Shetland Times Column 1 December 2023

1 Dec 2023

Last week’s weather, and no ferries for days as a consequence, was a reminder of the need for island resilience. Not that many of us need a reminder after last December’s “weather event” that saw power out for days in some places.

Island resilience, in terms of food and drink, was highlighted at a Scottish Wholesale Association (SWA) parliamentary reception in Holyrood last week.

I had previously expressed frustration to the SWA about social media and online news photos of empty shelves in local supermarkets the last time the boats were delayed, giving the impression that there was no food left in Shetland. 

Of course, nothing could be further from the truth. The local supply chain ensures that shops are well stocked and our local wholesalers play a pivotal role in that resilience. 

Wholesalers also supply care homes and schools so they too must maintain a stock level that allows for the occasions when inbound freight is delayed. Having that island preparedness highlighted at the reception in parliament by Brian Johnston from J W Gray & Co helped other MSPs with that understanding.

Island resilience takes many forms, not least in communications. Having been asked by the Energy Network’s Association to support their publicity campaign about encouraging people to register for the Priority Services Register, which provides support when there’s an interruption to electricity supply, I duly posted their details on social media. A short time later a constituent got in touch. The system wouldn’t accept a Shetland post code. It transpired there was a software glitch and Shetland postcodes appeared to be the only ones that the system didn’t recognise. I raised this with them, but meantime you can register with SSEN directly.

As part of the scrutiny of the Agriculture Bill, the Rural Affairs and Islands committed visited the Scottish Rural College (SRUC) Hill and Mountain Research Centre near Crianlarich on Monday. We were given a practical insight into the challenges and solutions facing the upland farm and crofting sectors.

On Wednesday at the regular committee meeting scrutiny of the Agriculture and Rural Communities (Scotland) Bill began with questions to the bill team. This is a ‘framework’ bill meaning that it creates powers to establish a legislative framework against which the vision can be delivered. It has already been a slow process and the detail and clarity that the agriculture sector has been crying out for will only come through in secondary legislation in 2025.

One thing is clear though and that is that more will be expected of crofters and farmers in the future in return for funding.

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