Dear Orkney News,
If desperation could only be measured by the ream, then we’d have a good idea how keen the Liberal Democrats are to hold on to Orkney and Shetland.
Among the endless avalanche of junk mail, the recurring theme seems to be about ‘stopping the SNP’.
What exactly would we be stopping?
The Scottish Government has treated local government very fairly despite the cuts to the Scottish Budget from the UK Government. In 2016-17, Orkney Islands Council received £67.7m in revenue funding. In 2017-18 Orkney will receive £67.1m. Council Tax reforms give local government more accountability with the discretion to increase Council Tax and OIC agreed to increase levels by 3% for 2017-18.
The SNP is taking action to drive up attainment in Orkney schools. Between 2007 and 2015, under this SNP Government, 651 schools have been rebuilt or refurbished, including four in Orkney – that’s over 250 more than under the previous administration. As a result, the number of pupils in ‘poor’ or ‘bad’ condition schools has more than halved since 2007.
Schools in Orkney benefitted from the £750m Attainment Scotland Fund in 2016-17,
In 2017-18, OIC will receive £206,400 from the £120m Pupil Equity Funding to be spent at the discretion of teachers and school leaders to close the attainment gap, benefitting 172 eligible pupils in 19 schools in total. OIC received £1.1m additional funding for free childcare from the Scottish Government between 2014-15 and 2016-17, while 702 children and young people in the county, and 579 pupils in P1-3 are now benefitting from a free school meal, saving families around £380 per child per year.
Under the SNP there are more Modern Apprentices in Orkney. In 2006-07, there were 82 MA starts in Orkney, while in 2015-16, there were 120, an increase of 38 or 46.3%.
Latest figures for 2016-17 show there have been 78 MA starts so far this session, bringing the total MA starts in Orkney under the SNP to 831.
The SNP is supporting businesses in Orkney. There were 1,238 recipients of the Small Business Bonus Scheme in the Orkney Council area in 2016-17. This represents an increase of 48.3% since 2008 when it was first introduced. Recipients received total support of £1.3m in 2016-17 – since 2008 businesses in Orkney have received total support of £9.1m. And 74% of businesses in Orkney will see their rates stay the same/decrease for 2017-18. Some 2,130 businesses in Orkney will be exempt from business rates because of the extension of the Small Business Bonus threshold and 46 Orkney businesses will be exempt from the Large Business Supplement because of the increased threshold.
Under the SNP there is less crime and more police officers in Orkney Islands. Under the SNP, crime in Orkney Islands has decreased from 497 crimes in 2006-07 to 324 in 2015-16 – a 34.8% cut. The numbers of housebreakings are down from 15 to 5, 66.7% over the same period.
The SNP is improving healthcare in Orkney. NHS Orkney’s budget in 2017-18 will be £43.8 million, an increase of 63.3% (up £17 million from 2006-07 to 2017-18). Staff numbers are up 12.0% or 54.4 WTE (From 454.8 to 509.2). Medical and Dental Consultants (including all Consultant-grade Directors) are up 71.5% or 3.7 WTE (from 5.2 to 8.9). There was 97.9% compliance against the four-hour A&E target in January 2017. The Scottish Government work closely with NHS Orkney and will continue to work to improve healthcare services, not least through the building of the new hospital, just under way in Kirkwall.
Under the SNP there is more affordable and social housing in Orkney. Since 2007, 1,481 new homes have been built in Orkney under the SNP. This includes 160 council homes. The Labour/Liberal Democrat administration built none. It also includes 353 housing association homes. OIC is expected to receive £3.594m in 2017-18 from the Scottish Government’s £422 million affordable housing supply budget.
If you want to stop all this go ahead and vote for someone else, but I think it is clear that the SNP really has done its bit to make life in Orkney better since they came into power.
And at Westminster the MPs elected to become the third biggest party in 2015 have spent two years fighting austerity, created by the Tories when they were being propped up by Alistair Carmichael and his fellow LibDems, at its source. And when the SNP group returns to Westminster after this election they are likely to have to battle against Tory plans for a hard Brexit – it is going to be a hard shift.
With all that in mind, a vote for Miriam Brett on Thursday will ensure that Orkney and Shetland have a strong voice at Westminster at a time when we really do need it.
Yours, Robert Leslie, Kirkwall