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In brief for 11 June 2010

SIC go private

ONLY 12 councillors turned up to the SIC’s full meeting to discuss the authority’s submission to the Accounts Commission prior to the public hearing on 28 and 29 June.

Councillor Jonathan Wills only won the support of two councillors – Gary Robinson and Allison Duncan – when he called for the meeting to be held in public saying it looked “a bit silly…going into secret session to discuss our proposed submission to a public inquiry”.

Acting chief executive Hazel Sutherland presented members with her draft submission that had to be restricted to four pages of A4 to meet the commission’s guidelines.

After a two hour debate going through the text line by line an edited submission was agreed with dissent from a minority of councillors, some of whom are expected to make their own submissions to the hearing.

It was also agreed a delegation of office bearing councillors would attend the hearing on the authority’s behalf.

The deadline for submissions is on 14 June and they must be sent to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .  All submissions will be published online on 21 June.

 

Yachts leave Kinsale

THE RACING fleet in the Shetland Round Britain and Ireland race left Kinsale on Thursday after their mandatory stopover.

They have set off around Ireland's south west corner en route to Castlebay on Barra in the Outer Hebrides.

The leading group are a mix of multihulls and Class 40 racing yachts facing 20 knot winds from the north east.

The leading boat after the Kinsale stopover was a Class 3 Oyster, The Shed, skippered by Pip Hare and Phil Stubbs.

 

Motorcycle common sense

NORTHERN isles MP Alistair Carmichael welcomed a “blast of common sense” with the government’s decision to review motorcycle tests and test centres throughout the UK.

The introduction of a two stage motorbike test last year saw several centres close across the north of Scotland, forcing riders to travel long distances to take their test.

“This review is a welcome blast of common sense and will come as a relief to the many learner riders forced at present to travel long distances in order to take their tests.

“I would encourage any of my constituents who were affected by the new rules to consider making a submission to the Department for Transport before the consultation period closes at the end of July.”

Views can be sent to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. before 31 July.

 

Cash for post offices

THE SCOTTISH government is inviting post offices to apply to its £1 million Challenge Fund for help to diversify into new business activities to support their future.

Applications for awards ranging from £2,500 to £25,000 will be sought over the summer, following a short consultation which started on Thursday.

Enterprise minister Jim Mather said: “We want to see applications from post offices focussed on diversifying their business. Our priority is to direct funding to help sub postmasters develop their enterprise, identifying opportunities for new revenue streams such as retailing, selling different goods, or providing a business service not already available in their locality.”

The consultation runs until July 9 and can be viewed at  http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Topics/Business-Industry/support

It is anticipated that application forms will be published on July 21 with a deadline for completed applications in the autumn.


NorthLink buy local

FERRY operators NorthLink has underlined its commitment to local business by signing an agreement with wholesalers J.W. Gray & Co to be their main supplier of a wide range of products including draught beer and lager.

Gray’s director Iain Johnston said the deal was testimony to the hard work of his staff and proof local companies could outclass the counterparts on the mainland.

He added: “I would like to thank Northlink for providing this excellent opportunity to further cement links between our two companies. This deal will broaden the range of products presently on offer and passengers will now see many brands available on board ship which are comparable to those currently on sale in all Shetland and Orkney outlets.”



Whalsay factory should reopen in August

HOPES are high that 50 people on the Shetland island of Whalsay will get their fish factory jobs back in 10 weeks after the local authority yesterday (Wednesday) gave their employer a four month holiday from repaying a £600,000 loan.

Whalsay Fish Processors closed at the end of April after the world price of salmon soared due to the shortage of fish brought on by the extremely cold European winter and outbreaks of disease in Chile.

Yesterday Shetland Islands Council’s development committee agreed to the company’s request for a four month moratorium on paying back the loan, 85 per cent of which is still outstanding.

Frank Johnson, a partner in the factory’s new owners SCAF Ltd, said they were developing two new products which could give the factory a new lease of life.

He said both new products would involve importing frozen salmon and he hoped production could start in August.

“We started work on one of these in November and the other in February so we are a good piece down the road with them,” he said.

The company took over the factory last year and received a £610,000 loan from the council in July. However the business had been running at a loss due to the high price of raw material and was staring bankruptcy in the face.

“If we had not closed down we would have gone bust. There is no point in going on until you are past the point of no return,” Mr Johnson said.

SIC development committee chairman Josie Simpson said a loan holiday was the best option. “We could either put the company into liquidation and lose our investment or give them a four month window to get the company back on track.”

Mr Johnson said that he was very pleased with the council’s decision and added that the council loan was secured on the factory premises and equipment, so they faced little in the way of risk if things went wrong.

“This is very helpful indeed because it means we can retain management staff and in 10 weeks hopefully we can restart and re-employ 50 people.”

He also pointed to the success of the Yell company Shetland Norse that imports crab meat and processes it in the islands. “What we are looking at is similar but involves salmon,” he said.

The fish factory was set up 40 years ago and was the island’s largest employer.

Welcoming the news, local community council chairman David Hughson said: “The factory is critical for Whalsay because it employs so many people.

“When it was working at full capacity you were almost guaranteed a job there, anybody that left school could get a part time job there until they got something full time or students could get work during the summer months.

“It’s done wonders for the local economy in the past and I hope it gets back to that in the future.”

Renewables could fill public sector gap

SHETLAND’S private sector may have to step in to support the islands’ economy if forecasts of public sector spending cuts of up to 20 per cent come true.

