Nearly half of population will be pensioners by 2037, report says

Shetland is sitting on a demographic timebomb according to guidelines for UK government departments that are intended to prevent legis­lation having a negative impact on remote island areas.

According to a section in the guidelines titled “Island Demo­graphics – Key Challenges” almost half Shetland’s population may be pensioners by 2037 despite Shetland being one of the few rural or island areas forecast to show population growth between 2012 and 2037.

The estimates are that 44.2 per cent of Shetlanders will be drawing a pension by the end of the period compared with 29.3 per cent in Orkney and 19.6 per cent in the Outer Hebrides.

The number of over-75s is also set to more than double, rising by 130 per cent, compared with 80 per cent in Scotland as a whole.

On the other hand Shetland is forecast for an 8.3 per cent rise in population to 25,147 in the same period compared with 5.5 per cent in Orkney and a fall of 10.8 per cent in the Outer Hebrides.

Migrants to Shetland will form the biggest part of the population increase (about 5.5 per cent) but less so than for Scotland as a whole, whose popu­lation is forecast to rise by over seven per cent owing to net migration.

The growth in the elderly pop­ulat­ion and its concomitant costs comes when dwindling revenues from the oil industry have forced a period of austerity on council spend­ing.

Without these funds being replaced the fiscal situation is bound to have heavier future impacts on services.

SIC social services committee chairman Cecil Smith said that it was important not to paint too gloomy a picture of the future.

SIC Councillor Cecil Smith
Cecil Smith says there is no need to be gloomy.

The demographic problem had been discussed and factored into the council’s long term financial plan.

A growth in spending of three per cent per annum over the 25-year period would be needed to maintain the level of service.

This took into account inflation and an annual pay increase for the workforce of one per cent over inflation.

Another problem with an ageing population is that a larger proportion of the workforce will be engaged in looking after elderly people.

The trend for care at home would also have a knock on effect on the coun­cil’s ability to deliver services.

Mr Smith said: “We are very buoyant now with our economy. If we can keep that going and keep young people here and get them back from university it will help immensely.”

But any future council will be faced with tough decisions where to spend its finances, es­pecially if central government fund­ing continues to dwindle.

Mr Smith said that even with recent staff shortages community care was still better in Shetland than anywhere else in the country.

Shetland’s rural care model is generally recognised as being an excellent one, if expensive to run.

Councillor Jonathan Wills, himself a pensioner, said that he was fed up of pensioners being cast as a drain on the economy and society, when they had earned their pensions and were fully entitled to them.

He also said that pensioners were active contributors to the economy and tended to spend the money that they had rather than hanging on to it.

Local authorities were ultimately dependent on central government and if the authority did not have the money to perform its functions, the government had a duty to step in.


Jonathan Wills
Dr Jonathan Wills: Projections far into the future


Dr Wills added that the projections were very far into the future and as well as   there being “lies, damned lies and statistics” the worst sort of statistics were those based on extrapolation.

The document also outlines that the cost of maintaining the “acceptable minimum standard of living” for a two-child family in the Northern Isles is on average 29 per cent higher than in an urban area of the UK.

And for a family living in a settlement defined as “remote from town” this increases to 66 per cent above the UK urban average.

The Scottish Islands areas suffer to a disproportionate extent from fuel poverty with up to 62 per cent of the population in fuel poverty and up to 28 per cent in extreme fuel poverty.

Heating costs, even in towns, are typically 50 to 90 per cent higher “which can place considerable strain on household incomes.”

The higher energy bills are due to high levels of climatic exposure, high fuel costs and construction methods.

Shetland fares better than the Outer Hebrides or Orkney for fuel poverty, but even so 43 per cent of households are reckoned to suffer fuel poverty.

The official figures for the Outer Hebrides is 62 per cent but the local energy advisory service has put the true figure as high as 71 per cent. The figure for Orkney is listed as 58 per cent, with 28 per cent said to be in extreme fuel poverty – 18 per cent higher than the Scottish average.

