‘Per head’ funding not fair (Duncan Simpson)

I have been relatively quiet in this general election period but there is one point which keeps cropping up (and not just in this election) that concerns me.

It often appears against a backdrop of people criticising the sustained budget cuts coming our way from Edinburgh, over 21.7 per cent since 2010 – the worst of all 32 local authorities.

This issue was raised in another letter last month by Ross Gazey, which then received a reply from Gary Robinson explaining how we have fallen foul of an extremely complex Cosla funding formula which has seen us lose out in seven consecutive years, something the formula does not consider.

Some people blame the Scottish government for this, some blame Cosla and some blame Westminster. The truth probably lies somewhere in the middle.

Whenever this argument is raised I hear people saying Shetland receives “double the national average funding per head” or some similar statement as if that makes everything okay. This is a dangerous and simplistic rationale which, if followed, will always lead to rural areas being discriminated against in favour of more densely populated/urban areas. Of course, it costs more to provide services to a scattering of small islands than it does to a town or city, an example of economies of scale.

Being from a rural area (Whalsay) within a rural area (Shetland) I also despair to see this same argument voiced whenever areas of rural Shetland claim they are not getting the right funding or investment. It does not matter if a rural area is receiving more funding “per head” than a city in the central belt, if it is not sufficient to meet the needs of the area then it is not good enough.

Another aspect of this issue is that the “per head” funding argument is only one side of the coin. Rarely does it take into account the contribution of that area “per head” to the wider economy. Shetland is a perfect example of this.

The most recent available data suggests that Shetland contributes more than double the national average to the economy “per head” than the average person in Scotland.

Taking the argument to a local level the North Isles and North Mainland, mainly via the seafood sector, contribute much more than the average Shetlander does.

Given the above, I was very disappointed to read of a candidate in the general election dismiss the issue in this way. I very much hope whoever was elected to represent us does not subscribe to this “per head” mindset, it is neither fair nor will it help them fight Shetland’s corner.

Duncan Simpson
1 Bothies,


Add Your Comment
  • Robert Sim

    • June 7th, 2017 14:33

    I despair, Duncan. This is a General Election, not a Holyrood one and therefore talking about the funding Shetland receives from Edinburgh is just not relevant.

    There has been a concerted attempt throughout this campaign to suggest that the SNP aren’t a good choice this time round because of the actions of the devolved administration. This is just a total red herring. The important point is that the SNP will be a strong voice for Scotland in the new uk parliament, with the largest number of seats, and it makes sense for Shetland and Orkney to be protected by that strength, especially when the uk-based parties have forgotten about us after the election.

    • Michael Garriock

      • June 7th, 2017 15:15

      Robert Sim, What have the 50+ SNP MPs who have sat in Westminster for the last two years done for Shetland in that time?

      I’m coming up with a blank, what about you?

    • ian tinkler

      • June 7th, 2017 15:52

      What nonsense Robert Sim, the funding Shetland receives from Edinburgh is most relevant especially to Shetlander folk, the folk who are about to vote!!!. Why else would Miriam Brett bring the subject of funding per head up in the first place? She, no doubt, on the advice of Johnatan Wills’ if memory serves, it is one of his PR soundbites.
      Your claim that only the SNP can be a strong voice for Scotland in the new UK parliament is again nonsense. The kind of Scotland the SNP want has been rejected by Shetland folk time and time again. We have had nearly a full complement of SNP Westminster MPs for some time now; they proved to be no more than an expensive embarrassment. Their principal contribution, hot air and noise. Take Mhairi Black for example, she cost the Taxpayer £150,000 and spoke fifteen times in debate in one year. The noise was clapping and singing.

    • Duncan Simpson

      • June 7th, 2017 18:25

      Robert, despair all you want. I reference the point that it is not just this election I have heard this and that it is a problem at a local level. However your candidate said it which therefore makes it relevant. Some may think it shows her defending her party instead of acknowledging the shortcomings of the current funding model.

      You will notice I never once mention the SNP. The point I was making (obviously lost on you) was about the use of this “per person” rationale by ANY politician to justify spending cuts to rural areas is a cop out.

      • Robert Sim

        • June 7th, 2017 21:02

        Duncan, your letter is thoughtful and well-constructed. It is however clear that you are criticising the SNP candidate regarding a matter that is the preserve of Holyrood. You are entitled to do so. It doesn’t however persuade me that your letter is any different from other communications here which are attempting to use what are effectively scare tactics regarding the Holyrood devolved administration in order to prevent the SNP being elected here. The real issues tomorrow are around the performance of the UK government, not the one in Holyrood, and how much we want to do something about that.

  • Michael Garriock

    • June 7th, 2017 15:08

    Perfectly put.

    The ‘per head’ argument is the preserve of the politician who doesn’t want to fight for a better deal, and is trying to pawn off the status quo as being “okay” with a sleight of hand.

    The acid test of public spending, of course is not how much is spent per person, but what is provided to each person in terms of benefits from whatever is spent on them, wherever they chose to reside.

    While Westminster and Holyrood also have to share blame on funding issues, the first step in addressing the problem would seem to be with COSLA. The SIC needs to aggressive pursue them to try and achieve a better deal before things deteriorate further, and if the liklihood of achieving an acceptable one seems unlikely, seriously consider withdrawing from COSLA and negotiating directly with Holyrood.

    Nothing changes until people start making a nusiance of themselves…..

  • James J Paton

    • June 7th, 2017 19:28

    Mr Simpson raises, what appears to be contradictory points. Is he saying he wants UK/Mainland Scotland to increase the existing subsidy to keep the Shetland economy afloat, given it does not pay for itself, or that only those who catch fish can afford to live in Shetland and everyone else will have to leave because they are sponging off fishermen? Is this what you are saying? In terms of public subsidy for Shetland, 5 years of Tory/ Lib-Dem rule have slashed subsidies to Shetland through austerity to keep private banks afloat, followed by 2 years of sole Tory rule with enhanced cuts to subsidy. The Edinburgh parliament is an irrelevance in this Westminster election because it does not control overall taxation rules, even if the SNP had increased income tax, it could not prevent capital flight and tax dodging from Tories in Shetland and Scotland hiding their excessive incomes and tax dodging in England or more likely offshore in Switzerland, Panama or the Isle of Man or Channel Isles!

    • Michael Garriock

      • June 7th, 2017 20:18

      James J Paton, since when did paying for public services equate to keeping the economy afloat? Who said Shetland’s economy is in such a state that its a “given” Shetland can’t pay for itself?

      There’s no “subsidy” about it, Shetland pays its taxes, and Shetland is owed government funded public services in return, this is how the deal works, and increasingly that deal is becoming more lopsided in favour of the government, that is the beef.

      I don’t think very many fail to comprehend that the Holyrood madhouse and its encumbents are directly irrelevant to this election, but given that it is there that an SNP government reigns supreme and virtually unfettered, I don’t think its unreasonable to look to how it behaves when considering the merits or otherwise of electing an SNP MP to Westminster.

      Don’t try and tell me that were there a by-election for a Scottish government seat tomorrow, that the Tory candidate wouldn’t be judged in part on Tory behaviour in Westminster, judging an SNP candidate for Westminster on the behaviour of the SNP in Holyrood is simply the flip side of that equation.


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