Ward boundary changes are put on hold
Council ward boundaries in Shetland will remain the same for next year’s elections, though changes are likely to occur before 2022.
Boundaries across Scotland were agreed upon this week, following a Scottish government decision on recommendations from the Boundary Commission.
The commission published recommendations for changes to councillor numbers and ward boundaries in May, following completion of its fifth review of local government electoral arrangements.
There were 30 proposed changes in the report, of which 25 were accepted by the Scottish government. Changes to the three island councils involved in Our Islands Our Future were among the proposals rejected.
The government decided to hold off on making any changes to council ward boundaries within the islands before the introduction of the Islands Bill.
Business minister Joe FitzPatrick said: “In the case of the three island councils, we are committed to introducing an Islands Bill in this first parliamentary year enabling the creation of one or two member island wards.
“We do not propose to pre-empt the Bill by changing ward boundaries in Orkney, Shetland or Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, so we are therefore not implementing any changes in those areas.”
Mr FitzPatrick added: “However, we will be asking the commission to look at electoral arrangements for the islands areas once the Bill has been enacted, with the aim of having any changes arising from the Islands Bill in place for the local elections in 2022.”
The decision to delay any changes to boundaries within Shetland until after the Islands Bill has been implemented chimes with a call made by councillors last year.
In October councillors decided to draft a letter asking the Boundary Commission to hang fire on proposals which would have seen Gulberwick and Quarff added to the central ward, a year before the Islands Bill becomes legislation – carrying the potential for boundaries to be revised again.
However, the Boundary Commission decided to move forward with these recommendations anyway, meaning that it took a decision from the Scottish government to halt the proposed changes.
The North Isles ward is one which has come under scrutiny locally, because it includes Whalsay and Skerries alongside the three North Isles. For the past five years Whalsay has had no local representation at the council.
Unst resident and North Isles councillor Gary Cleaver said: “There couldn’t be changes to the North Isles because it’s all about numbers for the Boundary Commission. If we lost Whalsay something else would have to be bolted on to bring the numbers [of inhabitants within the ward] back up.”
Mr Cleaver said that the ideal situation for islands such as Unst, Yell and Whalsay would be to have one member each but added that this was unlikely for as long as the Boundary Commission remained “wedded to the idea of multi-member wards.”
However, Mr Cleaver felt that Whalsay was still well represented by its three North Isles councillors.
He said: “At the last election no one from Whalsay stood, but their representatives are from island communities, which is as good as they could hope for.
“And if anyone from Whalsay chooses to stand next year then I wish them luck.”
Nationally, the changes mean that councillor numbers will rise from 1223 to 1227.