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Politics / Todd calls on Wishart to play constructive part in budget talks

Shetland MSP Beatrice Wishart (Lib Dems) and Highlands and Islands MSP Maree Todd (SNP). Photos: Shetland News

HIGHLANDS and Islands MSP Maree Todd has accused local MSP Beatrice Wishart of continuing “the liberal tradition of sniping from the side-lines” and invited her to take a “less negative attitude” in the forthcoming Scottish budget discussions.

Pointing at the high ‘per head allocation’ Shetland Islands Council receives from the Scottish Government in grant funding, the MSP said it was simply not accurate to say that the isles were singled out for unfair treatment from the SNP minority government.

Speaking in parliament via video link on Wednesday, Wishart had expressed her disappointment with the lack of ambition in the government programme for 2020/21 in areas such as connectivity, upgrading ferries and the high cost of travelling to and from the isles.

“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,” Wishart said.

Wishart left disappointed by government programme

Responding on Friday, Todd said that “lack of ambition for Shetland” would be a more accurate description of her [Wishart’s] own contributions to the debate.

The minister for children and young people said the Scottish Government was keen to help but finds it difficult to support the SIC on investing in better transport infrastructure without the access to further borrowing powers.

“Digital connectivity will be crucial to our economic recovery of this pandemic, we have already seen the pivotal role it has played in recent months,” she said.

“Despite broadband and connectivity being reserved to Westminster, the Scottish Government stepped up after a series of UK Government failures and committed to delivering 100 per cent superfast broadband access across Scotland.

“So far, the Scottish Government has dedicated 95 per cent of the £600 million funding required to deliver its three R100 programme contract lots, the UK Government has contributed £20.99 million – a measly 3 per cent of the total funding.”

She added: “In terms of public infrastructure such as upgraded ferries, the Scottish Government would like to support Shetland Islands Council further on this, but without the borrowing powers of a normal independent country, this is exceptionally difficult, particularly in the midst of an unprecedented pandemic.

“As an MSP Ms Wishart must surely be aware of the publicly available figures on Scottish Government spending. These show that Shetland receives more than twice the Scottish average in Holyrood’s spending per head of the population.

“For Ms Wishart to suggest that Shetland is being singled out for unfair treatment is not accurate.

“This year’s Programme for Government recognises the challenges ahead but the need to build a better and fairer Scotland in the process.

“Hopefully Ms Wishart will take a less negative attitude to next year’s all-party Scottish budget discussions than her predecessor did.”