Sad day for democracy (Doug Forrest)

Following the SIC education and families special committee meeting on Friday I felt it necessary to seek a clear definition of the word “manifesto”.

According to a well-known information website it is “a written public declaration of the intentions, motives, or views of the issuer”. Now that appears straightforward enough. With such clarity and unambiguousness it would not be unreasonable to use such a document as a basis for making critical decisions such as for whom to cast one’s vote in an election.

In general elections it is much more about the party manifesto than the views of the individual candidates. However, when all the candidates are independent and the election in question is for members of a county council the whole picture changes. Under those circumstances what each candidate states in the form of a personal manifesto really matters. We, the electorate, must take the candidate at his or her word as contained in the manifesto.

Now I am sorry if all this is beginning to sound a tad pedantic but the seriousness of the situation cannot be understated.

In May when I was trying to decide how I was going to vote I did two things. I carefully read each manifesto and I attended a hustings meeting at Whiteness and Weisdale Hall. There all seven candidates answered questions posed by the audience. This same candidate spoke eloquently of his time at a rural school and of the importance of rural schools. Again the rhetoric was music to the ears of the assembly.

At the time of the election what I was looking for were people who would fight for the services on the West Side that matter to the community and to me.

One of the things in which I believe along with a very high percentage of the population on the west of Shetland is that there should be a junior high school based here. So can you imagine my delight when I read the following in one of the candidate’s manifestos:

“If re-elected I will: seek the best care for our elderly and vulnerable.

“The out-going leadership’s cuts hit the old, the young and those living in rural areas hardest. The budget must be revisited early in the new council to redress the balance.

“Resources must be directed to vital front-line services – care, education, housing, transport, etc. before vanity projects and risky loans.

“Continue to safeguard our rural education system. We must recognise and support the achievement of pupils and staff at Aith JHS who gained some of the best exam results in the Country. I stand on my track record of supporting schools in the Shetland West Ward.

“Rural areas are the key to taking Shetland’s economy forward. If re-elected I will speak up for what I believe in and I pledge to continue to listen to you and fight your corner.”

I wanted someone to fight our corner in the council chambers. This was the person I wanted to vote for because I truly believed those fine words. So as you can imagine, I was delighted when the candidate in question was declared one of those who were successful and was to be a councilor for the west side ward.

The other significant point about this same candidate is that he had been re-elected. He made it clear in his opening words that he fully understood the perilous state of the county coffers and that he would still defend the services on the west side. He specifically made mention of Aith Junior High School, its academic achievements and his track record in supporting it.

Alas, over the past few weeks I have become sadly disillusioned with this same councilor. Now that the gloves are off and the future of the secondary department at Aith Junior High School is in jeopardy the first person one would expect to be out there fighting its corner would be the author of the manifesto.

Yet when that self same councilor advocates that the secondary department should be emptied of its pupils and staff and the building be bulldozed flat, where does it leave those fine words? In fact, how credible are any of the words contained in that manifesto?

I am not alone in feeling that by his actions the councillor in question has set back local democracy on the west side of Shetland. After all, how can you tell people that their vote really matters?

Finally, I can advise Gary Robinson of one definite saving he can make. He need not bother sending me his next manifesto. I for one will not make the same mistake again.    

Doug Forrest


Add Your Comment
  • Debra Nicolson

    • September 19th, 2012 10:04

    As a voter on the Westside and someone who also chose candidates carefully to vote for I totally agree with these sentiments. On this occasion I feel I have been very badly let down as I also voted for the same candidate for the very same reason.

  • paul barlow

    • September 19th, 2012 14:47

    well said. He may have a responsibly to the whole of Shetland. However he has a higher duty to those in his ward. He should think very carefully about his future. maybe if he has had such a sudden change of mind he should step down and stand again. I would suggest that he won’t do that.

  • Jonathan wills

    • September 19th, 2012 20:07

    Stirring stuff, Doug. But where would you make the cuts instead? Exactly? Bus services? Care for the elderly? Refuse collection? Details, please.

