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by Paul Olvhoj
10 April 2024
Associate Feature: Navigating Towards Sustainable Prosperity

Stromness (Airborne Lens / Orkney SkyCam)

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Associate Feature: Navigating Towards Sustainable Prosperity

The Orkney Islands, a jewel in Scotland’s maritime crown, stands at a pivotal juncture in its long history. Renowned for its pioneering spirit, this archipelago boasts a rich tapestry of innovation spanning over five millennia. Anchored between the North Sea and the Atlantic Ocean, Orkney’s strategic positioning along international shipping routes underscores its significance in the evolving and vital landscape of port infrastructure.

Central to this narrative is Orkney Harbours, the largest local authority-owned port in Scotland. Orkney Harbours is currently progressing a generational opportunity to secure the islands’ position in the UK’s renewable energy sector and ensure a pipeline of infrastructure improvements for the islands.

The projects, which come under the name Orkney Future Ports (OFP), aim to deliver essential infrastructure for key offshore wind sites, transportation links, and marine tourism, and are charged with the responsibility of steering Orkney towards a decarbonised future. This project will not only seek to support a range of sectors, but will also embrace the notion of community prosperity, national advancement, and environmental stewardship. 

With further large-scale offshore wind projects on the horizon, and significant development of these projects essential to the UK’s ambitions to meet net zero by 2050, the focus must be on infrastructure expansion and upgrading of our ports. The clock is ticking towards 2027, the deadline by which early ScotWind developers demand port readiness — but right now, we are a long way off this milestone. Without significant investment in port infrastructure, we will not only fail to unlock the potential of our region, including the national asset of Scapa Flow, but also miss the UK and Scottish Government’s net zero targets.

Yet finding the capital investment necessary for projects such as Orkney Future Ports is not the only challenge we face. The lack of a skilled labour force, education, housing, and necessary infrastructure to support our growing population - and ambitions - of our island must be addressed. We know that various industries across the UK are confronting the same challenges, however, living on an island like Orkney serves to further exacerbate this issue in the local context.

There has been work undertaken by both governments to address these issues with the recently agreed £100m Islands Growth Deal, and the Scottish Government’s Islands Plan, both seeking to promote growth and enhance our island communities. However, it is nowhere near enough to compete in the global market, and we need to recognise the toll that this takes on economic growth across the board. 

Like any infrastructure project, Orkney Future Ports will need to tap into a diverse workforce, one that will go beyond even the initial focus of the renewables sector, with marine tourism and cruise terminals firmly part of the region’s future. The big question is: where will this workforce come from? 

The UK and Scotland have admirable ambitions of a green revolution that will create hundreds of thousands of skilled jobs and help to rebuild our economy. The demand for jobs in the renewables sector is set to grow to considerably by 2030, and that number becomes considerably greater when including other low-carbon sectors in construction and electric vehicles. Without the means to develop our own skills base we will not be able to take advantage of the opportunity that lies in front of us. 

What we need urgently is a detailed plan from government, outlining how we will secure what has the potential to be an extremely positive future, and inspire our current and future workforce to seek out the kind of jobs required to lead us into the next chapter of our industrial heritage. 

Orkney has an abundance of ambition, and we are ready to seize the opportunity in front of us, but we need the ability to attract the right talent. We need skills, housing, and infrastructure right across the country. Without this, the UK’s energy transition will be at real risk of yet again trailing behind the rest of the world. 

This article is sponsored by Orkney Future Ports

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