Yesterday (Thursday) Highlands and Islands Enterprise chairman Willie Roe gave local councillors his stark warning during a private session at Lerwick Town Hall.

However the enterprise agency says that Shetland and the rest of the region has escaped the worst of the economic recession and there are great opportunities for the future, especially in the energy industry.

“What is clear is that Shetland has weathered the recession better than many people expected. There have been some casualties but most of the business sectors are pretty resilient,” he said.

“But I would say to all the public agencies ‘look very hard at your budgets so you don’t cut things that really matter’.

“Over the next four to five years we are quite likely to see cuts of 15 to 20 per cent and we have not seen that in most people’s lifetime. Very difficult choices will have to be made by the Scottish government and local authorities.”

Meanwhile HIE Shetland manager Stuart Robertson said one of the main challenges facing the islands in the future would be finding the people to work in the burgeoning energy industry.

If an interconnector is laid to the Scottish mainland it will open up a huge amount of potential for skilled employment, he said.

“For various reasons we seem to be in a relatively fortunate position with a lot going on over the next three or four years,” he said.

“If new industries are coming through and we are going to make the most of that you need people and investment, people with the right skills for local businesses to recruit and the question is where are these people going to come from?”

Even without an interconnector, which currently depends on the controversial Viking Energy wind farm going ahead, there will be opportunities in the renewable field, Mr Robertson said.

Orkney is already looking to Shetland for its boat handling skills to help with the marine renewables test centre. “The potential in renewables is so big that no single community will benefit,” he said.

HIE is working with the council and Promote Shetland to try and encourage more people to come to Shetland and ensure the housing is in the islands to accommodate them.

HIE has shifted its emphasis on supporting business since the SNP administration took control of Holyrood, with more work being done on supporting companies that are looking to grow and bring wealth into the region.

Mr Roe said that the organisation had also been given the clearance to raise money from other sources than the Scottish government, which it was in the process of doing.

The HIE chairman was taken on a tour of the islands, including Northmavine where he visited the Hillswick shop which was taken into community ownership last year.

“What impresses me the most here is the dedication and commitment of the volunteers, people living in this community building it up brick by brick and this shop is a really good example of that.”

In brief for 9 June 2010

Tougher safety

NEW energy secretary Chris Huhne has pledged to strengthen environmental inspections on North Sea oil rigs after the Deepwater Horizon drill rig disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.

The number of government inspectors based in Aberdeen who investigate and enforce environmental standards will rise by 50 per cent from six to nine. The government says the number of inspections will be doubled.

Mr Huhne said that the UK’s regulatory regime was fit for purpose, but added: “The Deepwater Horizon gives us pause for thought and, given the beginning of exploration in deeper waters west of Shetland, there is every reason to increase our vigilance."

Meanwhile energy minister Charles Hendry told a conference in London on Tuesday that there would be no stopping deep sea drilling west of Shetland. “Be in no doubt safety considerations will be paramount,” he said.

 

Rural cash

THE SCOTTISH government announced on Tuesday that it is to hand over more than £3 million to the northern isles under its Rural Priorities programme.

Almost 30 projects in Shetland and Orkney are to receive funding out of the £330 million pot, though the government was struggling to identify which Shetland projects had been successful by Tuesday afternoon.

 

On the blink

AROUND a dozen Shetland Islands Council sites were cut off from telephone contact on Tuesday morning after a glitch in the authority’s network system.

Staff set about solving the problem as soon as it was discovered and eventually traced it to a faulty piece of communications equipment, getting the phones back on by 1pm.

ICT manager Stuart Moncrieff said the phones went down because the network started “oscillating” as it tried to find a pathway around the faulty equipment. “It was dealt with as a top priority,” he said.

 

Intellectual assets

PUFFIN Poo heroine Gillian Ramsay who faced down supermarket giant Asda over the right to use the name will be the guest speaker at a Shetland seminar on “intellectual assets” being run by Scalloway business consultants AB Associates.

The evening seminar, to be held in ABA’s Kirk Business Centre offices on 17 June, will feature an introduction to intellectual asset management and one-to-one sessions for individual businesses and organisations.

The seminar begins at 5.30pm and includes a buffet dinner. It is free to attend and anyone interested can contact ABA on 01595 880852 or at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

The intellectual assets may include a company’s brand, patents, trademarks, design rights, copyright, database rights, trade secrets, technical info, contracts, people, contacts, accreditations and show how.

The effective management of a firms’ IA involves the process of both capturing and managing knowledge, and fully exploiting it for commercial gain.

 

Yachtsmen

SHETLAND yachtsmen Leslie Irvine and Andrew Wood made it to Kinsale in the early hours of Tuesday after a dramatic first leg of the Shetland Round Britain and Ireland Race.

The two men arrived just before 1am rowing their vessel Streamline into the busy port having raced most of Monday on 22 to 32 knot winds after setting off from Plymouth on Sunday.

The pair have two days of rest in the County Cork port before setting sail for Barra on Thursday.



Last gas to leave Sullom by sea

SHETLAND’S Sullom Voe oil terminal marks the end of an era this week with the departure of its final load of liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) on board the Norwegian tanker Clipper Sky.

LPG tankers used to visit Europe’s largest export terminal once a week during peak production in the mid 1980s, but with the decline in throughput such vessels are rare at Sullom Voe.

