Letter from Edinburgh 27.03.09

It is said that you can’t walk down Aberdeen’s Union Street without bump­ing into a Shetlander. This week it was Edinburgh’s Princes Street.

On Wednesday I was ordered to get my hair cut. “You will have to look presentable for the Strictly CLAN dancing” was the general observation. Nothing to do with Par­lia­ment, First Minister’s Questions or any other event.

So I managed a quick walk to a hairdresser for the requisite treat­ment. It was a slightly scary experi­ence. The girl cutting my hair had watched a show on TV the night before about dodgy buildings and cowboy construction firms. The more animated she became in stating how terrible all this was, the faster her scissors flew across my head.

So it was certainly a value for money cut. Cindy’s is safer and there’s better gossip.

Walking back, I bumped into a small legion of the Shetland branch of the Tartan Army ambling up Princes Street and wasting a little time before heading to Amsterdam. Scotland play Holland tomorrow, followed by the visiting Icelanders at Hampden Park next Wednesday. I am led to under-stand that consider­able num-bers of Shetlanders are due in Glasgow for the game. Edinburgh-Amsterdam-Glasgow and then home to Shetland sounds a good trip away from the day job.

The Chairman of Highlands & Islands Enterprise (HIE) runs a business which has been awarded £100,000 worth of HIE contracts. Whether that is all above board is a question the government will have to answer but it doesn’t look good.

What gets me is that many small businesses now say they have no chance of getting any work from HIE. Scalloway’s AB Associates carried out a detailed study a couple of years ago into a food park for Shetland. HIE have now decided to update the report and have appointed, without tender, an Inverness-based surveyor. HIE will not answer my question as to why AB Associates were not allowed to tender to update a report they did.

The taxpayer pays for all this. A centralised system of buying ser­vices suits big mainland-based busi­nes­ses but not local ones. So it needs to change. HIE is a shadow of what it once was. The SNP slashed its bud­get at a time of economic reces­sion and HIE said nothing. It used to play a highly influential and impor­tant role in developing the area’s economy. It is a step backwards and a great shame that this seems to be no longer the case.

On Monday I met two groups of young Shetlanders. First the fifth and sixth year Anderson High pupils heading for university this autumn, then it was the volunteers’ awards which is a great event celebrating what so many young Shetlanders put back into their community. Economic dark clouds roll around the world but, if this group of go-ahead youngsters are the islands’ future, then we have a strong future indeed.

Tavish Scott MSP


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