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SIC finance chief retires early

SHETLAND Islands Council’s widely respected head of finance Graham Johnston has announced he intends to take early retirement at the end of next month.

Mr Johnston is considered “a safe pair of hands” at Scotland’s wealthiest local authority, which has been under considerable pressure from outside watchdogs in the past two years.

Mr Johnston joined the council in 1981 as a trainee accountant, working his way up to the top job in finance over 30 years, during which he has seen the council become the only authority to achieve debt free status.

His department came under criticism over the past few years from the council’s outside auditors Audit Scotland, who expressed increasing frustration at the refusal to group the council’s accounts with those of Shetland Charitable Trust.

Mr Johnston has always remained a staunch defender of the council’s position and said on Wednesday that he believed grouping the accounts “made no sense whatsoever”. He added: “I have had no success in persuading Audit Scotland and the Accounts Commission so maybe it’s best for someone else to take on that role.”

Speaking on BBC Radio Shetland, Mr Johnston said that the past two years of scrutiny and criticism from the local government watchdogs had been “a trying time” and probably contributed to his decision to take early retirement.

He said that he had approached chief executive Alistair Buchan in October and was grateful that his request to leave the council had been accepted.

Convener Sandy Cluness praised Mr Johnston as “a very widely respected finance chief”.

“Over the years councillors acknowledged his professionalism and were very grateful for his ability to put technical financial information into a format that was easy to understand. The thing that struck me about him was his clear desire to always do his best for the good of Shetland,” Mr Cluness said.

His 10 years at the helm of the finance department have been particularly turbulent with two crashes on the global markets following the 9/11 attack and the more recent banking crisis.

His consistent advice to hold a steady course helped councillors weather the storm while the SIC’s substantial investments recovered.

On Wednesday Mr Johnston said: “I’ve appreciated the opportunity to work in the council’s finance service for almost 30 years.

“It has often been challenging but also rewarding. I’ve worked with some excellent colleagues and have had the chance to contribute to some important deals with, for example, the oil and gas industry, as well as contributing to the long term planning and management of the Shetland community reserves.

“The council has gone through a time of turbulence, and now needs to make substantial changes to face future challenges. I felt the time was right for me to move on and let others address those long term issues, and I’m pleased that the council have agreed to my request for early retirement.”

He said that he intends to pursue personal interests, including “messing around with my old cars”, though he did dismiss suggestions that he might stand for the council in 2012.

Drug charge woman released on bail

A TWENTY year old Shetland woman has been released on bail after being charged with drug offences following the seizure of suspected heroin with an estimated street value of £12,000.
 
Nicole Jeanene Hassan, of 23 Grostane, Lerwick, was arrested on Tuesday following a police raid on a house in the town following a tip off.
 
After being held in the police cells overnight, Hassan appeared in private from custody at Lerwick Sheriff Court where she made no plea or declaration, was committed for further examination and released on bail.
 
This was the second significant heroin seizure in Shetland in the past week. On Monday, 47 year Lila Bernadette Cartwright, from Birkenhead, was remanded in custody after she was found in possession of suspected heroin worth around £8,000 when police stopped the taxi she had hired at Gulberwick, on Thursday.
 

Hjatland hatchery approved

A MULTI million pound salmon hatchery in Shetland was given the green light by local planners on Wednesday morning.
 
Work to convert and extend the existing hatchery building at Girlsta will commence as early as April, according to Hjaltland Hatcheries, a subsidiary of Grieg Hjaltland Seafood, Shetland’s largest salmon producer.
 
Shetland Islands Council’s planning board unanimously granted planning permission despite some concern for a disused lime kiln, which was described as in poor condition and led to an objection by Shetland Amenity Trust.
 
Board chairman Frank Robertson, who is a trustee of SAT, left the meeting during the debate.
 
The meeting heard that the developer had agreed to a number of preservation measures that would help access to the historic lime kiln.
 
“We believe that through our development the setting of the kiln will be hugely improved,” Grieg Seafood chief executive Michael Stark told the meeting.
 
Mr Stark said he was delighted with the decision as this would mean that by 2013 the company could produce half of its smolts in Shetland, rather than importing these from Scotland and Ireland.
 
The £3.8 million development will create nine new jobs and support the existing 195 staff on farms and in the company’s processing plant in Lerwick.
 
Moving to approve planning permission, councillor Josie Simpson said: “This is a very, very important part of the aquaculture industry in Shetland. I am confident that this will be a very good thing for Shetland.”
 
Conversion and extension is planned to be completed in 2012 with smolt production commencing the same year.

In brief for 23 February

Sandy extends sympathy

SIC convener Sandy Cluness said the entire Shetland community extended its sympathy and support to the people of New Zealand following the earthquake which has devastated Christchurch this week.

Mr Cluness said: "We have very close ties with New Zealand, with many folk there of Shetland descent and with strong family connections to the northern isles. All of us were shocked by the tragic events in Christchurch and we extend our heartfelt sympathy and support.”

The convener said the presence of several young Shetland people in Christchurch as part of the International Learning School had been a major source of concern locally.

"We were all relieved to hear that our five young folk are safe and well. Their presence in New Zealand at this terrible time is a sign of the strong and close connections which have always existed between the two island groups, and will continue to do so."


Save Our Station

THE CAMPAIGN to save the Lerwick coastguard coordinating station is calling on as many people as possible to attend the public meeting being held at lerwick Town Hall at 7.30pm on Monday 28 February.

