SIC elections blog: debate and discussion from the seven seats
With May’s SIC elections looming, The Shetland Times is running an online debate about the key issues. This rolling blog is for those standing for election only, however members of the public can comment in the usual way*. Candidates’ submissions should be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org
I want voters in Shetland South to make me your number 1 choice if real change in terms of stability and decision-making is what you want. I stand on Biblical values and I want to apply these traditional values to the council chamber.
Like you, I want this new council to be different from previous councils, not lurching from moral crisis to moral crisis, but being defined by its moral authority in its decisions.
Compassion and fairness ought to be at the heart of all our policy-making decisions in your council chamber. These should to be principles we act on in all areas of your council. Just because decisions or actions are legal, it does not make them morally right.
The decision has been made for the windfarm, therefore, for the sake of the rewards that can come to the Shetland community, and the political stability of the new council, I would be committed to seeing this through in the next council. It is neither in the interests of our reputation elsewhere, or another on-going saga of indecision to continue fruitless and damaging opposition.
Send a clear message to the new council. By making Andrew Shearer your first choice in Shetland South, can we then call on Sustainable Shetland to recognise the will of the community and drop any damaging and protracted threats of going to the courts.
I am committed to supporting short crossings from Sumburgh to the North of Scotland, providing both jobs and business opportunities in the South Mainland. Pentland Ferries have looked closely at this route, and have a keen interest in operating there in the foreseeable future. I believe this will be to the advantage of businesses in the south end, as well as offering choice and competition in travel.
I believe it is those who are on the frontline of delivering services in care, roads, education etc who know best. They are there, they are seeing what is going on, and how things can be done better. I will look for support to call a halt to further cuts until we have trimmed further, excessive management, salaries and decadent early-retirement and golden hand-shakes from this new council completely. It simply is not fair that those who need it least have such packages, whilst those who need it most have no such opportunity. Only by voting (1) for Andrew Shearer will you make a difference.
It’s been a very busy three weeks and I still have a place or two to revisit and a few people to see who weren’t in when I first called.
Shetland West hustings was held in the Whiteness & Weisdale hall last Wednesday night and attracted a pretty good turn out from all over the West Side. The candidates each had five minutes to address the public and a question and answers session followed. A number of topics were brought up including education, transport, windfarms, care of the elderly, spending cuts and supporting the economy, to mention a few, and I’d like to thank the public and other candidates for the polite and courteous way they conducted themselves.
As some of you may have seen, I expressed my concern in the letters pages of the Shetland Times and Shetland News websites last Friday about the calling of yet another meeting of the Charitable Trust to discuss and decide on whether or not to grant Viking Energy a further £6.3M to progress the wind farm. I wrote last Friday morning:
I read with much concern that yet another Charitable Trust meeting has been arranged for next Monday, I presume, to force through £6.3 million for Viking Energy.
I was hoping that the trustees, who seem so hell bent on railroading this money through, would have listened to the arguments put forward by councillor Grains at the last meeting and left this decision to a new set of trustees.
This is exactly the kind of behaviour that has brought discredit to the outgoing council and has completely eroded the Shetland people’s confidence in our ability to manage our own affairs properly and democratically.
I do hope that sense prevails and that trustees see this as a desperate act by a few trustees who seem afraid to let a new trust make this decision.
It has since emerged that seven trustees demanded this meeting take place in what I consider to be an arrogant, disrespectful and undemocratic attempt to force through a decision which, in a few days, a completely new set of trustees will have to follow through. Conduct like this has antagonised many more people in Shetland. What a spectacular own goal! What have they learned from past mistakes; nothing, it would appear? I hope the seven trustees are ashamed of their behaviour.
Worse still, the Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator (OSCR) intervened and directed that the meeting could not go ahead as it thought existing trustees should not be thrusting any decision on a set of new trustees at this late hour; a sensible decision which our own trustees and officials should have reached themselves. Again, trustees and officials have brought not only themselves into disrepute but have once again dragged Shetland’s previous good name into the gutter by having to bear the indignity of an outside body making decisions on our behalf.
I know it has nothing to do with our own campaign out west but I was concerned to see a high profile candidate make a very personal attack in the press on another well known candidate. To the latter’s credit, he responded in a reasonably conciliatory fashion. If this is the tone before the election, I fear what it’s going to be like if both are elected to the chamber. A great deal has been written by all candidates over the last weeks about the ability to work together for the good of Shetland. I see little sign of it from this pair.
On a lighter note, I took a break from campaigning on Saturday and, as usual, joined my family, friends and neighbours in Wormadale for Da Voar Redd Up at the head of Whiteness Voe.
This Shetland institution seems to go from strength to strength and what a pleasure it is to drive down to the head of the voe and see no litter or plastic on the beach. This common-sense and hard-working approach truly demonstrates how people can work together for the good of Shetland and prospective politicians should take heed.
Again, I’d like to thank the people of Shetland West for the politeness, kindness and encouragement shown to me. As a new candidate I could not have asked for more.
Lastly, whatever your persuasion, please take time and make the effort to cast your vote and make Shetland West the highest poll on Thursday.
Friday 27th April
Wednesday 25th April
Tom Macintyre (Shetland West)
Tuesday 24th April
Jim Reyner (North Mainland)
Had a great day [Monday] canvassing in Brae (can’t remember walking so far in one day!) – would have seen more folk but for the friendliness and hospitality I encountered – spent a long time discussing concerns – wind turbines, community care and de-centralisation were top of the list! Had a session with the other candidates in Northhaven – all agreed day care has to stay! Over to Nesting tomorrow – I’ll try to see as many as I can, but there are only so many hours in the day!
Monday 23rd April
The new Council is going to have to call a halt to the cuts, until we have had time to have a proper discussion about what the right priorities for Shetland are, and agreed a vision and strategy.
