Plenty of able folk (Peter Hamilton)

Last week’s letter by Jeemie Smith (“Will elections be any better?”) has set me thinking.

He asks: “What guarantee is there that elections to the charitable trust will get us any better results?” . . .  than the councillors who have so woefully failed to manage the council’s finances.

A former councillor once told me he thought that he himself and very few of the power holders of the last two councils would have bothered standing were it not for the lure of access to trust funds. Might not the council have been better run without such folk?

Jeemie’s question also reminds me of a comment from the late Cecil Eunson. Cecil had been asked why a notable character was standing for a council seat. We can call the candidate “Rapacious Notions” but if you insert the name of any prominent local businessman or landowner and you should get the point. “What’s Rapacious Notions standing for?” Cecil was asked. “For Rapacious Notions” he quickly replied.

There is a concern that Shetland does not have enough quality candidates to serve on both Shetland Charitable Trust and as SIC councillors. I don’t share it. I have spoken to too many folk who have been put off standing as councillors because of the visible strength of entrenched vested interests represented in the council chamber.

Tom Morton once wrote that he didn’t mind salmon farmers being councillors so long as they took off their yellow wellies before entering the council chamber.

Salmon farmers may not be the current concern but another loose coalition of opportunists can form all too quickly. There are many good folk who could make an able contribution to both the SIC and the charitable trust if Shetland were but shot of the folk who are drawn to public office out of self interest.

The role of being a trustee does require time but not as much time as being a councillor. Councillors, however, do not seem to have enough time to make a decent job of both roles. I am quite sure Shetland has many folk who would do an able job as trustees who do not have the time to commit to being councillors.

Sort out the issue of vested interests (aka conflicts of interest) and Shetland will gain better representation from better motivated representatives in the future. Allowing one election to provide access to two pots of cash makes for venal local politics.

Jeemie should also remember that proper public discussion about the fitting uses of Shetland’s charitable funds, which council elections deliver never have delivered, will by itself contribute to the public weel. The community will develop a better understanding of itself and new proposals will emerge to help address thus far overlooked community needs.

There are, of course, no guarantees, save that what Shetland has been doing has not been working. There are, however, blatant structural problems. It is high time they were fixed by refocusing two sets of public servants on their distinctive seperate tasks.

Peter Hamilton


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