    I get dozens of letters about this. Few of them attempt to explain how we can restore the council to solvency if education doesn’t bear its share of these unavoidable economies.

    It really would be helpful if protesters (with whom I sympathise) could make practical suggestions instead of slagging off a council leader who’s honestly doing his best to minimise the pain as we try to repair the damage done by his improvident predecessors.

    Oh, and by the way, Thursday’s debate is about whether to consult on school closures/amalgamations. The actual decisions on individual schools are still some way off. If Doug and others can come up with other ways to spend less on education while maintaining standards, some of the closures may not be necessary.

  • paul barlow

    • September 20th, 2012 10:30

    How about the council members returning their pay and expenses. After all your doing the work for the public good.

    The first saving would be to remove expensive risky investments in companies that are run by council members (that really must be a conflict of interest).

    Another would be to seek to recover the losses incurred by the previous and current council members from their very poor planning. lets face it with the costs incurred by the bridge and the school jokes there would have been no need for cuts. lets not even mention tugs.

    Lets not even mention the cost related to the removal of the former chief exec. incurred by council members failing to follow best practice.

    face it until you start making people redundant your not going to save anything much. maybe look at what the other councils are doing better than the SIC its really not hard.

  • James Mackenzie

    • September 20th, 2012 10:41

    I don’t regard Doug’s letter as a piece of “slagging off”, more an honest expression of intense disappointment.

    As for practical suggestions from the public, there have been some, but I expect most of the people who make them are tired of being ignored or told that they don’t know what they’re talking about. The rest of us probably feel not well-informed enough anyway to comment constructively.

    Surely unless it can be proven that closure of the rural Junior High Schools will be of educational benefit, that should be the end of the story.

    I suggest that without the pudding of a new Anderson High School, there can be no proof.

    And I seem to remember Jonathan calling for equitable cuts in different council departments, and pointing out that Corporate Services were going to remain unduly corpulent.

    Has anything changed there?

  • Ron Stronach

    • September 20th, 2012 12:47

    I think its time to face the truth here, SIC are spending £36M over their income, so cuts have to be made in all depts. its as simple as that.

    Education is no different, if there are too many schools for the amount of children then why waste money on leaving them open – if a workable solution can be found, whether it is amalgamation or shipping the bairns out to a different area it has to be done (within reason).

    As Dr Wills had pointed out, can anyone else see waste that can be trimmed?

    Well I think I can, all the different offices occupied by council staff, all the duplication and added headcount. Do you really need, managers, assistant mangers, supervisors, charge hands, personal assistants, clerks, typists etc etc?
    Do you need as many as you have, are they all working effectively? I am sorry but £36M per year is hardly a small overdraft, it’s bankruptcy here!
    But losing jobs will not be very pleasant either. Reduction in services, there seem to be hundreds of council vans parked in virtually every road in Lerwick (an over exaggeration I know) do you really need this level of overhead?
    Buses, are they fully utilised or do they stand idle during times of the day but the drivers are paid all of the time?

    Why do you need a new Anderson High School? If it was your personal money, you would say, it has to wait because you cant afford it right now?
    Why spend thousands on Consultants, you only need consultants for what you may not have in house, for a council this cant be very often surely?

    Its £36M per year so it cant continue, so what ever the council do, it will not be easy nor acceptable to all, I wish them luck.

  • Lita Robinson

    • September 20th, 2012 16:45

    Well I for one did not vote for him. The writing was on the wall when the position of violin tutor ended upon the teachers retirement. I contacted our 3 then councillors and a ” Quality Improvement Officer” at Hayfield House. 2 responded to my mails (2) but not the now Vice Convener.

    I agree that cuts must be made, but the easy targets again are the schools. if you want to target education, then start with Hayfield House. How can some of their employees work from home for 2 and a half days out of a working week. Yes right I am sure those days are more productive than sitting in an office. So on that basis cut their hours! I agree do not build the new AHS, you cannot afford it.