The meeting will allow local people to hear directly from the Maritime & Coastguard Agency about their proposals, to ask questions and express their views.

A campaign spokesman said: “It is vital the community attend this meeting and leave MCA representatives in no doubt regarding their ideas.

"The MCA propose slashing the number of coastguard stations around the UK, either closing the Lerwick station or dramatically restricting its operating hours. At the same time the number of professional coastguard staff will be reduced by 50 per cent.

“If coastguard search and rescue operations are transferred to Aberdeen, as the MCA propose, a straw poll has indicated a minority of coastguard officers will be able to relocate, there will be a severe shortage of experienced and professional staff at these new centres, and the MCA cannot give any guarantee that the existing service can be maintained."


Bird survey

FARMERS and crofters in Shetland will be able to have their land surveyed to find out what birds are present, thanks to support from EU Life+ funding.
 
The free, confidential, no strings-attached surveys are organised through an RSPB project called the Volunteer & Farmer Alliance. The conservation charity will begin conducting the annual scheme in April, and are urging those interested in taking part to sign up quickly as spaces can fill up fast.
 
Over 120 farms were surveyed across Scotland in 2010, with an average of 30 species recorded during the surveys. 

The surveys allow trained, local RSPB volunteers to record what priority bird species are using the farms and crofts, helping paint a clearer picture of bird numbers in our countryside.

The surveys can also help land managers applying for agri-environment funding under the Scotland Rural Development Programme (SRDP), as they help guide which options will best benefit existing farm wildlife.
 
Katie Berry from RSPB Scotland said the survey was “a useful tool for helping guide SRDP applications, although there is no obligation to take action afterwards. Whatever the reason this is a fantastic opportunity to get a free farmland bird survey, but places do book up quickly so please get in touch early to find out more.”


Crofting legislation

THE SCOTTISH government proposed new planning rules designed to strengthen protection of crofting land on Wednesday.

If passed, the rules will ensure the Crofters Commission is consulted on planning applications which could significantly affect the extent or quality of croft land, and that their views inform planning decisions.

Environment minister,Roseanna Cunningham said: “Effective communication between planners and the commission is vital to the survival of good quality croft land. The commission is also piloting a crofting planning questionnaire with Highland Council to further assist planners with identifying development on croft land.

“With each initiative we further our aim of reversing the decline in this way of life and strengthening its position as the backbone of our remote, rural communities.”


Oil and gas boom

BRITAIN’S oil and gas industry says it can look forward to a jobs and investment boom over the next few years with rising oil prices leading to more exploration and increased work on existing resrves.

Oil and Gas UK’s annual business survey says the next five years could see £40 billion in investment to extract more oil from existing fields, and develop the west of Shetland, which is expected to provide one quarter of UK production by 2020.

Investment of £4.9 billion in 2009 rose to £6 billion last year and is expected to reach £8 billion this year, creating up to 15,000 new jobs.

The decline in North Sea output could be halved to three per cent a year with some fields could still be producing in 2040, the report says.

The industry says the cost of production has risen by 10 per cent and is calling on the government to help ease the cost of production and decommissioning to help them stay competitive.


Tug concerns

THE CHAIRMAN of Pas-de-Calais county council in France has warned of “catastrophic consequences” when the MCA scrap the emergency towing vessels that operate around the country.

Dominique Dupilet said traffic in the Strait of Dover is amongst the densest in the world with a high concentration of pollutions, shipwrecks and accidents between 1960 and 2009 creating a high risk of marine pollution.

M Dupilet has written to UK transport secretary Philip Hammond asking for the decision to stop funding the Anglian Monarch tug to be reconsidered. The tug is jointly funded by the French government and the European Commission.

“Stopping the funding of the Anglian Monarch is like stopping paying an insurance policy under the pretext that there hasn’t been a fire in the house for a year. The return between saving up the cost of the tug boat as an insurance policy and the cost of a disaster is immeasurable,” he said.


BP offloads assets

OIL giant BP has said it will offload assets to focus more on development projects under way in the North Sea.

BP said it wanted to sell some oil and gas fields to focus its energy on the central and northern parts of the North Sea, west of Shetland and the Norwegian coast, where the reserves were of “high value”.
.
Trevor Garlick, regional president for BP operations in the North Sea, said: “The North Sea is a significant business for BP and we are currently investing here at the highest level for more than 10 years, with four major new field development projects under way in the UK and two in Norway.”
 
BP said it invested more than £1.5 billion in the North Sea last year and plans another $19 billion during the next five years.


Daylight saving

NORTHERN isles MP Alistair Carmichael has spoken out against suggestions the UK government could approve changes to daylight saving as part of a tourism strategy.

He said: “I understand why tourism interests in southern England may support a change in the current daylight savings arrangements. However people in the northern isles know well that the situation is far more complex than has been suggested by some of those supporting a shift to ‘double summer time’.
 
“The impact of these plans would be significant in northern Scotland. I know that many people in Orkney and Shetland are concerned over the prospect of winter mornings where the sun did not rise until 10 am.

“The road safety implications of such a move would have to be considered closely before any change could be implemented, as well as the impact on farmers and other workers who start early in the morning.
 
“What ministers have always made clear is that this change could only proceed with the support of people in all areas of the UK. It seems to me that those advocating ‘double summer time’ still have a substantial amount of work to do before people in Scotland are convinced by these proposals.”

Labour name Holyrood candidate

LABOUR is the second party to name their local candidate for the forthcoming election to the Scottish Parliament on 5 May 2011.