Other cost of living “drivers” include higher prices for household goods and clothing – which typically cost 20 to 30 per cent more due to higher prices and delivery charges.

Island communities also lack universal access to government services such as passport and tax offices.

The document adds that the islands are some of the most remote regions of the UK and Europe.

“This remoteness from major population, administrative and economic centres leads to particular challenges in terms of access to services and transport links, which are not generally experienced by mainland areas.

“The communities represented by the islands councils share many of the same characteristics as mainland rural areas, but their remoteness and the relative fragility of their economies are what make policy delivery in these communities unique in a UK context,” it adds.

Issues of distance, low population density, transportation costs and limited connectivity put significant pressure on service delivery in the islands. None of the island groups contain any areas that would meet the definition of “urban”.

The island economies are characterised by a reliance on a small number of key industries – agriculture, construction, energy, fishing and aquaculture, the public sector and a private sector dominated by very small businesses and self employment.

Unemployment levels tend to be lower than the national average with only 0.6 per cent of people on Jobseekers Allowance in Shetland compared with a national average of 2.4 per cent.

Those classed as “economically inactive” are only 11.9 per cent of the Shetland population compared with a national average of 22.4 per cent.

According to the document low unemployment rates, are due in part to people leaving the islands if there is a lack of attractive employment opportunities which can “place additional constraints” on business growth potential.

Gross weekly pay varies, with both Orkney and Shetland similar to the Scottish average while the Outer Hebrides has a much lower level of gross weekly pay.

Shetland’s gross value added (GVA) economy was worth over half a billion in 2013, with a per capita GVA of £22,586 compared with £17,849 in Orkney, £15,255 in the Western Isles and £21,982 in Scotland overall.

The guidelines show that all three island economies are “highly productive”.

The guidance also sets out an indicative series of questions for departments to consider with the Scotland Office and island communities to take account of island characteristics during policy development.

Some of the statistics quoted in the guidelines are published at


Add Your Comment
  • John Tulloch

    • March 29th, 2015 9:08

    This is a shocking report, look no further for reasons for food bank use in Shetland.

    From above,

    “Mr Smith said: “We are very buoyant now with our economy. If we can keep that going and keep young people here and get them back from university it will help immensely.”

    Then the message for SIC is: “Don’t close the schools, then!”

    And the message for the SNP Scottish government is:

    “You’ve been found out under-funding Shetland’s education by £19.3Mpa and presiding over truly shocking levels of fuel poverty. Westminster has recognised the difficulties faced by island communities in this report, what are YOU going to do to redress this situation?”

    Over to you “Nicola Sturgeon, John Swinney, Derek MacKay, Mike Russell, Mike MacKenzie,…old Uncle Danus Skene, and all!”

    • Robin Stevenson

      • March 29th, 2015 14:29

      Wrong again John, show me where this £19.3 Million is underfunded by the Scottish government?

      Just because you keep repeating a thing, doesn’t mean it’s true?

      • John Tulloch

        • March 29th, 2015 19:38


        I am not going to start trawling through council documents to save you the trouble.

        I have already indicated my source and it’s a very authoritative one – Gary Robinson, SIC political leader, provided the information online, following a challenge from me.

        He said:

        “I’m happy to answer John Tulloch’s questions.

        “…….Q2. Orkney receives £22.1M from the Scottish Government against expenditure of £28.6M while the Western Isles gets £27.9M against expenditure of £45.9M. This compares to Shetland receiving £29M against expenditure of £48.3M; these figures are like-for-like costs across all of education from pre-school to HE/FE…………”

        I can’t be held accountable for public statements made by the SIC’s political leader and I see no reason why I should believe you or SNP ministers before him. If you think he is misrepresenting the position then you or one of your bosses at Hollyrood should take the matter up with Mr Robinson.

        Come to think of it, would be a nice little job for Danus Skene to ‘earn his spurs’ with, he’s not doing much else?

