25th February 2018
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Dismay over network loss

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A decision to suspend a support network for farmers and food producers has come under criticism from a local food organisation.

Pete Glanville, of the Shetland Organic Producers Group, said train­ing and advice could now be hard to find for local producers after the Highlands and Islands Food Network (HILFN) was forced to with­draw its services because of Scottish government cutbacks.

Mr Glanville said the network provided valuable help for producers across the Highlands and Islands who otherwise may not easily access any help because of their rural location.

“Although there has not been a lot of involvement by Shetland pro­­ducers the potential was there for growth and founder of the group, Joe Hunt, was here at the food fes­tival last year encouraging people.

“I can’t understand how the Scottish government could reach its decision. The network provided advice and training, and people up here don’t get a lot of training opportunities.”

Until recently the network received around £90,000 – about half its annual budget – from High­lands and Islands Enterprise (HIE).

With that funding now gone as part of the cutbacks, the decision was taken to pull the plug on the network.

HIE said it would continue to help food producers with “high growth potential” wishing to trade beyond local markets.

A spokesman for HIE said the network’s funding had run out last September, but six months of additional transitional funding was provided to help the network find new funding partners.

Network chairman and ex-SIC councillor Drew Ratter said he hoped the network could re-emerge in the future.

He recognised the “very impor­tant work” the network carried out, but said the decision was unavoid­able.

“The overall policy at HIE chan­ged, and they felt themselves unable to support the network. For that reason it just became impossible for it to continue.

“It was unwilling to simply go on until it ended up in some sort of financial predicament.”

He said while there was “too much uncertainty” at the moment, the network would “hopefully live again” as HIE and the government reconsider their options in the future.

“Local food is now a significant part of the economy and is important for the future.” The decision will not have any impact on ongoing measures to establish the level of demand for a food and business park in Lerwick.

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