Friday 20th April
Theo Smith (Shetland West)
I am very concerned that this election may end up being dominated by one issue. Some candidates, voters and the media seem to be obsessed by Viking Energy. I know how important it is but things are getting personal and that is unacceptable. I have said many times that this has been the most divisive issue I can remember and I am sad to see a community like Shetland tear itself apart.
I was not surprised that the charitable trust meeting last Monday descended into chaos. Any further decisions should be left to a new set of trustees as I fear there is a credibility issue here. Nothing that has been said or written over the last few weeks has altered my position and my views have now been well documented on this issue.
We must also concentrate on other issues which may not be so dominant but are just as important to many people.
The threat to our schools has been raised to me as many times as the windfarm issue. Make no mistake; closures are high on the “refresh the Blueprint” list. I just hope that a new council will see the folly of closing outlying rural schools that, through no fault of their own, are geographically unsuitable for amalgamation. Many a previous council has wittered on about helping and sustaining rural areas. Well now is a chance for a new council to put its money where its mouth is and cease this constant threat of school closures or take the consequence of mass centralisation.
Transport has again figured high on people’s lists this week. During the road upgrade works through the Houlmalees the Walls bus used the Staneydale to Staney Punds loop road. People in Browland, Gruting, Selivoe and Staneydale still think this route put more people in closer contact with the service. Quite a few bus users have questioned if the current buses are the best type for rural routes. Coaches would be the preference as has been mentioned in the past by the council. Complaints about the air quality on the current buses have also been raised.
Skips are another big issue in the Walls area. As these are provided by the community councils we must ensure that finance is maintained to keep the service, if not improve it. The consequences of not doing so would fly tipping in the hills, quarries and over the banks.
I’m glad to see that the Walls pier back on track. Coming from a construction background, if elected, I shall be keeping a very close eye on this project as many people in the West Side are quite rightly furious as to how it has been handled in the past.
Public toilets, and the threat of their closure, has also been raised. You try covering an area the size of Shetland West without them. Enough said!
A local rural business is thinking about renewing their premises and expanding their business. They have been in contact with Business Gateway and SIC development and were met by a very negative tone due to being a retailer and not a manufacturer. No grant aid is available and loan terms are no better than the banks. This is a well established business that employs eight people in a rural area, exactly what the council says it wants for Shetland. Where is the help and support?
I’ve been out and about in Shetland West every day, except Sunday, since I blogged last. I’d like to thank people for their good wishes, courtesy and kindness and also for taking the time and opportunity to raise issues with me either on the door steps, by ‘phone or by e-mail.
Lastly, if the people of Bixter, Effirth, Aith and East Burrafith are wondering where I am you’ll probably be sick of the sight of me by this time next week.
Wednesday 18th April
Monday 16th April
Bill Adams (Lerwick North)
This is my first venture into the parallel universe of internet blogging – so a new experience for me. I will start with my reaction to the Viking Energy decision by the Scottish Energy Minister.
I had hoped that Mr Ewing would have called a local public enquiry into the proposal before making a final yes/no decision, not least because it is an issue that has so deeply divided local opinion, but was not surprised by the granting of consent given the rush to meet “green” targets.
I do think it was rather specious of him not to hold an inquiry on the grounds that the council had approved the scheme. After all only nine out of 22 councillors voted in favour and against the recommendation of their own planning department to boot – hardly a ringing endorsement.
A referendum would merely confirm the deep split in our society on this issue but I would still like to see a public inquiry to really examine the proposals in full detail.
Thankfully at least the minister has taken heed of the warnings from the operators of Scatsta Airport and refused permission for the 24 turbines in the vicinity of Scatsta in the North Mainland. I have been making the case for the retention of Scatsta and a two-airport strategy to provide an alternate/diversionary airport in Shetland for the last 20 years. It should have been patently obvious to the Viking Energy people that erecting huge wind turbines on hilltops in the vicinity of the airport would not only interfere with the airport radar but would be themselves a serious hazard to flight safety.
Viking Energy was alerted to the dangers years ago yet they persisted in seeking permission for those turbines right up to the last minute, which leads me to have serous doubts about their judgement. I would have expected Bill Manson at least to have taken the concerns on board.
And what about that self-proclaimed champion of Scatsta Airport – Drew Ratter? I see from his blog that he lists the retention of Scatsta as one of his achievements in office, but nothing about Viking Energy.
Danus Skene (Lerwick North)
Shetland SNP has published a manifesto for the council elections. It is attached, and may also be accessed on the SNP Shetland website (www.snpshetland.co.uk) where the home page shows a large button labelled “Manifesto”.
Publishing such a manifesto is something of a first in Shetland. It means that any SNP councillors elected on 3rd May can be judged in due course against what they are now saying that they will try to do. The manifesto will also enable us, if elected, to work positively with other councillors who are like-minded on any or all of the issues which we raise. Shetland Islands Council badly needs to display better decision-making discipline than in the past, and trying to build a policy programme around a statement such as the SNP manifesto will help, we beieve, to give better coherence to debate and decisions in the council chamber.
Billy Fox (Shetland South)
Danus Skene’s political pedigree shows through: expressing a legitimate opinion is to “slug it out” and have “economies with the truth”. He is right on one thing however, the issues are substantial and not for playing party politics with!
My views on the SNP’s political opportunism regarding decommissioning remain unchanged. His admission on the £25,000 is telling and as for blaming it on the civil servants, oh dear.
With regard to fuel prices he states: “If folk like Billy didn’t jeopardise the windfarm, we could spend energy on ensuring that the priority for income from it was reducing fuel costs and ending fuel poverty in Shetland.” Aye right Danus, I’ll believe you on that one! It is the government that needs to address fuel prices. The first claim on any profit from Viking Energy should go to the folk whose properties and lives would be blighted by such a nonsensical development. If he wants to use emotive language about putting things in jeopardy he really ought to take a long hard look at what this wind farm would do to Shetland.