Jamie Kerr, who lives in East Renfrewshire, has been a member of the Labour Party since student times.

A human rights lawyer with central belt law firm Drummond Miller LLP, Mr Kerr said he had served the party in a number of branches across Scotland.

"I am well placed to understand how the party works at different levels throughout the country. As someone who has campaigned in marginal constituencies, I have first-hand experience of key seat campaigning and am familiar with best practice," he said.

Announcing his candidacy, Shetland Labour Party chairman Gordon Thomson said: "There has never been a better time to give the LibDems a run for their money."

The only other candidate who has put forward his name is local MSP Tavish Scott for the Liberal Democrats.

Plans approved

Sumburgh lighthouse
 
THE PLANNED re-development of Sumburgh lighthouse, in Shetland, has leaped another hurdle with planning permission granted on Wednesday morning.
 
Last month the ambitious £5 million project to convert the A listed Stevenson lighthouse into a visitor attraction secured a vital piece in the funding jigsaw.
 
On Wednesday, councillors on the planning board were full of praise for the project. Board member Jim Budge said: “It is absolutely splendid that this work is being done”.
 
There were no objections, but the planning application had to be dealt with by councillors rather than officials because the local authority is part funding the project.
 
Brough Lodge
 
Restoration work on another A listed building also got planning permission at Wednesday’s planning board meeting.
 
The trust behind plans to refurbish Brough Lodge, on the island of Fetlar, got permission to remove timbers and a roof section, and to re-instate some of its original profile.
 
The work, described as the first phase, aims to consolidate and protect the historic laird’s home for its future re-use.
 
Total car park
 
Wednesday’s planning board meeting also ratified decisions by its officers to grant permission to oil and gas company Total to form a car park and park and ride facility at the Sella Ness industrial estate to use for its major gas plant development nearby.

Drunk punch lands woman in court

A YOUNG Lerwick woman who punched a bar maid while she was being thrown out of a hotel because of her drunken behaviour was ordered to carry out 70 hours voluntary work at Lerwick Sheriff Court on Wednesday.
 
Twenty year old Dana Lowe, of 99 St Olaf Street, admitted assaulting the woman at Lerwick’s Queen’s Hotel, on 10 February.
 
The court heard that Lowe had been drinking for most of the day, when the hotel staff asked her and her friends to leave at around 7pm.
 
Procurator fiscal Duncan Mackenzie said she was not happy about being escorted off the premises so she turned round and punched her victim, though there was no significant injury.
 
Defence agent Chris Dowle said his client apologised for her behaviour and only had a hazy memory of what happened, but at the time she had the impression that she had been pushed to the ground. “That’s what led to the blow being delivered,” Mr Dowle said.
 
Sheriff Graeme Napier said he would have fined Lowe £350, but as she is unemployed he placed her on a supervised attendance order to carry out 70 hours of work.

Redd Up dates announced

DA VOAR Redd Up will take place on 16 and 17 April this year, Shetland Amenity Trust has announced.

The largest community based voluntary clear up throughout the UK per head of population has more than 4,000 volunteers regularly registering for the event, which last year collected more than 53 tonnes of rubbish from roadside verges, beaches and coastline.

Environmental improvement project officer Sita Hughson said: "It is the volunteers who make Da Voar Redd Up the success it is, having a major impact on clearing marine and other litter throughout the isles.

“Their work makes a huge difference to the natural heritage of Shetland, by making our isles look better and removing a huge amount of bruck which presents major hazards to our wildlife."

Ms Hughson said that just 10 per cent of the rubbish collected went to landfill, making it “even more environmentally friendly”.

Local groups can use the Redd Up to raise sponsorhip funds, businesses can earn points towards their Tidy Business and Green Tourism Business Scheme awards and schools attain green flag status through the Eco Schools initiative.

Ms Hughson said: “This year we would also like to encourage more businesses and organisations to take part. Most beaches now have regular Redd Up groups but there are plenty of roadsides and other areas which could benefit from a litter pick.

“By taking part, businesses will not only benefit their local community but can also earn points towards various award schemes, such as Tidy Business and the Green Tourism Business Scheme."

Shetland Amenity Trust supplies 4,000 pairs of gloves and 15,000 bags, and deploys four crews to take away all the rubbish free of charge with the help of sponsorship of oil company BP.

People can register for the 24th Voar Redd Up by contacting 01595 694688 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.   to receive paper free registration details.

Controversial Scatsta quarry approved

BRAE businessman Edward Nicolson has been granted planning permission to open up a new quarry near Sullom Voe Terminal despite concern that this could lead to an over supply of stone and aggregate to local industry.
 
The council’s planning board on Wednesday allowed EMN Plant to open up a 1.7 hectare area adjacent to Scatsta airport on land to the north of the runway of the airport, which is mainly used by the oil industry.
 
The plan to extract 300,000 tonnes of rock over a 20 year period had attracted 12 letters of objections, but was mainly opposed by rival company Garriock Bros, of Brae, who operate the Sullom Mine quarry, 10 miles away.
 
Representing the objector, Arthur Robertson told the meeting in the council chambers that as land owner and recipient of income from the mineral right, the council had a clear interest and therefore was biased in favour of the applicant.
 
Mr Robertson added that an adequate supply of quarry materials existed in Shetland and that there was no need for any further quarries.
 
He also said that because of the council’s interest in the matter no planning application fee had been paid by the applicant, a statement that was refuted by planning officers who confirmed that the fee had been paid.
 
