IT MAY be remote, windswept and almost devoid of trees, but Shetland offers the highest quality of life in Scotland, a study has revealed.

It found Shetland had overtaken Aberdeenshire as the most desirable part of the country, with islanders living longer and healthier lives than people in most other parts of Scotland.

Shetland has the highest employment rate in Scotland, at almost 84 per cent, and many residents enjoy high incomes, with weekly average earnings of £605 – the Scottish average is £575.

Average male life expectancy of just over 77 years is also above the Scottish average of 75.8 years, according to the Bank of Scotland Quality of Life Survey published today.

The top ten local authority areas based on factors including residents’ health and life expectancy, employment and school performance saw East Renfrewshire placed third, with Orkney and the oil-rich city of Aberdeen following behind.

There was no place for Edinburgh or any other city, with rural and semi-rural locations such as Moray, the Scottish Borders and Perth and Kinross named, alongside the likes of East Lothian and East Dunbartonshire.

But while ahead in Scotland, Shetland barely makes the top 100 in the UK.

The nationwide version of the survey had no Scottish local council areas in the top 50, with the prosperous Hampshire district of Hart named as the most desirable location.

Places in south-east England dominated the top ten, with Shetland listed at 98th. Edinburgh was named the 269th most desirable place to live in the UK, out of 405 local authority areas surveyed.

The survey showed Shetland residents were among the healthiest people in Scotland, with 93 per cent reporting “good or fairly good health”.

Living in Shetland was found to be relatively affordable, according to the study, with average house prices 4.2 times the local average gross annual earnings – a bit below the Scottish average of 4.7.

The level of school qualifications on the islands is above the national average, with 91 per cent of all 15-year-olds achieving A-C grades in exams.

The islands also have one of the lowest crime levels in the country, with a burglary rate of just 8.0 per 10,000 of the population.

Alistair Carmichael, the Liberal Democrat MP for Shetland, said the “strong performance” during 2011 of key industries in the islands, such as fishing and oil and gas, had helped to account for the islands topping the list.

He said: “None of these results will come as any great surprise to anyone who lives in Shetland or who knows the islands well.

“There are some disadvantages to being remote from the centre of power in Edinburgh and London, but as we see from these findings, island life has a great deal to recommend it.

“At a time when other parts of the country are struggling economically, the strong performance of sectors in the Shetlands like fishing and agriculture, alongside the developments in the oil and gas industry, have provided reliable employment.”

Nitesh Patel, an economist at Bank of Scotland, said: “This year, the Shetland Islands tops the Bank of Scotland Quality of Life Survey.

“The islands score highly, relative to the average for Scotland, on several indicators, such as health, life expectancy, employment, average earnings, school results and low crime rates. Even average house prices are relatively low in relation to earnings, highlighting that a high standard of living does not always come at a price.”

Aberdeenshire, which took the top position in last year’s survey, scored well on its employment rate of 81 per cent, along with weekly average earnings of £642.

Some 93 per cent of Aberdeenshire residents were recorded as enjoying good or fairly good health, with an average male life expectancy of 78.2 years.

However, it is one of Scotland’s most expensive areas to buy a home, with an average house-price-to-earnings ratio of 5.7 – one of the highest in Scotland.

The survey showed that the best-paid Scots are in East Renfrewshire, where average weekly earnings are £729, followed by Stirling, at £723, and East Dunbartonshire, at £675.

Life expectancy is highest in East Dunbartonshire at 79.4 years, followed by Perth and Kinross on 79.1 years and East Renfrewshire at 78.3 years.

Primary school class sizes are smallest in the Western Isles, with an average of 14 pupils, followed by Shetland and Orkney, both of which had averages of 17.

The city of Dundee has the lowest average annual rainfall, at 775mm, while Aberdeen city enjoys, on average, the most sunshine per week, at 28.4 hours.

A spokesman for Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said: “We can’t do anything about the amount of sun or rain we get in Scotland – which are key indices in this survey.

“But the Scottish Government has been able to deliver higher employment in Scotland than in the rest of the UK, free personal care, no tuition fees, the abolition of prescription charges and higher police numbers – major quality-of-life factors which are not factored in.”

She added: “And with the full powers of independence and financial responsibility, we can make Scotland’s quality of life even better.”
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