal decision

SIC development director Neil Grant. Photo: Shetland News.
SIC development director Neil Grant. Photo: Shetland News.

COUNCILS in Shetland, Orkney and the Western Isles are pushing the UK and Scottish governments to make a decision on the proposed economic growth deal for the islands as the coronavirus crisis continues to bite.

Shetland Islands Council (SIC) development director Neil Grant said there is a “recognised need for as much economic stimulus to happen as possible” as the country reels from the impact of the coronavirus outbreak.

An islands deal, which has been proposed jointly by the UK and Scottish governments, would aim to drive growth and stimulate economies in Shetland, Orkney and the Western Isles.

However, it has not yet been formally confirmed, nor has the exact amount of funding it will provide to the islands.

A report presented to councillors late last year confirmed that the islands’ bid asked for a combined total of £300 million, with the SIC requesting funding for projects like the Knab site redevelopment and industries like aquaculture and decommissioning.

There are already a number of growth deals in place in cities and regions across the UK, including a £315 million agreement for Inverness and the Highlands.

Grant said an islands deal could form a “significant part” of stimulating local economies as they come out of the coronavirus pandemic.

“The three islands collectively are looking at making a case to both governments to push forward a decision on an islands deal,” he said.

“The sooner that could happen the better.”

Grant added that there is a “strong anticipation” that an islands deal will come to fruition.

“It’s not been agreed as such, but I’d say that for representatives from both governments and the islands, there’s an expectation that an islands deal will happen.”

With the UK and Scottish governments shelling out vast swathes of money to support businesses during the pandemic, there could be a line of thought that spending hundreds of millions more is the last thing ministers want.

But Grant said an islands deal would not only have benefits for communities, but for the governments too.

“For the city and region deals and the islands deal that we’ve been working on, it should be a win-win,” he said.

“In terms of the projects that the governments have helped fund, they will significantly benefit the communities. Importantly they’ll increase jobs and the economic activity, and both the governments and the councils and communities should significantly benefit from them.”

Grant, meanwhile, praised local businesses for the way they have responded to the Covid-19 crisis.

He stressed, however, that Shetland needs to be in the “right position” when things start to move again.

“Local businesses have handled themselves exceptionally well,” the development director said.

“It’s been really, really difficult for pretty much everybody, and what they’ve continued to do is to keep looking at their options and keep working through the possible scenarios so that they are positioned the best they can be when things start opening up.”