This summer sees the completion of terminal operator BP’s £60 million Project Aurora which has replaced miles of rusting pipework with a state of the art gas plant to deal with the 100 tonnes of gas that pass through the plant every day, down from 3,500 tonnes in 1985.

The Clipper Sky will leave Sullom Voe on Thursday with 15,000 tonnes of butane and 8,600 tonnes of propane. Terminal manager Lindsay Boswell will make a presentation to the tanker captain to mark the occasion.

The new gas plant will be fully up and running by August and a large squad of workers have been drafted in to complete the operation and remove the old pipework and flarestacks.

The new gas plant will see 40 fewer people employed at the terminal, but is expected to help keep it going for another 25 years.

Gas will be burned off in the flare stack, be re-injected into crude oil or join the Magnus EOR pipeline to help extract more oil out of old fields in the North Sea.

Toxic algae warning at Spiggie

THE APPEARANCE of a suspected toxic algal bloom on a popular loch in Shetland has led to warnings from the local authority for people to be careful.

Environmental health inspectors have taken samples from Spiggie Loch, in the south mainland, which are being tested to see if they are blue green algae.

As a precautionary measure, notices have been posted in local shops and next to the loch warning that contact with the algal scum should be avoided.

Adjoining landowners and fishing interests are also being advised of the situation, along with Scottish Environmental Protection Agency and NHS Shetland, though the local water supply has not been affected.

The algae looks like a scum of blue green paint on the surface of the loch and can lead to skin rashes, eye irritations, vomiting and diarrhoea, fever and pains in muscles and joints. Algae has also been known to kill livestock and dogs.

Whalsay wife is new crofting chair

WHALSAY wife Eleanor Arthur is the new chairwoman of the Scottish Crofters Federation.

The 47 year old crofter was appointed at the SCF’s annual general meeting in Balmacara at the weekend.

In her address to the meeting she called on more people to join the organisation to help it tackle the challenges, such as crofting reform and the future of the Common Agricultural Policy.

Ms Arthur, who lives in Brae and crofts 30 acres on Whalsay, keeps native and cross bred sheep and Shetland kye.

She has been prominent in re-establishing the Shetland cattle breed and chairs the Shetland Cattle from Shetland Breeders’ Group. She also chaired the group responsible for the production a book on the history of the breed and its place in Shetland crofting culture.

“We are going to do a big membership drive because the way things are going we need members to support the small crofters,” she said on Tuesday after a hard day’s work at the Mid Brae Inn.

We are trying to do a lot and there are so many big issues with CAP and EID which all have a really, really big effect on the small producer.

“The costs are increasing and the legislation is getting more and more. The cost of transport and feed is going up and up and up and subsidies are getting lower and lower and lower. It’s a real struggle.”

She added that it was an up-hill struggle to get crofting understood by the policy makers. “The only way I see crofters having a voice and influence in Edinburgh, London and Brussels is for them to gather together under one banner and be big enough to be heard – we need numbers,” she said.

“The SCF provides this banner and it is very heartening to see that SCF membership is increasing, that crofters are joining and so making the SCF stronger and more representative.

“My intention is that the SCF continue to listen to its membership, to represent crofters effectively, and build on the good reputation it already holds nationally and internationally.”

Fetlar’s future looking brighter

THE TIDE has turned on the Shetland island of Fetlar it seems with the population rising by almost 50 per cent in the past year.

The number of people on the island fell to an all time low of 48 last year when the Fetlar Working Group set about reversing the trend.

Their aim was to see that figure rise to 70 within five years, but in 12 months they have already beaten that target.

Local development worker Robert Thomson could offer no simple explanation for the sudden increase, saying different people had arrived for different reasons.

However he was full of praise for the council’s economic development department and the way the Fetlar Working Group has been give direct access to decisions makers within the authority and beyond.

“We have had a lot more people coming in to the island a lot sooner than we anticipated,” Mr Thomson said.

“While this is wonderful it does create certain difficulties. They are good difficulties to have but there are still things like housing that have to be sorted out.”

Direct access to senior officials in the council and NHS Shetland have helped resolve issues quickly, he said. “It’s given an immediacy to getting things done and it’s been very successful. We have really felt that when we have raised something, attention has been paid to it.”

People have been drawn to Fetlar for a variety of reasons, some seeking to escape the rat race and enjoy the quiet life on a relatively remote island.

Other people have taken the “leap of faith” to return to the island after leaving, such as Brydon Thomason who has come back with his wife Vaila and their young child to run his successful wildlife tour operation.

The new nurse on the island has three children as well, though this will not provide an immediate boost to the one pupil school that may have to turn into a nursery for next year due to the lack of children of the right age.

“We have five pre school children at the moment and I know there are other families interested in coming up, but everything depends on when that happens,” Mr Thomson said.

“I think things are looking as positive as we could have hoped for and the future is looking a way of a lot brighter than it was. I think that we have a good fighting chance now.”

Second man held on drugs charges

A LIVERPOOL man has been remanded in custody for the second time after appearing private at Lerwick Sheriff Court on Tuesday facing drug dealing charges.

David Garnett, aged 39, of Lawrence Road, Liverpool, made no plea or declaration and was fully committed for trial.

Garnett was the second Liverpool man to be arrested during a police operation at Lerwick’s Holmsgarth ferry terminal last month when Class A drugs estimated to be worth £21,500 were seized.

