Shetland Times Column 3rd June 2022

The future of agricultural support was the topic for discussion at the NFUS meeting in Lerwick on Tuesday evening. As part of the NFUS roadshow, the organisation’s president and policy officer updated local crofters and farmers on proposals for future financial industry support.

Making sure that disadvantaged areas like Shetland continue to be financially supported is vital, while at the same time supporting the next generation into sustainable and active crofting and farming.

The RAINE (Rural Affairs, Island and Natural Environment) committee, on which I sit, will scrutinise a new Agriculture Bill which is due next year and the NFUS meeting was a good grounding on what we need to see in it.

Views on food security have changed, pushed up the political agenda especially over the last six months in light of the situation in Ukraine. Both Russia and Ukraine make up over half of the world’s global sunflower oil exports and a quarter of global wheat exports, but with blockades around Ukrainian seaports, disruption to those exports will continue to be affected for many months to come, if not years. We are already feeling the impact in the UK, but it will be much more keenly felt in countries around the world already struggling to feed millions of people.

The war in Ukraine has also pushed energy security to the fore, while the cost of living crisis at home for hard-pressed households deepens.

The Danish Board of District Heating gave a presentation to the Nordic Countries Cross Party Group (CPG) last week and we learned that district heating in Denmark is available to 64% households.

The Danish model was the basis on which Shetland Heat Energy & Power Ltd (SHEAP) was set up, as the CPG was reminded by Derek Leask from SHEAP who also contributed to the meeting.

Thanks to the introduction of this innovative scheme a quarter of a century ago, some households in Lerwick are protected from the enormous energy price hikes that everyone else is now reeling from.

Meanwhile, issues around meter replacement and the installation of new and smart meters in Shetland continues. People building new homes face either long delays in getting a new meter installed, or worse still, energy companies advise they won’t take them on as customers because they can’t do the installation, leaving them without a solution.

I recently met with SSE/OVO, the main but not the only energy supplier with Shetland customers impacted by metering issues.  It’s just as bad for those with faulty meters with repeated unkept appointments, while the Mainland contractors used by energy companies to carry out this work, appear incapable of organising the travel logistics of getting to and around Shetland. It’s another example of shoddy treatment for people at the end of the line.

This is the Platinum Jubilee weekend. Queen Elizabeth II has kept the promise she made on her 21st birthday to devote her life to service and 70 years is an historic and remarkable achievement. Congratulations Ma’am and thank you.

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