Interesting that the Scottish Government is going to have a “ferry summit” post election, a bit late in the day given the new ferry contract is imminent. Where has the SNP been for the last five years, their only interest in Shetland during that time has been to cover it in wind turbines? No problem helping out the Western Isles though, political gains to be protected there of course but not in the LibDem strongholds of Shetland and Orkney. Not until two independent candidates exposed their vulnerability in last year’s Scottish elections.
As for SNP utterances on more autonomy in an independent Scotland, again empty promises, they offer platitudes because they fear Shetland could be a fly in their ointment of independence.
Shetland does need to look at where it will stand constitutionally in the years ahead, more autonomy would be desirable. Whether that would best lie within the union or an independent Scotland needs to be examined thoroughly and with a pragmatic economic hat on, not wearing a kilt and waving the Saltire. Whatever happens our future will most likely remain within the EU, that element of the debate is probably the most crucial.
With regard to his welcoming of the Viking Energy consent, Mr Skene’s LibDem past is evident. He says we should “hold off any further developments until that major project has been completed and assessed”; what a fence-sitting statement that is. This is impossible, such restriction could never be applied, it would be essential for commercial viability that cable capacity is maximised from the outset.
Windfarms will develop all over; the evidence for this is already there. This just shows his lack of understanding in this debate. But even as he makes these naive or disingenuous statements (take your pick which), he is telling the Bressay voters he would not have a problem with a community windfarm being built there. All things to all voters … he hasn’t left the LibDems behind yet.
Saturday 14th April
Danus Skene (Lerwick North)
It’s good to slug it out with Billy Fox. The issues are of substance, even if there are occasional economies with the truth.
Of course Jean Urquhart, as a Highlands & Islands MSP, knows that plans for decommissioning facilities at Lerwick are well advanced. Lerwick must provide facilities that attract a decommissioning operator of a scale and competence to ensure that we are the key centre for the development of this work. Major investment at Dales Voe is involved, and support from government will greatly help. The initiative, including responsibility for the business plan, lies here in Shetland.
If securing help for this project is “opportunism”, then I suppose the SNP government should plead guilty. It is the business of good government to help local initiatives to bear fruit by seizing opportunities. The Scottish government is committed to support of both the renewables and the oil industries, and that is the context in which their approval of Viking Energy’s initiative and readiness to support Lerwick Port Authority’s initiative should be seen.
Fuel prices? Two points. (1) Independence would give the Scottish government p;ower to implement its “regulator” policy, whereby changes in fuel cost were compebsated by changes in tax, thereby ensuring consistent and predictable prices over a reasonable period of time. (2) If folk like Billy didn’t jeopardise the windfarm, we could spend energy on ensuring that the priority for income from it was reducing fuel costs and ending fuel poverty in Shetland.
On the matter of the failure to supply a relief vessel during Northlink’s dry-docking for want of £25,000, I offer no defence on the part of the SNP. But this was not some claw-back conspiracy by Edinburgh against Lerwick, just a bad decision, doubtless originating with civil servants. There is a major mess to clear up concerning the Aberdeen link. The boats are not fit for purpose, especially the freighters. Pricing policy is not transparent. Subsidy is close to £2,000 a year for each Shetlander, and we are not getting value for money. The operating contractor’s obligations are not sufficiently clear.
What I am glad to tell Billy and others is that we in the Shetland (and Orkney) SNP have secured a promise from the transport minister to attend a “ferry summit” after the election, to put all the issues on the table and make all the progress we can towards a saner ferry contract. Meanwhile, a strong Shetland SNP can be effective in preventing decisions such as January’s £25,000 demand ever happening again.
The period of the next council will be crucial for asserting the amount of autonomy we want, from both London and Edinburgh. I sense a substantial potential agreement across the Shetland political spectrum that we want to manage more things for ourselves. Why should planning decisions go outside Shetland at all? Can we not manage our local fisheries regime ourselves? And the Crown Estate assets? Can we not control and spend the charitable trust funds as we want, as was intended when the fund was established? And so on.
We need to hammer out what autonomy and safeguards we want, and then go get it. London does stand in the way. The SNP government in Edinburgh does not. In the accumulating referendum debate, there is nothing but opportunity for Shetland to get what it wants in relation to the new Scotland.
Alan Skinner (North Isles)
I went across to Unst today, to understand the local issues. To be honest, it was a pretty depressing experience. Friday is the day that the island’s ladies “of a certain age” meet at the Baltasound shop, so I met a lot of very long-term Unst residents, most of them born and bred there.
The message I got from everyone was that they are very afraid that the Baltasound school is going to be closed, and that the ferry service will be cut. Either of these would be terrible, but, together, they are seen as a death sentence for Unst. They foresee a mass exodus of young people from the island. “Why would they stay if their children cannot be educated here, and they cannot commute to reasonable employment?”
I think it is outrageous that the people of Unst are living in a state of fear. The Blueprint for Education is the most soulless document I have seen for many years and should not have been published.
As a matter of principle, education and care in the community should be the last things that we seek to cut. Shetland should be a very civilised place, but the genuine fear of the people is that Shetland is about to behave in an uncivilised way. This cannot be allowed to happen. Yes, cuts have to happen. We have been living beyond our means, with the SIC spending like drunken sailors, but do not destroy fragile communities.
The North Isles appears to be under serious threat. Insensitive short-term cuts could destroy the North Isles for a very long time. The North Isles councillors have to put up a strong fight against over-centralisation in Lerwick. We have to insist upon a vision and strategy that is genuinely for all of Shetland, not just Lerwick.
PS. On a lighter note, we also have to insist upon a readable ferry timetable. I arrived late because I completely misread the timetable and almost ended up in Fetlar, where I am going next Wednesday.
Tom Macintyre (Shetland West)
Along the East Burrafirth road and in Aith the young families I spoke with are angered, fearful and dismayed over the proposals for the schools. Aith is a growing community with many young families, some of whom have always lived in Aith, others having moved into the area recently and some with children not yet at school. They all have the expectation that their children will grow up in a safe environment, have a good education at the school until their fourth year in secondary before preparing to move on.