Thomas Mcaleavey, aged 47, of Wye Street, Liverpool, was released on bail when he appeared for the second time at Lerwick Sheriff Court last Friday. He too made no plea or declaration and was fully committed for trial.

Hot water floods hospital basement

LERWICK’S Gilbert Bain Hospital was operating normally on Tuesday after a loose valve caused hot water to flood the building’s basement on Monday night.

NHS Shetland said patient services were not affected but the hot water supply was “sporadic” during the night and some flooring in the hospital’s basement mortuary would need to be replaced as soon as possible.

Problems arose when the hot water pipe valve came loose around 9.30pm reducing water pressure throughout the hospital.

Chief executive Sandra Laurenson said that staff ensured patient care continued uninterrupted and the local fire service attended to help with the clean up operation.

“The impact on patient care was really very minimal and the clean up operation happened very quickly,” Ms Laurenson said, thanking everyone who helped.

New light shed on accounting impasse

A MAJOR stumbling block to Shetland Islands Council clearing its accounts with the outside auditors may have been removed, it emerged on Monday.

For the past four years local government finance watchdog Audit Scotland has qualified the SIC’s accounts because they are not grouped with those of the Shetland Charitable Trust.

The auditors have warned the accounts are likely to be qualified for a fifth time this year for the same reason.

This persistent qualification is one reason why the Accounts Commission is holding a public inquiry into the council at the end of this month, which will also examine events surrounding the employment of former chief executive David Clark.

Audit Scotland insist that the activities of the council and the trust are inextricably intertwined and that in effect the trust is subsidising the council, a position the SIC has always refuted.

However one major reason the accounts have not been grouped has been that the charitable trust, 21 of whose 23 trustees are also councillors, fears that this would threaten its charitable status.

At Monday’s meeting of the SIC’s audit and scrutiny committee, external audit manager Carol Hislop said the charity regulator OSCR had informed her that this fear was ungrounded.

Councillor Jonathan Wills won the support of his colleagues when he told Ms Hislop that he believed Audit Scotland did not understand the true nature of the relationship between the council and the trust.

“I think it’s ridiculous to demand the council should group its accounts with an organisation that it happens to do business with. This is partnership working and is what the government is telling us to do,” Dr Wills said.

“I think that once the true facts are known and Audit Scotland understands the true nature of the relationship between the council and the trust they will see that we are not receiving any special favours.”

In a letter to SIC finance chief Graham Johnston, Audit Scotland said that it had “evidence” that the council would fill the gap in providing services currently delivered by Shetland Arts, Shetland Amenity Trust and Shetland Recreational Trust if the charitable trust ever got into difficulty.

Mr Johnston and the council’s assistant chief executive Willie Shannon have been given the job of resolving the argument with the auditors.

There is an opinion that lifting the qualification of accounts could improve the SIC’s image with the Scottish government that might prove useful in other areas, such as obtaining government finance for social housing, where Shetland has lost out in the past year.

Armed Forces Day

SHETLAND is being invited to demonstrate its support for the military in its midst by joining in the celebrations on Armed Forces Day on Saturday 19 June.

The action starts with a memorial service to the fallen military personnel at previous conflicts to be held at the Lerwick war memorial at Hillhead opposite the town hall.

This will be followed by a parade of regular and Territorial Army soldiers, army cadets and veterans led by the Lerwick Brass Band leaving Fort Charlotte at 1pm. The route will be along Harbour Street, The Esplanade to the Market Cross before returning along Commercial Street to Fort Charlotte.

At 1:30pm there will be ceremony to raise the Armed Forces flag at Fort Charlotte which will give 105 Regiment Royal Artillery (Volunteers) the opportunity to fire their guns from the fort.

SIC convener Sandy Cluness said Lerwick was proud to be supporting Armed Forces Day. “I never tire of meeting these amazing people, young and old who thoroughly deserve to have a special day in their honour,” he said.

“I urge local people to come along to Fort Charlotte on Saturday to enjoy the activities and meet our troops and veterans - we can all learn a lot from their courage and determination.”

Lieutenant Colonel Chris Huthwaite Commanding Officer of 105th Regiment added:

“It is a real honour that the Shetland Islands Council are supporting 105 Regiment Royal Artillery (Volunteers) as the British Army’s most northerly Territorial Army Detachment to commemorate Armed Forces Day on Saturday 19 June 2010.

“We owe our existence in Lerwick since 2006, not only to the council, but to the islands community who make up the entire strength of G Troop, many of whom support the regiment’s training schedule to prepare Royal Artillery soldiers to deploy on operations to Afghanistan.”

The Shetland Armed Forces Day has been planned in collaboration with both the local Veterans Associations and the Army Cadet Force.

Police step up hunt for attacker

SHETLAND police on Monday renewed their appeal for witnesses to an assault on a lone female who was walking outside Lerwick library on Hillhead in the early hours of Sunday morning.

Police described the man they are looking for as white skinned, around five feet ten inches in height, of medium build with a square jaw, pale skin and close cropped or shaved fair hair.

He was wearing a Nike or Adidas hooded zipper top with dark Adidas tracksuit trousers and light training shoes.

The attack took place around 2.15am on Sunday morning. Anyone who was in the area at the time is asked to call the police on 01595 692110.

In brief for 8 June 2010

SIC prepares for public hearing

SHETLAND Islands Council is holding a special meeting on Thursday afternoon to discuss its submission to the public hearing being held by the Accounts Commission on 28 and 29 June.

