Orkney is fortunate in having a diverse economy with a number of strong sectors. When one is experiencing difficulties, often others are performing well.
While each face their own challenges and opportunities, all rely on Orkney having good infrastructure, including affordable and reliable lifeline transport links; high quality broadband and mobile coverage; and a range of skills to meet the changing demands of the economy.
By delivering on these priorities, we can support economic development in our islands and provide the opportunities needed to retain and attract people, particularly young people, to live and work in Orkney.
I have been campaigning hard for improvements in all three areas. If re-elected as Orkney’s MSP on 5th May, I will continue to do so.
Taking each in turn, I think it is scandalous that the SNP government has locked Orkney out of funding to reduce ferry fares over the last 8 years.
While average fares have been cut by 50% on west coast routes, SNP Ministers have made excuse after excuse for excluding Orkney. This political bias has cost businesses in our islands, not least our vital tourism sector. They have been put at a competitive disadvantage. This is unacceptable and must be reversed.
Meanwhile, the lack of reliability on our lifeline air services has affected all facets of island life, with many local businesses suffering badly.
I am pleased that Loganair finally responded to my calls for action, increasing investment in engineering and other key areas. Signs of improvement are starting to show, but this must be sustained.
In terms of digital infrastructure, I want to see Orkney businesses accessing broadband speeds and mobile phone coverage that allow them to compete effectively. We cannot afford to be constantly at the end of the queue for investment. It is time to level the playing field.
As for skills, Orkney does well in educating and training not just our young people but those of all ages. Worryingly, the SNP’s £500m cut to Council budgets next year will inevitably undermine this, as education is half of what local authorities do.
Education is fundamental to our economy and society. That is why Scottish Liberal Democrats propose a penny on income tax to invest an extra £475m each year in education, from the earliest years to repairing the damage done to our colleges, where 150,000 places have been lost since 2007.
Of course other key sectors need specific help too. Orkney’s economy remains reliant on farming, for example, so the SNP’s shambles over delayed payments urgently needs fixed.
I set out priorities for renewables last week, but the sharp fall in oil prices has hurt that sector too, including here in Orkney.
Fortunately, within the UK, the Scottish Government does not have to plug a £15 billion black hole in our finances as a result of low oil prices. However, oil firms and workers need support, from fiscal measures to skills development.
Orkney businesses regularly punch above their weight. If re-elected as Orkney’s MSP, I will help ensure they have the tools they need to continue doing so.