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Council leader writes to first minister accusing government of ‘irrefutable discrimination’ towards Orkney

James Stockan, the leader of Orkney Islands Council.
James Stockan, the leader of Orkney Islands Council.

The leader of Orkney Islands Council James Stockan has penned an open letter to First Minister Nicola Sturgeon accusing the Scottish Government of “irrefutable discrimination” towards the people of Orkney.

He sets out three points which he claims show “blatant discrimination” and “systematic injustice” towards communities in the county.

These are around the council funding formula, ferry subsidies and digital connectivity.

In the letter to Ms Sturgeon, Mr Stockan also says the government has ignored his “fundamental concerns.”

He has asked for an urgent meeting.

The Orkney council leader says there is “unfairness” in the formula used to work out the distribution of funding to councils. He says it results in significantly less for Orkney and the county received the poorest settlement for 2022/23.

Comparing Orkney’s settlement to Shetland, he says, while Orkney has around 450 less of a population than Shetland, the county received over £8 million less.

Leader claims Orkney discriminated against

Mr Stockan said: “If Orkney were to be funded in the current financial year on the same basis as Shetland and Western Isles, the council would have received £8.2 million and £15.4 million more respectively for the delivery of our services.

“Our community rightly expects the same level of service as the other islands’ councils.

“It is progressively more difficult with our growing population and, with this happening year on year, for this council to continue providing essential core services.”

Mr Stockan has also raised issues with internal and external ferries.

He says a fares review commissioned by the Scottish Government in 2014 has never been completed, resulting in “significant disbenefits and inequity.”

Orkney Islands Council’s headquarters in Kirkwall. Picture by Sandy McCook

Costs on the Pentland Firth for commercial freight on government-supported services, he says, are “significantly more expensive” than on any comparable routes in the country.

He also claims Scottish ministers told him, with respect to Road Equivalent Tariff (RET), the Scottish Government has “used Orkney’s funding elsewhere.”

R100 will ‘seriously disadvantage’ Orkney communities for years says council leader

Mr Stockan also takes aim at the Scottish Government’s R100 programme for digital connectivity, which he says will leave Orkney with the lowest level of coverage in the country.

He says R100 will “seriously disadvantage” Orkney for many years to come, claiming at least 25% of the county’s premises will “be left to find other solutions or entirely without service.”

He also called the alternative voucher scheme, set up to cover gaps in the programme, “woefully inadequate.”

Last week, it was announced that Mr Stockan was stepping back from his role as the independent group leader with the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (COSLA). This was as part of the budget dispute.

‘We are treating councils fairly’

A Scottish Government spokesman has replied to the letter.

He said: “The annual local government settlement is distributed in full using a needs-based formula, which is discussed and agreed each year with COSLA on behalf of all their local authority members.

“The formula uses the most up-to-date information for the full range of indicators, including population.

“Despite continued economic uncertainty facing us all due to the pandemic, we are treating councils fairly and providing a real-terms increase of over 6% to local authority budgets for the coming year – despite cuts to Scotland’s overall budget by the UK Government.”

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