The two day hearing at Lerwick Town Hall will hear evidence from several witnesses from inside and outside the council following a critical report into the authority by the Controller of Audit in April.

Issues under the microscope will include the qualification of the council’s accounts, the recruitment and departure of former chief executive David Clark and the way the council was managed during his tenure.

Everyone is invited to make a submission to the Accounts Commission by sending it to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or by post to Mark Brough, secretary and business manager, Accounts Commission, 18 George Street, Edinburgh EH2 2QU.

Submissions should be no more than four typed A4 pages and arrive by 5pm on 14 June. They will be published on 21 June at www.audit-scotland.gov.uk/ac/shetlandhearing

 

Lifeboat day raises £10,000

SATURDAY’S open day on Lerwick’s Victoria Pier raised £10,000 for the Royal National Lifeboat Institution, equalling last year’s record sum.

On a busy weekend in the town, more than 500 people boarded the NorthLink ferry Hrossey for the trip around Bressay that alone raised £3,500, which was successful that extra sandwiches had to be brought in by lifeboat at the back of the island.

Lerwick Ladies Lifeboat Guild president Linda Simpson thanked everyone, especially NorthLink’s staff and crew, and  said “dunking the lifeboatman” and the spectacular displays by the coastguard rescue team were especially popular.

More information on the RNLI in Lerwick can be found at www.lerwicklifeboat.shetland.co.uk

 

Road safety

JUNIOR road safety officers (JRSO) who promote road safety in 20 schools across Shetland will be giving presentations at Lerwick Town Hall on Friday 11 June, before being presented certificates and goody bags by councillor Iris Hawkins and Shetland islands Council road safety officer Elaine Skinley.


BP fears stoked

A US pressure group has called on the UK government to launch an immediate investigation into oil company BP’s five deep water platforms in the North Sea and north Atlantic.

Washington-based NGO Food & Water Watch describe BP as “a rogue company” with a “disregard for safety” following the Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

Food & Water Watch executive director Wenonah Hauter said: “Anywhere there are BP deepwater facilities, they should be scrutinised. Due to the location of the five BP operations in UK waters and the Atlantic currents, any BP disaster here would foul the entire North Sea.”

Industry body Oil & Gas UK has said that the safety regime in the North Sea and north Atlantic is far stricter than in the US following the Piper Alpha disaster in 1988.

Extra day’s in service

TEACHERS are to be given on extra day’s training in the next school year to make sure they are ready for the roll out of the new Curriculum for Excellence.

Education secretary Michael Russell is writing to all teachers on Tuesday to confirm an extra day’s training will take place between August and December. The move follows talks with teachers’ union EIS

Mr Russell said: "The extra in-service day I am giving to teachers will enable them to address specific issues in their own school. Curriculum for Excellence is about method much more than content and therefore every school will approach it differently and set its own priorities. Local authorities and HMIE will work with schools to ensure the training is designed to meet their needs.

Diesel down

SHETLAND Islands Council's vehicle fleet consumed six per cent less diesel last financial year, the authority's audit and scrutiny committee heard on Monday.

The SIC is committed to reducing its diesel usage by five per cent for each of the next four years.

During 2009/10 more than 40 tonnes of diesel were saved due to the reduction in the size of the fleet and the introduction of more fuel efficient vehicles

Head of infrastructure services, Gordon Greenhill, said making further efficiency savings in the years to come would ultimately become more difficult.

 

Flea jumps on ferry overtime bill

A SHETLAND councillor was accused of promoting depopulation and “island clearances” after he suggested reducing the inter island ferry service to a ‘nine to five’ operation in order to save money.

Shetland South councillor Allison “Flea” Duncan said he was horrified after it was revealed that the council run ferry service had run up an overtime bill of almost £730,000 last year.

He said the council could not afford to continue provided “gold plated services” and had to “cut its cloth accordingly”, adding that neighbouring Orkney was running a much more limited service to its outer isles.

But he was called to order by north isles councillor Robert Henderson who said that in retaliation he would get the road to the south mainland closed after 5pm to keep “the Flea in the Ness”.

He said any reduction in the ferry service would inevitably “empty the isles”, as the survival of communities in Yell and Unst depends on people’s ability to commute to work on the Shetland mainland.

To illustrate the vulnerability of the island communities he added that a number of families in the north isles had put their plans to build new houses on hold until they knew the outcome of the present review of the school services.

The spat came at Monday’s meeting of the audit and scrutiny committee, which heard that the amount of money spent on overtime had gone up by 15 per cent to £2.85 million.

Of all budget posts, ferries are the worst offender, followed by towage services at the port of Sullom Voe (£347,322) and roads services (£341,056).

The meeting heard that overtime among ferry crew could easily occur due to minimum crewing levels which results in overtime whenever any of the crew is not available due to compassionate leave, sickness, training, vacancies and similar.

Councillor Jonathan Wills reminded fellow members that overtime only amounted to just under three per cent of the local authority’s total wage bill of just over £98 million in 2009/10. “Some might argue the wage bill is too high,” he said.

He added: “Most of the council has very little overtime, but some areas within the SIC have a lot. It should be possible to reduce this without cutting services.”

Citing Orkney again, Mr Duncan said he wanted to explore the possibilities of transferring the inter island ferry services to a private company in order to keep the costs down.

Mr Henderson responded saying that he did not have a problem with such a move as long as the service is not eroded.