    I cannot see at the present time what I am getting for my council tax, 1 sack for refuse collection a week (which have now run out – and we are purchasing from E Bay because its cheaper than the council ones – now there is another saving), the prospect of no road gritter – so on a bad day I will not get to my work, and will have to take an unwanted holiday. Will the council workers get paid if they get snowed in or can they “work” from home? There you go another saving. A little bit here and a little bit all add up.

    Cuts by all means, but look closer to home…..

  • Doug Forrest

    • September 20th, 2012 19:46

    Firstly, I make no apology for any comments I have made. If individuals wish to seek election to public office and in the process publish a manifesto I do not think it is unreasonable to expect such an individual to stand by those statements. That, and that alone, is my concern with Mr Robinson.
    As far as the consultation process is concerned I tend to feel that much damage has already been done. Schools have been named, morale damaged, communities alarmed and conspiracy theories set in motion.
    Finally, I am grateful to Dr Wills for his kind invitation to me personally to suggest how Shetland Islands Council’s finances can be improved.
    Throughout Shetland Islands Council’s departments there are a large number of statutory posts and obviously they must remain. However, there are also a considerable number of non-statutory posts and I should like to see an open transparent debate on the necessity of the posts within this list.
    As far as the education budget is concerned, are there not opportunities to carry out some joined up thinking? By looking closely at the courses being offered by the Anderson High School, Shetland College and the Fisheries College it could be possible to limit duplication of some courses and provide the best possible range of educational opportunitiesto all students. This, along with a ‘hub and spoke’ approach to teaching and learning in small schools and much more innovative use made of IT, Shetland could be at the cutting edge of modern education and make substantial savings at the same time.
    Secondly, I for one (and you did ask for my personal opinion) can cope quite easily with my domestic refuse being collected once a fortnight instead of weekly. I can also cope with much less street lighting.
    Thirdly, I would be interested to know how many car parking spaces are owned and maintained by the Council. Is charging for their use not an opportunity to earn some revenue? Speaking personally I regularly use the Victoria Pier Car Park and have no issue with paying to park there. Shetland must be one of the few remaining places where there are so many free parking spaces.
    Finally, I am aware that there are complex and expensive systems whereby departments acquire resources and of how they are distributed. Opportunities for making substantial savings exist were a modicum of common sense applied.

  • Ian McCormack

    • September 20th, 2012 21:49

    I completely agree with Doug’s article. I too voted based on manifesto’s.

  • Linda Tait

    • September 20th, 2012 23:03

    Our councillors that have voted to plough onwards to close our schools should hang their heads in shame. Yes we need to save money but stifling the future workforce of Shetland by reducing the quality of their education is a no brainer. Lets get rid ot our expensive tugs that when new can’t steer in a straight line and seemingly have no warranty that the manufacturer has a duty to fulfil and let’s stop spending money on this “Centre of Excellence” which Ms Vaila Wishart speaks of, when the country schools are out performing the AHS.

  • Stewart Mack

    • September 21st, 2012 10:55

    Ron, your comments are well founded. If you take a look at staff levels in the other island Authorities who have, it has to be said a similar level of problems with remoteness and functions to undertake (eg ferries etc.) you will be astounded with both the number and pay grades of SIC staff compared to the others. Its not a very easy topic but the SIC are, in my view, most definately over staffed. It seems that at every opportunity the SIC, both elected members and officials always seem to opt for the “Rolls Royce” option when we have the budget for a “Mini”

  • Jenny Henry

    • September 21st, 2012 12:34

    Maybe the heating in all schools and public buildings should be turned down a few degrees?

    Maybe the SIC’s sickness policy should be seriously looked at and overhauled?

    Maybe some of the redundant SIC properties should be put to (any) use?

