Shetland Times Column 25th February 2022

Parliamentary recess last week and a time to get out of the office and meet face to face with organisations and businesses in the community, something that has not been easy to do these last two years, but with Covid restrictions easing people seem glad to be able to resume some sense of business normality.

The scrutiny by the Rural Affairs, Islands and Natural Environment (RAINE) committee of the Good Food Nation continues. Local authorities, health boards and other ‘specified public authorities’ will be required to produce good food plans, but one of the issues raised in evidence sessions is the lack of clarity in the Bill on its purpose and what outcomes it seeks to achieve.

Having taken evidence at committee from the Scottish Food Coalition it was a pleasure to be able to join one of their members, Professor Mary Brennan, who was in Shetland to understand the challenges of local food production and how it can contribute to a Good Food Nation. We met with local businesses and stakeholders, including Shetland Dairies, and toured the new Lerwick Fish Market.

School dinners were at the fore of some of the discussions, with disappointment expressed by some that there is not enough local produce on the menus which have to meet Scottish Government nutrition regulations for schools. The concern is that what is currently required for school dinner menus will be heightened with the Good Food Nation Bill.

Monday evening was bitterly cold as I left Sumburgh for Edinburgh. Descending in the darkness into the city across the Firth of Forth the twinkling lights below reminded me of holiday flights to warmer climes  - the excitement of landing in a different country and the blast of furnace-hot air when the plane doors open. But reality hit when we landed in Edinburgh.

Perhaps it was the conversation about holidaying closer to home that I’d had earlier that afternoon with a Norwegian journalist that made me think about holidays. The travel writer was working his way through Scotland’s island communities having previously been in Stornoway and Kirkwall before reaching Lerwick.

We discussed Shetland’s cultural links with Norway, and how the pandemic made people re-evaluate holidays by taking them closer to home. He suggested that people now look more closely at nearby islands for holidays. Why go to Spain when Edinburgh is only a two-hour flight from Oslo, and a further hop to the attractions of the Northern Isles looks promising? We should make more of connections with Norway and not just in the summer.

Finally, the new Covid Strategic Framework was outlined by the First Minister on Tuesday. The legal requirement to wear face masks will end on 21 March but the First Minister said people will still be advised to wear them on public transport and in shops. With details of a more targeted testing system to be published next month it is hoped that Shetland’s current high number of cases will have slowed down by then.

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