They also insisted that there were sufficient checks and balances in place to allow them to assess any application on its merits. “We could not be biased,” head of planning Iain McDiarmid said.
 
Speaking in support of the application, EMN director Ellis Nicolson said that the company’s plans to create a new quarry was based on increased demand at Sullom Voe Terminal itself, as well as expected future high demand for the £500 million gas processing plant that oil company Total has started to build nearby.
 
He said that opening up a quarry near the industrialised area would enable them to quarry stone near to where it was needed and limit traffic through neighbouring villages, particularly Brae,
 
“The Total development is an opportunity for growth. It is estimated that they will require 400,000 tonnes for that development. There will be huge demand,” he said.
 
Concern about dust and birds that could be attracted by two settlement ponds had been dealt with in discussions with airport management and also by imposing a condition that the ponds will have to be covered by netting.

Addict offered help by court

A LERWICK man whose addiction to heroin has sent his life in a downward spiral is to be assessed for drug treatment after admitting numerous charges at Lerwick Sheriff Court on Wednesday.
 
Matthew Smith, of 13 Grodians, Lerwick, appeared from custody after spending the past 10 days in Aberdeen prison having been arrested on 13 February for causing a disturbance at a house in the town’s Millgaet.
 
The 25 year old was on bail at the time having already pled guilty to being concerned in the supply of diazepam, after being found with 900 pills worth 50p each at South Lochside, Lerwick, and 38 Sycamore Avenue, Scalloway, on 8 September last year.
 
He had also admitted possessing the Class A heroin substitute methadone at Lerwick’s Ladies Drive, on 3 July last year, possessing heroin the day before at 38 Sycamore Crescent, Scalloway and taking and driving away a car and driving without insurance around Scalloway on 3 December.
 
Last month the court heard that Smith had only recently become addicted to heroin, but his habit had rapidly become aggressive and he was now well integrated into the local drugs scene.
 
However on Wednesday defence agent Sam Milligan said that his client had a “chronic” addiction that had lasted for the past five years.
 
The diazepam had been purchased on the internet and was to be distributed amongst friends who had drug problems, the court was told.
 
His arrest earlier this month followed an argument with his former partner about how he should be tackling his drug problems, when his behaviour had become so aggressive that the woman called his parents who ended up pinning him to the bed to try and calm him down.
 
Sheriff Graeme Napier agreed to Mr Milligan’s request for Smith to be placed on a drug treatment and testing order and sentence was deferred until 23 March.

UK coastguards unite against closure

CAMPAIGNERS throughout the UK have banded together for the first time to save coastguard stations from closure.

The move comes as the Maritime & Coastguard Agency began a series of UK-wide public meetings to discuss their controversial proposals to streamline the service, including one in Shetland next week.

Staff and supporters from the 18 coastguard co-ordinating stations have formed a single campaign group Save Our Stations to demonstrate they are all speaking with one voice.

The move comes in response to the Maritime & Coastguard Agency’s proposal to close 10 of its 18 co-ordinating stations, with five of the remaining eight providing a reduced service.

The coastguard unions say the plans will see coastguard staffing levels fall by almost 50 per cent over the next four years.

A campaign spokesman said: “The coastguards with all the different stations are doing our own campaigning, but we are all talking to each other and we are all of the same opinion.

“As chief executive Sir Alan Massey said, there are very few coastguards that are not calling for change or modernisation. But he admitted when he came to Shetland that not one has said these are the right plans.”

A consultation on whether Lerwick or Stornoway will be retained as a daylight only service will run until 24 March. Comments can be sent via the MCA website at www.mcga.gov.uk .

The House of Commons transport select committee has launched its own inquiry into the closure plans, along with the decision to remove the coastguard’s four emergency towing vessels introduced following the Braer oil spill, and to delete the offshore fire fighting and chemical spill response service.

Submissions to the select committee can be sent to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. by 26 April.

The MCA is holding 20 public meetings throughout the UK in areas most directly affected by the closure plan, with one on Monday 28 February at Lerwick Town Hall starting at 7.30pm.

Each meeting will be independently chaired and is expected to last about one and a half hours.

At the insistence of northern isles MP Alistair Carmichael a meeting is to be held in Kirkwall on 15 march at Kirkwall Town Hall.

The first meeting was held in Bridlington, East Yorkshire, on Monday and the last one will be held in Ullapool on 16 March.

Shetland students safe after quake

FIVE youngsters from Shetland are safe and well after being caught up in the earthquake that devastated the New Zealand city of Christchurch on Tuesday.

At least 65 people have died as a result of the quake, which happened during the lunch hour while the city was at its busiest.

The five Shetlanders had been in the city for the past two weeks as part of the international Learning School, working on a project looking at the future of education.

Three co-ordinators Greg McCarron, Lizzie Ratter and Jenny Fraser are all in their 20s, while Lindsey Manson and Cheryl Cluness are both 18.

They are working alongside two 17 year old Swedish students Max Engstrom and Carl Larsson.

Stuart Hay, who set up the Learning School 12 years ago at Lerwick’s Anderson High School, said none of the students had been hurt. The school they were working in had closed early for a teachers’ trade union meeting and they were all on their way home when the quake struck.

Mr Hay said: “I am absolutely relieved that our students are well and safe. I am sure they are shaken but I am equally sure they have lived through a bit of history. It's the Learning School on a different dimension!”

Health board promises better service

NHS SHETLAND (NHSS) will start implementing changes to the way staff work in the next few months as part of a three year clinical strategy to improve the service during tough financial times.

