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Open Letter from OIC Leader to First Minister Nicola Sturgeon

Date: 07 February 2022

Dear First Minister,

It is with deep regret that I have to write to you again regarding what my Council and our community believe is consistent and profound unfairness in how Orkney continues to be treated by the Scottish Government.  

Despite having written to you before to highlight very serious issues of inequity of treatment, it is with disbelief that the Scottish Government evidently still does not consider these matters of unfairness to be important enough to resolve.  You previously chose not to respond directly to the fundamental concerns I last wrote to you about, or to agree to meet with me to discuss the irrefutable discrimination your Government is consistently applying to the people of Orkney.

There are several areas of blatant discrimination, but I will focus on only three of the critical issues for Orkney.

First, the unfairness of the formula the Scottish Government uses to establish the distribution of funding to Councils, and despite its reputed purpose to ensure fairness to all Councils, results in significantly less funding for Orkney which received the poorest settlement for 2022/23.  To be specific and to draw the closest comparison, Orkney has around 450 less of a population than Shetland, but we have received over £8 million less in our settlement. 

I have written to you before on the unfairness of our funding settlements and with respect to equity in funding, and for proper comparison between the 3 Islands councils (Orkney, Shetland and Western Isles) even with the removal of the unfair levels of ferries funding and after stripping out the assumed Council Tax income resulting from Band D Council Tax variances, Orkney Islands’ residents will receive £367 (11.5%) less that Shetland and £692 (21.7%) less than Western isles per head of population for 2022/23.  If Orkney was to be funded in the current financial year, on the same basis as Shetland and Western Isles, the Council would have received £8.2 million and £15.4 million more respectively for the delivery of our services.  Our community rightly expect the same level of service as the other Islands Councils. It is progressively more difficult with our growing population and, with this happening year on year, for this Council to continue providing essential core services.

Second, with respect to ferries, we have written many times regarding both internal and external ferry provision.  The fares review for external provision, which you commissioned in 2014, has never been completed and as a result, significant disbenefits and inequity continue for our community.  Are you aware, despite the Scottish Government policy for Scotland, Orkney remains the only area not to receive this subsidy, which is without doubt, blatant discrimination?

On top of this, freight costs on the Pentland Firth for commercial freight on Government supported services are significantly more expensive that any comparable routes elsewhere in Scotland. This is yet another real outlier regardless of the metric applied. You are also already aware that Western Isles ferries are fully subsidised and replaced by the Scottish Government and I advised you previously that I was told by Mr Matheson, Cabinet Secretary and separately by Mr Wheelhouse that with respect to Road Equivalent Tariff (RET), the Scottish Government has “used Orkney’s funding elsewhere.”

Third, the Scottish Government’s R100 programme for digital connectivity, which was promised to prioritise the most disadvantaged areas first (an outside in approach), will leave Orkney woefully short of coverage and means our community will be the Council area with the lowest level of coverage in Scotland.  The designed programme seriously disadvantages Orkney and will do so for many years to come, and we calculate that at least 25% of our premises will be left to find other solutions or in the majority of cases, entirely without service.  The alternative voucher scheme is woefully inadequate to fill the gaps created by the Scottish Government’s Programme. 

These are just three examples of what we believe is a systematic injustice towards this community and I would be willing to discuss the further areas of discrimination. 

I am requesting an urgent meeting and I am more than happy to come to meet you in person to discuss these critical matters and to see if we can resolve these issues for Orkney once and for all.

  • Summary:

    Orkney Islands Council Leader James Stockan has today (7 February) written an open letter to the First Minister of Scotland to raise concerns over a number of areas in which Orkney Islands Council believes the Scottish Government shows ‘blatant discrimination’ of Orkney – and requested an urgent meeting to discuss.

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Orkney Islands Council: BOREAS DOMUS MARE AMICUS