Orkney is forging new links with Scandinavian and Arctic states as the Islands Council prepares for the impact of Brexit on the county.
The aim is to ensure a prosperous future for the islands after Britain’s exit from the EU in March 2019.
“European funding has been of considerable importance to our islands over the past 40 years,” said Council Leader James Stockan.
“Whatever agreement – or non-agreement – is reached, Brexit will have considerable consequences for Orkney, our community and the Council itself.
“Rather than wait and see, we are actively exploring new links and economic opportunities that could complement or replace some of the sources of European funding that have so benefitted our community over four decades.”
The Council’s efforts are focussing on regions that Orkney has long and historic links with – to the north and east of the islands.
Discussions have taken place at a meeting in Oslo of the Nordic Council, which brings together representatives from Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden as well as the Faroe Islands, Greenland and the Åland Islands.
The Council also took part in recent gathering of the Arctic Circle Assembly in Iceland, attended by more than 2,000 participants from 60 countries including heads of states and governments, ministers, experts, scientists, entrepreneurs and business leaders.
Councillor Stockan was one of two representatives from the UK who were invited to address the Nordic Council. The other was the Prime Minister, Theresa May MP.
“It was a great privilege and a rare opportunity to build new links with Scandinavian countries that feature so prominently in the history of our islands,” he said. “The reception we received could not have been more positive.
“The assembly in Reykjavík brought together an international community of delegates with a common interest in the future of the Arctic and the sustainable development of the region.
“We explored ways for Orkney to contribute to this and, as with the Nordic Council, we found a great willingness to look at future opportunities to collaborate with us.
“Our islands have much to offer on many fronts, from pioneering research and development initiatives involving renewable energy and hydrogen generation, to the partnership approach we’re taking in managing tourism, to natural assets such as Scapa Flow. We want to play our part in contributing to the future prosperity of other communities as well as our own.”
The Council is also engaging with Governments and partner organisations to consider the potential effects of Brexit.
With uncertainty still surrounding the Brexit process, detailed contingency planning for the outcome is difficult. But the Council is actively considering the potential effect on sectors of key importance to the local economy, including farming, fisheries and tourism. This will inform discussion with partners on measures that may be required to mitigate adverse impacts on these sectors.
The local government umbrella body CoSLA is carrying out extensive work on behalf of all councils in Scotland. Future funding arrangements are a matter all local authorities would like to see clarified.
The Scottish and UK Governments have guaranteed to honour EU funding programmes until 2020.
“While this is welcome, we are actively engaged in discussions with both Governments on funding arrangements beyond 2020,” added Councillor Stockan.
“Considerable challenges lie ahead. But we are taking a proactive approach on a number of fronts, with the intention of securing a strong and prosperous future for Orkney.”
Further information can be found in the 'Brexit Preparations' document available in PDF format from the 'Related Downloads' section of this page.