Category: Pre Election Enquiries

Shetland Times – Seven questions

Shetland Times – Seven questions

 

SEVEN QUESTIONS:

(50 word Maximum per question)

1) Charitable trust. Should councillors serve on the trust if they only have four representatives or would you favour elected trustees?
The four appointees can bring a valuable input to all the trust’s business. Better use of the Shetland Partnership or similar body could better help in non-conflicted joint working. An election would cost £16,000, I’m led to believe. The cost of candidates posturing on single or focused manifestos could be much higher to the Shetland community as a whole, however.

2) Patient transport: Do you support NHS Shetland’s move to make patients travel to Aberdeen by ferry?
Absolutely not. In terms of a travel commitment this would make an appointment in Aberdeen equivalent to travel by air to China and back. The time required; the difficulties in getting to the hospital without the Red Cross airport transfer service; the necessity for employment absence, or absence from care responsibilities made this an absurd proposal. Choice should be offered and tele-health is under-utilised.

3) Council meetings: The SIC recently voted against holding more meetings in public, rather than behind-closed-doors “pre-meetings”. What do you think?
In short, this pseudo-populist debate has become misrepresentative. Public attendance at routine council meetings is minimal, reporting is sometimes selective. To my knowledge, there has been no personal, political or financial gain to any councillor from the relatively few gatherings that are likely to be held outside of the media-facing aspect of the council.

4) Island games: Do you think the council should give a grant towards the Shetland team travelling to the island games?
There are a range of options available toward supporting Shetland’s athletes travel abroad. SIC funding should be considered but not targeted as a sole solution.

5) AHS hostel: Should the education committee look again at the decision not to name the new hostel after George McGhee?
It was, at the time, inappropriate to name a building after a serving council employee and I agreed with the committee’s stance on this. A variety of additional alternative names came forward in the wake of this debate. I see no harm in revisiting the subject in the future, or seeking a name for the “60-40” games arena.

6) Windfarms: Is there room for more large-scale wind developments in Shetland?
The landmass of Shetland can only reasonably sustain a limited amount of large scale development, if any, without significant ecological, visual and aural impact. There is however, plenty of scope to develop much more off-grid, small-scale developments. You would not seek to build a power station in the heart of a village.

7) Spending: Should the age of austerity come to an end and the council begin spending more on the people of today, not of the future?
The council benefits from over £10 million per annum as an investment return on the reserve fund. This is sustainable and and its use is responsible. We need to seriously consider organisational change and external lobbying as options prior to the acceptance of recurrent draws on the reserve’s capital sum.

 

Shetland News Questionnaire

Shetland News Questionnaire

– Do you envisage having to vote to shut any a) secondary school departments and/or b) primary schools in the next five years?

