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Doing a ton on the Tingwall straight

A BRAE woman has been banned from driving for nine months after police followed her at 100mph along the islands' main trunk road.

Lerwick Sheriff Court heard that unemployed 22 year old mother Sheryl Lyn Odie, of Ladies Mire, had sped off as police drove up behind her on the main A970 at Tingwall, commonly referred to as the “Tingwall straight”.

Procurator fiscal Duncan Mackenzie said the police followed her for a third of a mile just before midnight on 22 September last year during which she drove her friend’s Ford Focus “more or less 100 miles per hour”.

Sheriff Graeme Napier fined her £300 and said that as this was not her first speeding offence she would have to re-sit her test.

Unemployed 34 year old Stuart Anderson, of 31 Ladies Drive, Lerwick, was also disqualified after police stopped him for minor issues with his vehicle on the town’s Cairnfield Road, only to find that he was a little over the drink driving limit.

Defence agent Tommy Allan said that Anderson had stormed out after an argument with his girlfriend and “in a moment of madness” stepped behind the wheel of his car on 12 October.

After hearing he had recently been made redundant, Sheriff Napier converted any potential fine into a 75 hour community work order, as well as banning Anderson for 18 months.

Meanwhile Polish hospital worker Tomasz Bujok, aged 35, of 10 Gardie Lane, Lerwick, was fined £300 and given four penalty points for driving at 48mph in a 30mph zone on Lerwick’s Holmsgarth Road on 21 October.

The same sentence was dealt out to Aberdeen man Christopher Morrice, aged 30, of 2 Hillside, Port Lethen, who was caught driving at 56mph in a 30mph zone on 23 November in Brae.

Young drug smuggler faces jail

A YOUNG Shetland woman faces a prison sentence after pleading guilty to smuggling heroin worth more than £4,000 into the islands, when she appeared at Lerwick Sheriff Court on Wednesday.

Twenty year old Mhairi-Claire Rose Stewart, of 57 King Harald Street, Lerwick, admitted concealing the Class A drugs inside her body when she was arrested at the town’s Holmsgarth ferry terminal on 22 September last year.

Procurator fiscal Duncan Mackenzie said the drugs weighed just over 30 grammes and had a street value of £4,200.

Releasing her on bail, sheriff Graeme Napier deferred sentence for four weeks saying that as this was Stewart’s first offence and she was likely to go to jail, he had by law to order a social enquiry report.

Court hears of fish dumping practice

THE MASTER of a Whalsay fishing vessel became involved in a multi-million pound scam because he could not bear to throw dead fish back into the sea, it was claimed in the High Court in Edinburgh on Wednesday.

Skipper George Anderson, aged 55, who first went to sea as a cook in 1977, found the practice of dumping under-sized herring and mackerel "repugnant", according to defence advocate Mark Moir.

Anderson, of Harbour View, Symbister, is one of 17 skippers before the High Court this week.

They are facing heavy fines for breaching European Union quotas and illegally landing "black fish" worth more than £40 million at the pelagic fish processing plant Shetland Catch, in Lerwick.

Judge Lord Turnbull is expected to sentence the fishermen in Glasgow at the end of next month, but first he is hearing pleas for leniency on their behalf.

Mr Moir told how there was a practice of dumping fish at sea if they were not up to standard.

"Anderson found this a repugnant activity and didn't do so. As a result of that, what he found himself doing was arriving back at dock with excess fish he had caught."

Anderson, the skipper of the pelagic trawler Adenia, landed some of his catch illegally because he did not want the low value fish to eat into his quota, the court heard.

"I do not suggest that lessens the seriousness of what Anderson has done or in any way say that exculpates him,” the defence advocate added.

The lawyer described Anderson as a respected member of the fishing community who deeply regretted becoming involved.

Even after the discovery of the illegal landings, the government agency Marine Scotland still asked him to skipper their ship sailing in the North Sea to check fish stocks.

Anderson, whose earnings last year were close to £100,000, has already been ordered to hand over £40,700 to strip him his of the profits resulting from his part in the scam.

Advocate depute Peter Ferguson QC, prosecuting, disputed Anderson's version of the industry-wide dumping of small fish.

He said that regulations demanded skippers land the whole of their catch, regardless of size and value, as long as they still had quota left.

All the skippers passing through the High Court in Edinburgh this week landed their illegal catches - valued at more than £40 million - at Shetland Catch.

The court has heard that officials of the Scottish Fisheries Protection Agency (now part of Marine Scotland) monitored catch sizes on computer screens at Shetland Catch, which had been altered to show lower weights.

The true size of the landings of mackerel and herring were shown in an engineer's room where the officials did not go.

A search of the firm's books revealed discrepancies in their figures.

The skippers caught as a result of Operation Sea Dog have admitted breaching the Sea Fishing (Enforcement of Community Controls Measures) (Scotland) Order of 2000 and the Fisheries Act 1981. Offences were committed between 2002 and 2005

The penalty laid down by law is an unlimited fine, but the skippers cannot be jailed.

Brian Horne

Police seize cannabis worth £30,000

POLICE in Shetland have seized cannabis with an estimated street value of £30,000 following the search of a house in Walls, on Tuesday afternoon.

A police spokesman said on Wednesday afternoon that enquiries were ongoing and that contrary to a previous police statement, no one was arrested during the “intelligence led” operation .