    Maybe the highest paid employees in the SIC should be able to do the jobs they are employed to do without the need of ‘rip-off’ consultants?

    Maybe some of the people written about in this article should hand back a few per cent of their annual salaries (ST 23rd Feb –

    Maybe it’s time we took a stand against unnecessary beaurocratic dictation from Edinburgh and further south and told them to dump their superfluous reams of reports and targets in the Forth or the Thames… and actually get on with ‘working’?

  • Stella Winks

    • September 21st, 2012 13:42

    Surely a full assessment of staffing levels and efficiency is required within the SIC before the axe falls on crucial services. Has anyone done a study on the bodies:workload ratio within the SIC to see how it compares with other councils? If so – would likely make interesting reading……I have no objection with staff working from home as mentioned by another contributor. However, I do object if staffing levels are too high and others are facing distress and hardship as a result of cuts being made to maintain those levels. One telling letter recently published in the Shetland Times appeared to cite the dismay of a graduate not being able to apply for a job with the SIC upon qualifying…as if it were a given right! Just how many previous posts have been made to perhaps accomodate folk when not really required? SIC – look to yourself first!!

  • Marinaf Thomason

    • September 21st, 2012 16:38

    As regards to savings, strip the SIC down to what is required by law and what is not. Someone needs to find out what, as a local authority, must be provided as a statutory requirement and what has been created through government ‘guidelines’ and recommendations. Councillors should be actively questioning every employee’s role within the SIC and asking is this work really necessary and do we require it by law?

  • Debra Nicolson

    • September 22nd, 2012 11:47

    Gosh there are plenty of people out there with ideas. Please listen to them during the consultation process and prove that you are not just paying lip service. I have listened to what Mr Robinson has said and it sounds very much like fence sitting to me and that is not what I voted him and other councilors for.

  • Ian McCormack

    • September 22nd, 2012 14:09

    I too thought Rons comments were well founded, Untill he mentioned the buses. If were not driving, were cleaning, or taking a break, or fueling up. we also do extra runs from time to time to cover one another, and bus drivers are not that well paid, esp if you compare us to truck drivers wages.
    Its also bus drivers who are already working very long hours, that will be needed to do the school runs. we actually try to do a great job in the face of a lot of flak from the general public. One driver has even been spat in the face, (see this weeks shetland times) so please, we are on your side, but attacking council depts is not that helpful, as we are just trying to do our jobs.

    Aim the battle at the councillors who need to hear ALL of us, in our displeasure at these closures.

    Doug, I agree with what you have said, If you dont mind me saying, why not think about standing for the next council!!?? I would vote you

  • Robert Lowes

    • September 22nd, 2012 15:25

    Replace old, inefficient light bulbs with LED bulbs. Use occupancy sensors to automatically switch off lights in rooms when not in use. Get rid of flushing urinals for waterless ones. Reduce street lighting. Put solar panels on the street lights to supplement the power required to operate them. Stop buying Microsoft Windows & MS Office – instead use free operating systems like Ubuntu or Zorin Linux and Open Office on the SICs many thousands of PCs instead and keep older hardware running longer. When buying new computers, don’t go for expensive desktop PCs for when a low power Atom PC will do. Sell off old equipment. Use ink-saving printers. Use low-ink typefaces on printed documents such as those made by Convert SIC petrol vehicles to LPG. Use the cooking oil from the school canteens/Islesburgh/Clickamin/etc as a bio-diesel for trucks, etc. Convert the Bressay ferry to a chain ferry. Oh, and stop paying consultants as a matter of course.

  • Ron Stronach

    • September 24th, 2012 12:24

    Ian, I wasn’t having a go at the Bus Drivers, I’m sure they are all a hard working bunch and probably some go the extra mile.
    But all dept.s must undergo some form of assessment in order to ensure they are first required, second how they are manned and third, are they efficient and effective. i.e. can it be done more effectively.

    One of the best ideas that has been mention by a few of us, stop employing Consultants!


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