Shetland’s popular Food Festival has become the latest victim of council cost-cutting, but some local food producers could still be selling their wares in November.
Would-be exhibitors were told last week that the £25,000 budget for the annual event could not be justified at a time of SIC spending cuts, where £30 million annual savings have to be made over the next two years. The news comes just after it emerged that the council has suspended its graduate placement scheme.
The event, which would now be in its fifth year, was launched with a grand opening by French celebrity chef Jean-Christophe Novelli and featured theatrical live cookery demonstrations by well-known chefs. It attracted thousands of visitors and provided a valuable showcase for local food.
SIC economic development executive manager Douglas Irvine said: “Due to the financial challenges facing the council at present it has been decided the food festival will not go ahead this year. Taking this action will result in a short-term saying for the authority of £25,000.
“The difficult financial circumstances facing the council means all services must continually review their plans and prioritise savings wherever possible.
“The food festival has been run by the economic development department since 2008. Staff for the service are currently in the process of developing economic policies for marketing and this key document will include future methods for promoting Shetland’s world-class food industries.”
Although naturally disappointed by the council’s decision, local producers accept that savings have to be made. Some of them, who are members of the Shetland Craft Association, could still exhibit in the annual craft fair, with which the food festival has been combined for the last two years. Another possibility is that they could stage some other kind of event this year.
Shetland Fudge proprietor Gillian Ramsay said: “It [the food festival] was a tremendous asset to us but it couldn’t really be justified when you see schools closing and the Freefield Centre under threat.
“We didn’t make any money at it because we would give samples of our fudge away, but it was a good PR exercise and we met hundreds of people.”
Mrs Ramsay said that she would have paid to be there: “We wouldn’t have minded paying to go the food festival, it was always a surprise that we didn’t even have to make a token payment.”
Scoop Wholefoods’ Ann Johnson, said: “I understand the council has to make cutbacks and this was not essential. Keeping schools open is far more important. However it was good for people to see how much local produce is available, it’s fresher and tastier, and local production helps the local economy.”
She added that something else may be staged. “There may be an option to have a smaller event.”
The SIC’s economic development unit has indicated it could possibly consider helping producers if enough of them want to hold an event this year.
The annual craft fair at the Clickimin Leisure Complex has been funded entirely by local craft producers for the past eight years, after being initially launched with the help of local authority funding.