On Tuesday the health board approved the clinical strategy which should make better use of existing staff and resources to save money and make the service more effective.

During a major year long consultation exercise, staff and local people said they were concerned about duplication of services and unnecessary trips to Lerwick or Aberdeen for follow up appointments.

Health managers have promised “a cultural change” that will see patients taking fewer journeys, nurses being deployed more in the community and a streamlined appointment system so individuals can see all the professionals they need to in one go.

All the islands’ 10 health centres are to remain, but the NHS plan to close their inpatient unit at Lerwick’s Montfield Hospital, freeing up 800 square metres of space for other services, including dentistry.

The proposals have been developed from suggestions made at a series of 50 meetings around the isles, at which only 246 people turned up. Some meetings in remote locations like Unst, Fair Isle and Hillswick were well attended, but no one turned up to discuss the proposals in Brae.

The three year strategy is to help the health service survive the “unprecedented financial challenges” that lie ahead, especially as it already carries a “significant underlying deficit”, while the islands’ population profile gets older.

Some of the suggestions include:

•providing simple medical appointments at a health centre rather than hospital;

•nurses spending more time in the community and at care homes;

•providing more health care at home;

•more surgical procedures like Caesarian sections being carried out in Lerwick;

•providing a 24 hour response for people suffering mental health problems to reduce the number of people being transferred off the islands to a mental health unit;

•ambulance crews working alongside nurses and doctors in the accident and emergency ward; and

•developing a Shetland-based NHS 24 service.

Director of clinical services Simon Bokor Ingram said he hoped that patients would see improvements in the quality of the service as changes are gradually introduced over the summer.

“Patients shouldn’t notice a big bump, these changes should happen gradually and threw should be plenty of information about what is changing,” he said.

Hospital needs millions spent on it

NHS SHETLAND is operating out of sub standard facilities that require an investment of £7 million to put right, according to a report published on Tuesday.

The health board’s property strategy highlights underlying structural and service issues at Lerwick’s Gilbert Bain and Montfield hospital that could cause “disruption to the delivery of healthcare” in the isles.

Around one third of the health board’s estate is identified as “less than satisfactory”, with a shortage of single bed hospital rooms and poor internal layout.

It will have to spend at least £50,000 a year to meet government energy and emissions targets, a sum that is likely to increase in the future.

The report also says that nursing accommodation on the remote isles of Fair Isle, Foula and Fetlar is “poor”.

Fixing these problems will be a challenge for the board as funding is extremely tight, and new methods of raising cash will have to be explored.

On Tuesday the board agreed to stick to its long term strategy to build a new Gilbert Bain Hospital by 2021 and to share facilities wherever possible with the local authority.

They also want to encourage staff to work from home as much as possible, make their working hours more flexible and share work stations in a form of “hot desking” to free up office space.

A comprehensive condition survey of the islands’ two hospitals revealed £7 million worth of work was needed to resolve “significant problems”.

The report said that despite investment in the 68 bed Gilbert Bain Hospital “the overall condition of the estate exposes NHS Shetland to significant risk in terms of failure of building elements and the consequential possible loss of services”.

It added: “Much of the work needed is for upgrading of engineering services. These services are generally not visible to staff and public which can lead to a perception that the building is in a satisfactory condition when the reality is somewhat different.”

The report was critical of the hospital’s multi bed wards, mixed sex accommodation, the lack of single rooms with en suite facilities, poor internal layouts and the “sub optimal quality” of the hospital environment.

Ultimately the health board will need to replace the 50 year old hospital, the report said.

“The timescale for this is dependent on affordability. It is clear however from the deteriorating physical condition of the hospital that a timeframe which seeks to have a new hospital by 2021 would be not unreasonable.”

The NHS hopes soon to close the interim placement unit at Montfield Hospital that will free up 800 square metres for other services, including dentistry.

They propose transferring ownership of housing and staff accommodation to the council or Hjaltland Housing Association and then leasing them back. The laundry building and its machinery is also “some years past its sensible life”.

Lamb prices “historically high”

SHEEP producers have been warned that while prices for lamb meat look healthier than they have for some time, there is no room for complacency.

Quality Meat Scotland’s head of economic services Stuart Ashworth told the National Sheep Association’s annual conference that prices had gone up due to slide in production in Europe, New Zealand and Australia.

Prices for producers should remain “historically high” due to quota and production restraints, but there remain challenges on the horizon, he said.
 
The cost of production could rise through increasing commodity prices, while consumer demand could shrink at the prospect of paying extra. The price of lamb rose by more than five per cent last year.
 
“In the longer term, and despite two spells of appalling winter weather within 2010, confidence amongst producers is better than for some time,” he said.

“Nevertheless, producer margins are still wafer thin and concerns over future policy reforms to both the single farm premium and LFASS could quickly damage this confidence.
 
“However, in the shorter term the basic supply and demand balance remains in favour of producers, the exchange rates continue to favour UK producers and there is little reason for producer prices to fall.
 
“Improved farm gate prices mean margins are better but with processor margins still under pressure and input costs rising the scale of the challenge to hold on to recent improved margins should not be underestimated.
 
“Producers have to take this opportunity to home in on their efficiency and ensure that they are well protected against future prices movements."
 

Housing associations welcome green deal

THE SCOTTISH Federation of Housing Associations has welcomed a Labour Party proposal to work with councils to insulate homes and fit them with solar panels and other renewable energy systems.