To answer the question in the specific way in which it has been asked, I do envisage (or contemplate) that the subject will arise for debate again. The central government’s proposed cuts to Shetland’s funding undermines the stability that the outgoing council achieved. The forthcoming national election may affect the necessity for this to be considered again and, equally, the efficacy of SIC lobbying toward achieving fair and equitable funding for our ferries will, surprisingly, influence this subject, as the yield of Shetland’s reserve fund investments will be more able to support the previously achieved stability if this cost can be addressed through rightful external funding.
Are you in favour of growing Shetland’s renewable energy sector, including large-scale onshore windfarms?
I am very much in favour of growing Shetland’s renewable energy sector, but not in any way that impacts negatively on our ecological, aural or visual amenities. Shetland is a small landmass. Building a power station in the heart of a village would seem absurd.
Are you content with the recently-approved new governance structure for Shetland Charitable Trust, and do you believe councillor-trustees still have a role to play?
Councillor trustees can still provide a measure of valuable input to the trust in its general affairs but, as all decisions that impact on either organisation are excluded in either forum, there are many instances where the appointments are counter-productive. Better use of separate entities such as the Shetland Partnership could bring the organisations to work together in partnership, without conflict.
Do you agree with efforts to seek greater autonomy for Shetland under the Our Islands Our Future banner?
Yes, while the SIC should also (and has) work toward better representation of issues specific to our own best interests, distinct from those of the Western Isles and Orkney and in addition to the work of OIOF.
Do you think Shetland Islands Council currently holds too many private seminars, and would you be in favour of opening these up to the public?
No, and no. There may be scope for the introduction of public-facing seminars but this would be a substantial additional workload on officers. This very question arises as the product of a near-three hour meeting, at the conclusion of which one member postured that this was, in his opinion, an issue and this, in the media-facing instance of the meeting, outshone all the previous valuable content of the meeting, in the last fifteen minutes. Journalists could not reasonably be expected to effectively relay the balanced content of every gathering of every councillor grouping that happens within the chamber as formal meetings or seminars and this instance perhaps proves that to be the case. To paraphrase the maxim, it may be the case that what people believe to be true is more important than what is actually true and in this case, unfortunately, the public have been led to believe that there is a fault to correct but I do not believe this to be the case and nor did the other 16 of 19 councillors present on the day. It was for shame that this was subsequently portrayed as the swan-song of the outgoing SIC, as opposed to all the major achievements of the preceding five years. In rhetorical terms, if a councillor ever wished to capture the limelight or pursue a personal opinion, suggesting a motion for a new roof for the Scalloway Castle would be likely to capture more media interest than, say, the achievement of a clean bill of health from Audit Scotland, with the former being spurious and the latter being essential for the public to understand.
– Are you in favour of Shetland doing its bit to help resettle some refugee families in the way Orkney and the Western Isles has?

Yes, and the previous council signed up for the resettlement programme. It may be the case that our geography and transport costs are against us in this, but it would be good to continue to aspiring to providing a medium- or long-term home for the, proportionately small, number of Syrians that could be rehoused here, as opposed to a temporary relocation far-separated from friends and family.

Shetland Constituency Labour Party

Shetland Constituency Labour Party

In response to a set of 16 questions presented to candidates by the Shetland Constituency Labour Party:

 

  • Are you for or against the proposed new Mossey Hill wind farm and why? 

In short, I must refer back to the stance I have taken since the earliest stages of Viking Energy. That being, the introduction of an interconnector may bring benefits, but also opens to door to multiple large scale windfarms being sited on Shetland, which may bring nationally formalized community benefit schemes but also substantial aesthetic, aural and ecological costs to the community. The placement of this proposal brings it close to centres of population, but also to the fringes of the National Scenic Area that exists between Scalloway and Bigton. While development within this area may be restricted, the impact of a development on this scale, (with turbines more than three times the size of those sited at Burradale) nearby to the NSA cannot be construed as having little or no impact. I would hope that any development be considered, by the community, both on its immediate impact on nearby areas, but also weighed against the projection of further wind farm proposals that have already been outlined and also those that may be yet to follow. I do not believe that the landmass of Shetland is large enough that developments of this size can blend into the landscape without significant consequence. I remain of the belief that Shetland is ideal for more development of off-grid small scale renewable projects.

 

  • What is your policy on the use of Council and Charitable Trust reserves? Is this the rainy day they were built up to tackle, or would using them be tantamount to bailing out the Scottish Government and Westminster?

I fully appreciate the return the SIC currently yields on the reserve fund investments, (in excess of £10 million per annum) and this is a sustainable use of reserves. Any draw on the capital sum of Shetland’s reserves reduces this sum in a manner that is unlikely to ever be replaced. Every effort should be made to maintain, or grow, the invested sum. It is the responsible use case to assume that the SIC should continue to lobby national government for fair and equitable funding for all services, especially transport, and continue the organizational transformation that led the previous council to a balanced budget, and back into repute with Audit Scotland.

 

 

  • Is there anything you would do to seek out new contributions to the Shetland reserves (from renewables and renegotiations with the oil and gas industry)?

In my personal opinion, there is little that can be done here without significant non-financial costs.

 

  • How can you deliver on election promises, and preserve essential services, while making £20 million of savings in the SIC budget in the next financial year?