      • Robin Stevenson

        • March 30th, 2015 21:27

        I’m really at a loss with regards to the comparison between Orkney, the Western Isles and Shetland by Mr Robinson? obviously through UK reductions on Scotlands “Block grant” ALL councils have needed to cut budgets, in order to make the savings required for our marvellous “austerity programme”.

        So, on one hand we have, “Orkney receives £22.1 Million from the SG and spends £28.6 Million a difference of £6.5 Million.

        The Western Isles receive £27.9 Million from the SG and spend £45.9 Million, a difference of £18 Million.

        Whereas on Shetland we have, £29 Million from the SG and spends £48.3 Million a difference of £19.3 Million.

        These figures, however, are NOT the councils overall budget or “Grant”, these are the figures that EACH council has earmarked for their particular education budget.

        The question is, who decides the education budget? is it the SG or is it SIC?

        According to this BBC website :

        “The education budget overall is not ring-fenced. Councils can decide exactly how much to spend but in many respects their hands are tied”.

  • Robin Stevenson

    • March 29th, 2015 13:26

    Here’s your good friend Lib/Dems Danny Alexander [just after getting elected] in 2010 :

    “Danny Alexander rules out cancelling housing debt”, read on John,

    • John Tulloch

      • March 29th, 2015 14:30

      Mr Alexander is no friend of mine, nor is Alister Carmichael.

      Highland Council must fight their own corner, as the SIC did theirs and the same Danny Alexander gifted the SIC £10 million while continuing to pay the SIC’s housing support grant money, intended to cover the interest on the £40 million oil boom housing loan, to the SNP Scottish government who seized it for themselves.

      Don’t you think, in light of the above report, the housing support grant seizure and the £19.3Mpa under-funding of education, that the Scottish government has been acting in a particularly misanthropic way that is deeply damaging for a community in such difficult financial straits as is Shetland?

      Where’s Derek MacKay, let’s hear from him what he’s going to do about it?

      • Robin Stevenson

        • March 29th, 2015 18:25

        Continuously you spout this nonsense, please provide a link or shred of proof? I’ve already linked SICs accounts for 2015-2016, show me where there`s a seizure of £19.3 Million under-funding?

        Shetland Times 2013:

        “Mr Robinson said he was pleased the SNP government was “showing willingness” to discuss the situation.

        SNP local government minister Derek Mackay has echoed SIC political leader Gary Robinson’s criticism of the UK government’s inaction over the council’s historic £40 million housing debt.

        “The difficulty has been getting Westminster to also come to the table,” he said. “Derek is going to support us in trying to get [them] back around the table, as was Danny Alexander’s original proposal.”

        This newspaper has, on numerous occasions in the past two months, tried without success to set up an interview with Mr Alexander to discuss the Tory-Lib Dem coalition’s position on the housing debt”.

        So, ask yourself this John. Why would the UK government even consider talking about this historic debt that [you said] had already been given to the SG?
        Why would the UK gov then offer 20% £10 Million that [you said] had already been given to the SG?
        IF you had already paid a bill, would you choose to pay it again?….I think not.

      • John Tulloch

        • March 30th, 2015 12:35


        You’re clutching at straws now, trying to place quotes out of context.

        Of course, it was difficult getting Westminster to the table, they knew fine well what the SNP was up to – seizing the annual grant money intended to cover the SIC’s oil boom housing loan interest, knowing Westminster would be unable to stop paying it to them, while using the letter of your ruling powers to corner the money for yourselves.

        Fortunately, Alistair Carmichael was Secretary of State and his Lib Dem colleague Danny Alexander was the Treasury Minister and between them, they swung the £10 million “gift” to SiC from Westminster.

        Westminster and SIC are, effectively, £10M and £30M worse off, respectively, and the SNP Scottish Government is, effectively, £40M BETTER OFF!

        I have no major issue with you taking Westminster to the cleaners but you haven’t, you’ve shafted Shetland and it’s a damn poor show.

        Religious folk sometimes say “Be sure your sins will find you out” and indeed, the SNP has been caught, red-handed, with their fingers in the SIC’s till.

