Shetland Times Column Friday 8th April

Holyrood is now in Easter Recess and although business in Parliament stops, constituency work continues.

Earlier this week I joined Charles Scales, CEO of Windracers, and his team to observe drone flights carrying mail between Tingwall and Unst. Windracers, who developed the drone, are working with the Royal Mail Group on trials for delivery in places like Shetland, having previously conducted similar trials in Orkney, the Isle of Wight and the Scilly Isles. A trial in October travelled between Kirkwall and Fair Isle.

Having offloaded a bottle of Shetland Reel gin from the drone flight from Unst, I helped load up the 10m tip to tip drone, which can carry up to 100kgs of mail and fly up to 2,000ft, for the flight north. This is an exciting innovation for rural, remote and island communities. With the spaceport development in Unst this could also have a beneficial impact on the nationally important space centre, as well as ensuring speedier deliveries of mail to residents. Shetland is embracing modern technology, bringing greater logistical connectivity, something island life depends on.

Following a surgery in Mossbank on Tuesday, I visited Garths Croft in Bressay, an agritourism business and a great example of how diversification can encourage slow, sustainable tourism.

At the time of writing, I plan to visit the Shetland Foodbank on Wednesday. I noticed the foodbank donations basket in the Lerwick Co-op was over-flowing which I think speaks volumes of the concern and generosity of shoppers for those with budgets that cannot cope with the rise in the cost of living. In Parliament, the Cross Party Group (CPG) on Poverty recently took evidence about the stigma surrounding access to support organisations like foodbanks, and how that can affect people’s self-worth, confidence and mental health. The CPG is working to change that.

Construction is one industry that is feeling the impact of rising prices, and it is difficult for contractors to quote for jobs with fluctuating prices. We have also seen shortages of materials after the Covid-19 lockdown measures on top of disruption in trade rules after leaving the EU.

While the situation in Ukraine has brought to the fore the issues of energy security, we need to address food security too.  

It is becoming more expensive to import food as well as grow it at home. NFUS has also been stressing the problem at home and anyone who has recently tried to buy fertiliser will be well aware of enormous hikes in prices.

But it’s not just what’s harvested on land. Fish is an excellent source of highly nutritious protein food but higher costs could lead to that resource being less available and more expensive.  Local boats have already highlighted what the increasing cost of marine diesel is doing to their livelihoods, and it’s worth remembering that for every job at sea there are five more onshore through the fishing sector and supply chain. Whenever food security is discussed fishing rarely gets a mention. That must change.


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