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Coronavirus / Community council chairman sounds warning over economic impact of Covid-19

A WARNING was made at a meeting of Lerwick Community Council last night (Monday) that the worst is set to come regarding the economic impact of Covid-19.

Community council chairman Jim Anderson said he feared “the outfall for this whole saga that we are in is only going to unfold”.

Members raised the topic while discussing correspondence with Shetland Charitable Trust over what support it could provide during the coronavirus crisis.

Charitable trust chief executive Ann Black said that the organisation’s usual grant scheme should “ensure, in conjunction with the plethora of Covid-19 government and national support that is available, that organisations are able to continue to deliver services for the benefit of the people of Shetland”.

She reiterated that the trust can “can only support activities that are deemed to be charitable” – not businesses.

The trust made payments totalling around £3.7 million to various organisations in April this year as part of its usual grant scheme, irrespective of their operational status.

“We have been in regular contact with all the organisations we fund to understand their individual circumstances and the trust will continue to assess how we can support organisations and the community as this crisis unfolds,” Black added.

The trust funds organisations such as Shetland Arts and the amenity and recreational trusts – three bodies that have furloughed the majority of their staff as venues remain closed.

But the wider impact of coronavirus was raised during a virtual meeting of Lerwick Community Council on Monday night, with Gary Robinson – who chairs NHS Shetland – warning that one of the biggest challenge would be the impact on local businesses and folk keeping their jobs.

Lerwick councillor Stephen Leask, who is the vice-chair of Shetland Islands Council’s (SIC) development committee, said: “I think when money will really be needed will be during the recovery phase.

Stewart Hay, meanwhile, said many organisations and agencies would need to work together to help Shetland recover from the crisis.

Gary Robinson suggested the community council could ask Highlands and Islands Enterprise instead of the charitable trust. “I think we need to ask them in that context and what they are actually going to do.”

Hundreds of Shetland businesses have successfully applied for emergency grants from the government, while the job retention scheme – which covers 80 per cent of salaries – has also been widely utilised locally.

It remains to be seen, however, what the long-term fallout might be for some businesses.

Robinson also referred to impending job losses at Scatsta Airport and the uncertainty at Sullom Voe Terminal, saying there was a need for the local economy to look to the future.

“How do we actually transition the Shetland economy from one that has been reliant on oil and gas for so long to one that is a bit more diversified?” he asked.

The former SIC leader also said it was his belief that a proposed economic growth deal for Shetland, Orkney and the Western Isles from the UK and Scottish governments is “not looking as lucrative as maybe we once hoped it was”.

Rounding off the discussion, chairman Anderson said: “There’s still unfortunately far more questions than answers.”

Lerwick Community Council, meanwhile, has around £6,700 left to spend from a near-£25,000 Covid-19 crisis grant it received from the Scottish Government.

It has already spent £2,133 on ten 4G-enabled tablets for members of the community, with 50 more on order.

Grants have also been provided to Ability Shetland (£600) and Shetland Women’s Aid (£2,000), while Shetland Bereavement Service is in line to receive £1,000.

A number of community councils and groups across Shetland have also received funding from the supporting communities fund.