        You thought you were being clever and now it’s rebounding on you at the ballot box – you’ll be lucky to save your deposit.

      • Robin Stevenson

        • March 30th, 2015 20:40

        John you said:

        “seizing the annual grant money intended to cover the SIC’s oil boom housing loan interest, knowing Westminster would be unable to stop paying it to them, while using the letter of your ruling powers to corner the money for yourselves”.

        1/ Could you possibly show where that money was coming from [or payment to account] PRIOR to the establishment of the SG please?

        2/ Could you please explain why the initial borrowing of £50 Million in the 70s went up to £60 Million in the 90s when SIC were [supposedly] receiving money to account?

        3/ Would you like to explain why ANY government [in their right mind] would “Donate” a further £10 Million that you claim had already been paid?

        4/ And finally, do you have a note of the letter/e-mail or proof, of the Scottish government asking for this [fictitious] amount?…..and furthermore HAD that amount been paid to the SG, do you not think it rather strange that Westminster would remain as quiet as they have been?

      • John Tulloch

        • March 30th, 2015 21:45


        Is this still you or have Mike’s Mainland ‘hot shots’ taken over?

        My responses to your questions:

        Q1. It was stated publicly by the SIC when they started their initiative to win redress and acknowledged by Danny Alexander that the money was still being paid to Holyrood. To my knowledge, Holyrood did not deny it.

        Q2. The SIC were receiving the equivalent money to cover the loan interest. You’ll need to ask them what they did by way of borrowing later, it has nothing to do with what I’m talking about which is the original £40 million.

        Q3. Because an injustice had been done by Holyrood and Westminster knew they had made the mistake of trusting Holyrood to forward the housing support grant to the SIC.

        Furthermore, Westminster had recognised the key strategic importance of the islands to the UK, something the SNP appear to be unaware of, and had appointed the local MP as Secretary of State for Scotland, presumably, with a brief to ensure the islands would vote No – and they all did.

        Q4. I made no such claim. I said that the housing support grant money, publicly stated as intended to cover the interest on the SIC’s 1970s oil boom housing loan, was seized by the SNP Scottish government for its own purposes, equal to about £2.25Mpa.

        That is the equivalent of receiving interest of over 5 percent on an investment of £40 million i.e the equivalent of owning that £40 million, because the money is the SNP’s now.

        You might have got away with pleading ignorance if you’d put up £10 million the same as Westminster did but you didn’t, you were too greedy and kept the lot, trying to camouflage it under “we’ll give you £10 million towards your NEXT oil boom housing!

        Neat, or so you thought, but you were found out and now you’re paying for it.

        OK. Off you go and come back with another poorly-spun yarn, or better still, ask your bosses at Holyrood to make a public statement denying it.

        Once they provide convincing evidence and put up their £10 million, I’ll stop going on about it.

      • Robin Stevenson

        • April 1st, 2015 16:10

        Hook, Line and sinker John,…You’ve swallowed this yarn for years, I’d guess? unfortunately there is No way you could back down now without looking like a mug.

        I’ll do a deal with you john. you stop going on about it and I’ll stop asking you to qualify it, that way you can save face and we’ll put it down to “misinformation”, deal?

        meanwhile. you can ponder, Hmm:

        1/ I wonder why the Lab/Lib dem SG in 2003 didn’t bother paying off this historic debt instead of “Returning”…Yes…”Returning, £1.5 Billion to Westminster from their Block grant?

        2/ I wonder why Westminster paid the interest on £40 Million to the SG to then “pass it on” to Shetland, considering that the SG were nothing at all to do with the original deal, and there`s NO mention of it in the Scottish “Block grant”?

        3/ I wonder why Nothing was payed to SIC for almost 40 years until 2007 when the SNP gov came into power?

        4/ I wonder why Westminster were quite happy to pay “Another” £10 Million to a bill they’d already paid to the SG?

        5/ I wonder why I didn’t stop to ask myself ANY of these questions before?