48 hour quarantine for NorthLink ferry

A SICKNESS bug that struck a coach party of holiday makers after visiting Shetland last week has forced ferry operators NorthLink to put one of their vessels in quarantine for 48 hours.

Monday night’s sailing of the Hjaltland from Aberdeen to Lerwick has been cancelled leaving 247 passengers stranded in the city until a daily shuttle service using the other ferry Hrossey kicks in on Tuesday morning.

The Hrossey will carry passengers to Lerwick from Aberdeen on Tuesday morning at 9am, arriving at 7pm without stopping as scheduled at Kirkwall. It will then depart Shetland at 9pm on Tuesday evening. The shuttle operation will continue until Wednesday evening when normal service will resume.

The disruption has been caused by an outbreak of sickness and diarrhoea that affected the first member of the 27 strong coach party from Hereford one hour after they boarded the Hjaltland in Lerwick on Friday night.

Shetland Islands Council say it was unlikely to have been caused by anything the party consumed while in the islands.

The party of mostly elderly people from the south of England had arrived in Shetland that morning on the same vessel.

The bug quickly spread and by the time the Hjaltland reached Kirkwall after five hours 11 members of the tour were confined to their cabins where they received medical assistance and advice.


By the time the boat got to Aberdeen 14 people had come down with the symptoms, but medical staff gave them the all clear to continue on their journey south while the other 400 people on board the boat were issued with advisory health leaflets.

NorthLink chief executive Bill Davidson said the ferry skipper had immediately implemented the company’s cleaning and hygiene regime designed for such situations and the Hjaltland had been subjected to a further 10 hour chemical deep clean prior to sailing for Lerwick on Saturday evening, during which the cabins used by the Hereford bus tour were unused.

However on Sunday night three members of the Hjaltland’s crew were taken ill with similar symptoms, leading NorthLink to quarantine the vessel for a further 48 hours.

Mr Davidson said: “The illness which the bus tour group seem to have brought on board with them while unpleasant is not considered to be serious.

"Passengers are being informed of the new arrangements and to them we apologise.  However in light of the fact that fresh cases of illness arose within the crew, we thought it best to err on the side of caution and to take Hjaltland out of service.”

Shetland Islands Council’s environmental health manager Maggie Dunne said that the sickness had probably been caused by a virus prior to the Yeoman Canyon Travel bus tour arriving in Shetland on Friday morning.

Ms Dunne said: “We are still waiting for the test results, but it was likely to have been a virus they were carrying when they arrived in Shetland. The symptoms began quite quickly after they boarded the boat so it would not have been caused by something they would have consumed here.”

Henry faces assault charges

A SHETLAND man charged with assaulting four people and threatening violence by presenting a knife was released on bail after appearing from custody before Lerwick Sheriff Court, on Monday.

Scott Henry, of West Burrafirth, made no plea or declaration when he appeared before honorary sheriff Eric Peterson.

The 23 year old was arrested in the west side village of Aith in the early hours of Monday after allegedly knocking a man to the ground leaving him unconscious at the village hall.

He accused of then assaulting three people at a house in the village and also threatening violence by presenting a knife at them.

Henry was also charged with being in possession of a kitchen knife in a public place, in Aith.

The case has been continued until 16 June. Henry was told not to contact or approach any of the four complainers.

Manson admits break in attempts

A THIRTY two year old Shetland man admitted attempting to break in to two separate Lerwick businesses at the weekend when he appeared from custody at Lerwick Sheriff Court on Monday.

Gregor David Manson, of Hillside, Bressay, was arrested after neighbours alerted the police at around 2.30am on Sunday morning.

Manson pled guilty to two charges of attempting to break in with intent to steal at Burgess Garage, Holmsgarth, and the Staney Hill shop, Norstane.

Procurator fiscal Duncan Mackenzie said police found a bag with tools such as a crowbar and hammer when they attended the scene at Burgess Garage. Manson was soon found hiding in a coal bunker nearby.

Defending, solicitor Tommy Allan said his client was unemployed and had very little money.

He said that at the time breaking into these businesses seemed like a good idea to his client, but added that after a weekend in the cells Manson very much regretted what he had done.

Honorary sheriff Eric Peterson asked for social enquiry, community service and restriction of liberty reports and deferred sentence until 7 July.

Manson was released on bail but was put under curfew seven days a week between 8pm and 7am. He was told that he had to answer the door to any police officer during that time.

Four snapped chains caused collapse

FIVE days of disruption on the Yell ferry a month ago was caused by four steel chains simultaneously snapping on the terminal linkspan at Toft, council engineers reported on Thursday.

The linkspan collapsed on 28 April as the stand in ferry Fivla berthed at Toft in a low tide, trapping the ferry beneath its 78 tonne frame with 12 cars and 40 passengers on board.

The failure threw Shetland’s busiest ferry service into turmoil with ferries diverted to Vidlin, an extra hour’s journey away.

Reporting to Shetland Islands Council’s inter island ferries board on Thursday, transport manager Ken Duerden said that despite speculation to the contrary, the linkspan had been operating within its design limits.

Quayside experts had believed that the device had been stretched beyond its range by handling a small ferry when the tide was low, but Mr Duerden said this was not the case.

SIC ferries engineering superintendent Winston Brown explained that four steel “preventer” chains supporting the linkspan had snapped simultaneously. An investigation is ongoing to find out why this happened.

