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Council / Former SIC leader disappointed by amount of islands deal funding pledged by government

FORMER leader of Shetland Islands Council (SIC) Gary Robinson, who was involved in the first discussions around an islands growth deal, believes the amount of funding coming to Shetland, Orkney and the Western Isles in the economic package is “hugely disappointing”.

Robinson said that the combined £100 million settlement from the UK and Scottish Governments is “helpful, but not transformational”.

Gary Robinson.

The former councillor was leader of the SIC when the islands deal was first mooted, in 2013/14.

He was involved in the formation of the Our Islands, Our Future initiative which looked for government to take into account the special needs of the three island groups, before losing out in the 2017 council election.

Robinson said the three council areas had a “starting point” where the ask was for £300 million for each of the island groups, “which would have been truly transformational”.

An “underwhelmed” Robinson believes that the £100 million being spread over 15 years may also diminish the impact of the funding.

The settlement for the islands, however, represents an award of almost three-times the per capita figure based on other Scottish growth deals.

This is something which has been lauded by current SIC leader Steven Coutts, who said the deal has the “potential to transform our islands”.

Shetland-related projects which are in line to receive funding include decommissioning, the redevelopment of the Knab site and plans for a space centre.

“The fact that it’s over such a lengthy period of time as well means that it’s going to be such a slow burn, it’s going to scarcely be noticed,” Robinson said.

“My fear all along is that this has been allowed to drift on to such an extent that the amount of money going into the deal has just dwindled away over that time.

“The islands four years ago were in line for one of Scotland’s first regional deals, but we’ve ended up very nearly at the back of the queue.”

He said the three islands had “real clarity” on a possible deal in 2016 but the local elections and a change of leadership a year later may have affected its progress.

Highlands and Islands Enterprise, meanwhile, has welcomed the islands deal confirmation.

Chief executive Charlotte Wright said: “This will support projects that have the potential to benefit communities across the dispersed population and geography of the islands.

“It will also promote innovation and employment and help deliver sustainable and inclusive economic recovery in some of our most rural areas.

“We look forward to working closely with our partners in the islands growth deal to deliver these important benefits over the next ten years.”

The Prospect union has also used the news to reiterate its opposition to plans by government-owned Highlands and Islands Airports Ltd (HIAL) to centralise air traffic control in Inverness.

Negotiator David Avery said: “Investment in the islands is vital to maintain those thriving communities but if the government turns its back on high value jobs in those areas then what is the point?

“HIAL, with the full approval of the Scottish Government, is currently pressing on with its plans to move air traffic control operations from  the communities they serve to a central hub.

“This will remove £15 million of direct employment from the islands which goes against the Islands plan and suggest that despite this investment today, the government is not serious about doing what is required.

“It’s time HIAL dropped these damaging and unnecessary plans to centralise air traffic in Inverness, and worked with their staff to deploy a world class service in each of the islands.”