23rd September 2018
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Services committee farce

, by , in News, Public Affairs

A COUNCILLOR has hit out at fellow members for making policy “on the hoof” after changes to the way capital project priorities are decided led to the spectacle at last week’s services committee of what many observed as a series of parochial attempts by individuals to move their pet projects up the aspirational list.

The decision to abandon an objective points system for ordering the list was taken by councillors earlier this year because many of them felt it did not allow for sufficient member input.

But councillor Bill Manson rebuked the committee for trying to change its priorities in such a manner and said it was a textbook example of “how to make bad policy, to do it on the hoof at a meeting like this”.

If members wanted to change the order of projects, he argued, they needed to be party to “accurate informa­tion” from officials, rather than pursuing an ad-hoc process which was almost tantamount to shuffling the deck chairs on the Titanic. “It’s completely meaning­less,” was how the Shetland North member described proceedings relating to the list of projects.

His comments came after a series of attempts by councillors to re-order the list, which remains uncosted. Shetland South member Iris Hawkins, always vocal in her support for all things Scalloway, called for a new science block for the junior high school in the village to be moved above additional classrooms for Sandwick Junior High, but was only able to find a solitary backer.

That supporter was Shetland Central member Andrew Hughson, who then proposed that the Little Tikes playgroup in Nesting should rise above the new AHS in the priorities list on the grounds that he could match tales of dilapidation of the buildings at the Lerwick school with “a few horror stories from the Girlsta Chapel”. Mr Hughson then thought better of the idea and withdrew his motion.

Councillors did, however, agree to Betty Fullerton’s suggestion that finding ways of increasing the number of care home places should be moved up the list from 19 to nine. She described the fact that Shetland is below the national average for the number of care home places per head as an “absolute disgrace” given the amount of oil money the community has had at its disposal.

SIC vice-convener Josie Simpson backed her and suggested there was “a lot of scope” for building one or two additional rooms at existing rural care centres.

An image of the parallel worlds in which councillor-trustees have to operate was conjured up once again as convener Sandy Cluness said the charitable trust had built several “excellent” care homes for people in the isles, but because the trust owns the buildings he felt that if any of them needed extending then it would be a decision for trustees to take, not councillors.

Lerwick South member Jonathan Wills agreed that new care home places were vital and, in a separate move, suggested suspending capital grants for “water-based facilities”, or marinas, by moving them from fourth to 24th on the list. Shetland already has 22 marinas, one for every 1,000 people, and plans for a further three have gravitated towards the top of the services committee’s priorities list. “There’s nothing as fun as messing about in boats,” he said. “But it’s not as important as old people’s care homes.

That was enough to raise the heckles of councillor Alistair Cooper, who said there was no need for such an “attack” on marinas.

The meeting descended into con­fusion as members became unclear as to what they were being asked to vote for and against, but they eventually settled – by a margin of 8-7 – on Ms Fullerton’s call for care home places to be moved up the list by ten places and to leave the rest of the services wish list as it was before.

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