In each community the school embodies the life-blood of the future. Each school has a distinctive identity and shapes the purpose and vitality of that community. How can we consider taking that away? No we must not. I repeat, if you elect me to represent you I will stand alongside you to ensure that the Aith JHS remains.
I spoke with a young crofter who sees the erosion of the agricultural grants as detrimental to the traditional Shetland industries – we need to ensure securing better grants for agriculture and certainly not cutting them.
Another constituent emphasised the need for the council to get back to basics and to concentrate on delivering good services.
Tourism is a growing sector for Shetland, but it could be greatly improved. The neighbourhood information points have been successful but the council seem to want to change the way they operate and this, in the opinion of one person, will make them less accessible.
We must provide strong support for young people to secure their future potential – education, job opportunities and access to transport.
Younger families are worried about the impact of the windfarm but they are not all against it. Many of the folks around the voe are vehemently opposed to Viking Energy. Most people are not against wind power generators – evidence the number of individual ones springing up in Aith itself – but it’s the intensity of so many windmills in one place.
I must make my position clear. Contrary to the piece in The Shetland Times, and as you see from my election leaflet, I am in favour of windfarms but not on the scale as is proposed in one concentrated area. I would have preferred to see smaller groups of turbines in different places. I agree with Theo Smith that the charitable trust meeting to decide on the funding for the next stage should be when the new council is formed. As a community we have to decide if we want wind generation to provide for future revenue and jobs just like the oil did in the 1970s.
Friday 13th April
Theo Smith (Shetland West)
That’s a week of the campaign gone already. Apart from last Sunday and two days I had to be away on the mainland I’ve been out and about in Whiteness, Weisdale, Sandness, Tresta, Sandsound, Tumblin and Walls. Three issues have been continually raised by a great number of people I’ve spoken to.
Firstly, Viking Energy has been by far and away the hottest topic not only in the most affected areas in Shetland West but from Whiteness to Sandness. I get a growing feeling that since the Scottish government gave the go-ahead people’s fears have been focused. I am greatly concerned that charitable trust reserves will be put at risk and there is a perception among folk that the council is too involved by way of the charitable trust having councillor trustees. I am also very much opposed to the existing trustees deciding on Monday whether or not to release another £6.3m for the project. This feels like an attempt to railroad a decision which should be left to a new trust in whatever form it may take.
Last Saturday I attended the bi-annual meeting of the Association of Shetland Community Councils. Helen Budge informed us that the current council required an additional £3m savings to be made over and above what had already been agreed. She presented a consultation paper with suggested savings options to be ticked. The chairman of the meeting quite rightly dismissed a “ticking” exercise as this had been presented with no warning. In a nutshell, the options for Shetland West included closing Aith Junior High School secondary department together with closing Sandness, Happyhansel and Skeld and moving all pupils to Aith.
I am strongly opposed to any such closures, not only on the basis of community viability, but also purely on geographical location. Similar implications were suggested for the North and South Mainland and the North Isles. Community set against community? I said at the meeting that a new council will have to revisit this particular savings request with a view to reducing it and spreading it over a longer period as there were some viable options included in the paper.
The third issue I have picked up very clearly is anger and hostility about education and social care cuts when an enormous amount of money has been spent by the last two councils with nothing to show for it. Poor decision-making, poor advice, delegated powers, cliques, cabals, and lack of leadership have all been mentioned, together with lack of accountability and transparency.
The chief executive’s view of “corporate responsibility” has not gone down well with the public either. This reinforces my argument that the executive committee should not be a majority of the council, and that leaders, committee chairmen and vice-chairmen should have to stand for mid-term re-election. More decisions must be made by full council.
I also met Jane Puckey from Papa Stour yesterday and we were in agreement that the ferry service they have at the moment is the minimum that can sustain the island. If we start cutting our most rural and far-flung ferry services what argument do we put up to the Scottish government to maintain a nightly ferry service to Aberdeen?
I hope to report weekly on my progress and issues raised as I fear a daily blog is too much for the electorate to bear!
Thursday 12th April
Wednesday 11th April
Danus Skene (Lerwick North)
A day chatting on the doorsteps in Bressay is a delight. Thank you everyone. I’ll be back for round two …
Many people started a conversation by asking me about my views on the windfarm. I gave my views a few days ago on this blog: I’m in favour, but cautious that we get the conditions and consequences right. It turns out that this is the answer people wanted, and there would be a smiling sigh of relief.
A few conversations went on from there. Bressay can be a peerie paradise, but it’s not without real problems. A list of those is topped by the prohibitive cost of the ferry (now £10 each way with a car), the ageing population (with shrinking school population), and lack of housing. There has, in fact, been effectively no new investment in Bressay’s infrastructure in recent years beyond individual private building projects. The great fiasco of the umpteen million pound bridge that isn’t there does not inspire folk with confidence that SIC will deliver the goods that are needed, even if that is something as down-to-earth as street lights and a pavement from the Glebe to the shop.
So what about windmills? Why wait for SIC and the charitable trust to drop money from the sky? Why shouldn’t the Bressay community take the initiative and spawn a small windfarm that will give the island’s people their own control of improvements that they want? One of my own reactions to the Viking consent is that we should hold off any further developments until that major project has been completed and assessed, but I would find it very hard to resist an initiative from a local community looking after its own interests that wanted to bring a scheme forward.
Apart from arguments about Bressay’s needs for expenditure, there is something very healthy about local communities by-passing the often somewhat dead and patronising hand of the SIC to take their life in their own hands. We need decentralisation within Shetland as well as decentralisation of Shetland. I am delighted to read about the prospects for local sustainable energy schemes considered by the Shetland Community Benefit Fund Co-operative – the community councils working together. I hope that what they are on about is the kind of thing I am discussing here.