Firstly, by not making election promises that cannot be delivered upon, merely to curry electorate favour. Secondly, the £20 million figure is misconstrued. These “savings” required include draws from the investment returns and the Harbour Account. The draw proposed to fulfill the budget is a much smaller sum.

 

  • How do you feel about women taking part in the Lerwick Up Helly Aa procession?

Any event, is and should be, run at the discretion and behest of the organisers. Most sporting events are segregated by sex, there are prominent women’s groups in the community and women take part in UHA in various roles out-with the procession that are held in high regard. Other UHA events and fire festivals throughout Shetland in the three month “season” each have their own rules regarding participation and those are, similarly, is at their own behest. There is no block to any group organising their own festival of any type and with any gender allocation. So long as Lerwick UHA is a freestanding entity, funded by local businesses and private contributions, it is up to the committee to decide what they wish to do. To say otherwise is to claim ownership.

 

  • What is your attitude towards resettlement of Syrian refugees in Shetland?

(Inserting my response to a separate specific enquiry)

As one of the serving councillors of the time I was in firm agreement with the joining of the Syrian Resettlement Programme and continue to hold that opinion.

 

With regard to your specific questions:

Shetland, though intermittently appearing to be insular, is a community that has been founded on the acceptance of immigrants over many centuries. Our culture, economy and population are a composite of the many nationalities that have arrived here at one time or another. In modern times there have been significant numbers of foreign nationals who have settled in Shetland and contributed to, and integrated with, the community in many ways.

 

Given that a mainstay of the Syrian economy is/was the oil industry, there is some likelihood that refugees resettling here may find gainful employment and some familiarity. While central Shetland may have a high demand for housing from locals, there is likely to be available housing in the more rural areas that may offer accommodation that would be welcomed by a refugee family.

 

As to why there are no families here as yet, I speculate that there are a number of reasons for this. Our geographic location and the cost of travelling to and from here may dissuade any informed Syrians from seeking to base a future here, especially if they intend to return to Syrian in the medium to long term. Another aspect is separation from fellow countrymen. Proportionately, Shetland would only be expected to take in one or two families and in this eventuality, they may feel significantly isolated from family, friends and a shared language and culture. It may be the case that the other UK island communities have actively promoted themselves as welcoming places to resettle, but I would guess that a look at the map has been a key factor.

 

I am open to the idea of the Council taking a more proactive approach, so long as it was done in a context that would best benefit the families that were encouraged to come here. While any refugees in need should be welcomed, there may be those from an oil industry or agricultural background that could find a new home and life here, rather that purely a house in an unfamiliar and very different location.

 

 

  • What can you do to progress improvement on our very poor broadband services?

I have, prior to now, as a councillor supported the SIC’s lobbying and funding toward this ends. In addition to this I have personally contacted Ofcom to suggest solutions used in other countries that could achieve superfast broadband for areas that are unlikely to attract market forces to deliver cabled broadband and are geographically excluded from current and future 4G coverage. We have Shetland Broadband, there is fibre infrastructure to be used and extended, and flexibility within 4G licensing could allow installation of telecom masts that could cover many of our coverage black spots. Ofcom committed to a response to my enquiry and the Scottish government have subsequently committed to additional funding to achieve their R100 programme. The SIC could provide a solution to their problem, if allowed to do so.

 

  • How do you feel about Brexit?

A very succinct question to a very large and wide ranging subject, which I will qualify with a similarly short answer. Brexit carries some opportunities and many risks.

 

  • What is your general view on Secondary School closures/reductions once the new Anderson High School is completed?

My “general view” is that the new Anderson High School could and should answer this question. If parents and pupils choose to utilize the new school from the catchment areas of other secondary schools, they should be allowed to do so without financial penalty.

 

  • 134 cases of domestic abuse were reported in Shetland in 2015-16 and a high number of children on the child protection register in Shetland are there as a result of domestic abuse. What will you do to tackle domestic abuse and combat deep routed misogyny in Shetland society?