A report will be made to the procurator fiscal in Lerwick.

Port celebrates successful year

Lerwicj harbour enjoyed a steep rise in oil-related traffic during 2011 - Photo: LPALERWICK Port Authority has reported a successful year with significantly increased traffic from the offshore oil and gas sector using the harbour’s deep water facilities.

Other business such as the number of passengers going through the port, the volume of cargo handled and the value of fish landed also rose.

Port chief executive Sandra Laurenson said the strong performance last year underpinned positive signs for 2012.  

“While all these sectors have their particular challenges, we are cautiously optimistic that offshore-related activity will be sustained, particularly through project support.

“There are already more than 50 cruise ships booked to visit and there has been a good start to the year for white fish landings.

“We continue to invest in the development of the port to maximise current activities and new opportunities – the latter including future decommissioning of offshore installations, both topsides and subsea,” she said.

Figures for 2011, released on Tuesday, show that, compared with 2010:

  • there were 5,422 vessel arrivals, up 1.5per cent, with the tonnage of vessels at 11.2 million gross tonnes up 15 per cent;

  • the offshore oil and gas industry accounted for 571 arrivals, up 55 per cent, with the 1.98 million gross tonnes a rise of 55 per cent;

  • pilotage movements rose 15.5 per cent to 1,212, with 7.1 million gross tonnes of vessels piloted, up 13.6 per cent;

  • cargo increased four per cent to 880,099 tonnes, including 99,213 tonnes of oil-related shipments, up 60per cent.

There was also an increase of 1.2 per cent in passengers to 160,467, with ferry passengers up by 1.5 per cent to 129,720, and cruise passengers remaining steady at 30,747.

Total fish landings at 65,659 tonnes were valued at £80.9 million – down 19 per cent on volume and up 18 per cent on value.

Landings of white fish at 9,053 tonnes were valued at £16.8 million - down 5.8 per cent on volume and up seven per cent on value, with the average per tonne rising 13.8 per cent to £1,857.

Pelagic fish was down 20 per cent on tonnage and up 21.6 per cent by value, due to no blue whiting being landed in 2011 and a reduced volume of mackerel landed, offset by very high mackerel prices.  Herring landings were up in both tonnage and value.

Local MSYP on award shortlist

MSYP Emily Shaw.A YOUNG woman from Shetland is among five budding parliamentarians shortlisted for the Scottish Variety Awards Best Up and Coming Scottish Politician of the Year 2012.

Emily Shaw, from Lerwick, has been representing young Shetlanders as their member of the Scottish Youth Parliament since March 2011.

The 18 year old also the youth parliament’s representative on the Commission for Rural Education, which is examining how rural education can maximise the life chances of young people in the country’s remoter areas.

She regularly joins Shetland Islands Council delegations visiting Edinburgh to lobby parliament or the Scottish government.

Recently she was a member of a six strong council delegation that met with housing minister Keith Brown to discuss the high level of fuel poverty in the isles.

Ms Shaw said she felt privileged to have been nominated after a comparatively short time in the youth parliament.

“The Scottish Youth Parliament is a brilliant organisation and to be nominated for doing work which I enjoy so much is fantastic,” she said.

The Scottish Variety Awards are being sponsored by the Herald newspaper and Radio Clyde 1. Other categories at the awards are best Scottish actor or actress, best Scottish comedian and best new Scottish venue.

Voting takes place online via www.clyde1.com/sva

The winners will be announced during a “spectacular evening of glitz and glamour” at Glasgow’s Crowne Plaza hotel, on 24 March.

Cash taken in double break in

THIEVES who broke into two buildings in Lerwick on Monday night and stole money have sparked a police investigation.

Police say that less than £100 was taken in cash from the Christian Book Shop, on Market Street.

Attempts to break into a safe at the offices of Shetland Islands Council’s social work department, on Fort Road, failed. However staff reported that two mobile phones and about £80 in cash that had been collected for a colleague who was leaving were stolen.

Police are not ruling out the possibility the two incidents are connected and are asking witnesses to make contact at Lerwick police station on 01595 692110 or anonymously at Crimestoppers on 0800 555111.

Judge asks were skippers not just greedy?

SKIPPERS involved in a multi-million pound black fish scam in Lerwick were greedy criminals, a judge suggested.

However their lawyers said that the two skippers represented in court on Tuesday had paid tax on their illegal earnings and were worse off as a result of their actions.

The High Court in Edinburgh is currently hearing pleas for leniency by 17 fishing boat masters caught by Operation Sea Dog.

They face heavy fines next month after admitting landing catches of mackerel and herring at the Shetland Catch factory, at Gremista, which were far in excess of EU quotas.

On Tuesday it was the turn of two masters of the Fraserburgh-registered Enterprise - 51 year old Victor Buschini, of Cuckoos Nest, Kiln Lane, Hambleton, Poulton Le Flyde, Lancashire and 53 year old Hamish Slater, of 8 Strichen Road, Fraserburgh.

Their haul of illegally landed fish was valued at £7.2 million between January 2002 and March 2005.

The hearing prompted an exchange between judge Lord Turnbull and defence QC Gordon Jackson for Buschini, after the lawyer revealed he was earning around £160,000 a year.

Mr Jackson added: "This law abiding citizen was to do something that was the industry norm."

