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Readers who have been baffled into bemused silence by talk of vast projects coming to "save the Islands" over the past 30 years – whether it was the Lingerbay Superquarry, the oil and gas fields west of the Hebrides or vast wind farms and wave power schemes - might be forgiven for being more than a little sceptical about the huge complex Islands' Growth Deal - which claims it will create 1300 jobs across the three islands groups - the Western Isles, Orkney and Shetland.

Quite how the jobs will be filled given the present shortage of people fill the jobs already available is not clear…nor why money could not simply be spent on improving roads, causeways and bridges so that ordinary businesses across the islands have a better chance to grow.

However, a press release this weeks states that "Mussel Farming, Sustainable Green Jobs, and Low Carbon Fuels all feature in latest Islands Growth Deal Business Cases."

The Islands’ Growth Deal Joint Committee, which will oversee the Growth Deal, and which consists of two elected representatives from each of the island Councils, met at the close of 2021 and approved the submission of Outline Business Cases for a further four Islands Growth Deal projects to UK and Scottish Governments. 

The Outline Business Cases which were put forward to Government in December are for the following projects:

  • ShellVolution, which will support significant expansion in the mussel farming sector in Shetland and throughout Scotland.
  • The TalEntEd Islands Programme, which will create opportunities for education, skills, entre and intrapreneurship and commercialisation, supporting the increase in sustainable ‘green’ jobs across all three island groups.
  • Scapa Flow Future Fuels Hub, which will enable the supply and distribution of low and net zero fuels to be established in Orkney.
  • The second phase of the Orkney Research and Innovation Campus (ORIC2) at Stromness, enhancing existing facilities and creation of new spaces to further enable academic and commercial activity, collaboration, and business incubation.

Outline Business Cases from the Western Isles have been submitted for the Islands Centre for Net Zero, the Outer Hebrides Food & Drink Programme, Outer Hebrides and Shetland Campus Redevelopments, and the Creative Islands Wellbeing Programme.

Councillor Roddie Mackay, Leader of Comhairle nan Eilean Siar who chairs the Joint Committee, said: "Since signing the Heads of Terms Agreement in March 2021, there has been a significant amount of work put in by staff from all three island councils, and those of our partner agencies.

"We aim to secure a Full Deal agreement in 2022 and rapidly move to implementation of the Growth Deal. I have been delighted to see Outline Business Cases coming forward that will have potential impact across key sectors across all of our island groups, and the effective way joint working between our public, private sector and academic partners in progressing the Growth Deal.”

Councillor James Stockan, Leader of Orkney Islands Council, said: “A huge effort goes on behind the scenes to reach key milestones such as these. We hope that the projects will give a degree of support for the economy in terms of investment and job creation. There are merits to be had for each island area and we are looking forward to seeing what the future holds as the projects progress. This is an exciting time for all our islands.”

Councillor Steven Coutts, Leader of Shetland Islands Council, said: “Project leads from the Council and our partners are working hard to develop their outline business cases – the next stage in the journey which sees us move towards achieving Full Deal as quickly as we can. Shetland’s portfolio of innovative projects will create highly skilled jobs and training opportunities right across our islands, delivering lasting benefit for our communities. This investment will be timely as we recover from the pandemic over the coming years.”

UK Government Minister for Scotland Iain Stewart said: "These exciting projects will transform and grow island-based industries and provide the skills needed to make the most of the opportunities being created.

"The UK Government is investing £50 million into the Islands Deal and more than £1.7 billion into regional initiatives across Scotland to level up communities and build back better from the pandemic."

Scottish Government Economy Secretary Kate Forbes said: “Creating sustainable and high quality jobs and enabling the use of low carbon fuels will be crucially important to help build a sustainable and prosperous economy for Scotland’s island communities.

“The Scottish Government is investing £50 million in the Islands Growth Deal and welcomes significant progress made so far.”

The Islands Growth Deal was developed by Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, Orkney Islands Council and Shetland Islands Council together with their partners in the public, academic, business and community sectors. It aims to harness the islands’ unique assets to create world class, innovative and globally focussed industries that will help address the islands’ severe demographic challenges and strengthen the distinct and important contribution the islands make to the economic vitality and international reputation of Scotland and the United Kingdom. The Islands Growth Deal consists of 18 proposals which will capitalise on the Islands unique assets and which will deliver an investment of £50 million each from the Scottish and UK Governments, and an anticipated £235 million from project partners, subject to final approval of robust Business Cases. The 10-year programme of investment has the ambitious target of creating up to 1,300 jobs.

The four projects referred to are being funded as follows:

  • The Scapa Flow Future Fuels Hub project will be supported with investment of up to £6.5 million from the Scottish Government.
  • The ORIC2 project will be supported with investment of up to £8 million from the UK Government
  • The Shell-volution project will be supported with investment of up to £4.4 million from the UK Government.
  • The TalEntEd Programme will be supported with joint investment of up to £5.9 million from the Scottish Government and UK Government (SG £4.4 million/UKG £1.5 million). Led by the University of the Highlands and Islands, key delivery partners include Heriot-Watt University and Robert Gordon’s University. Outline Business Cases have also been submitted for the Islands Centre for Net Zero, the Outer Hebrides Food & Drink Programme, Outer Hebrides and Shetland Campus Redevelopments, and the Creative Islands Wellbeing Programme.