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Orkney consists of approximately 100,000 hectares spread over 70 or so islands and skerries, 19 of which are inhabited. The sea separates Orkney from the Scottish mainland; Orkney’s mainland and island communities are also separated from each other. Yet it is the sea which has contributed to self-sufficiency, a fascinating history, and helped to create a unique local culture and strong sense of community.

A century ago, Orkney had a population of around 29,000. It is now around 19,500. In the last 10 years, births have been outnumbered by deaths. However, the significant decline in population predicted at the end of the nineties has been avoided due to the recent rise in people migrating here. The population is expected to remain fairly stable for the remainder of the decade, and then decline slightly until 2024. Over the next ten years Orkney’s population is also predicted to age dramatically. We must prepare to meet the needs of an increasingly diverse population too, as Orkney’s workforce becomes increasingly international and multi-cultural.

Orkney has amongst the highest life expectancy in Scotland, and the area has an outstanding natural environment with clean air and water, fine scenery, unique cultural heritage, safe surroundings, and diverse wildlife. However, health and quality of life can be adversely affected by rural poverty, caused by a range of factors including under-employment, low wages, high cost of living, lack of affordable housing, fuel poverty, and isolation from access to services.

  • By 2024, 30% of Orkney’s population will have reached pension age compared with the Scottish average of 23% (General Register Office for Scotland, 2005). Our working age population is expected to fall, creating a demographic imbalance.
  • At the time of the last census in 2001 67 people (0.3%) of the population recorded themselves as being from a minority ethnic group. But recent times have seen an increase in the numbers of migrant workers from Eastern European countries who represent an increase in Orkney’s multi-cultural community.
  • In Orkney house prices continue to rise with a 17.6% increase recorded in 2005/06 (General Register Office for Scotland, 2006). This means demand for affordable housing continues to grow well beyond the ability of both private and public sectors to supply.
  • People in Orkney have amongst the highest life expectancy in Scotland at 76.5 years for men and 80.5 for women (Office for National Statistics, 2004).
  • Educational attainment in schools is strong, consistently higher than comparable local authorities, and well above national averages (HM Inspectorate of Education, 2005).
  • Unemployment in Orkney is very low at 1.6%, around half the Scottish average.
  • The public sector remains Orkney’s largest employer. We have seen a significant rise in employment in the construction sector over recent years, and figures from 2002/03 (Office for National Statistics) show that the decline in value to the local economy of traditional local industries such as agriculture and fishing has halted. However, oil shipments through the Flotta terminal continued to fall during 2005 (Orkney Economic Review, 2007).
  • UK wide, Orkney is one of the safest places to live, with some of the lowest crime rates and highest detection rates in the country. In a 2005 police survey 98.1% of respondents in Orkney rated the area within 15 minutes of their home as very safe or fairly safe (Northern Constabulary, 2005).
  • There is high demand for internal air and sea services, especially in the summer months. In particular there has been a rapidly increasing number of commercial vehicles, passengers and cars carried on Orkney Ferries. The huge cost of the whole transport system has also been growing at a level difficult to sustain.
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