The incident caused Mr Brown’s department a huge headache because the islands do not have a crane large enough to lift such a huge piece of equipment.

“The linkspan weighed 78 tonnes and there wasn’t a crane available in Shetland with that lift capacity and two cranes couldn’t be used because there wasn’t enough room.

“We had to find a way to support the seaward side of the linkspan so we utilised the Dagalien ferry, putting the bow under the linkspan. We secured it with chains and used its buoyancy to lift the linkspan back onto its bearings,” Mr Brown explained.

He said that to hire in special lifting equipment would have added an extra 10 days to the job. “We didn’t think that was acceptable and we needed a more rapid solution than that,” he said.

The collapse caused chaos as the service struggled to inform passengers of emergency timetables and efforts were made to tie in public transport with the temporary service put in place.

A folk festival concert on Yell and a wedding on Whalsay added to the pressure as extra vessels were drafted in to cope.

Mr Duerden said the linkspans at Toft, Ulsta on Yell and Hamars Ness on Fetlar had since been modified to ensure there was no repeat of the incident.

He said the full cost of the repairs, the modifications and the extra service that had to be laid on had not been fully calculated, but it was “significant”.

The cause of the chains snapping is still subject to an investigation involving the council, its insurers, civil engineers and the linkspan’s designers.

North Isles councillor Laura Baisley praised the ferry department for tackling the problem in such an imaginative way.

“I think they did a remarkable job to deal with an unusual situation and used their engineering ingenuity to get the job done quickly,” she said.

Mr Duerden said that the council had learned several lessons from the incident about setting up an emergency timetable which could dovetail in with existing public transport, and how to effectively communicate with the travelling public.

He added that alterations were being made to the Holmsgarth ferry terminal in Lerwick where the NorthLink ferries dock to allow the Yell ferries Daggri and Dagalien to use the linkspan.

One of the major concerns during the five day incident was that farmed and caught fish would not reach the southbound ferry in time to get to market while still fresh.

“Last week we discovered that we can’t discharge large vehicles at the Lerwick linkspan so we are going to look at configurations so that we can in future.”

Belmont book launch

A Shetland charity is celebrating the near completion of an ambitious 15 year long restoration project with the publication of a lavishly illustrated book this weekend.

Back in 1996 the people behind the Belmont Trust embarked on one of the most important restoration projects in Scotland and the most authentic and thorough project of its kind ever undertaken in Shetland.

Belmont House, on the island of Unst, was built in 1775 but had decayed badly and was close to collapse when a small group of islanders realised its unique status and acquired it from its Edinburgh owner for £5.

The house has been described as one of Scotland's undiscovered gems. An A-listed building set in a designed landscape, it is the most ambitious and least altered classical ensemble of its kind in the north of Scotland, and forms a perfect whole in an unspoiled natural setting.

When the £1 million plus restoration project started much of the original interior remained.

The evidence of the 1775 work has enabled a complete restoration using the same techniques as were used when the house was built, replicating the original timber detailing and paint colours.

In 2007, the Belmont Trust won the award for best restoration of a Georgian Country House in Britain.

As the completion of the restoration of Belmont House approaches this summer the trust is publishing a book on the project written and designed by trustees Wendy Scott and Mike Finnie.

The book will be launched in the Shetland Museum and Archives on Saturday 5 June from 2pm until 4pm.

New energy minister to visit isles

THE UK’s new secretary for energy and climate change, Chris Huhne, is to visit Shetland this summer.

Mr Huhne has promised to take up an invitation from party colleague and northern isles MP Alistair Carmichael to visit Shetland to discuss crucial issues such as plans to develop renewables in the isles, including strengthening the grid and reducing transmission charges.

Mr Carmichael said the Eastleigh MP recognised the importance Shetland plays for the UK’s energy industry and hoped to travel north before the end of July.

“Though Chris has been a friend and colleague of mine for many years, this was our first official meeting since he took up his new role,” the LibDem chief whip said.

“His willingness to listen to the concerns I raised was a refreshing change from the attitude of the last government to the needs of people in Orkney and Shetland.

“It was clear that he shares my commitment to supporting the energy industry in the northern isles.

“With the coalition government committed to boosting renewable power and development of the west of Shetland gas fields now underway, the changes we are seeing in the UK energy industry are a fantastic opportunity for Orkney and Shetland.

“The northern isles will be at the heart of this vital sector for many years to come.”

 

In brief for 4 June 2010

Good reputation

THE ROYAL National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) is the charity with the finest reputation in the UK, according to the Reputation Institute, a company that works with corporate businesses on improving their public profile.

For the first time in its history, the institute has measured the reputation of national charities and the lifeboats came out top with the highest ever score of 95.1.

Unlike other charities, the RNLI does not accept government funding and depends entirely on donations, fundraising and legacies to cover its annual revenue cost of £170 million.

The reputation research put the RSPCA in second and the British Red Cross in third place.

 

Black holes

What are gravitation and relativity? What are black holes, how do they form and what do they do to space and time? And what do all these have to do with our existence?

These are some of the questions Professor John Brown, the Astronomer Royal for Scotland, will attempt to answer during a talk he will deliver on 18 June in the NAFC Marine Centre, in Scalloway, starting at 7.30

To book a place, contact Paul Bendix at the Shetland Astronomical Society, email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. Entry is £2, pay at the door.

 

Bressay refit

THE Bressay ferry Leirna will be on her annual refit as of Sunday evening, when the smaller Fivla will take over the service until the end of the month.

