Maree Todd: Challenges and Opportunities for Orkney

Maree Todd MSP

Maree Todd

It was an absolute pleasure to be up in Orkney last week and experience all the fun of show time. In an attempt to strike a work life balance, I took my mum, son and nephews with me, and for the first time since being elected, I was able to squeeze in a bit of sightseeing on my trip – more of that later.

We went to the Dounby show and the County show – both are a fantastic opportunity to see some of the quality livestock for which the area is renowned. They also showcase local crafts and trades so there is plenty for everyone to see and do. There’s a packed entertainment programme too with the world famous Sheep Show proving a big hit in Kirkwall this year.

Show week is also the highlight of the social calendar – with accommodation and ferries packed out with returning Orcadian diaspora. It was a pleasure for me to catch up with friends old and new this year.

It was also a great chance to chat to a range of folk and hear about the challenges and opportunities that island living brings. We discussed a wide range of issues – from the challenges of providing a sustainable and high quality healthcare service, to the potential that the Island Bill brings for tweaking policy so it works for Orkney. Ferry services are always a high priority too and I know that Humza Yousaf – our minister for Transport and the Islands – will have plenty to discuss when he visits next week.

Brexit was definitely the hottest topic. The uncertainty around what a future framework for agriculture might look like, how it will be funded, and where power might eventually lie – London or Edinburgh – is obviously causing concern in the farming community. Any loss of access to EU markets and funding will be keenly felt in these islands.

The Orkney economy has traditionally relied on agriculture and fishing but over the last 25 years there has been a growth in a number of sectors including manufacturing and tourism and more recently, food and drink and renewables. Agriculture is not the only industry here now but it is a key one – the food and drink sector and tourism are both closely linked to it, so no wonder there is concern related to the uncertainty.

We were delighted to have time to explore a bit of Orkney this visit. While Skara Brae never ceases to amaze and the stone circles and chambered cairns intrigue it was the power of the wind on Yesnaby cliffs and Birsay which gave the boys the greatest excitement – that and getting their photos taken next to a road sign for Twatt!

Coming home on the Hamnavoe and experiencing first hand the phenomenal power of the Hoy Sound it’s no wonder Orkney has become a world centre of excellence for renewable energy. If we can successfully harness the energy potential on and around Orkney – what a contribution we can make to the world!

Local MSP Maree Todd, SNP, writes a fortnightly column in The Orkney News

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