The other big Bressay topic is the “fixed link”. As someone who lives in Lerwick, this is for me no more or less than trying to listen to what Bressay folk want, and there is little doubt in my mind that a majority want a bridge or tunnel, and are very frustrated if not downright angry that nothing happened when EU money was on the table and millions ended up being wasted.
All I can say is that we can try to keep the issue live, but there must be little prospect of a funding package coming together again in the near future. Bressay also needs to think of the consequences of a fixed link. People would become more car dependent. The future of the school might be questioned. Would the shop survive? New families would be able to come, but would the numbers be manageable?
And so back into town for a few days. If I miss you, or you would like to raise something directly with me anyway, e-mail email@example.com, or try 07762 166444.
Tom Macintyre (Shetland West)
In the Bixter area the main concern is the retention of Aith Junior High School which is seen very much as the hub of the community. People have moved into the area principally because there is a secondary department there. It is noted that the secondary youngsters don’t want to go to Lerwick at an earlier stage. I know Aith JHS well through my regular visits as their school chaplain and I will fight for its retention.
Transport was again high on the agenda here. Those who don’t have a car or can’t afford to use a car now because of limited income are disadvantaged. There are no evening buses back out during the week. This prevents people from pursuing cultural or further educational activities. If elected, this will be one of my priorities.
Between Bixter and Walls discussion with residents raised a number of concerns. There was some resentment that cuts are being made, affecting lower paid council employees, putting more pressure on the ways in which they have to work, whereas it is perceived that “those with higher income are cushioned from these cuts”.
Transport again was mentioned and the question was asked: “Why does the local authority subsidise buses when in other authorities bus companies operate their own services”.
In Walls, my door-to-door visits brought many issues to light. Strong feelings were expressed about Shetland’s traditional occupations and industries such as fishing and more recently aquaculture. “The oil has come and at some stage will go, and similarly wind farms, but fishing and traditional industries and crafts such as knitting have always been part of our culture here in Shetland and need to continue to be supported.”
I attended the Sandness and Walls Community Council meeting last night in the Gruting Hall. We were there to hear from council officers an explanation about the changes to Day Care services. There was a long discussion and the community councillors expressed their concerns about misunderstandings that could occur.
My own understanding- please correct me if I’m wrong – is that people are assessed according to need, and these particular needs are met by the day care service and after six weeks this is reviewed. However, the particular issue of social contact and interaction – which was uppermost in people’s minds – is not the sole criteria, and therefore other agencies may be expected to pick up on this, such as the Befriending Scheme.
I don’t think that putting the onus on the voluntary sector is the answer, because elderly folks who live on their own really look forward to their days at the day care centres, and the regularity of it, the routine – it’s not “just a wee day out”, as I have said before, but a lifeline service for people who will certainly become more and more isolated. Yes, it is right to ‘enable’ elderly folks to manage in their own homes, but you and I can go out and join a club, or a society, or go to visit friends as and when we like, but for some of our elderly folks this is not an option, and so their ‘social life’ is when they go to day care.
PS for Evelyn Morrison: Thanks for your message. I will be visiting your area later this week, possibly tomorrow.
Tuesday 10th April
Ian Tinkler (Shetland West)
I have now had time to chat to a few West Side folk. As always most Shetlanders are charming, difficult to gauge feedback when folk are so polite.
In Weisdale and Whiteness one of the most noticeable points was many folk do not realise the way the valley will look after Viking. Quite apart from the converter station at upper Kergord, which in itself is massive and ugly, too big to fit in an Olympic Stadium! There will be cabling all over the valley. We are assured this will be buried; initially it will be, but there is already talk of a second cable to take offshore generated power. Then in time many, many more.
I cannot see all being buried; far too expensive. Initially the output cables may be underground; however, many pylons will have to straddle the valley to take input power from offshore, as Weisdale becomes a power hub for onshore and offshore development. Not a happy prospect. The Salmond/Ewing plan for Shetland envisages over 1,000 square miles of offshore generation for Shetland alone, all coming to Kergord.
On a slightly different note I was surprised to note that Drew Ratter, one of the initial instigators of the Viking Energy project, fails to make a reference of it in his manifesto. For one so close to this project I must ask him why he is now so coy about it. Ashamed perhaps or does he see it as a vote loser?
Tom Macintyre (Shetland West)
Doing door-to-door visits around Kalliness today, I enjoyed listening to what the folks there had to say to me as they voiced their particular concerns.
Issues highlighted were – Childcare: the need for “wrap-around” facilities to allow parents to access work opportunities or simply to continue their established work-pattern.
Transport: in the rural Westside there is not adequate transport to allow people to access evening educational and leisure activities – and entertainment – in Lerwick. (This in addition to the opinions voiced in Walls last Friday re transport to the more outlying areas simply to allow people to get to their work in Lerwick.)
With the forthcoming opening of Mareel, if it to be sustainable, and accessible to all who live in Shetland, then sensible transport links are required to fit with what is on offer there in the evenings.
I shall be out and about in Bigton and Levenwick over the next two days and I hope to meet and talk with as many residents in those communities as I can.
Already I am hearing that some of the main concerns in Shetland South are the future of the Sandwick Junior High School and the retention of day care at Overtonlea. If I am elected I shall do everything I can to ensure that the wonderful facilities at Overtonlea continue to be available to those who use the centre for day care.
Sandwick Junior High School is a major resource in Shetland South and I shall be keen to hear how you think the school can continue to play its part in ensuring high quality education is available to all pupils, where everyone can reach their potential. For example, how do you see the school meeting the requirements of Curriculum for Excellence and ensuring that its pupils are best prepared for further study or work?
I was delighted to see that the Bigton Community Enterprise Company has taken a major step forward with the appointment of a manager for the Bigton shop. It is so important in my view to support local businesses and enterprises which provide jobs and services in their community.
It now looks likely that the Viking Energy windfarm proposal will proceed. I believe that Steven Coutts has summed up the situation well in his post of 8th April. If elected, I shall want to scrutinise the financial plans very thoroughly and be absolutely convinced of the financial benefits to Shetland before I would support any funding for the project.
