Shetland residents have many reasons to be cheerful, according to a new survey which found they have the best quality of life of any rural area in Scotland.
They enjoy health, with long life expectancy, wealth, with high employment and low house prices, good education and uncrowded surroundings.
The latest Bank of Scotland Rural Areas Quality of Life Survey puts Shetland as Scotland’s top location with Orkney in third place, pushed out of second place by Aberdeenshire. East Lothian and Moray were fourth and fifth respectively.
According to the survey Shetland residents tend to be fit and well, with 93 per cent of those questioned reporting themselves to be in good or fairly good health. They also have a higher than average life expectancy compared to Scotland as a whole, of 76.2 years for men and 81.8 years for women. The Scottish average is 75.8 years and 80.4 years respectively, according to the latest NHS statistics.
The survey found Shetland’s employment rate is the highest in Scotland, close to 84 per cent, much higher than the Scottish average rate, which this month is 70.5 per cent. Wages trump the Scottish average too: the weekly average earnings of £605 in Shetland are £30 above the average for Scotland of £575.
The level of school qualifications was also found to be above the national average. Of the people in the survey, 91 per cent achieved five or more SCQF level 4 awards (Standard Grades at general level) compared to the Scotland average of 78 per cent. Shetland pupils taking Highers outperformed their mainland counterparts too, with the pass rate of 80 per cent comfortably above the Scottish average pass rate of 75 per cent. Freedom from crime or the fear of crime was another point that contributed to Shetland’s quality of life.
Inhabitants lived in relative security with one of the lowest crime rates in the country, and, according to recent police figures, has an enviable detection rate of nearly 70 per cent, probably the highest in Scotland, if not the UK. Shetland police chiefs have consistently said that the isles are one of the safest places in Scotland (and the UK) in which to live and work.
Shetland has one of the lowest population densities anywhere in Scotland with just 15 people per square kilometre, and living the good life does not come at a particularly high cost.
Average house prices in Shetland are low in relation to earnings, at 4.2 times the average gross annual local pay – below the Scotland average of 4.7. Although some prices have recently topped the £200,000 mark, only large houses with selling points such as large gardens attract this much. Houses in the town average around £150,000 while it is possible to buy a two-bedroom cottage in the country for less than £100,000.
There are drawbacks to life in the isles, however. The survey found that residents enjoy on average three hours less sunshine per week compared to Scotland as a whole, although Fair Isle weather man Dave Wheeler pointed out that the isles benefit from the simmer dim. He said that although annual hours of bright sunshine in Lothian are recorded as 1,351 and Lerwick has 1,056 hours, this is still better than Fort Augustus which has only 1,044 hours.
Another downside to Shetland living is that only just over half of households have a good level of broadband access. But this is set to improve, according to telecomms project manager Marvin Smith. He said: “Broadband is now a vital part of modern living for communities, families and business. The project we’re working on now is extending the fibreoptic network north from Lerwick to Sullom Voe and Mossbank. We are starting the tender process today for contractors to lay the cable. The next few years should see a dramatic improvement.”
Bank of Scotland economist Nitesh Patel said: “In recent years, the Shetland isles have performed consistently well against a wide range of indicators to demonstrate that its residents have amongst the best quality of life in Scotland.
“The islands scores highly relative to the average for Scotland on several indicators, such as health, life expectancy, employment, average earnings, school results and low crime rates. Even average house prices are relatively low in relation to earnings, highlighting that a high standard of living does not always come at a high price.”