Firstly I would quote the national statistics for this subject. 1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men are likely to suffer some form of domestic abuse during their lifetime. The numbers cited in your question are abhorrent, but do not suggest any gender relation. As a society, we are at conflict, whether at home, with neighbours, or within communities. The solution to this may be education, example, outlet and opportunity. There are a wide range of SIC services that offer these services, all of which I wholeheartedly support.

The second part of the question may be a moot point, at best. Firstly, I would be cautious to acknowledge any “deep routed [sic] misogyny”, and am somewhat alarmed that the view of the SCLP is that this is a Shetland-specific issue. I’d also be reluctant to address this as an issue without tempering that against any deep-rooted misandry in the community; querying what part of female misogyny is included in the question and enquiring what evidence this is based upon, specifically. It does not form part of the initial question without an evidence base upon which to comment.

 

  • Like many rural communities, Shetland is struggling to recruit and retain GPs.  What do you think is the SIC role in addressing this problem now that healthcare is integrated?

The SIC is an equal partner in the IJB, and so all shared heatlh service issues will come before the three councilors appointed to it. Something the SIC can continue to do directly though, is to fund the Promote Shetland contract, a significant proportion of which is intended to attract professionals to come to live and work in Shetland, in all the range of professional services that have difficulty recruiting.

 

 

  • Are you aware that responsibility of Community Justice now lies within Shetland and what can you do to help?

Very much aware. To help, if needed, one thing that is immediately achievable is identifying rewarding projects through which to implement community justice activity, as opposed to any that are mundane, undignified or punitive. The service runs very well at present and I would not be keen to intervene unless there is a need. I am, however, a member of various community groups and we, collectively, generally stay in touch with the community justice service for the maintenance or improvement of community amenities, though in the main, they are fully booked most of the time and we make use of the other similarly beneficial services that are available, such as Bridges, or MOEP.

 

  • What practical actions can be taken to reduce Shetland’s carbon footprint and how should the SIC support this?

The SIC has already introduced charging bollards at office premises which are currently free to use. It has also purchased electric or hybrid vehicles to replace hydrocarbon fuelled vehicles. This is a move that I would hope will be continued. The SIC has also replaced hydrocarbon heating plant with biomass boilers. Then there is the installation of Quantum storage heaters in council housing, intended to function along with the NINES project. The SIC is also seeking to cut household and commercial waste to a minimum and engage in effective recycling. I support all these moves, as well as the activities of the dedicated officer within Economic Development who is tasked with pursuing renewable energy projects on the community’s behalf.

 

  • How can you ensure the sustainability of outlying areas?

By retaining facilities and transport where possible, while encouraging business growth that favours rural areas.

 

 

  • What would you do to help local businesses that support the economy within Shetland but do not necessarily export goods outside the isles?

Through continued support of the SICs economic development function, including the commercial lending facility that replaced the former Development Trust and encouragement to engage in national procurement protocols in order to supply goods and services to the local public sector and other relevant bodies.

 

 

  • Cultural industries are growing but they are being ignored and left out of funding support.  What is your response to the reduction of funding for the arts and the threat to venues such as Bonhoga, which are valuable resources in terms of employment, tourism, cultural appreciation, intellectual life, as incubators of talent and as an investment in health and wellbeing and quality of life? 

 

This is an interesting question to try to answer. Arts development receives something in the order of £700,000 as an operational grant from the Shetland Chartitable Trust (for population of 23,000. Aberdeen City Council grants APA £900,000, population 212,000)

On top of this, the tertiary educational sector in Shetland is supported to the tune of over £1,000,000 by the SIC, a key outcome of which is the continuation of the Textile degree course and newer fine arts courses. Community groups are assisted by the SIC’s Community Development section in accessing large sums of external funding for projects that often have an artistic or cultural base and the SIC’s economic development unit supports local industry that, at times, has an artistic or cultural aspect, and in addition to all this, the continued funding of the Promote Shetland contract attracts large numbers of people into Shetland to enjoy the rich array of festivals that Shetland hosts annually.

