Worries over future of Unst Partnership
The Unst Partnership is at “risk” of being wound up, with funds dwindling and the organisation unable to generate enough of its own income.
But chairman Gordon Thomson is hopeful that further funding can be secured through the Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) and Leader.
However, the partnership continues to run on a voluntary basis with some aspects in hiatus.
The problems stem from a grant application which was not submitted in time to be considered at Leader’s January meeting. Now the partnership’s future will remain uncertain until the March meeting.
Mr Thomson said he is “optimistic”, with the group asking for £41,000 each from Leader and HIE, backed up by a further £9,500 from their own funds. HIE’s funding relies on the partnership successfully winning financial support from Leader.
Mr Thomson is under no illusions about the perilous situation, admitting that if funding is not secured there is a “risk that this could be the end of the Unst Partnership”.
If successful in their application Mr Thomson believes the money will secure the future of the partnership for two years with the money being used primarily to pay for office space and fund the role of tourism officer.
The previous grant received by Unst Partnership, through the Big Lottery’s coastal communities fund, paid for two tourism officers. The roles are currently held by Kellie Naulls and Selina-May Miller. There is a likelihood that this will be reduced to just one role, possibly shared, in future.
One continued bugbear for grant providers dealing with the Unst Partnership has been its inability to generate a revenue stream to secure its own future. Some money is generated through a wind turbine, and other minor income streams also provide assistance, but for the most part the partnership has depended on grants throughout its near two decade history.
Mr Thomson said the partnership had received comments to the effect of “we can’t keep funding you through grants” and that HIE had encouraged them to find a way to make income or lose access to funding.
“HIE are keen that the folk who benefit put something back into it,” Mr Thomson said.
One suggestion was to ask tourism providers if they would be willing to pay a membership fee. Of 27 surveyed, 24 agreed that they would. This would provide only a small proportion of the money necessary, however.
Mr Thomson said: “We’ve tended to survive on grants but in the past few years it has been getting harder to access funding. It seems to just be an aspect of life for voluntary companies now.”
The Unst Partnership was set up in 2000 with an aim to regenerate Unst following the closure of the Unst Airport and the Ministry of Defence’s decision to scale down operations at RAF Saxa Vord.
Sandy Macaualay and then councillor for Unst and Fetlar Mark Ritch were involved in its formation. Previous successes have included the support provided to renewable energy firm Pure Energy.