27th June 2017

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.

Tom Morton

(Former) Manse,

Hillswick.

7 comments

  1. Kathy Kelly

    I have commented previously that it was tourism (SWW visits in 2015 and 2016) that brought my husband and I to visit to Shetland culminating in our recent relocation here. If it wasn’t for SWW and how it was promoted, we would have never even visited Shetland! SWW is only one of the many festivals which bring in people from around the world, and introduce them to all the wonders that Shetland has to offer.

    I have difficulty understanding how in one breath tourism is downplayed in respect of this contract, however over £16,000,000 is spent on a new terminal for the cruise ships visiting. Somehow this doesn’t make sense to me.

    Hopefully this decision will be reconsidered. How sad that local, talented, knowledgeable people are not recognised for the excellent work they have achieved and the money that they have brought into Shetland!

    Reply
  2. Alan Skinner

    Who in SIC is going to lose their job over this fiasco? Mr Grant should be very carefully considering his position, or perhaps Councillor Cooper, as Chairman, will do the honourable thing. The only competence that has been demonstrated is the work of the Promote Shetland team over the last eight years. The SIC contribution to this episode is simply staggering incompetence, and possibly worse.

    Reply
    • John Tulloch

      No-one will lose their job. There will be no consequences whatsoever, just as there were no consequences over:

      * The exaggeration of Shetland’s cost per pupil by 40 percent during the school closures debacle.
      * The dismissal of the Norwegian fixed link consultant and associated fixed link loan offer in 2012, similarly, between councils, when it was SIC policy to pursue fixed links.
      * Exaggeration of the cost of the proposed Whalsay harbour expansion (Mr Grant was involved in that one, too).
      * The distortion of North Isles cost estimates for fixed links versus ferries.

      “Jeux Sans Frontiers – ou Consequences”!

      Reply
  3. William Polson

    Neil Grants conduct as Director of Development should be investigated on more than one issue.
    The integrity of the information presented to the Development Committee, by the Neil Grant in his capacity as Director of Development in January 2016 has been shown to be questionable, his Report No: DV-08-16-F, caused the dismissal of a proposal to build a new fish processing plant in Whalsay which was projected to create a revenue stream to the SIC of between £1 and £2 million a year, it would also have created jobs in a processing industry where there are presently none.
    In his reply to my freedom of information request regarding this issue he stated, “Whilst not costed, the initial ‘ball park’ internal estimates for the harbour developments required by this project are in the region of £20M to £40M.’
    I do not have any file record as to how I arrived at these ball park internal estimates, and therefore in terms of Section 17 of FOISA, the information is not held by the Council, but I recall this coming from an internal discussion with Council’s Ports & Harbours staff, taking into account other recently completed projects.”
    The new Mairs Quay recently built in Lerwick for £16. 5 million which included E.U. funding is nearly twice the size of the pier required for the fish processing plants in Whalsay, E.U. grants of from 40% to 60% were available for a fisheries pier at that time.
    Neil Grants erroneous report killed the project and the projected £1 to £2 million revenue stream to the SIC, stone dead. The Norwegian company, while still interested in building a fish factory in Whalsay, had to move on with alternative plans and investments.
    All too often in the past, council officials have been responsible for decisions resulting in horrendous losses of public finance and then are allowed to just walk away leaving the financial disasters in their wake, or worse still continue in SIC employment to create even more costly disasters.
    SIC officials should be held accountable for their actions, in that way they may have more respect for the integrity of the information they produce and present to the Councillors.

    Reply
  4. Amy Detjen

    Thank you, Mr Morton, for clarifying the politics behind this short-sighted decision made by the SIC.

    I’m an American, a knitter, and a geneology buff. I have been so impressed by the consistent and alluring manner in which the Promote Shetland group has sparked my interest in all things Shetland: landscape, knitting tradition, Viking roots, and fishing history.

    I have assumed that tourism is an important industry for Shetland. Tourists may be knitters, hikers, photographers, bicyclists, bird watchers, or historians. Promote Shetland has appealed to all!

    I was stunned to find that the Promote Shetland team consisted of only three people! They must simply be the three most hard-working, clever, and focused individuals that ever came together. As an outsider, I cannot think of one single thing that they could have done to make your lovely islands more appealing.

    I don’t pretend to understand Shetland politics, but I’m American, so I have seen my share of power-hungry egoists who make decisions based in their own self interests. I hope that you continue to report on your findings of the true motives behind this decision. Thank you and The Shetland Times for letting me speak up.

    Reply
  5. Callie Cullum

    I’m not a local, I’m just a Southern California girl. 8 years ago, I had never heard of Shetland. But thanks to the promotional work of the SAT, not only do I know about Shetland, all my friends are also tuned in. I post on Facebook regularly on puffins and take time off work to watch the Up Helly Aa. My friends and I are saving our money so that we can make it over to Shetland some day. Meanwhile, I have an annual subscription to 60 North that I wouldn’t have without the work of the SAT.

    Reply
  6. Karen Chamber

    Appalling and stupid decision. I didn’t even know where the Shetlands were relative to other U.K. Island group before Promote Shetland, and I’m deeply interested in the cultural history of wool, so I am now aware just how special and different the Shetland area is.

    To look on the bright side: perhaps the place won’t be so crowded with tourists on my next visit. :-p

    Catering to cruise ships is also a bad focus. Look what’s happened to the small Alaskan villages that host ships: the cruise company buys the land or leases, stocks all the stores with the same crap, and doesn’t let the customers know that their money doesn’t stay local, it goes right back to the cruise corporation.

    Locals end up being wage slaves in a service economy controlled by someone far away. Don’t let this happen to Shetland (it takes about 10 years — at first cruise ship business seems great but then it sucks the soul out of a place).

    I don’t think any aspect of this decision will encourage more incoming residents. With such a corrupt and idiotic group running things, who’d want to subject themselves to it?

    Reply

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