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Council / Early engagement vital on post-Brexit funding schemes, SIC development chief says

A SENIOR council official says it will be vital for the local authority to engage at an early stage to maximise the investment Shetland can attract from potentially lucrative new funding schemes set up to replace European funding post-Brexit.

Shetland has benefited greatly from money administered through EU Structural Funds over the years, but no direct replacements had been arranged by the time the UK formally left the EU in January this year.

Meanwhile officials are busy working on business cases for seven projects that could attract a share of Islands growth deal funding including £9.1 million alone for the redevelopment of the Knab site in Lerwick, Shetland Islands Council’s (SIC) development committee heard on Monday.

It is estimated that the UK and Scottish governments will contribute to a total islands funding package worth £335 million over ten years, representing “the highest per capita investment of any of the Scottish growth deals”, according to a report from council development director Neil Grant.

He said it was hoped there would be “full sign-off” on funding for islands deal projects by March 2022.

Grant’s report also highlighted that a Shared Prosperity Fund (SPF) is intended to replace EU Structural Funds in the post-Brexit UK.

The Westminster government says it will open in 2022 and has announced three interim measures including “levelling up” and community funding for 2021/22.

These are forerunners to the Shared Prosperity Fund, which should address some of the gaps from European funding,” he said.

“Early engagement with these schemes is really important.” Meanwhile, the UK Government’s furlough scheme for businesses and organisations affected by Covid-19 restrictions is due to end in September.

The most recent statistics estimated around 600 workers in Shetland were on furlough, and Grant said the autumn would be a “very worrying time for many employees and small businesses” as they look at “making decisions on what happens after that”.