The black fish money was going through the books and being taxed. "A unique situation," said Mr Jackson.

Lord Turnbull said that even after being caught and subjected to quota deductions to make up for their over-fishing, the skippers were still making "a handsome living”.

"What must it have been like when they were under-declaring? Why was there a need to make that much money?" the judge asked.

He added: "It doesn't seem that far from other criminal conduct. I am not suggesting it is as morally reprehensible as all that but, when it comes to it, is it not just greed?"

Mr Jackson replied that because of the confiscation of the illegal profits and the cut in quotas and the costs involved, Buschini and the other skippers had come out losers.

"Every penny has been paid back. They shot themselves in the foot," he said.
"They have ended up a lot worse off than had they not done it in the first place."

The lawyer added: "They have come out of it very badly at the end of the day."

Solicitor advocate Brian Fitzpatrick, defending Slater, said the skippers had suffered because their catches were restricted at a time when prices were soaring.

Mackerel had gone from £400 a tonne in 2005 to an all time high of £1,100 a tonne.
He said there was also resentment in the industry because Iceland and the Faroe Islands - outside EU rules - had massively increased their landings - by 6,500 per cent in the case of Iceland.

The EU rules which the skippers had broken were supposed to be a conservation measure, he said. "If everyone stuck to international agreements there would be no threat to fish stocks.”

Mr Fitzpatrick said the combination of his share of the catch and the profits from the company which owned the Enterprise had given Slater earnings of £320,000 in 2010.

All the skippers passing through the High Court in Edinburgh this week landed their illegal catches - valued at more than £40 million - at Lerwick-based Shetland Catch Limited.

The court has heard that at Shetland Catch officials of the Scottish Fisheries Protection Agency monitored catch sizes on computer screens which had been altered to show lower weights.

The true size of the landings of mackerel and herring were shown in an engineer's room where the officials did not go.

The skippers involved have admitted breaching the Sea Fishing (Enforcement of Community Controls Measures) (Scotland) Order of 2000 and the Fisheries Act 1981. Offences were committed between 2002 and 2005.

The penalty laid down by law is an unlimited fine, but the skippers cannot be jailed.

The first guilty pleas were heard in August 2010. Since then the skippers and their legal teams have been involved in negotiations with prosecutors which have led to a total of £3 million being confiscated as illegal profits.

The level of fines is expected to be announced in Glasgow at the end of next month.
On Monday six skippers from Whalsay were represented in court. The hearing continues.

Brian Horne

Police warn of icy roads

POLICE in Shetland are warning drivers to take care on the roads on Tuesday morning, saying conditions are treacherous following rain and sleet showers overnight.

A spokesman said: “Conditions are deceptive and some roads which appear to be wet are actually affected by sheet ice.”

Black landings industry-wide practice

VETERAN fishing boat skipper has claimed the Scottish pelagic fishing industry has been singled out for punishment as 17 Shetland and Northeast skippers are facing tough fines for illegally landing black fish worth more £40 million.

In the High Court in Edinburgh on Monday, QC Murdo Macleod, defending 66 years old David Hutchison, of Hillhead, Symbister, argued that landing overquota mackerel and herring was an industry-wide practice, and not restricted to the group of fishermen before Lord Turnbull this week.

Prosecutors have already clawed back almost £3million by confiscating illegal profits, while the Scottish pelagic industry agreed a quota payback scheme with the European Commission, a few years ago.

Before Lord Turnbull will impose any fines, the fishermen's lawyers have an opportunity to argue for leniency. The penalty laid down by law is an unlimited fine but the skippers cannot be jailed.

Mr Macleod said his client regretted his part in the industry-wide practice.

He said Hutchison first went to sea 52 years ago and had been a skipper since 1969 and was master of the Charisma.

Mr Macleod said his client had also played a prominent role in the industry, and as vice chairman of the Scottish Pelagic Fish Association (SPFA) had taken part in national and international negotiations.

The scam had grown in size during years when quotas were more stringent and there was more competition, said Mr Macleod. All the boats sailing from Whalsay began illegally landing extra fish.

The lawyer went on to explain how those involved in this week's hearings landed their herring and mackerel at processing plant Shetland Catch, based in Gremista, Lerwick.

The factory has pled guilty for its part in the operation but is not yet due before the court for sentencing.

Mr Macleod said: "A further factor was a desire by the accused to support the processing plant in Shetland when higher prices were being paid in Norway and Denmark making landing in Shetland less attractive. The only way to land in Shetland was to land larger quantities of fish."

Boats from both Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic had escaped prosecution, the QC claimed.

"Hutchison feels an acute sense of comparative injustice. Not because he is being punished, more because others who broke the rules have escaped any penalties,” he said.

Mr Macleod added that the Shetland-based skippers resented competitors from Iceland and the Faroe Islands setting their own quotas because they were not part of the European Union.

The court also heard, once the "black fish" had been sold there was no attempt to hide the profits from the tax man.

Solicitor advocate Murray Macara QC, for Robert Polson, aged 48, of 17 Breiwick Road, Lerwick, told the judge: "I must make it clear, my lord, the income Polson has declared is income on both white and black fish."

Solicitor advocate Liam O'Donnell, for Thomas Eunson, aged 56, of Westwinds, Symbister, said the purpose behind the quotas was conservation but stocks of herring and mackerel in UK waters were at satisfactory levels.

