Tall Ships event will generate ‘feel-good factor’ at time of severe cuts

The Tall Ships last visited in 1999.

This summer’s Tall Ships event will be just the tonic the Shetland community needs against a backdrop of savage cutbacks in public spending, a number of SIC councillors said today.

The SIC agreed two years ago to stump up £1.2 million to help fund the four-day event, which organisers hope will generate economic activity to exceed the estimated £2.6 million when the races were last here back in 1999.

With four-and-a-half months to go before more than 2,100 crew members from 11 different countries descend on the isles, project manager Fiona Dally addressed the council’s development committee this morning. She told members that the 53 ships attracted so far gave Shetland a higher entry than other host ports in Ireland and Scotland. It is hoped that around 6,000 people will take part in events each day.

Loganair and Flybe are putting on 32 flights in addition to the normal schedule, catering for 1,000 passengers, while two daytime sailings from NorthLink could bring in a further 2,400 passengers.

Along with the SIC’s contribution, Ms Dally said private sponsorship of more than £365,000 had already been levered in. That has come from a variety of local, national and international firms, including oil and gas multinationals with a stake in Shetland. Some of those companies are chartering flights to bring up VIPs to experience the event.

Ms Dally is confident a £400,000 sponsorship target can be met to allow the event to “live within our means”. She said Shetland businesses were being involved in delivering the event wherever possible, such as allowing local consortia to provide bar services.

With a large proportion of accommodation now fully booked, VisitScotland is offering a temporary accommodation scheme and a temporary campsite is to be developed at Seafield.

Councillor Betty Fullerton welcomed progress to date and said the Tall Ships Races were precisely what was needed to generate a “feel-good factor” at a time when members are making a host of deeply unpopular cuts in services. “We are in a bit of the doldrums with council cuts,” she said. “We can really do with something like this to raise our spirits.”

That sentiment was endorsed around the chamber, with Allan Wishart – one of four councillors on the organising committee – saying the team deserved enormous credit for their work so far. “This will help put Shetland on the map,” he said.

The SIC entered into a contract with the organisers back in 2009, before the full impact of the financial crisis became apparent. Mr Wishart said afterwards that he remained fully convinced that it was “money well spent”.

He said: “There is £400,000 of sponsorship going in, and I do think it’s a very community-orientated event which does draw a lot of very positive attention to Shetland and it focuses on young people, who sometimes get a bit overlooked in council budgets.”

The event starts in Waterford, Ireland, on 30th June, with vessels racing to Scotland and calling at Greenock on the West Coast. They will then take a relaxed “cruise in company” leg to Shetland, with ships arriving in the isles by noon on Thursday 21st July, if not before.

A welcoming ceremony will take place that day and, along with family entertainment, 12 hours of music each day on Victoria Pier and events at Holmsgarth, there will be a showcase of Shetland products at Alexandria Wharf.

Tickets for concerts from rabble-rousing veteran folk rockers The Levellers and Abba tribute band Bjorn Again, performing on Friday 22nd and Saturday 23rd respectively, will go on sale later this month.

Five of the 12 guest harbours for this year’s races are in Shetland – Cullivoe in Yell, Fair Isle, Scalloway, Unst and Whalsay. Ms Dally said there had been a great deal of interest from ships in visiting Fair Isle in particular, while she has managed to persuade a German ship to visit her native Whalsay.


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