By NEIL RIDDELL
FINANCE minister John Swinney was in Shetland this week to sign a Single Outcome Agreement (SOA) between the SIC and the Scottish Government.
The SOA document sets out how the council will work with the SNP-led Holyrood administration in the future and the Scottish Government is trailing it as an important step in ensuring that locally-elected leaders are free to provide the services people in their local area need, reducing bureaucracy and focusing on results for the people the council serves.
The government says it signifies a new approach to how they will work with local authorities after eight years of failure under the previous Labour/Lib Dem coalition, introducing local and national targets and giving councils the freedom to allocate more resources to local priorities, and SIC convener Sandy Cluness said he was delighted with the terms of the agreement.
He said: “The very purpose of this agreement is to bind together the partnership between local and national government to provide a sustainable and prosperous future for the Shetland community and, on behalf of the council, I wholeheartedly commit to delivering our part of this historic agreement along with the continued support of our community planning partners.”
Mr Cluness said the document was broadly in line with the council’s Corporate Plan and that its main benefit was in allowing the SIC to “go ahead with most of the projects in the way that we want” and meaning it can re-allocate resources within different service areas as it sees fit.
He said: “In the old days, most of the money you got from central government was ring-fenced, but this new system is actually saying: ‘here’s the money, it’s up to local authorities to decide how best to spend it on services for the community’.”
ZetTrans chairman and councillor Allan Wishart said he too welcomed the new agreement, pointing out that if the council could make savings in certain areas they would now be entitled to use them to provide other services within the community, but that it did place added responsibility on the shoulders of the SIC.
“The challenge is that the services provided are fair and that we take a long-term view on investment,” he said. “My hobby horse is transport links in Shetland, from outlying areas and the remote islands, places like Unst and Yell, and I do think that investment needs a long-term view. We have to be inclusive of all the areas – it’s a huge investment, but the payback on that only comes over a long period of time.”
Speaking after signing the document at the Sumburgh Hotel on Wednesday afternoon, Mr Swinney said the concordat signed with COSLA last year recognised the role of councils and councillors as leaders of their local communities.
“The SOA we are signing today puts [the SIC], along with the other 31 local authorities in Scotland, at the heart of local democracy,” he said. “The SOA reduces unnecessary reporting and monitoring, and allows the local authority and their community planning partners to deliver the services people want and need.”
During his visit to Shetland, Mr Swinney flew into Foula to inaugurate a renewable energy scheme for the community, before attending the opening ceremony for the reconstructed Stofa in Papa Stour (see seperate story).
Mr Cluness said he thought it was good for ministers to visit some of Scotland’s remoter areas. “It does them good to see how these peripheral parts of Scotland have to be sustained, the struggle they have; living there is a very different proposition from most of the areas [they are used to visiting]. I think he had his eyes opened there and seemed impressed with what the local people were doing.”