Also in court on Monday were Allen Anderson, aged 55, of Solvei, Symbister; John Irvine, aged 68, of Braeside, Symbister and Allister Irvine, aged 63, of Karinya, Symbister.

The skippers involved have all admitted breaching the Sea Fishing (Enforcement of Community Controls Measures) (Scotland) Order of 2000 and the Fisheries Act 1981.

The hearings continue.

Brian Horne

Sentence deferred after assault

SENTENCE on a young man from Scalloway was deferred until later this week after he pled guilty to assaulting his partner in Lerwick’s Commercial Street, on Friday.

Appearing from custody before Lerwick Sheriff Court on Monday, Andrew Steven Cumming, of 24 Gibblestone Court admitted assaulting the woman by kicking her repeatedly and dragging her across the street from where she fell down a flight of stairs, all to her injury.

Sentence on the twenty one year old was deferred to allow social workers time to carry out an assessment on whether Cumming is suitable for unpaid work.

He is due to re-appear before sheriff Graeme Napier on Wednesday. He was released on bail.

In another case, Scott Anderson, of Kirkabister, Bressay, made a second appearance before the court on charges of housebreaking, theft, attempted theft and possession of cannabis resin, a Class B drug.

The 21 year old pled not guilty to the charges which are alleged to have taken place on 25 December 2011 and 14 January this year.

Trial date was set for the 23 February and Anderson was remanded in custody.

A fine night to see the northern lights

Sunday night's northern lights - Photo: Chris BrownMANY islanders were able to enjoy a spectacular display of the northern lights on Sunday night after the news of the Merry Dancers being out spread via phone and social media sites.

The Aurora Borealis display lasted from at least 6.30 to 11pm. Many thanks to Shetland News reader Chris Brown who sent in this photo taken from Trondra.

Also thanks to Allen Wishart who sent in these images taken from Wester Quarff,

 
and to Frances Taylor, Jane Evans, Wendy Inkster and Ross Mackenzie who e-mailed the following photos:

Northern lights from Walls - Photo: Frances Taylor Last night's Aurora Borealis from the Kergord junction - Photo: Jane Evans
from Burra... - Photo: Wendy Inkster ... and from Virkie - Photo: Ross Mackenzie

 

Please send your pictures to news@shetnews.co.uk or text them to 07775 564513.

Economic growth without interconnector

THE SCOTTISH government has announced the designation of a ‘low carbon/renewable energy enterprise area’ in the north of the country, which includes two sites in Orkney but none in Shetland.

The development has been described as “not of great concern” by Shetland Islands Council director for development services Neil Grant, as Shetland would not be able to contribute much without an interconnector cable.

Mr Grant also said Shetland continued to enjoy a healthy economy with the oil and gas sector as well as the seafood industry doing particularly well.

He said that by creating enterprise areas the government was channelling financial support to regions most in need of help.

Last week cabinet secretary for sustainable growth John Swinney announced the creation of four such areas, two of which are focussing on renewables, while the other two concentrate on manufacturing and life sciences.

The north area includes a five hectare site at the Hatston pier, in Kirkwall, a site at Lyness, in Orkney, currently under construction and due to support the assembly, storage and servicing of marine energy devices, Scrabster as well as the Arnish (western isles) and Nigg yards.

The sites are all designed to service the emerging marine energy as well as the offshore wind industries.

Mr Grant said: “I think if we were sitting here with an interconnector we would have been included.

“If and when we get an interconnector, business will automatically migrate in our direction. What the government is trying to do here is to assist areas that are arguably most in need of assistance.

“Shetland can still benefit immensely from this if the government investment in these areas works correctly. However, not having an interconnector prevents us from being a significant player; that’s the reality,” Mr Grant said.

He went on to say that thanks to the work of Lerwick Port Authority and others Shetland was already well placed to attract new business in the emerging oil and gas decommissioning sector.

And he referred to analysis by Inverness based economist Tony Mackay who in his latest monthly report described the Total gas plant, currently under construction near the Sullom Voe terminal, as one of the main drivers for economic growth in Shetland.

“We are very fortunate in having the west of Shetland oil and gas opportunities, and clearly, there will be further significant investment not only by Total and BP, but also other companies,” Mr Grant said.

And he added: “Six years ago seafood was three times as big as the oil and gas sector in terms of impact on the economy.”

The council’s development department currently awaits the outcome of a so-called ‘input-output’ study, carried out by Aberdeen University every six years.

In 2006, the study found that the isles had generated a £60 million net surplus for government coffers.

Council wins legal case against HIAL

THE COURT of Session has on Friday ruled in favour of Shetland Islands Council in the dispute over who is liable for fixing the crumbling Sumburgh airport runway extension.

Last week, airport operator Highlands and Islands Airports Limited said it was seeking £2.5 million from the council for urgent runway repairs.

In 2006, HIAL and the SIC worked together on the £10million extension to the runway, with the council designing and managing the works.

However, since then parts of the east side of the extension, exposed to vicious winter storms, have eroded due to the onslaught of the elements, and are in need of major engineering work.

After a judicator had ruled the council was liable to pay for the works, managing director Inglis Lyon was confident HIAL would win the case in the Court of Session.

But on Friday, Lord Menzies ruled in favour of Shetland Islands Council saying the previous adjudication decision was unenforceable as it had arisen from a breach of natural justice. 

