A 24-year-old Glaswegian law graduate has announced he is standing in the Lerwick North ward at this May’s council elections.
Alex Wright joins incumbent councillors Allan Wishart and Caroline Miller, SNP candidate Danus Skene and former police chief Malcolm Bell in the chase for the town constituency’s three seats.
By Monday afternoon in excess of 20 nomination papers had been lodged with the SIC, and returning officer Jan Riise told The Shetland Times he expected there would be enough candidates to ensure there is a contest in all seven wards. In 2007 there were a total of 50 candidates.
Mr Wright had been coming to Shetland frequently to visit his girlfriend, Amy Garrick, before moving to Lerwick last year.
He gained his law degree from Strathclyde University in 2009, and spent time voluntarily representing people who did not qualify for legal aid in the city. Currently working for aquaculture firm Grieg Seafood Hjaltland, his manifesto (available online at alexwrightshetland.com) contains a string of ideas he wants the SIC to look into.
“I’m going to spend my life here, in Shetland, and I want to do something to help my community,” he said. “I want to be part of things here, and if I get elected to the council I can help by being a councillor that listens to the concerns of the people of Shetland and pursues the issues and projects that they want.”
Mr Wright said the council had relied on oil funds for many years, and he would rather see it now “wean” itself off its reserves rather than making cuts too quickly and too deeply without enough regard for the economic consequences.
Observing decision-making in recent years, Mr Wright has sensed a “lack of foresight”, with too many savings ideas amounting to a “false economy”. Describing himself as broadly left-of-centre, he is committed to social justice and opposed to policies which leave vulnerable people behind.
That leads him to reject the proposal to shut the Freefield lunch club to save £80,000 a year, and to resist the idea of switching to frozen meals on wheels.
“The Freefield Centre isn’t just a lunch club – it’s a social centre for many people, that provides a square meal and a chance to get out of the house and see friends,” he said, adding that any short term saving would likely result in greater longer term demand for social care as elderly people become more isolated and miss out on regular nutritious meals.
One potentially far-reaching idea is a review into whether the council could purchase fuel distribution from GB Oils and run it in-house. Describing the North Ness fuel depot as a “catastrophe waiting to happen”, Mr Wright wants the depot bought and moved out of town to a safer location, freeing up car-parking space for Mareel and the new council offices.
“Once the fuel distribution is under the council, the fuel could be imported, shipped and sold without profit being made, which would drop the price of petrol for consumers,” he said.
“The council is, itself, the biggest consumer of fuel due to its fleet of vehicles and, more importantly, running the ferries. With cheaper fuel, the ferries become more cost-effective and can be allowed to remain in service.”
Mr Wright wants a network of rural hub offices created in places like Sandwick and Brae, allowing council staff to work closer to home, saving fuel costs and commuting time. Switching street lighting to energy-saving LEDs and selling off under-occupied properties are among other cost-conscious measures he would like the SIC to adopt.
He views the Viking Energy windfarm as “a risk too big to take”, and one which could deal a “huge blow” to the islands’ tourist industry.
• The deadline for candidacies is 4pm on Thursday, and nomination packs are still available from the council’s Market Street offices (phone 01595 744551) or online at www.shetland.gov.uk/elections.