Bonhoga is a wonderful building and venue. While I do not dispute the benefits it delivers , as touted in the question, I would also say that as a creative hub it is geographically exclusive, being away from centres of population and off the bus route, meaning that any and all who enjoy its exhibition facilities generally require access to a car to attend, which is socio-economic exclusion in essence. By comparison, the three venues in Lerwick which host visual arts exhibitions are accessible from all over Shetland by bus and by footfall to the majority of visitors to Shetland. The Booth, artist’s residence in Scalloway, run by WASPS is also an incubator of talent and there should perhaps be more of this kind of freely available creative space in Shetland, for the use of local and visiting artists.

Mini Manifesto

Mini Manifesto

In response to requests for a brief manifesto from Shetland News and Shetland Times:

 

The last five years have been perhaps one of the most challenging periods of change for a local authority. I am proud to have been part of the last council, and served within it in the moderate and dedicated manner, while continuing to work part-time and serve in a range of local voluntary roles. These commitments are something I have always found rewarding and I will continue be involved in the community regardless of the outcome of the election.

 

The list of positive things we, as a council, achieved together with our officers is extensive but, as councillors, we should work not for glory but for the greater good of the community and that is a role I would be happy to take again, if elected into the next council. There are greater challenges ahead. Austerity from central government is not without its effects locally, despite the comfort of our reserve funds. The next council must achieve a single voice to central government, to protect our services and, where possible, improve them.

 

Children and young people of all social or economic backgrounds, and whether in our schools, colleges or other funded services should be supported throughout learning and development and be given a voice and individual opportunities to grow in interests and abilities.

Our key industries face their own challenges with the changes coming from an exit from the EU, and the possibility of another independence referendum. Fishing, aquaculture, oil and free enterprise must be supported by a strong council throughout the challenging years ahead.

The proportion of elderly people in Shetland is growing. Services for the elderly have been integrated with those of the NHS, but it is incumbent on a new council to understand this change and keep a responsible hold upon the service our staff deliver and support those staff in doing so. This must also be a priority for each and every councillor.

Most important in all these aspects of what a new council must do, is to continue to present a responsible and cohesive voice to central government, and keep a steady hand on the tiller at home. That is the kind of council, I would wish to be a part of.

Refugees

Refugees

From freelance journalist Alex Garrick-Wright:

As a prospective councillor, what are your feelings on the resettlement of Syrian refugees in Shetland?

 

What are your thoughts on the fact that Shetland has not yet hosted any families?

 

Would you support the new Council taking a more proactive approach?

My response:

As one of the serving councillors of the time I was in firm agreement with the joining of the Syrian Resettlement Programme and continue to hold that opinion.
With regard to your specific questions:
Shetland, though intermittently appearing to be insular, is a community that has been founded on the acceptance of immigrants over many centuries. Our culture, economy and population are a composite of the many nationalities that have arrived here at one time or another. In modern times there have been significant numbers of foreign nationals who have settled in Shetland and contributed to, and integrated with, the community in many ways.
Given that a mainstay of the Syrian economy is/was the oil industry, there is some likelihood that refugees resettling here may find gainful employment and some familiarity. While central Shetland may have a high demand for housing from locals, there is likely to be available housing in the more rural areas that may offer accommodation that would be welcomed by a refugee family.
As to why there are no families here as yet, I speculate that there are a number of reasons for this. Our geographic location and the cost of travelling to and from here may dissuade any informed Syrians from seeking to base a future here, especially if they intend to return to Syrian in the medium to long term. Another aspect is separation from fellow countrymen. Proportionately, Shetland would only be expected to take in one or two families and in this eventuality, they may feel significantly isolated from family, friends and a shared language and culture. It may be the case that the other UK island communities have actively promoted themselves as welcoming places to resettle, but I would guess that a look at the map has been a key factor.
I am open to the idea of the Council taking a more proactive approach, so long as it was done in a context that would best benefit the families that were encouraged to come here. While any refugees in need should be welcomed, there may be those from an oil industry or agricultural background that could find a new home and life here, rather that purely a house in an unfamiliar and very different location.
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