SFHA chief executive Mary Taylor said: “The SFHA welcomes any initiative that seeks to lower carbon emissions and reduce fuel poverty.

“We believe that while the challenges of climate change and fuel poverty are daunting, they also represent a significant opportunity.

“If initiatives to improve insulation and harness the potential to develop small scale renewable electricity and heat projects can be developed on a large scale then they will create much needed employment and training opportunities. The SFHA and its members are keen to assist and well placed to do so."

Liverpool woman held on drugs charge

A FORTY seven year old woman from Liverpool was remanded in custody at Lerwick Sheriff Court on Monday after she was found in possession of what police suspect to be heroin worth almost £8,000.

Lila Bernadette Cartwright, of 21 Brownings Road, Birkenhead, made no plea or declaration when she appeared from custody in private facing drugs charges and the case was continued until next week.

Cartwright was arrested on Thursday when police stopped the taxi she had hired at Sumburgh airport when it reached Gulberwick on the main A970 road to Lerwick following a tip off.

A spokesman said: “The police would like to take this opportunity to thank the public for their continued support and information in disrupting the misuse and distribution of drugs in Shetland.”

Decrofting pilot scheme

A SIX month pilot project to make it easier to build new houses on croft land could be rolled out across the crofting counties if it proves successful.

Highland Council and the Crofters Commission want to streamline the process of obtaining planning permission and decroft land so new properties can be built on crofts.

The aim is to help retain the better quality croft land and avoid conflicting decisions where planning permission for houses are granted, but decrofting refused.
 
Crofters Commission convener Drew Ratter said this was a major step forward to help preserve the better quality croft land.

“Legislation means folk will still have to submit a decrofting application to the Commission but this can be done at the same time as they lodge their planning application,” he explained.

“This will save time as the majority of the information required will be captured at the planning consultation stage. I am looking forward to seeing the results in September and hope it can then be rolled out across all local authorities in the crofting areas."
 
The pilot will cover an area stretching from Assynt in the north to Glenorchy in the south, and also take in the Isle of Skye and the Small Isles.

People submitting planning applications for a new house on croft land will be asked to complete and submit a crofting questionnaire along with their planning application to assist the process.
 
Further information will be available on the Highland Council and Crofters Commission websites at www.crofterscommission.org.uk/documents.asp  and http://www.highland.gov.uk/yourenvironment/planning/planningapplications/

Gray to integrate isles colleges

THE DIRECTOR of Shetland’s fisheries and marine college is to expand his workload by taking charge of unifying further and higher education in the islands.

On Monday Shetland Islands Council announced that marine biologist David Gray, the director of the NAFC Marine Centre, in Scalloway, would take over the additional responsibility of running Shetland College, Train Shetland and adult learning.

Councillors agreed to the joint management scheme in the wake of both Shetland College and the NAFC gaining university status as part of the University of the Highlands and Islands.

The appointment follows the retirement last year of Shetland College director George Smith and will last for three years, with a formal review after 12 months.

Professor Gray’s work will be cut out for him and his new staff as they prepare for an HMIE inspection of Shetland College next month and oversee the extension of the Lerwick campus.

He has also been tasked with enhancing the island colleges’ relationship with both the UHI and the Scottish Funding Council, and preparing options for balancing the colleges’ books for the next financial year during a period of restraint.

Shetland College chairman Andrew Hughson described Professor Gray as “a dynamic and hugely effective figure of international reputation” and said he was “uniquely placed to take on this challenging job”.

SIC executive director Hazel Sutherland said his appointment would “make further education in the isles integrated and extremely cost effective”.

She said: “This joint management arrangement is unusual and will be challenging. It does however represent a unique opportunity to try to do things differently, in response to the tightening financial climate that we all face.

“There is a real opportunity to develop the learning opportunities betweens schools and colleges, for school pupils and for adult learners. This is an area where David has significant expertise and practical experience of sharing resources across schools, colleges and other learning settings.”

Professor Gray joined the NAFC Marine Centre in December 2008 after serving as Dean of Faculty at the University of Derby in Buxton, where he was also principal of Buxton College of Further Education and chair of the High Peak and Derbyshire Dales Learning Community Strategic Group.

He said that Shetland was “the perfect location” to move to with his wife Janine and their three daughters

“I grew up in Cornwall and feel that Shetland offers the same family-orientated lifestyle and community support that I enjoyed as a child.  We very much appreciate the islands’ fantastic wildlife and environment and low crime rate.

“I value the opportunity to work towards the creation of a bright educational and economic future for these islands I now call home,” he said.

Man held over assault

A LERWICK man is being held overnight in the cells after appearing in private at Lerwick Sheriff Court facing charges of assault.

Daniel Nathan Moore, aged 40, of 10 Grostane, made no plea or declaration. He was committed for further examination and his application for bail was continued until Tuesday.

New acts for folk festival

WITH less than 10 weeks to go, this year’s Shetland Folk Festival has announced four new Scottish acts to join its international bill, including three from the different island groups.

Hot on the heels of their Celtic Connections performance, the festival organisers have booked Findlay Napier and the Bar Room Mountaineers who are said to explore the darker side of folk music and feature former Shetland drummer Paul Jennings, formerly of the Old Blind Dogs and Croft No Five.

As part of this year’s Scottish Islands celebrations, the festival has won a £9,900 grant to showcase traditional musicians from all three island groups.

