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North Isles By-election — candidates share employment hopes

It’s just days to go until the the votes are counted for the North Isles By-election. Four candidates are in the race for the third spot in the North Isles ward of Orkney Islands Council.

Voters have been encouraged to cast their ballot by post. Remember to return your vote to Orkney Islands Council or to the St Magnus Centre, Kirkwall, by 10pm on Thursday, October 1.

As the countdown continues, The Orcadian will be refreshing voters memories with some of the views expressed by the candidates, so far.

Here, they share their views on the future of industry and employment in the North Isles.

Heather Woodbridge, independent.

Heather Woodbridge (independent)

Though not all work can done remotely, as an employer, OIC can support roles that can be done from home. This has been proven to work well during the pandemic and I would like to see more support for existing OIC employees, and support for future employees living in the North Isles.

To support remote working generally, it is essential that we have good, wide and reliable digital and internet connectivity across all of the North Isles. This will allow businesses to utilise modern solutions and stay competitive.

More could be done to reduce the extra logistical business overheads that small businesses face in the isles. Where profit margins are slim, OIC could provide better support. We need to create a sustainable future within the circular economy, with equal services and infrastructure for business as in Mainland Orkney.

Housing is desperately needed to accommodate working families, who provide much needed services and labour for the North Isles economy.

Development trusts and other groups often drive economic solutions for their communities, which can be an unfair burden on voluntary committees. OIC should not be reliant on the third sector to provide the much-needed services they provide to the economy. Paid link officer positions should be rolled out for all of the islands to support our communities’ needs.

I strongly support better communication between OIC and businesses and other stakeholders in the isles. Good engagement and collaboration is the best way to find solutions that work and will last.

There is no single answer with many working parts driving the North Isles economy. I want to hear about the solutions and ideas you have and how they could be supported by OIC.

Claire Stevens, independent.

Claire Stevens (independent)

Sustainability requires evolution. We should offer all interested parties the chance to bring forward ideas and to help with continuing island development.

Creating employment opportunities within the North Isles would offer security and stability. By offering support for entrepreneurs to create jobs for their communities, from feasibility studies, funding applications, through start-up and expansion, OIC would show continued confidence in the North Isles.

Improving peoples skill set through training within the local community, by encouraging people with the right skills to live in the North Isles and working with UHI and Skills Development Scotland, the North Isles could offer training in modern and traditional skills. The isles should also encourage placement opportunities with educators and employers from both within and outwith Orkney, offering a unique experience and raising the Orkney profile in many sectors.

Encouraging working from home employment for those that want it. There is a new realisation of the practicalities of home-based working. Improved broadband speed and mobile connectivity is essential for the expansion of the digital economy. Tourism is a valuable resource for the North Isles. The promotion and development of the tourist season, the provision of accommodation, locally produced food and services for all levels of visitors, offering year round employment opportunities.

Orkney produces world class food and drink and the North Isles is an integral part of this. As we leave the EU, we must look forward with confidence and ensure that the North Isles produce is both protected and developed. Housing and transport have an effect on the viability of the North Isles but prosperity comes through employment.

Coilla Drake, Scottish Labour Party.

Coilla Drake (Scottish Labour Party)

To paraphrase a well known Isles resident: If you are not fussy what you do there is plenty of work, if you want something specific then finding work on the island will be difficult. The available jobs are often low paid, many are part time or relief positions, and residents frequently hold down and juggle several jobs. People often have to leave the island to secure a better job, and many young folk do not return after they complete their education.

The main areas of employment are farming, fishing and tourism, all of which have been or will be impacted by COVID-19, Brexit and other economic factors. The recent impact on tourism affects not only the tourist related businesses but also our local shops and our economy as money coming in and available to circulate is reduced.

During COVID, many organisations have discovered it is possible, efficient and environmentally beneficial for employees to work from home. We need them to take on board how advantageous it would be for our Isles to continue, and promote this. As your Councillor I will call on OIC to adopt a strategy of promoting remote working to allow isles residents to take positions that would otherwise be unavailable to them without moving to mainland.

I would press for the council to lobby the Scottish Government, with other Highland and Island communities, to formulate policy to encourage and promote remote working and ensure the excellent, reliable connectivity needed.

We should develop a grant to assist with set-up costs for satellite or mobile broadband for business to support residents with poor broadband who want to start or develop businesses with on-line presence or work remotely. These measures would strengthen our economies, enable more people to remain in the isles or move here, and encourage isles regeneration.

Daniel Adams (independent)

Daniel Adams (independent)

Employment and industry are the backbone of our communities.

If you vote for me this will be a clear determination that the council must and will help our islands industry and employment sector.

I will do this with a proposal of an Orkney wide plan using the strategic development fund. Through this fund I believe that we can not only empower our businesses to employ more people, but also to offer more education and skill-based qualifications gained through their employ.

I also want to encourage more business start ups on the islands, I believe there are huge potential in our islands, and we must unlock this. With extra funding I believe that not only can we contribute to the wider national economy, but we can also grow our internal market too.

I will focus heavily on creating more jobs within the agriculture and fishing industries. I believe these are the key areas of existing employers. We can create a greener and more sustainable sector with effective initiatives and supporting their move to a carbon neutral stance.

It is time that we became leaders in the Green energy market, the north isles create a lot of renewable energy that in my experience is not used effectively. I will seek ways of creating employment in these sectors. I believe that we can encourage more Renewable and green companies to come to our shores creating more skilled and higher paid work.

I will also seek to make more fair our import and export costs to our islands. I believe that as consumers we are unfairly disadvantaged, and this makes our businesses even more so. The council must look at this injustice and level the playing field, while we are privileged to live in these islands, we are not being treated fairly.