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Politics / Wishart left disappointed by government programme

MSP keen to see more on broadband, Fair Isle ferry, fixed links and transport costs

LOCAL MSP Beatrice Wishart has claimed there is a “lack of ambition” for Shetland in the Scottish Government’s newly published priorities for the year ahead.

She criticised an absence of acknowledgement in the Programme of Government 2020/21 on the lack of progress for bringing superfast broadband to all parts of Shetland – as well as no sign of funding for a replacement Fair Isle ferry.

Liberal Democrat Wishart also said she was disappointed there was no acceptance of the “financial and environmental sense behind exploring fixed links in Shetland”.

Speaking remotely in the Scottish Parliament on Wednesday, Wishart said: “Basic asks, that Shetlanders have been calling for years, went completely unacknowledged once again.

“A Scotland wide tech revolution is exciting and could be transformational but there was no acknowledgement that the R100 programme is two years behind, and that rollout in the highlands and islands is on the brink.

“The people in Foula and Skerries would be delighted to have a boost to their digital capability – they don’t even get a basic broadband service never mind superfast.

“I note the headline ‘supporting local economies’ but there was no sign of funding for the replacement of the 34-year old Good Shepherd, the ferry that serves the community of Fair Isle and its economy.

“A ‘green recovery’ was another headline, but there was no acceptance of the financial and environmental sense behind exploring fixed links in Shetland.”

Shetland MSP Beatrice Wishart: ‘So it was discouraging, but not surprising, to then see the islands batted around once again’. Photo: Shetland News

Wishart added that after last year’s Scottish Parliament by-election, in which a number of SNP politicians and campaigners visited the isles, she thought the party would be “well acquainted with the sky-high cost of travel to the islands – as their election return made clear, it is not cheap”.

“So it was discouraging, but not surprising, to then see the islands batted around once again over fair funding for the internal ferry service in this year’s budget negotiations,” she continued.

“The programme doesn’t take that any further forward.

“For visitors looking for a holiday, paying eye watering sums is difficult enough – and that is no help to the islands’ tourism industry. But for islanders, who need to travel to the mainland to access the basic services that others take for granted, it is not just difficult – it is stifling.

“So these costs are not just part and parcel of living in the islands. They are the result of years and years of choices by a government that prefers to look elsewhere.”

There was no direct response from the Scottish Government on the points she raised during the debate of the programme for government.

One thing that was included in the government programme which could have a direct impact on Shetland was the intention to establish a £2 million Green Recovery Programme for Scotland’s islands.

First minister Nicola Sturgeon said the initiative would open in October to help deliver on the government’s low carbon related commitments.

“This will include specific ring fenced funding for capital projects on islands relating to net zero and green recovery objectives, creating high quality, skilled, green jobs in some of our most remote and vulnerable communities,” the government said.