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OIC leader welcomes PM visit after isles funding boost

Prime Minister Boris Johnson visited Orkney on Thursday.

The leader of Orkney Islands Council has welcomed today’s visit to Orkney by Prime Minister Boris Johnson — following the announcement of funding for an Islands Growth Deal.

Councillor James Stockan said the visit had provided the perfect opportunity to discuss potential projects of major significance to Orkney and to the UK as a whole.

The UK and Scottish Governments have each announced £50 million in funding for an Islands Growth Deal for Orkney, Shetland and the Western Isles.

“I am delighted that the Prime Minister and the Scottish Secretary Alister Jack accepted our invitation to travel north and spend time with us today,” Councillor Stockan said.

“The Islands Growth Deal for Orkney, Shetland and the Western Isles promises to be of transformational importance for us.

“The UK Government, in awarding its share of the funding, has recognised the potential our islands have to contribute significantly to the future prosperity of the country as a whole, as well as our own communities.

“Today’s visit is unprecedented in that it provided us with the chance to meet with the Prime Minister and highlight at first hand the economic opportunities we offer.”

Orkney Islands Council, Shetland Islands Council and Comhairle nan Eilean Siar worked with a wide range of business, academic, research and public sector partners in developing their ambitious Islands Growth Deal proposals.

The Prime Minister and Scottish Secretary met with representatives of those sectors during today’s visit.

Councillor Stockan added: “Orkney has a well-earned reputation for innovation and pioneering research activity.

“That was in evidence today as we looked ahead to building projects of strategic importance to Scotland and the UK – that will deliver long term benefits for the people and the businesses of our islands.

“We now look forward to further engagement with the Government on the steps we all need to take to ensure this funding makes the biggest possible impact – both nationally and locally.”

But the visit had also proved controversial, with some members of the community gathering to protest the Prime Minister’s decisions over Brexit, coronavirus and US trade deals.

According to Highlands and Islands MSP, Maree Todd, the future of Orkney’s agricultural industry is of particular concern, if the Prime Minister fails to negotiate an adequate trade deal with the EU.

“Local farmers in the Highlands and Islands will quite rightly feel betrayed by Boris Johnson’s decision to sell out Scottish produce,” she said.

“Nationally almost half of our exports go to Europe with some businesses, like the Orkney Cheese Company, in the vanguard of that activity with a hugely successful relationship with France.

“With potential tariffs of up to 57 per cent on the world famous cheddar, and an eye-watering 84 per cent on our top quality Scotch Beef, it is no exaggeration to say that leaving without a deal at the end of this year will devastate key sectors of the local economy.

“Just as businesses are trying to find their feet again after the COVID-19 crisis, Boris Johnson’s plans will land a damaging body blow to Scotland’s food and drink sector during its time of need.

“We’ve had enough bluff and bluster – will Boris Johnson commit today to ensuring that Scottish produce like Orkney Cheddar won’t be slapped with sky high tariffs next year when exporting goods to Europe?”