    • Ali Inkster

      • March 29th, 2015 18:11

      Yet again the SSnp propaganda machine shows their ignorance of anything north of Dundee, the Highlands council debts have nothing to do with Shetland.

      • Robin Stevenson

        • March 30th, 2015 1:11

        Erm…..Ali. I’m actually pointing out the reliability of a Lib dem politician who was in charge of the Highlands and Islands when he reneged on his promise to wipe out their housing debt?….y’know in a similar way to Alistair Carmichael NOT wiping out Shetlands housing debt?…get it?…huh?…..and btw, Inverness is North of Dundee the last time I looked?

  • John Tulloch

    • March 29th, 2015 23:36

    Here’s a good one. Reportedly, the SNP Shetland crowd and Robin Stevenson are performing so poorly in the debate that Mike MacKenzie has had to call for “activists” to travel to Shetland to take over and “remove” Alistair Carmichael for them?


    Funny that, they were such tireless troopers and did so well during the referendum?

    For those who worry about Scotland’s inexorable progress towards a one-party state, the full, linked article will make grim reading.

    It’s possible it’s being exaggerated and if so, I hope someone will post a link to the actual standing orders document.

    From For Argyll newsblog

    “The Stig says:
    March 29, 2015 at 1:18 pm
    Desperately negative stuff, talking down Scotland and its stupid Scots.
    The SNP could be on for the clean sweep in Scotland. In Argyll & Bute polling is above national 46% and pushing over 50%. Tories distant second and Liberal Alan Reid could lose his deposit.
    I am supporting Mike MacKenzie’s call for activists to go to Orkney and Shetland to remove the last Liberal Democrat MP in Scotland. Tories MPs are already extinct.”

    • Robert Sim

      • March 30th, 2015 12:00

      @John – “For those who worry about Scotland’s inexorable progress towards a one-party state, the full, linked article will make grim reading.” There’s one wee but important detail missing from the “one-party state” narrative which you are promulgating, John: the Scottish electorate voted in such a way as to make the SNP the biggest party in 2007 in the Scottish government. It’s called democracy. More to the point, it looks (as your post highlights) that the same pattern is going to be repeated at the General Election. In other words, no-one is forcing voters into voting SNP – they are turning to the SNP for their own reasons.

      • Robert Sim

        • March 30th, 2015 12:02

        Apologies – I of course meant 2011 not 2007!

      • John Tulloch

        • March 30th, 2015 14:57


        The SNP being the largest Scottish party is fine by me, that’s democracy. However, if the ‘one-party state brigade’ turn out to be right and I’m not allowed to speak my mind, I’ll pack up and go elsewhere – hopefully, Shetland will be autonomous and linked to the rUK before then?

        While problems will, for the most part, likely be restricted to party members, it’s a little bit scary, is it not, best not to be too complacent, perhaps?

        Especially, when the SNP hierarchy has already ordered – yes, “ordered” – their Argyll council 2012 election-winning team to step down from running the council because tough decisions were needed ahead of the referendum. A number of leading SNP councillors resigned from the party over it, causing mayhem both within and without the council chamber for about a year.

        You’re from Argyll, aren’t you? Did you read the article (here it is again for convenience: )

        Where are these ‘standing orders’ that they’re talking about preventing SNP members from speaking publicly? Can we see a copy so we can judge for ourselves?

        How come you’re allowed to speak, are you not a member of the SNP or are you one of the ‘privileged few’?

      • Robin Stevenson

        • March 30th, 2015 17:58

        Thank you John, an excellent read,…No no I don’t mean the nonsense written in the article, but one of the posters [IF you scroll down] has it “Spot on”:

        JnrTick quote:

        “Don’t let the hyperbolic knee-jerk over-the-top nonsense FA and our MSM propagates against a democratically and majority elected Scottish government taint rational thought.

        SNP and it’s members promote, tolerance, equality, fairness, opportunity for all etc., all the hallmarks of an all encompassing progressive party and one everyone in Scotland should be very proud to have represent them regardless of their stance on the constitutional issue.