I am ,too, concerned about the Habitat Management Plan and will want to see that being robust and strictly adhered to.Any economic benefits accruing to the islands must be used sensibly – for example to tackle seriously the fuel poverty issues facing many people in Shetland. I think the worst thing that could happen now would be for the project to go ahead with the Shetland community having no future influence and all the revenues going out of Shetland.
Monday 9th April
Andrew Shearer (Shetland South)
I am a local Christian seeking in this election to show that Christian values and beliefs are as relevant and needful today as ever they were. As one of the four candidates for the three seats to represent Shetland South, you should know there are six key issues that I am committed to raising for Shetland South and the whole community.
These are: the strangle-hold that Lerwick has on business, trade and decision-making; the proposed new wind-farm; the climate of cuts that seem now to focus on the vulnerable; the desire for transparency from all candidates as to where they stand in terms of what beliefs and values motivate their politics; the role of the Mareel in the wider community and internationally; and finally, the real need for a period of stability and authoritative decision-making in your next council. I have outlined two of these issues for you below, windfarms and the stability of your next council.
Wind-farms: I have never been sure what to think about this proposed windfarm (I think I am with the majority of Shetlanders here according to polls). However, Shetland has no natural resources that it can make use of in terms of industry and exporting other than tourism or fishing. Should this windfarm manage to get up and running and overcome the big hurdle of transmission costs then this would be a huge economic benefit for the whole Shetland community. There may be losses, in terms of tourism, but ironically, the largest windfarm in Europe should also be a tourist attraction.
However, I am concerned that if those who oppose this wind-farm are elected to the next council we shall see the same repeat of history where our new council will be troubled and riven by the opposition such as we have seen in the past with the Bressay bridge, the new Anderson High School, and its investments in the Norrona or fishfarms, the previous council chief, etc.
I am increasingly persuaded therefore, to cautiously support this project for several reasons. First, I must nail my colours to the mast. As a Christian my values, both political and moral are founded upon the Holy Scriptures. Therefore, it seems to me that Genesis 1: 28 describes very well, our responsibility to “replenish the earth”. “Replenish” is to make replete or make an abundance. That is, as I understand it, to use the divinely created resources God has provided in our environment in a way that “adds” to and not “depletes”‘ our resources.
Secondly, the time-line set out in The Shetland Times for completion of this windfarm is 2016 (only four years). It would be a disaster for the people of Shetland, and the image of Shetland if the debate over this was to be prolonged. Again, looking back to our recent history, the result would be much money invested, but no return, eg: Bressay Bridge (first one plan, then another, then appeals to the court, and now an out of court settlement by the council); Anderson High School, (on/off/on/off, now delayed but still on); third, this is a natural resource that can bring economic benefits to these islands and its people. It may well be unpopular by some, but faithfullness to a Biblical principle will not go unblessed.
I call on voters in Shetland South not to be taken in by scare-mongering of an open-door to environmental “carpet-baggers” and neither for our prospective candidates to get caught up in such intemperate and divisive language. Such language can be especially erroneous and damaging to our economy in Shetland South where we have the opportunity to support local entrepreneurs in this kind of venture that will bring benefits to our own community.
Stability: It is important that this new council is marked by its stability, willingness to get things done for the sake of our community and the setting aside of personalities for the greater good. I believe that Christian values applied to the next council will promote stability, seek peace not division, and seek to innovate ways to overcome problems and not simply say no, it can’t be done.
Thank you for reading and listening. I do hope you will vote for change that will emphasise the positives about Shetland, and how we can bring real change to our community. Unlike “independent” candidates, I come under the authority and discipline of a political party. I cannot make decisions on a whim, but through the prayers and advice of others I can call on, I hope to be able to negotiate and behave with brotherly love, wisdom and grace in your new council.
You will find more information about the Scottish Christian Party on our blog at http://shetlandchristianparty.blogspot.co.uk/ where you will also find further contact details.
Tom Macintyre (Shetland West)
A visit for lunch to the “Cafe in the Kirk” at Walls Methodist Church was a great place to meet folk and share a bowl of really good soup on a freezing cold day. The news of the windfarm was in most people’s conversation.
It is noticeable that there are mixed feelings about the size of the installation but I found that for many there is a realisation that this has to happen for the future benefit of Shetland as a whole. There was much discussion about the next stage … on to wave and tidal power. I was very heartened that people were thinking beyond their own needs to the future of their children and their grand-children in Shetland.
But … for most people it was things in their everyday lives that were important to them: schools were another concern. The consensus is that the life of communities in the west will depend on the continued existence of Aith Junior High School.
Door-to-door visits in Walls threw up more issues, in particular day care at Wastview and meals on wheels. There was clear revulsion at the thought of frozen meals being delivered to elderly people in their homes, and a deep concern that this would pose many problems for elderly people, eg not being able to cook or microwave safely.
Day care for the elderly is a social life-line, not just a “wee day out”, and for their carers it’s a vital space for themselves to re-energise for the 24/7 commitment to their loved one(s).
The bus service in the Westside does not meet people’s needs, particularly if they are some distance off the main routes. Concern about this issue continues to be expressed on a daily basis.
Sunday 8th April
Steven Coutts (North Isles)
I have been asked by a few constituents where I stand on the Viking Energy proposal. Firstly, taking a step back I believe the project has been badly handled and the SIC should have triggered a public inquiry when they had the chance. This would have given the people of Shetland a better say in the proposal, and might have lessened the divisions that currently exists.
I do have a number of concerns over the project, predominantly the size of the windfarm and the proximity of some turbines to households. Based on the consented plans, I believe two turbines will be within two kilometres of our house, with the conversion station also in close proximity.
Notwithstanding all this, the project has the potential to contribute significantly to reducing fossil fuel consumption, and help stimulate further development of the renewable sector. This includes community-led schemes meeting local needs and much-needed research and development work to look at energy storage from intermittent sources such as wind generation.
