2021 – Recovery must be our focus now
By Orkney Islands Council Leader Councillor James Stockan.
I, like everyone else, will not forget the year 2020 in a hurry.
As a community, we could never have imagined at the outset what was to come, and the sheer scale of disruption and the sacrifices made by so many.
I want to pause on this day – 23 March 2021 – a year since the nationally enforced lockdown, to reflect and remember. We must never forget those whose lives were tragically cut short, those suffering the long-term effects of Covid-19 whether physically, emotionally or financially.
I thank all who have given so much, from the scientists to all frontline staff and managers, seen or unseen, whether in public or private service, the voluntary sector and every other person who has played their part in getting to this point.
“Team Orkney” – from the Council to NHS Orkney, the emergency services, voluntary sector, private businesses – are on this road together. There have been twists and turns and there will no doubt be many more mountains to climb, but step by step we will get there.
I must commend the army of workers who have, behind the scenes, quietly kept the country going – the unseen keyworkers that we often take for granted so we can continue to flick a switch, flush the toilet, pick up the phone, heat our homes, run a vehicle, ensure children, young people and adults with particular needs continue to be cared for. The list goes on and on. I thank you.
These past 12 months have demonstrated the power of collaborative working for the benefit of all – not just on a global scale with the incredible speed of development of a vaccine to fight COVID-19 - but locally within our own communities at the grass roots. Let’s keep this togetherness going.
Orcadians, and folk who choose to make the islands their home, are by their very nature a resilient, hardy bunch – we have to be as the ever-changing challenges are very real. Hand in hand comes opportunity and we are also known for tackling hurdles head on and coming up with some pretty, innovative solutions. It is this dogged determination that will see us thrive and prosper once again.
Recovery must be our main focus now.
Businesses and individuals have made extraordinary sacrifices to tackle this pandemic together.
Our Economic Development team has distributed well over 1,000 Council and Scottish Government grants or temporary cash flow loans to the value of £13.3 million to aid local businesses struggling in the pandemic – including £2.36 million of awards committed from the Council’s Coronavirus response fund.
We have an ambitious and visionary plan – ASPIRE Orkney – for our economic recovery post COVID-19.
ASPIRE builds on the premise that to recover from the pandemic, and build a better future, Orkney must aspire to be “Ambitious, Sustainable, Prosperous, Inclusive, Resilient and Enterprising”.
Make no mistake though, successful delivery of the enterprising programme will require bold, innovative, collective leadership and action by Team Orkney as we also strive to deal with the knock-on effects of Brexit.
Projects continue to progress through the capital programme – there has just recently been the award of a £3.6 million contract to a local company to extend and refurbish St Andrews Primary School – projects such as these stimulate the local economy.
We recently agreed our budget for the year ahead - £89.4 million is to be spent on running Council services in 2021-2022. We further agreed to take a larger slice from the Reserve fund than ever before - £7.5 million to support services during the year ahead. But this is not sustainable, we must strive to identify and drive forward income generating projects.
We have just last week (17 March) signed the Heads of Terms Agreement for the Islands Growth Deal – a deal which we in Orkney, Shetland and the Outer Hebrides hope will release an investment of £100 million with the prospect of attracting a further £235 million to create a total of £335 million.
The deal will help deliver on placing the islands at the forefront of the transition to net zero; supporting growth in key sectors of opportunity such as tourism, food and drink, space and creative industries; and, supporting thriving, sustainable communities.
The 10-year programme of investment has the ambitious target of creating up to 1,300 jobs and tackling the depopulation concerns facing many parts of Orkney, Shetland and Western Isles. Partners will now be working towards the development of Full Business Cases for approval, with the anticipation of funding being approved and released from 2022/23 onwards.
Rest assured we will continue trying to do out very best for the communities we serve. After all we want to try and ensure Orkney remains the best place to live for the ninth year in a row, according to the Bank of Scotland Quality of Life survey. We must all be doing something right. Let’s continue working together for the benefit of all.