The continued purpose of an economic steering group in Orkney which was set up during the pandemic was questioned in the county’s council chamber this week.
In June 2020, an Economic Recovery Steering Group (ERSG) was set up.
It brought together people from private businesses, Orkney council and Highlands and Islands Enterprise.
Its purpose was to build and drive forward a strategy for the county’s recovery from the economic impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.
A program manager was hired and a plan called the ASPIRE program was developed.
The council agreed to back the group with up to £250,000 to deliver this program.
The ERSG agreed to update the council at each meeting of the policy and resources committee.
So what now?
However, at yesterday’s meeting of the committee, councilors were told there had been no progress on the ASPIRE program since the last update in June.
While it was noted that the group’s manager has been busy, councilors were told the group has been focusing on its future purpose.
Councilor Steven Heddle has long said the group should have been set up in-house by the council, so it would be under their governance.
While the council is “bankrolling” the group, as councilor Heddle put it, the Orkney Partnership Board is actually responsible for the ERSG.
Yesterday he said: “The council are obviously key players here. I’m not entirely sure we have control over what the council’s view actually is.
“The council is bankrolling this. The council should have a key say in what function – if any – this group has.
Things have moved on, although in the last year there’s been no progress reported to the council.
‘There has been no progress reported to the council’
In the last two years, we’ve now got new priorities, new constraints, a new council, and a new corporate structure.
“Absolutely, the relationship with the ESRG is undefined.
“For me, it’s a very unsatisfactory situation.”
Councilor Heddle wasn’t the only elected member to state his dissatisfaction. He was joined by Lindsay Hall and Owen Tierney.
However, the council leader James Stockan seemed to have more sympathy towards the group and ASPIRE Orkney.
He said: “This was set up when there was so much uncertainty.
“We didn’t have a clue that the government funding was going to be as strong as it was.
He added: “There is quite a lot going on behind the scenes to try and get a resolution.”
“I think it’ll be acceptable to the council when we get there.
Councilor Graham Bevan noted the contribution that volunteer business people had made towards the development of ASPIRE.
A report on the activity of the ESRG and ASPIRE Orkney, and their future, is due to come to the next meeting of the policy and resources committee on November 22.
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[Orkney councillors state frustrations about economic steering group]