On balance, my view therefore is in support of the project, with several caveats. The Habitat Management Plan must be as strong as the energy minister suggests and complied with. A significant percentage of income generated must be ring fenced to improve energy efficiency of our buildings in Shetland, and remove fuel poverty from the isles. I would also like to see an independent Health Impact Assessment commissioned. If there is proven to be a significant impact I do not want to see the turbines in question constructed.
There is no denying that I would prefer to see the hills left as they are but I have yet to hear a viable alternative to dealing with our fossil fuel “addiction” and which will give future generations the same opportunities as we currently have. I also believe the council in Shetland has a responsibility to lead the way in taking steps to reduce energy consumption and minimise our environmental impact, and if elected I would look forward to leading this.
This is my view and as with any issue I welcome hearing the views of all constituents.
Friday 6th April
Alex Wright (Lerwick North)
I read with great interest The Shetland Times article regarding the Tagon Shop in Voe, where the proprietors, Scott and Phoebe Preston, are selling petrol at almost-cost price.
One of my key manifesto pledges centres on this very issue. I would like to see the council purchase the fuel distribution service from GB Oils and run it in-house. Mr and Mrs Preston who run the Tagon Shop have shown that even a five-pence per litre drop in the price of fuel makes a world of difference.
A council-run fuel service would not need the profit margin of GB Oils, selling the fuel at almost-cost price would reduce the price for both the average consumer and the council, which is itself the largest purchaser of fuel due to the ferry services.
If petrol can be five-pence cheaper by the litre, the discount on the price of tonnes of fuel for the ferries adds up to a huge saving. This in turn would make the ferries more cost effective, and provide a stronger argument for keeping them in service, particularly the Bressay ferry, which is at the moment under threat of reduced running times. It’s certainly a plan worth pursuing if the price at the pump is less outrageous at the end of the day.
Billy Fox (Shetland South)
Thursday 5th April
Danus Skene (Lerwick North)
The decision to approve the Viking windfarm application is right, and to be welcomed. It was not an easy decision, but I would have been surprised by a refusal in the light of (1) the SNP government’s commitment to sustainable green energy sources generally, which I support, and (2) the bare fact that the council in place approved and endorsed the application. An Edinburgh government that is inherently unwilling to override local communities would have had a hard time overriding the SIC’s view – though I am very glad they have insisted on the detailed “habitat management plan” and reduced the overall scale.
This is in the long term interest of the Shetland community, giving us a platform for a healthy economy post-oil. It is also the case that the firm prospect of significant community income only a few years down the road means that it is possible to see the immediate crisis in Shetland public finance more positively. We face the prospect of managing a nasty blip in revenues, requiring cuts in budgets for a limited period, rather than having to manage a permanent reduction in services.
What we must do now in relation to the windfarm is work as a community, led by the new council, to ensure:
- That best practice guidelines on the minimum distance of windmills from houses are enforced;
- The extensive and well-researched environmental plan associated with the development is implemented fully;
- The financial benefits to the community are well managed in a fully transparent manner.
And so to Freefield. This is a vital service, hugely appreciated by many in the community. Many people have told me on the dooreteps how valued it is – whether by themselves or by older people that they know – not just as a source of lunch but as a social support. Friendships depend on Freefield. This is the kind of frontline service that must not be lost. We are to be judged as a community by how well we care for the elderly, the vulnerable and the young. To put Freefield at risk in the light of outrages such as the Bressay bridge compensation settlement is plain unacceptable. (And the windmill decision is relevant: the prospect of that income a few years down the line makes it more possible to manage ways of keeping vital services going in the meantime.)
I’m really enjoying the experience of meeting people on the doorsteps. If elected, it’s going to be nothing but a pleasure to keep in touch with people and see to all those big and small things that need to be dealt with to keep the community in health and give value for money for council tax.
Alex Wright (Lerwick North)
I feel I have to express my disappointment with the decision by Scottish ministers to allow the Viking Energy windfarm to go ahead, even with a reduced number of windmills. I still believe that the project is too large and will leave the beautiful landscape of Shetland badly scarred, damaging it for both locals and tourists who contribute so much to the local economy. Solar energy subsidies have recently been halved for new projects http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/
Now that permission has been granted, it is likely that the project will be realised in some form. It will be the job of the new council to keep environmental damage to an absolute minimum, and that the elected representatives of Shetland retain some control over it. Given the large proportion of the population that opposed the Viking Energy project, the determination of the previous council to make the windfarm happen seems unrepresentative of the views of the people of Shetland. Perhaps they should have been listening more. I hope the next council will.
Tom Macintyre (West Side)
I visited Foula yesterday. Some folks spoke of the frustrations of not having enough freight opportunities for large items. I found enthusiasm about Shetland being self-sufficient in renewable energy… as Foula itself is trying to become self-sufficient in energy. Some expressed need for incentives to encourage islanders there to grow their own produce in polytunnels. Meetings folks on their doorsteps in the Whiteness area was really a great opportunity to speak about their concerns. Two of the major issues in education centred on music tuition and knitting instructors. If elected I will propose re-visiting these areas of concern.
Ian Tinkler (West Side)
As recent events (VE approval) have somewhat overtaken my previous comments, I will now modify my position. There is little that can be done to protect flora and fauna threatened by this development, sadly some will go at great loss to our environment. Much can be done to help protect those croft houses and homes overshadowed by turbines and the residence therein. The precedent has been legally set and turbine operators have been forced to buy out, re-home and compensate people whose lives have been blighted by the close proximity of turbines. If elected I will continue with every legal means available to me to fight this project and fight for the residences most blighted in the shadow of 74 turbines. I will do my utmost to try and limit environmental damage where practicable … I will press for the local authority to withdraw its Busta Estate land from the project, that at least will reduce some of the damage. This fight is far from over. Our forthcoming election may be the one of the most important Shetland has had for very many years. Quite apart from the Viking project, Shetland folk have a chance to indicate how they regard Salmond and Ewing. Both lacked the common courtesy to ask Shetland folk for their opinion. A formal and binding referendum would have stopped this community being divided by this issue, and prevented much antipathy, hurt and upset. It is very clear the Nationalist agenda takes no heed to the wishes of Shetland folk. I urge all council election candidates to formally state their views and opinions, without prevarication, about the Scottish Nationalist Party and Salmond. I for one advocate wherever practicable distancing ourselves from Salmond, the SNP and their divisive agenda.