Orkney will be represented by twin sisters Jennifer and Hazel Wrigley, who last appeared at the festival 19 years ago, since when they have won several national and international awards and now run a busy music school in Orkney. They will perform as Wrigley and the Reel, with accordionist Billy Peace and Ian Mackay on bass.

From Lewis in the western isles comes Eilidh Mackenzie, who became Gaelic Singer of the Year at the Trad Awards in December 2010, who will be accompanied by fiddler Gordon Gun, guitarist Marc Clement (both of Session A9) and bass player Ged Grimes.

Shetland itself will provide up and coming young multi instrumentalist Ryan Couper who will perform alongside Tim Edey, himself a master of several instruments, following the pair’s previous collaboration last November in the isles.

The travelling showcase will allow the festival to reach two new island communities, with concerts in Haroldswick, Unst, on Friday 29 April and on Fair Isle the following night. They also play in Lerwick on Thursday 28 April and come together as a 10 piece band for the Festival Foy concert on Sunday.

The festival is also to have a Norwegian theme to its opening night on 28 April as a result of the tall ship Statsraad Lehmkuhl stopping in Lerwick with music students, teachers and singers from Nordmore and Torshus Folkehøgskole.

A choir will perform at Lerwick’s St Columba’s Church while a range of bands including a shanty group will join resident session band Knerton & Co for a Norwegian night at Islesburgh’s Festival Club.

Christine Fordyce, of the folk festival committee, said they were extremely pleased to receive the funding to put on the island performers. “Organising concerts the length and breadth of Shetland is core to the festival’s ethos and it’s particularly exciting that we are able to go back to Fair Isle after a seven year gap,” she said.

Advance membership to the festival closes on Friday 25 February. Advance members will be sent their ticket booking form and membership receipts around 12 March with ticket sales for non-advance members and the general public on sale from 1April.

More information on all artistes and venues can be found at www.shetlandfolkfestival.com

Scalloway break ins

SHETLAND police are investigating two break ins that took place in Scalloway over the weekend when scratch cards were stolen from a shop and a jar of cash was taken from a hairdressers.

Police are looking for anyone who might have knowledge of the incident or have seen unusual activity in the Berry Road area between 3pm on Saturday and 2pm on Sunday to contact the station on 01595 692110 or 694544.

Unanswered questions

HOUSE of Commons transport select committee chairwoman Louise Ellman has said the inquiry into plans to “modernise” the coastguard had been called to resolve “unanswered questions”.

The committee announced on Thursday they intended to open a fresh inquiry into the Maritime & Coastguard Agency’s decision last December to close 10 of its 18 coastguard co-ordinating stations, leaving just three 24 hour operations in Aberdeen, Southampton and Dover.

The inquiry will also examine the government’s decision to abandon the £10 million a year contract to operate four emergency towing vessels around Britain’s coast and to scrap the Marne Incident Response Group (MIRG) that tackles offshore fires and chemical spillages.

The committee will not report until the summer, delaying the outcome of a consultation on the future of Lerwick, Stornoway, Belfast and Liverpool coastguard stations, which was due to end in late March.

The inquiry was called following a session on 8 February when the transport committee questioned three senior MCA officers, becoming visibly frustrated with the responses they received.

During the session, chief executive Sir Alan Massey admitted there had been no risk assessment carried out into the coastguard closure plan prior to its announcement in December, nor of the decision to scrap the MIRG.

The MCA only published a risk assessment of the closures last Friday, three days after the transport committee meeting, due to the controversy surrounding the issue.

On Thursday Ms Ellman explained that the inquiry had been called because after questioning the Sir Alan “we felt there were unanswered questions and we wanted to know more”.

The key issues they would be looking at were the reason behind selecting the stations for closure and whether an adequate risk assessment had been carried out.

“We asked him about all of these things and we felt it was worthy of a further inquiry into all of these things,” she said.

“Our inquiries are based on evidence we receive, so we would like to receive submissions by people who have got information or knowledge about this area so that the committee can consider it. I would urge anybody who has knowledge about this issue to send this written information.”

During the hearing Sir Alan said that the modernisation plans had been in “gestation” for two years, but were activated following the government’s comprehensive spending review which sought 33 per cent cross the board savings on administration costs.

The MCA is expected to save £7.5 million a year, but Sir Alan insisted that despite the closures and savings, his proposals would improve the service by using new communications technology that networked stations more effectively.

He told the committee: “It has taken the impetus of a requirement to find savings that has probably pushed us across the start line in a way that has not happened in previous administrations. So in that sense, and without being in any sense cynical, it is an opportunity. It is an opportunity to modernise.

“Just on the point of savings, a really important additional observation is that we are not saving everything that we could save from doing this. In fact, part of the package that I have put forward is deliberately configured to allow for a recycling of cash into where it needs to be, which is the remuneration of our coastguards, who, in certain contexts, I think, have been underpaid for a long time for the job that they do. So it is not as if this is driven entirely by savings. This is driven by betterment.”

He was closely questioned on the two crucial questions of local knowledge and communications, only admitting that “there are small, tiny, tiny percentiles of increased unreliability or increased risk, should I say, in Shetland and Stornoway because of the nature of their island location”.

He also insisted that every coastguard station recognised the need for modernisation, though admitted they were not all behind the methods he had chosen.

The inquiry has been widely welcomed, with government minister and northern isles MP Alistair Carmichael urging people in Shetland and Orkney to respond.

Late on Thursday, international environmental group KIMO said they were pleased the inquiry will also look at the emergency tugs and the MIRG as well as the coastguard stations.