A council spokesman said: “The council was the designer of the runway and is confident that at all times fulfilled its obligations to HIAL.

“When the runway was being procured, budget limitations meant that HIAL had to accept a higher ongoing maintenance obligation for the runway rather than a much higher initial capital expenditure.

“In more recent times HIAL has refused to accept that this compromise had been reached.”

Mr Lyon was not available for comment on Friday afternoon. Instead HIAL put out the following short statement: “HIAL has received the decision today and will be reviewing the available options over the next two or three days.”

The SIC added that it was satisfied with the outcome, and remained committed to finding an amicable solution to the situation, “as it cannot be in the public interest for it to continue”.

The spokesman added: “Contrary to the earlier reports, Shetland Islands Council engaged with HIAL at length and we had earlier worked very well together in the design, procurement and construction of the runway.

Lord Menzies’ ruling can be found at:
www.scotcourts.gov.uk/opinions/2012CSOH12.html

Meridian Salmon to return to Uyea isle

MERIDIAN Salmon Group have praised islanders for their ‘can do’ attitude in helping to return most of the drifting fish pens that were washed out to sea in the Christmas Day gales.

The company confirmed on Thursday that they would re-establish a salmon farm on the original site at Winna Ness, off the south coast of the isle of Uyea, off Unst, as soon as it was operationally possible.

Meanwhile the coastguard and other agencies have been given the coordinates for four of the original 12 cages, which sank with their moorings around 80 miles east of Shetland and have created a potential hazard to shipping.

Managing director Mark Warrington said that many lessons from recent events had already been learned and would be taken into account when reactivating the site.

On Wednesday government agency Marine Scotland said a full investigation was about to commence into why 12 large fish cages containing 300,000 fully grown fish ended up lost in the North Sea close to Norwegian waters. The value of the fish alone is estimated to be in the region of £3 million.

Mr Warrington said the company had been hit hard by the loss and consequent salvage operation. The financial impact will also affect third parties, such as harvesting and haulage, for several months to come.

“The commitment, effort and assistance of all involved in the recovery have been a great reflection of the specialised skills and 'can do' attitude in Shetland along with the support the industry has given locally,” said the salmon farm chief, who has only been in post for four months.

“We will continue to invest in farming in Unst as it gives us several unique marketing opportunities. The performance of the sites in that location is amongst the best within the company through ideal farming conditions and the hard work of the local workforce.”

He said that as soon as it was operationally possible and equipment was available they would install a new salmon farm at the exposed Winna Ness site from where the cages disappeared.

The site is attractive as the salmon do not need to be treated for sea lice, unlike the companies other operations off Shetland’s west coast.

He said they would take into account any lessons from “the unprecedented recent event caused by a combination of extreme winds and tide”.

Troubled turbines could soon turn again

The Snarraness Proven Energy P35-2 wind turbine, whose mast snapped during last month's gales, will not have its problems resolved by the solution proposed by VG Energy.A SHETLAND social club hopes to be generating electricity and money again in the near future after hopes were raised that a technical problem which crashed their wind turbine is soon to be resolved.

An acute failure in a weld on the Proven Energy P35-2 turbine forced all the owners of the 15KW device to shut them down in September.

These included Sandwick Social Club and around six private individuals in the isles, as well as about 500 others throughout Scotland.

The problem on the turbine’s main drive shaft led directly to the collapse of the manufacturer, which in turn caused two installation firms to go under, including Shetland Wind Power (SWP).

Now Ayrshire-based VG Energy, the firm that took over SWP’s order book, has worked out how to fix the P35-2’s problem, which they hope will be accredited by the Microgeneration Certification Scheme (MCS) in the next few weeks.

SWP founder Michael Anderson, of Hoswick, said he was “optimistic” the solution would be approved and turbines could be re-commissioned over the next few months.

“This is a simple engineering issue so it will be overcome and if that is the only issue the MCS are looking at, it will be accredited and we can look at getting the wind turbines operational again,” Mr Anderson said.

He has formed a new firm called Specialist Technical Solutions, which he hopes will be helping VG Energy to repair the faulty turbines.

Neville Martin, of Sandwick Social Club, said the proposed “fix” was the best news he had heard for months.

“I reckon that if the turbine was working we should be making about £12,000 a year through the feed in tariff,” he said.

“Instead our electricity bills are much higher than they were last year when the turbine was working with six kilowatt blades.”

SNP highlands and islands list MSP Jean Urquhart said several P35-2 owners had contacted her about the difficulties they were having.

“I am delighted that progress is now being made and that these machines should soon be working again,” she said. 

However the VG Energy solution will not assist crofters Norman and Evelyn Leask, of Snarraness, Walls, whose P35-2 turbine crashed to the ground during the gales before Christmas.

Their turbine suffered a weld failure in the tower, which was manufactured by a separate company in England.

Mr Leask questioned whether the technical standards being applied to microgeneration were as good as they should be. "I believe that some of the checks on some of the manufacturers are not up to North Sea standards,” he said.

However the P35-2 has received the highest classification possible from the MCS, whose accreditation is essential to receive government subsidies on green energy.

Meanwhile Community Energy Scotland are working on trying to resolve problems being felt by other turbine owners in Shetland following the demise of Shetland Wind Power.