 

Gunilla returns

THE Swedish sail training ship Gunilla will be making a return visit to Scalloway harbour next week.

While in port from Monday to Friday she will be open to the public on Tuesday afternoon between 3.30pm and 5.30pm.

The three-masted, square-rigged ship of around 60 metres in length made her first visit to Scalloway in 2008, returning again last year.

On board are a group of marine biology and navigation/engineering students who will hear presentations by staff from the NAFC Marine Centre during their week in port.

 

New brains for aquaculture industry

The NAFC Marine Centre has this week welcomed two new staff members to fill the posts of Aquaculture Research Scientist and Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP) Research Associate.

Both positions join the aquaculture research section in the centre's marine science and technology department and will fulfil specific roles.

Dr Clive Talbot, who started work on 1 June as aquaculture research scientist, is in the process of moving to Shetland from Fort William where he worked for almost three years as a self employed consultant.

The 56 year old has an international reputation, both in academia and the aquaculture industry as an authority on fish biology and fish farming operations, including competence in nutrition, husbandry and environmental issues.

After being awarded his PhD in 1980 by the University of Aberdeen, Dr Talbot worked for 12 years at Freshwater Fisheries Laboratory in Pitlochry before joining Nutreco Aquaculture Research Centre in Stavanger, Norway as senior researcher.

In 2001, he joined the Marine Harvest Technical Centre, also in Stavanger, as technical manager where he worked for six years.

"I see this as a great opportunity to develop teaching and R&D activities for the aquaculture sector.  I hope to bring in and manage research projects, as well as developing and teaching sector specific courses.

"It has always been a personal ambition to take my collected experience of academia, and pure industry research, and put something back into industry through working in a higher education institution or government policy/advisory role.

“This post was an ideal opportunity for me to help support the aquaculture industry in general and Shetland in particular.  This role also gives me the chance to pass on some of the knowledge and experience I've gained over the years to the new generation of students and workers coming into the industry,” he said.

Dr Talbot is joined in the aquaculture development section by 27 year old Noelia Rodriguez as Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP) research associate.

Originally from Spain, Noelia worked as a fish monitor and sampler of tuna at the Spanish Institute of Oceanography for three years before moving to Shetland in 2008.

She has since worked as a laboratory technician and benthic trainee taxonomist with Shetland Seafood Quality Control (SSQC) before taking up the new post. She has also been studying towards a degree in biology at the University of Oviedo in Spain.
She said: "Over the next two years I will investigate and develop the practical aspects of the use of Ballan wrasse as cleaner fish for the biological control of sea lice on farmed salmon.

“Sea lice are acknowledged as one of the major concerns industry currently faces in these financially challenging times. 

"This applied research project will involve monitoring sea lice abundance on actual commercial salmon housed with 'cleaner fish' within a sea-based trials site in Shetland.”

 

Tag starts when the power’s back on

A SHETLAND woman who returned to the islands after trying to start a new life in England was ordered to stay at home every night after admitting she stole two bracelets from a shop in Lerwick last July while on bail.

Sentence on 23 year old Laura Nelson for the thefts from Clocktower Cards, at the Toll Clock shopping centre, on 20 July last year had been deferred while she was on probation for breaking into a shop in Mossbank on 16 March last year and stealing a range of goods and cash.

However after breaching her probation three times, Sheriff Graeme Napier decided to tag Nelson for the stealing the bracelets, forcing her to stay at 9 Burgadale, in Brae, from 7pm to 6am every night.

Before the sentence can be imposed, Nelson will have to reconnect the electricity which was cut off while she was out of the islands.

She was also fined a total of £450 for breaching probation, which was changed to an 80 hour supervised attendance order as she was unlikely to be able to pay the fines.

Sheriff Napier warned Nelson that her probation would be reviewed after three months. “This really is your last chance. You have been given umpteen opportunities and you will end up in prison at this rate.”

New benefit a “disaster”

SHETLAND’S Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) has revealed how a new and controversial welfare benefit is causing misery and distress for hundreds of sick and disabled people in the isles.

The Employment & Support Allowance (ESA) was introduced 18 months ago to replace Invalidity Benefit to help more sick and disabled people into work.

But Shetland CAB manager Les Irving said on Wednesday that in reality the new benefit was failing some of the most vulnerable people in the community.

The national organisation is now calling for a review of the ESA system.

“The Employment and Support Allowance has been a complete disaster for many sick and disabled people in this area,” Mr Irving said.

“For one thing, there are huge delays and administrative problems, so people’s payments are often late.

“But even worse than that is the high number of claimants who are told they are ‘fit for work’ when in reality they can often barely walk or even stand up.”

He added that most people on benefit were not “scroungers” but had worked for many years and paid tax into the welfare system.

Mr Irving said that nine out of ten appeals against ESA decisions had been successful, but were taking up a lot of office time that was not available to help other clients.

“Over about the past 12 months we have lodged 33 ESA appeals here, 65 per cent of all our appeals.

“A total of 20 cases are still pending, many for over six months, which suggests the tribunal system is in difficulty if not actually in meltdown. Of the remaining 13, we withdrew three appeals, nine were successful and one was lost.

“Of those appeals actually heard this gives us a 90 per cent success rate.

“So we are calling for the whole ESA to be reviewed. We need a benefits system that treats people fairly and with dignity. Certainly local people here deserve nothing less,” he said.