Who needs heritage? (Tom Morton)
There has been great anger and dismay expressed throughout the isles and indeed across the world at the decision by a small cabal of Shetland Islands Council employees not to award the’Promote Shetland’ contract to any outside body. This was done, apparently, on the grounds that none of the bids received reached ‘the required quality standard’.
This has been accompanied by the assertion that promoting Shetland was to be, and I quote from your report of what development director Mr Grant told the Development Committee on Monday, “much less about heritage tourism.” Which presumably lumps in with ‘heritage’ such things as Up-Helly-A’, vikings, tattie soup, traditional music, the fishing industry, archaeology, boatbuilding, knitwear, nature, sheep and the like.
These are crucial drivers for not just tourism but our economy and indeed way of life. I wonder if the Council will now turn its attention to other aspects of ‘heritage’ ? After all, who really needs a museum? Archives? And in a connected world, what about libraries?
Democratically-elected councillors had already taken the decision that the Promote Shetland contract should be continued for another five years and that outside bids should be sought. They did that based on the way the contract had been fulfilled by SAT. It seems this was unacceptable to some senior council officials, and the aim of the tendering process became to prevent any outside body, and specifically Shetland Amenity Trust, from being successful in bidding. A modified ‘Promote Shetland’ remit could then be taken on directly by the Development Department, or worked out with tame contractors less enthusiastic, presumably, about ‘heritage’
As someone who has worked closely on a freelance basis with the current Amenity Trust/Promote Shetland team over the past eight years, I am clearly not writing from a totally disinterested position. But one aspect which is particularly sickening is the way what seems to be an entirely cynical and self-interested ploy by officials within the council to negate a democratic decision will leave three full-time Promote Shetland workers jobless.
Under what’s called TUPE (the Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations 2006) rules, any award of the Promote Shetland contract to another provider would safeguard the posts of the current workers. However, by failing to choose either the Amenity Trust or anyone else, and doubtless by subsequently ’modifying’ the terms of the contracted activity, it seems the Council will have no responsibility for the redundant workers.
Another aspect of Monday’s orchestrated attempt to stifle debate among new councillors was the assertion that some kind of ‘interim agreement’ would be sought to operate ‘the shetland.org website and social media’ while a re-tendering process was underway.
This displays complete and I’d guess wilful ignorance of modern marketing and what Promote Shetland has been doing. Shetland.org is an integrated marketing approach incorporating blogs, live and recorded video, static web pages, text, print, audio and much more. I’m afraid Mr Grant and his colleagues have illustrated how ill-equipped they are to judge the value of any marketing initiative. They wouldn’t recognise a ‘quality threshold’ if it jumped out of the sea and landed in their laps.
There will now be a period of perhaps six months during which Shetland will not be represented on the world stage, will not be promoted effectively, and will lose its hard-won 10-year advantage over any other community in the UK in digital, visual and audio promotion. Not to mention some highly motivated and able individuals, the entire suite of coastal webcams and other major initiatives such as live streaming of Up Helly Aa.
I should also point out that Promote Shetland over the last few years has been highly focused on working with Shetland’s young creative community, on attracting new residents and industry, and on encouraging our young people to stay or return after higher education. This was a major part of the bid submitted to the council for the new contract.
Why all this has been allowed to happen should be the subject of an inquiry within the council. But it has proved itself incapable of meaningful self-examination.
Perhaps the complaints currently wending their way to Audit Scotland will bring some clarity.