It has also emerged that Proven Energy suffered losses of around £16 million when they went into receivership in September.

The receivers KPMG reported that the main shareholder LCA has written off their investment of £11.5 million and the unsecured creditors are unlikely to get any of the £4.5 million owed to them.

New SIC finance chief appointed

The council's new finance chief James Gray.AN AUDIT manager who was drafted in to help Shetland Islands Council sort out their accounting problems last year has been appointed as the authority’s new finance chief.

James Gray was appointed executive finance manager the day after the Accounts Commission highlighted “significant concerns” over the authority’s finance section.

The local government watchdog said the department was under resourced, which led to last year’s accounts being submitted three months late. The accounts have been qualified for the past six years over the failure to group them with the Shetland Charitable Trust.

Mr Gray currently works from the Edinburgh office of global accountancy giant PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC).

He takes over from Hazel Sutherland, the council’s former executive director for education and social services, who was filling the post until a replacement could be found prior to leaving the authority.

SIC corporate services director Brian Lawrie, who is also a temporary appointment, said it was worth waiting three months for Mr Gray to work out his notice with his current employers.

“The chief finance officer is such an important position in any council, so we were acutely aware that this needed to be filled on a permanent basis,” Mr Lawrie said. 

“James is well known and respected for the work he did last year on the accounts, so is starting from a strong position. I'm conscious that there is a gap before he can start, owing to notice, but it's better to wait a bit longer to get the right person on board.”

Mr Gray said he was looking forward to the challenge. “Having worked closely with staff in finance last year, I have developed an understanding of the issues the council has faced in preparing good quality accounts,” he said.

“I’m also very aware of the messages coming out of the recent Audit Scotland report and the challenges around delivering reductions in the budget over the next few years. 

“I see this as a great opportunity for me to roll up my sleeves and contribute to addressing some of these issues”.

The SIC has also recruited a financial accountant to address deficiencies in closing the annual accounts.

In their report on Wednesday, the Accounts Commission said that the SIC’s new finance manager must have “adequate authority, profile and opportunity to challenge directors of services on budgetary matters, during times when difficult choices on expenditure and savings will need to be made”.

Trust reform will take another year

CONTROVERSIAL plans to reform the £200 million Shetland Charitable Trust will not take hold until December at the earliest, the charity said on Thursday.

As a result all newly elected councillors will automatically become trustees after the local government polls in May, a situation that some had hoped could be avoided.

The Scottish charity regulator OSCR has now approved a timetable agreed last month to remove councillor control for the first time in its 35 year history.

The decision came after years of wrangling, leading eventually to a threat from OSCR to take control of the trust if a referendum on reform went ahead in the isles.

It also prompted the resignation of two councillor/trustees, Sandy Cluness and Jonathan Wills, and a call from 10 trustees to fight the removal of democratic control.

The proposed new trust would have a board of 15, including seven elected councillors and eight appointed “independent” trustees, in keeping with new charity laws.

However there are many steps needed before a new structure is put in place, a timetable for which has been published on the trust’s website here.

OSCR must consult on the changes for a minimum of 28 days, while the trust provisionally engages a company to draw up the selection process for appointing trustees.

The consultation is likely to run until the end of April with OSCR having a further six months to make a final decision.

A selection committee to appoint the independent trustees could be formed as early as 30 August, though this will depend on how long it takes OSCR to make a final decision on the reform plans.

Adverts to find suitable candidates would not be published through the local media before November 2012.

In the meantime all 22 elected councillors will be joined by Shetland’s lord lieutenant Bobby Hunter and Anderson High School head Valerie Nicolson on the board in May.

Trust general manager Ann Black envisages a revised trust deed would be adopted on 15 November 2012, and that a shortlist of appointee candidates could be presented on 13 December this year.

Lessons will be learned from salmon cage loss

Some of the battered salmon cages towed into Dales Voe, Lerwick - Photo: ValianA FULL investigation is to be launched into how an entire Shetland salmon farm containing 300,000 fully grown fish was lost during the Christmas Day hurricane.

Government agency Marine Scotland, fish farm owners Meridian Salmon and the company’s insurers are to examine the circumstances that led to the first incident of its kind.

Twelve cages broke free from their moorings in 100mph gales off the isle of Uyea, south of Unst, and were washed out into the North Sea where they remained until earlier this week.

The effort to retrieve the cage hit many setbacks, with the cages being lost twice and the towline breaking three times.

Eventually the cages were separated and eight were successfully returned to Shetland, while the remaining four have sunk around 80 miles east of the isles.

Most of the fully grown salmon with an estimated market value of around £3 million are understood to have died, though some live fish may have escaped.

While Meridian management assess the damage with their insurers, Marine Scotland said on Wednesday that the incident would be discussed at the next meeting of the ministerial group on aquaculture’s improved containment working group to consider what action should be taken.

SML Orcadia towing in another of the breakaway salmon cages - Photo: Matthew StrmsekA spokesman said: “Lessons will be learnt that will lead to an increased state of preparedness in handling any future incidents and will feed into the development of the Scottish Technical Standard.

“It’s important to make a distinction between fish loss and fish escape. Over 300,000 adult Atlantic salmon were involved in the incident, but it remains unclear whether an escape of live farmed fish did occur or whether the fish died during the incident.”

He added that it would be “inappropriate” to comment on the exact circumstances that led to the loss of the cages until the investigation had concluded.

