West Side council candidate Debra Nicolson’s answers to the ‘Big Questions’ were not published in this week’s paper as the deadline was missed. The Shetland Times agreed to publish her answers online.
1) Charitable trust. Should councillors serve on the trust if they only have four representatives or would you favour elected trustees?
If we are not to be offered an alternative, four elected councillor members of the charitable trust is better than none. Ideally, I would like to see the majority of members directly elected to the trust, or at least to have equally directly elected and appointed members. If elected I would like to see the SIC take up the four councillor seats on the board in the interim, and in the long term to see a majority of directly elected members to keep the trust democratic and accountable.
2) Patient transport: Do you support NHS Shetland’s move to make patients travel to Aberdeen by ferry?
The decision by NHS Shetland to make the ferry the default method of travel for patients to Aberdeen was poorly thought out and sprung upon the community without consultation. Hopefully, they will now reverse this decision once they complete their talks with Loganair. Any future changes that affect the public should be fully consulted upon and not announced out of the blue.
3) Council meetings: The SIC recently voted against holding more meetings in public, rather than behind-closed-doors “pre-meetings”. What do you think?
If councillor seminars (pre-meetings) were held in the public eye it would make our elected members more accountable and open while helping to improve public perception of their councillors. While canvassing I have been told many times that councillors are secretive and not in touch with the community. I realise that votes are not cast in such meetings but opening up seminars and generally having better PR around council decisions would help build the relationship between the council and the community.
4) Island games: Do you think the council should give a grant towards the Shetland team travelling to the island games?
Team Shetland are ambassadors for Shetland and for that reason I would support sponsorship from the council to assist athletes to travel and to also encourage more Shetland businesses to sponsor the team.
5) AHS hostel: Should the education committee look again at the decision not to name the new hostel after George McGhee?
I think the AHS hostel should be named after George McGhee along with the wishes of community in response to a public consultation. The decision to ignore this majority is just another example of the disregard the council has for the wishes of the community. This decision should be reversed and if elected, I would work towards that.
6) Wind farms: Is there room for more large-scale wind developments in Shetland?
I’m very much in favour of renewable energy but not on the scale of large industrial wind farms such as Viking Energy. There is a genuine fear among the community that once we have one large-scale wind development, we will have more and that it would be like living inside one huge industrial windfarm complex. I would be keen to see community funds support local schemes that had the full backing of the community. If we work towards making communities self-sustaining with regards to energy production it could significantly reduce fuel poverty, a major issue in Shetland.
7) Spending: Should the age of austerity come to an end and the council begin spending more on the people of today, not of the future?
The SIC gets its budget set by the Scottish Government and has limited means of raising its own income so ending austerity is not really a decision for the council to make. It has to decide if it is going to make deep cuts or start digging into the reserves which is not sustainable over the long term. We need to rely less on the reserves but I don’t think it should be done to the extreme that it results in cuts that will hurt people? We should continue to keep an eye on spending and make savings at every opportunity. I fully back the council in continuing to lobby the Scottish Government to fulfil its commitment to funding our lifeline inter-island ferries which would free up funding and help to protect our reserves.