KIMO UK spokesman Tom Piper said: “We are delighted that the transport select committee has chosen to open an inquiry into the poorly thought out proposals and the haphazard way in which the government has tried to rush them through; perhaps common sense will now prevail.”

He said the reorganisation was ill thought out and would severely effect the regions abilities to respond to maritime emergencies, that all four tugs must be kept in service to ensure that there are no gaps in the UK’s pollution prevention capabilities and that disbanding the MIRG would be remarkably short sighted as it provides an excellent forum in which maritime and shore side best practice can be improved.

Submissions to the transport select committee can be sent to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. by 26 April.

A transcript of the 8 February session can be found at http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201011/cmselect/cmtran/uc752-i/uc75201.htm

A video of the session can be found at http://www.parliamentlive.tv/Main/Player.aspx?meetingId=7625

ends

Shetland credit union by April

SHETLAND’S first credit union will open in April after a 10 year struggle to achieve accreditation.

This week the Financial Services Authority agreed to register the Shetland Islands Credit Union as a trading company.

After volunteer staff have been trained, the credit union is expected to open its doors at 8 Hillhead, Lerwick, in two months. Accounts will also be accessible through post offices and local banks.

The news was welcomed by the local branch of the Citizens Advice Bureau, which said that it might help the less well off avoid getting into debt and becoming vulnerable to loan sharks.

The credit union will allow people, including those on low incomes, to open bank accounts and borrow money at a low interest rate after saving for three months.

Membership will be restricted to adults living or working in Shetland and all deposits are covered by a national financial services compensation scheme.

Dividends for savers should be higher than bank interest rates and there are no banking fees.

Shetland Islands Council employees will be able to have money deducted from their payroll directly into the credit union.

To set up the credit union, the steering group has raised around £50,000 from the SIC, the National Lottery, European LEADER funds, Hjaltland Housing Association and Morton Lodge.

People will be invited to join by paying a £3 subscription and an annual general meeting will be held on 31 March to appoint a committee to run the organisation.

Steering group chairman Gordon Mitchell said it had been a gruelling process to gain FSA accreditation after the rules became a great deal stricter following the banking crisis of 2008.

However all credit unions are underwritten by the Scottish League of Credit Unions, which means that people’s savings will never be lost.

“This will be an excellent way of saving money safely in Shetland and it will also help a lot of people who are targeted by loan sharks for quite small amounts of money and once captured can’t escape,” Captain Mitchell said.

“Another thing is that a lot of jobs demand that you have a bank account, but major banks won’t look at you if you are a small income earner. With a credit union you only have to pay your £3 deposit and you have a bank account.”

Lerwick CAB manager Les Irving said that in may parts of the US and southern Ireland, credit unions were the “bank of choice”.

“CAB fully supports the idea of setting up a credit union because it’s an alternative form of lending with more attractive rates of interest than the bigger banks,” he said.

“The evidence from places where there are credit unions is they can destroy loan sharks, and that can only be a good thing.”

Coastguard plans “dead in the water”

SHETLAND MSP Tavish Scott has said the Maritime & Coastguard Agency’s (MCA) plans to close coastguard stations throughout the UK are “dead in the water”, following the decision by the House of Commons transport select committee to hold a fresh inquiry into the matter.

The inquiry has been widely welcomed by coastguard staff, campaigners and politicians who have been warning the MCA that they were poorly thought out and extremely dangerous.

The MCA proposed to close more than half of their 18 coastguard co-ordinating stations, reducing Scotland to just one 24 hour operation at Aberdeen.

Lerwick and Stornoway were to have to fight it out retain a daylight only service, along with Belfast and Liverpool.

However it was evidence from the MCA chiefs of staff themselves that triggered the decision to hold an inquiry, after they gave oral evidence to the committee on 8 February.

One observer said that they had rarely seen the committee chairwoman Louise Ellman so enraged by the answers she received from Sir Alan Massey, who was described as leaving the oral session with “a bloody nose”.

Mr Scott said: “This means that the MCA’s current proposals are dead in the water.

“There is no doubt that the transport committee did not find the MCA’s evidence compelling, because otherwise why would they initiated a full inquiry.”

Mr Scott added that he was very pleased the inquiry would also examine the government’s decision to end the MCA’s contract with Klyne Tugs to operate the emergency towing vessels that were introduced following the Braer oil spill, off Shetland, in 1993.

“The service provided by the tugs and the coastguard stations are essentially combined and therefore it was wrong to look at them in isolation,” Mr Scott said.

“Where the MCA’s proposals were fundamentally flawed is that they had not carried out a risk assessment of the safety of their plans.

“I have absolutely no doubt the transport committee will pore over the safety implications of their plans and therefore I believe that what is currently on the table pass any objective scrutiny.”

Shetland islands Council convener Sandy Cluness, who led a delegation of conveners from the north of Scotland to meet shipping minister over the issue last week, said he was very pleased with the decision to hold an inquiry.

“This is good news and looks like some kind of U turn. It will certainly give the government pause for thought about their proposals,” Mr Cluness said.

Save Shetland Coastguard campaigners added: "We welcome this news. It is something we have been fighting for some time now and we are delighted. This now means that the proposals will be subjected to the full, public scrutiny they deserve. We feel sure that once these proposals are thoroughly examined they will be seen as not fit for purpose.”

The transport inquiry will also examine the MCA’s plans to review the Maritime Incident Response Group that fights fires and deals with chemical spillages offshore.

Oral evidence will be gathered after Easter, with written submissions welcomed until 26 April.