        Seems to me that if SNP’s opposition have not the ability to counter their arguments, their proposals and their popularity then next step is despicable inaccuracies, lies and smear.
        It’s no wonder the masses in Scotland are abandoning the other parties, most can see through this vulgar propaganda”.

      • John Tulloch

        • March 30th, 2015 19:01


        A comment from “Junior Tick”?

        That wouldn’t a pseudonym, would it?

        For all I know, it could be you, using another pseudonym, arguing for the SNP, saying anything you like but the SNP is insulated from it being nonsense?

        Trouble is, everybody knows what’s going on.

      • Gordon Harmer

        • March 30th, 2015 19:41

        Robin states, “SNP and it’s members promote, tolerance, equality, fairness, opportunity for all etc., all the hallmarks of an all encompassing progressive party.
        What the the progressive SNP party want is their MPs to “accept that no Member shall, within or outwith Parliament, publicly criticise a Group decision, policy or another member of the Group”.
        Tow the party leadership’s line or else! Laughable that the SNP still try to deny they’re a party of authoritarian control. Since when did a dictatorial party become progressive?

      • Robin Stevenson

        • March 30th, 2015 21:54

        Well,…That would be a VERY strange coincidence, considering that it was you, John, that linked this web-page in the first place?….I’m afraid I cannot take the credit for that post, but I’m grateful to “Jnrtick”, for posting it….”great minds think alike”…lol

      • Robert Sim

        • March 30th, 2015 23:17

        @John – it’s interesting that so many commentators are so concerned about the internal workings of the SNP. That has nothing whatsoever, however, to do with the right to free speech as it applies to society as a whole, which is a right in Scots law as it is in English and EU law. You can rest easy.

        ‘For Argyll’ is certainly heady stuff compared with the ‘Oban Times’. The writer certainly doesn’t like the SNP. Has FA ever published an article on why Labour (never mind the LibDems) has lost so much support in Scotland since last September? Maybe folk should be focussing on that rather than attacking the SNP because of its recent success.

    • Robin Stevenson

      • March 30th, 2015 18:16

      The whole idea of AMS [Additional Member System], a form of “Proportional Representation”, which was agreed upon by the people of Scotland and all parties in 1999, was to make sure that all people from all parties were represented, regardless IF the SNP won every seat in Scotland, the Scottish government would STILL have every other political party represented by their MSPs in Holyrood.
      Therefore the claim that Scotland is becoming “a one party state”, is impossible by these rules.

      It IS however, rather sad that there isn’t better opposition in Holyrood, at this time, that’s NOT to say that in the future and with independence the creation of new [truly] Scottish parties that may emerge.

      • John Tulloch

        • March 30th, 2015 19:13


        And the new ‘standing orders’ that allegedly prevent members and MSPs/MPs from speaking out, where are they and when will we see them somwe can judge for ourselves whether this story has any credibility?

        Too bad about the Argyll council shenanigans, they ensured the SNP lost Argyll in the referendum.

      • Robin Stevenson

        • March 30th, 2015 21:45

        There is SO much negativity in politics atm leading up to the GE, the LAST thing the SNP need is argument within their ranks, [we get enough of that from the other parties] there is a time and a place to voice your opinion within your political party – in fact I welcome it – but right now, I’d imagine that the SNP would rather focus on sending a strong block of MPs to Westminster and deal with differences of opinion within their party at a later date….clearing out the dead wood, as Labour and Lib/Dems are about to find out.

  • David Spence

    • March 30th, 2015 13:11

    John, it will be interesting to see if the Lib Dems becomes an extinct politician on these islands, but I very much doubt this will be the case…….Ever since the Jo Grimmond days, Shetland has always voted for the Lib Dems………………but one never knows.

    I wonder if we will see a stuffed version of Tavish (replica) in the Museum, as a once thriving, living and active species, but is now extinct……..on the islands? lol

    • Robin Stevenson

      • March 30th, 2015 21:48

      “You reap what you sow”,..David…as Tavish will [hopefully] soon find out 🙂


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