Wednesday 4th April
Ian Scott (Central)
In response to Jonathan, if by opposing the cuts you mean your miserable question concerning using oil reserve monies – you were told by the very woman pushing the cuts that it would be disastrous – that truly is some fight. The point is that the Tory agenda has been fully accepted by you and your mates. There’s no problem in that. I only wish you’d be honest with the voters.
Tom Macintyre (West Side)
Iam beginning my election campaign by visiting Foula today. This island is attempting to be self sufficient in renewable energy – solar, hydro and wind power. I hope to get some ideas from the people out there what issues concern them.
Ian Tinkler (West Side)
Further to Gordon Harmer’s comment and in response to Douglas Young “Shetland Islands Council promised the people of Shetland a referendum on the Viking Energy windfarm, and to abide by the result”. I would emphatically emphasise a referendum must be undertaken to ascertain the true views of Shetlanders. Further to that those Shetlanders who live in residences less than two kilometres from the turbines must have a right to veto the constructing of an individual turbine so close to their homes. It has now been shown as a matter of fact that so close, a turbine will lower the value of their homes and may cause noise pollution and health issues. I would accept the result of such a referendum but would insist on the absolute right of people most affected by this development have the right to veto a turbine construction or be bought out by SSE or re-homed in similar property. That is now common practice down south.
Tuesday 3rd April
Ian Tinkler (West Side)
In response to Keith Martin’s question, I find it quite wrong that any services to the more vulnerable of our peoples should be threatened in any way. One has to be pragmatic, where funds are short, only when every other aspect of council spending has been cut to the bone, should care of the elderly and educational services be cut. I would highlight my earlier comments to the Times: Reduce the gross excesses of Shetland Island Council at every level. How can we afford 131 staff members earning over £50,000 when other comparable councils manage well or better with half that number? Stop future idiotic prestige projects and money wasters. (Such as Bressey Bridge, Mareel). It is impossible to justify school closures and cutbacks in social care in the face of such profligate waste of scarce funds. Cut wages from the top, salaries over six figures for council officers who are essentially no more than administrative officers are an anathema.
Alex Wright (Lerwick North)
It seems to me that the best way to judge a community is by how it treats its most vulnerable members; and by that standard Shetland has one of the most supportive communities I’ve ever come across, and has every right to be proud.
However, the council policies that threaten the Freefield Centre and the daily hot meals-on-wheels service are a move away from the caring society that looks after its elders. These moves will deprive the older members of our community of decent food and social interaction that are so necessary for their well-being. The lack of good food and social isolation will leave many of the older folks worse off, physically and mentally, and it will be social care and the NHS that has to step in. The cost, both financial and social, will far outweigh the amount the council will save on running these services. I hope we can avoid this, and continue as the caring community we have worked so hard to be.
Monday 2nd April
Malcolm Bell (Lerwick North)
After weeks of planning leaflets and designing websites I am now looking forward to getting out and about and actually meeting people! I’ve already made a start around the north part of Lerwick and thank everybody for taking the time to speak with me.
If elected, I will want to work alongside community and residents associations, in the different areas of the ward and find ways to engage in a meaningful way. What works in Bressay may not be right for the North Staney Hill for example, but surely we can design something which works for each part? I’m quite sure that if people find “Advice Surgeries” actually bring real results, they will use them! For example, as well as councillors these could include other agencies, such as the police and health. This would provide a real “one stop shop” for issues and demonstrate how all agencies can work together for the benefit of the community. We must fight to defeat feelings of apathy about the council as I honestly do believe Shetland’s best days are still ahead.
In addition, it is clear to me that, if elected, it will be important to regularly engage and seek feedback throughout the term of the council. A big push, canvassing at the time of an election every four or five years, is not enough! We must never tire of constantly seeking feedback, building trust and explaining. It’s vital that the new council is a “listening council” which truly hears what people are saying. By doing that we can start rebuilding trust and actually get things done!
I will be getting out and about in the coming weeks and do hope I can meet you. Given the size of the ward, speaking to every single voter will be difficult but I will do my best! However, please feel free to contact me using any of the methods in my website and set out below as I really do want to hear your views!
Tel: 01595 692643
Mob: 07777 607741
Drew Ratter (North Mainland)
It would be good to have discussion about the devolution of the powers of the Crown Estate. As far as I can see, the UK parliamentary committee has recommended that devolution should be to local authorities. Scottish ministers seem to want to devolve to Holyrood, and then “consult further on devolution to communities”. What does that mean, think you? And why is devolution to Holyrood better than retention in London, as far as Shetland is concerned?
Ian Tinkler (West Side)
I fully support renewable energy where practicable, but this must be conditional on it not damaging our environment. I implacably oppose Viking Energy; it represents the very worst option and practice for Shetland. It would cause severe environmental damage, endangering threatened species and destroying rare eco-systems. The duality of financial interest is damaging the integrity of the council and the charitable trust, the very existence of the charitable trust at being put at risk, both financially and ethically. Dishonest statements by Viking Energy are already being highlighted by the trading standards authority. The planning has been very poor, resulting in an ever shrinking project (now to be reduced by a further 24 turbines). Excessive amounts of cash have already been lost now with the begging bowl out again for a further £6 million. There are far better and more equitable options, for delivering renewable power to Shetland.
* To try to keep the discussion focused on the issues, the editor reserves the right not to publish abusive and personal comments.