“Whilst this particular incident is hugely disappointing, it has to be acknowledged that the vast majority of farms withstood the storms without incident. They also withstood the significant gales of late November 2011 and those in the previous spring,” he said.

The Scottish fish farming industry's voluntary code of good practice recommends that “installations, facilities, moorings, pens and nets etc should be fit for purpose for the site conditions and installed by an appropriately qualified person”.

However, at present there is no defined standard for equipment and no robust audit process, also work on developing a draft standard is under way and is expected to be published early next month.

Greenhill remains a consultant

SHETLAND Islands Council’s former executive director for infrastructure Gordon Greenhill is still being employed by the local authority as an advisor, it emerged this week.

Mr Greenhill officially left the council on 30 November taking voluntary redundancy after failing to win back his old job during last year’s restructure of senior management.

The former Edinburgh City Council manager who joined the SIC in 2008 was replaced by Phil Crossland, from the Midlands.

In a council statement at the time chief executive Alistair Buchan thanked Mr Greenhill for his contribution and “enthusiastic input”.

This week Mr Buchan confirmed that Mr Greenhill continued to work for the council on a consultancy basis.

He said: “As part of Mr Greenhill's voluntary severance it was agreed that he would continue to assist the council until the end of March with some of the work he was involved in as executive director. 

“This is a much better and more cost effective way of getting this work done than bringing in outside assistance which we would have had to do if Gordon had not been prepared to assist, and we are grateful for his help.”

One ferry for nine weeks from Monday

NO extra ferry will be brought in to relieve the Orkney and Shetland lifeline service next Monday after the two island councils rejected a government offer of a replacement vessel and a three week shuttle service.

As a result Shetland will be relying on a single ferry for nine weeks from 23 January to 26 March while ferry operator NorthLink’s three passenger vessels undergo their extended five yearly refit.

Instead the government has offered to pay for extra ferry runs in the event of disruption.

The threat of such disruption, which caused Shetland’s fish exporters major headaches at the same time last year, has already reared its head with NorthLink declaring delays and cancellations to ferry and freight boat services on Wednesday.

Shetland Islands Council’s transport chairman Allan Wishart said he was disappointed the government had not offered to pay the full cost of a replacement vessel.

He said that Transport minister Keith Brown’s offer to provide a three week shuttle service using a single ferry making a return trip between Lerwick and Aberdeen every day between 26 January and 13 February had been rejected by the seafood industry.

“We consulted quite widely and found that arrangement was not going to work, however if bad weather causes disruption the government will pay for double runs to catch up,” Mr Wishart stated.

However he said the government now had a much better understanding of the threat to Shetland’s economy by having just one ferry operating.

Last week the SIC rejected a government suggestion they contribute 10 per cent of the £250,000 cost of chartering the Caledonian MacBrayne ferry Hebridean Isles to cover the Pentland Firth route for three weeks while the Orkney ferry Hamnavoe is in dry dock from next Monday.

The proposal had been roundly condemned by Orkney Islands Council who said they were not happy with being given a sub standard vessel.

As a result the Shetland ferry Hjaltland will cover the Pentland Firth route from 23 January to 13 February, after which both Shetland ferries will each spend three weeks in dry dock.

Mr Wishart made the point that Orkney was receiving an enhanced service on the Pentland Firth for the next three weeks, while Shetland has a reduced service.

The disruption comes during the islands biggest winter tourism event, the annual Lerwick Up Helly Aa fire festival when hundreds of visitors come to Shetland.

Loganair is providing an additional flight four days a week between 13 February and 30 March between Aberdeen and Lerwick to help passengers inconvenienced by the shortage of ferries.

On Wednesday ferry operators NorthLink announced that the night time sailing from Aberdeen would arrive in Lerwick seven hours late at 2pm on Thursday.

The 6pm Lerwick sailing for freight boat Helliar to Aberdeen was cancelled, two sailings across the Pentland Firth have been reduced to a single return trip and the freighter Hildasay has cancelled its Thursday arrival in Lerwick.

Accts Commission: SIC making good progress

SIC chief executive Alistair BuchanSHETLAND Islands Council has received a pat on the back from local government watchdog the Accounts Commission for its progress since receiving a stiff reprimand 18 months ago.

The SIC came under heavy criticism in 2010 after a public hearing exposed major flaws in the way Scotland’s wealthiest and most northerly authority was run, highlighting a breakdown in working relationships within the organisation.

That year the council handed its chief executive David Clark £250,000 to leave after just eight months in the post, arousing fury in the local community.

In a follow up report published today (Wednesday), the Commission says the council has a long way to go to become a best value authority and highlights “significant concerns” about its finance section.

However it praises the SIC for its achievements since Orkney Islands Council’s chief executive Alistair Buchan was appointed on a temporary contract in August 2010.

Mr Buchan said the council had already addressed the Accounts Commission’s main criticisms concerning staffing levels and weak management in the finance department.

This week, he said, the council hopes to announce the appointment of a new finance director following the recruitment of a new senior accountant recently.

For the past two months the department has been run by Brian Lawrie, the former finance chief at Fife Council, on a temporary contract after two rounds of interviews failed to secure a replacement for Hazel Sutherland.

He added that it was shame the council’s failure to submit a complete set of accounts on time last year had overshadowed the “good work” that had been achieved by finance staff.

