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Why did Orkney Jump Ship After Signing The Verity House Agreement?

After the decision by Orkney Islands Council to investigate ways to separate from the rest of the UK, in this article we explore what Scotland’s other Local Authorities have agreed to and why Orkney has decided to depart from the successful collective bargaining process.

On the 30th of June 2023 the Scottish Government and COSLA, the organisation which represents all Scotland’s local authorities including Orkney, signed a landmark agreement ‘to forge a stronger partnership between local and national government.’

The Verity House Agreement was signed in Edinburgh by the First Minister, the COSLA President and Vice President (Orkney Councillor Steven Heddle), the Deputy First Minister, the Local Government Empowerment Minister and the COSLA Political Group Leaders. One of those Group leaders was Councillor James Stockan, Leader of Orkney Islands Council, as the leader of the Independent Group in COSLA. The same James Stockan who only days later appeared all over local, national and international media complaining about Orkney being hard done to by both the Scottish and UK Governments.

The Agreement committed the Scottish Government and all of Scotland’s Local Authorities to work together to:

  • tackle poverty – particularly child poverty, in recognition of the joint national mission to tackle child poverty
  • to achieve a just transition to net zero -transform our economy through a just transition to deliver net zero, recognising climate change as one of the biggest threats to communities across Scotland
  • to achieve sustainable public services –  deliver sustainable person-centred public services recognising the fiscal challenges, aging demography and opportunities to innovate.

The whole thrust of the Agreement is on working together including looking at how local government is financed with a view to introducing much more flexibility for councils.

This Agreement of Partnership, which Orkney signed up to as a member of COSLA, makes the decision by Orkney Islands Council, to investigate a costly separation from Scotland and the UK not only baffling but a betrayal of the trust central to collaborative working.

Commenting on the signing of the Agreement, COSLA President Shona Morrison said:

“Signing the Verity House Agreement today at COSLA’s offices is a clear signal that both parties want to reset the relationship between central and local government in Scotland. 

“This agreement is about creating a new way of working as a partnership of equals – discussing key issues as early as possible and using our collective expertise to deliver for communities across Scotland.

“Scottish local government is the sphere of government closest to the people of Scotland and delivers a range of essential services that impact on people’s everyday lives and livelihoods – from education to improving health; from social care to the fabric of our communities.

“When national and local government work together to tackle shared priorities, the result will be better outcomes for the people of Scotland. This is ultimately what councils seek to achieve every day of every year – better local outcomes for the people we serve, enabling everyone to live well locally.”

Orkney, like all of Scotland’s Local Authorities, is struggling with how it allocates its funding locally, off setting some of that with a rise in Council Tax. Instead of working with all the councils in Scotland to develop a way forward to examine how local government is financed, it has jumped ship to paddle its own canoe.

OIC Leader, James Stockan, may have enjoyed his 5 minutes of fame on Breakfast TV, but the descriptions in the media of Orkney being ‘remote’ and ‘isolated’ have done the islands no favours. Nor does it look good for any future negotiations for Orkney when you leave the band to bang your own ego drum.

So there we have it, a baffling but costly decision, which anyone who wants to actually tackle child poverty, transform the economy and improve public services, is struggling to understand.

A bird (shag) with wings outstretched overlooks the calm waters of Kirkwall Harbour towards Hatston Industrial estate

Fiona Grahame

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5 replies »

  1. I think the apparent timeline reveals a very worrying indication, in that it was known that Steven Heddle was going forward to sign the agreement, which would have needed to be agreed by OIC, whilst plans were simultaneously being devised to knock the wheels off it and Orkney’s participation in it.
    If so, this was both maverick and Machiavellian, and my question is whether Steven Heddle knew in advance of James Stockan’s intention to utilise and weaponise the media prior to any OIC decision. If not, this undermining of co-operation and progress does not bode well for the future working of the council.

  2. My tuppence worth…

    A lot is being said about how the Westminster and Holyrood Governments have let Orkney down – and it’s true – both have, in various ways.

    But….OIC haven’t had an un-blemished record re. working for the good of the people of Orkney either.

    That record doesn’t bode well for OIC getting even more power to do just as it wishes.

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