Community / Prosperity index delivers mixed verdict on Shetland economy

Isles ranked second worst for infrastructure – but rated third safest community in UK

Lerwick Town Hall. Photo: SIC.

SHETLAND Islands Council leader Steven Coutts has questioned some of the conclusions of a report that ranked the islands among the worst local authority areas in the country for investment and infrastructure.

The UK Prosperity Index for 2021, drawn up by the Legatum Institute, placed Shetland near the bottom of 379 local authority areas in terms of its attractiveness to investors (361st), the quality of its infrastructure (378th), living conditions (361st) and the openness of its economy (377th).

However the islands came near the top of the league table for inclusiveness (12th), safety and security (3rd), personal freedom (8th) and natural environment (15th), while it also placed relatively highly as 72nd in terms of enterprise conditions.

Overall Shetland was placed seventh out of 32 Scottish local authority areas and 204th in the UK as a whole.

The report, by academic Matthew Goodwin, proclaims to be a tool to measure institutional, economic and social wellbeing and track the UK Government’s progress in delivering on its “levelling up agenda”.


Coutts said the report was interesting but it was “difficult to draw too many conclusions”, and he felt some of the rankings “seem a little at odds with what is happening in and around Shetland”, while others were “not unexpected and areas that as a council we are looking to work with others to see addressed”.

“Overall, Shetland remains a very good place to live, work, study and invest,” he said, “and this is reflected in some of the report indicators which show that Shetland is a safe and enterprising community with a high standard of living and a well stewarded natural environment.”

Council leader Steven Coutts offered a robust defence of the council and the wider community as a place to live, work and invest.

Become a supporter of Shetland News


He pointed to economic investment in a new Scalloway fishmarket and Toft Pier, alongside commitments to a new Cullivoe road, plans to develop the Knab site in Lerwick, publicly-funded fibre broadband in Yell and Unst as areas where the council has “directly invested significantly” in supporting key industries.

In addition to council investments, he pointed to the Viking Energy windfarm and interconnector, the expectation of further oil and gas investment “as the transition to net zero occurs” and the emergence of the space industry, as well as fishing industry investment in new vessels.

“I do believe there is confidence in the community around our key industries, that Shetland is a very good place to invest, and that jobs will be created across Shetland,” Coutts said as he delivered a robust defence of both the council and the wider community.


Shetland’s second-bottom placing in terms of infrastructure is likely to be related to slow progress on improving broadband speeds, particularly in remote areas.

Coutts described “delays and uncertainty” over the R100 project as a “real failure” of the state to deliver high-speed digital connectivity to the islands. He suggested the lack of government investment in inter-island transport would be another factor.

“We are very much looking to press government on both of these and [they] are a strong element of ‘Our Ambition’ corporate plan,” he said.

Shetland ranked 288th in terms of “governance”, but Coutts said it was clear this did not refer to governance within the council itself, pointing to independent audit from Deloitte describing the SIC as “continuing to have strong leadership” in that area.

Instead, Coutts felt it reflected the “erosion of local decision making, and decisions being outside Shetland” pointing to the absence of any “meaningful input” from the isles on HIAL’s plans to centralise air traffic control to Inverness.


“It is interesting to consider the rankings in the round,” Coutts added. “There is no doubt there are challenges ahead but I do believe we can be positive and confident about working with our partners in Shetland. Together we will deliver on the vision of Shetland as a community with opportunities for people of all ages [to] live, work, study and invest.”

The Mayfair-based Legatum Institute is a think tank and charity that styles itself as “promoting policies that lift people from poverty to prosperity”, but it is run by Baroness Stroud, a Conservative party peer in the House of Lords.

It has repeatedly been linked with pressing the case for a hard Brexit and in 2018 was ordered by the Charity Commission to remove a Brexit-related report from its website as it was seen as seeking to achieve a particular outcome, classing it as political activity that infringed its charitable purpose.

Become a supporter of Shetland News

Shetland News is asking its many readers to consider start paying for their dose of the latest local news delivered straight to their PC, tablet or mobile phone.

Journalism comes at a price and because that price is not being paid in today’s rapidly changing media world, most publishers - national and local - struggle financially despite very healthy audience figures.

Most online publishers have started charging for access to their websites, others have chosen a different route. Shetland News currently has  over 600 supporters  who are all making small voluntary financial contributions. All funds go towards covering our cost and improving the service further.

Your contribution will ensure Shetland News can: -

  • Bring you the headlines as they happen;
  • Stay editorially independent;
  • Give a voice to the community;
  • Grow site traffic further;
  • Research and publish more in-depth news, including more Shetland Lives features.

If you appreciate what we do and feel strongly about impartial local journalism, then please become a supporter of Shetland News by either making a single payment or monthly subscription.

Support us from as little as £3 per month – it only takes a minute to sign up. Thank you.



Subscribe to a selection of different newsletters from Shetland News, varying from breaking news delivered on the minute, to a weekly round-up of the opinion posts. All delivered straight to your inbox.

Daily Briefing Newsletter Weekly Highlights Newsletter Opinion Newsletter Life in Shetland Newsletter

JavaScript Required

We're sorry, but Shetland News isn't fully functional without JavaScript enabled.
Head over to the help page for instructions on how to enable JavaScript on your browser.

Your Privacy

We use cookies on our site to improve your experience.
By using our service, you agree to our Privacy Policy and Cookie Policy.

Browser is out-of-date

Shetland News isn't fully functional with this version of .
Head over to the help page for instructions on updating your browser for more security, improved speed and the best overall experience on this site.

Interested in Notifications?

Get notifications from Shetland News for important and breaking news.
You can unsubscribe at any time.

Become a supporter of Shetland News

We're committed to ensuring everyone has equitable access to impartial, open and quality local journalism that benefits all residents.

By supporting Shetland News, you play a vital role in ensuring we remain a pivotal resource in supporting the community.

Support us from as little as £3 per month – it only takes a minute to sign up. Thank you.