‘Per head’ funding not fair (Duncan Simpson)
I have been relatively quiet in this general election period but there is one point which keeps cropping up (and not just in this election) that concerns me.
It often appears against a backdrop of people criticising the sustained budget cuts coming our way from Edinburgh, over 21.7 per cent since 2010 – the worst of all 32 local authorities.
This issue was raised in another letter last month by Ross Gazey, which then received a reply from Gary Robinson explaining how we have fallen foul of an extremely complex Cosla funding formula which has seen us lose out in seven consecutive years, something the formula does not consider.
Some people blame the Scottish government for this, some blame Cosla and some blame Westminster. The truth probably lies somewhere in the middle.
Whenever this argument is raised I hear people saying Shetland receives “double the national average funding per head” or some similar statement as if that makes everything okay. This is a dangerous and simplistic rationale which, if followed, will always lead to rural areas being discriminated against in favour of more densely populated/urban areas. Of course, it costs more to provide services to a scattering of small islands than it does to a town or city, an example of economies of scale.
Being from a rural area (Whalsay) within a rural area (Shetland) I also despair to see this same argument voiced whenever areas of rural Shetland claim they are not getting the right funding or investment. It does not matter if a rural area is receiving more funding “per head” than a city in the central belt, if it is not sufficient to meet the needs of the area then it is not good enough.
Another aspect of this issue is that the “per head” funding argument is only one side of the coin. Rarely does it take into account the contribution of that area “per head” to the wider economy. Shetland is a perfect example of this.
The most recent available data suggests that Shetland contributes more than double the national average to the economy “per head” than the average person in Scotland.
Taking the argument to a local level the North Isles and North Mainland, mainly via the seafood sector, contribute much more than the average Shetlander does.
Given the above, I was very disappointed to read of a candidate in the general election dismiss the issue in this way. I very much hope whoever was elected to represent us does not subscribe to this “per head” mindset, it is neither fair nor will it help them fight Shetland’s corner.