For its size, Shetland has a large public sector. That’s partly because the income from oil has allowed the provision of a high level of public services. However, it’s also because the provision of a full range of public services needs a wide range of skills whether the population is 22,000 or 220,000. The two largest public sector employers are Shetland Islands Council and NHS Shetland
The provision of good services across fifteen inhabited islands offers unusual challenges and opportunities. Public sector staff work throughout the islands, for example as teachers, doctors, community workers, nurses or ferry staff. A social worker, health visitor, town planner or customs officer may find that they need to travel by ferry or light aircraft in the course of their work.
Shetland Islands Council is responsible for almost all of the usual local government services and it provides them either directly or through agreements with other local organisations. The two exceptions are the police and fire and rescue services, the running of which is shared with other Councils in the Highlands and Islands. The Council headquarters are in Lerwick.
NHS Shetland provides health care not only for local residents but also for those who work in the seas around the islands, on fishing vessels or oil platforms. In-patient, day-patient, out-patient, accident and emergency, and local community services are offered. There are two hospitals in Lerwick and ten health centres around Shetland. However, NHS Shetland also offers services through schools, mobile units and in patients' own homes. The Council and NHS Shetland are now working closely together on some projects.
What sets Shetland apart, however, is the existence of several substantial charitable trusts that derive much of their income from oil revenues. They provide services in arts, environment, heritage, sport and recreation of a quality that is the envy of many much larger communities. The Shetland Amenity Trust specialises in environmental and heritage matters and its activities range from archaeology to building restoration, place-name research to glass recycling. It operates the magnificent Shetland Museum and Archives on behalf of the Council. Shetland Arts exists to develop artistic activity of every kind and employs staff specialising in visual arts, drama, literature and music, among other strands. It also operates the Bonhoga Gallery in Weisdale and Mareel, the cinema and music venue on the Lerwick waterfront. The Shetland Recreational Trust runs eight leisure centres or swimming pools throughout the islands, the largest of which is at Clickimin in Lerwick.