“I think the council has made considerable progress on its financial management and we are well on track to achieving savings of £9.7 million this year, which is a major achievement for this council. It’s a shame the specific problems last year overshadowed that,” he said.

Mr Lawrie plans to present advice to councillors next month which could resolve The Accounts Commission’s other main concern, the failure to group the SIC’s accounts with the councillor-controlled £220 million Shetland Charitable Trust, which has led to them being qualified six years in a row.

Accounts Commission chairman John Baillie: “We welcome Shetland Islands Council’s prompt action and the progress it has made. It is encouraging that the council now has in place many of the basic but essential building blocks needed to provide best value.

“This positive direction and change needs to be continued and the council needs to ensure it has the capacity to do this. This is especially important as it faces considerable challenges in the future.

“Although good progress has been made and the council is improving, there are still problems that need to be addressed.”

These challenges include maintaining progress following the May local authority elections, and appointing a permanent replacement for Mr Buchan when his contract ends in October, though there is a strong possibility he will stay on for a further six months until April 2013.

The Commission has asked the Controller of Audit to prepare a further progress report in 12 months time, which reflects they still have concerns.

The full report can be read here

Centralisation plans under fire

GOVERNMENT plans to centralise Scotland’s police and fire services run by single authorities have been condemned by the northern isles’ two MSPs.

Tavish ScottHowever one local councillor and police and fire board member said local politicians would have to accept the change and get the best deal for Shetland.

On Tuesday justice secretary Kenny MacAskill  published the Police and Fire Reform (Scotland) Bill, which will create one police force and one fire and rescue service to serve the whole country.

Mr MacAskill said the SNP manifesto pledge to create single emergency service authorities would save the country £1.7 billion over 15 years by eradicating duplication.

Despite his assurances that local councillors would have a direct say over policing and rescue services in their area, Liberal Democrat MSPs Tavish Scott and Liam McArthur have labelled the plans “downright dangerous”.

Speaking from Lerwick, Mr Scott said the changes would leave Shetland with fewer police and fire officers. “These are mad, bad and downright dangerous plans,” he said. “They put our excellent local and responsive policing and island fire stations at risk.

“A single national police force will be controlled by central government. The chief police officer of Scotland, inevitably based in Glasgow, will worry rather more about Old Firm football matches than policing Commercial Street on a Saturday night.”

He also questioned whether a nationalist government would ask an English police force to run an inquiry into misconduct, while at the moment different Scottish forces can investigate each other.

Liam McArthur.“So there may be no check now on a government controlled force. That is profoundly disturbing,” he claimed. “These nationalist proposals that they will railroad through Parliament are illiberal, authoritarian and the worst kind of central belt centralisation.”

Mr McArthur added that the bill represented “a huge power grab”, which put at risk “the responsive, community-based approach to policing we have come to expect locally and indeed the future of retained fire stations on some of our smaller islands”.

He said the legislation had raised concerns throughout rural Scotland, who thought they would take second place to central Scotland concerns, and would need thorough scrutiny before becoming law.

However Mr MacAskill insisted the plans would increase local involvement, giving entire councils a say in the way services are run locally than at present where a handful of councillors attend regional boards meetings.

“There will be a stronger connection between communities and their local police and fire and rescue services, with designated local senior officers and a statutory duty on both services to provide proper local provision,” he said.

“I expect to see the local commander and local senior officer coming before the council to explain and answer questions about police and fire services in the area.

“Our services will be independent, with no operational control from ministers but subject to parliamentary scrutiny. And our new services will be nothing without the skills and talents the workforce. Staff will transfer to the new services on the same terms and conditions.”

Shetland Islands Council member Allison Duncan, who sits on the regional police and fire boards alongside Alastair Cooper, said that they had been forced to accept the changes and would have to work hard to ensure local accountability remained strong.

“Initially we were opposed to a single police board. When we knew there was no option, we hoped they would let us have three or four regional boards but despite our efforts to get the Scottish government to accept that, we failed,” Mr Duncan said.

“Now Councillor Cooper and myself have to put ourselves at the forefront and fight for the best available arrangement for Shetland. We have to make sure that local accountability is paramount.”

New Delta Marine tug

The new Voe Earl - Photo: Damen ShipyardA NEW anchor handling tug has just been handed over to Delta Marine, the Shetland based tug and workboat operator.

The 26 metre Voe Earl, constructed by the Dutch Damen shipyard and the strongest yet in the growing Delta Marine fleet of vessels, was named by Liz Spanswick.

Managing director Bob Spanswick said the vessel had been delivered on schedule following successful sea trials.

“The design specifications were exceeded, a bollard pull of 54t being attained from a request for 50t. Fine tuning of the DP system (dynamic positioning) will now be completed before she leaves the yard,” he added.

Established in 1985, the company’s vessels are all designed for coastal construction, and are active along the UK coast, in Scandinavia, the Baltic states, the Caspian Sea and the Mediterranean.

Shetland leads in growth

Shetland was the local authority area with the highest growth rate in Scotland in 2011, according to provisional estimates from Inverness-based Mackay Consultants.

While growth in Scotland is expected to have been below one per cent in 2011, the economy in Shetland grew by about two per cent.

Tony Mackay of Mackay Consultants said figures may have to be revised downwards a little once official statistical data become available later this spring.

In his monthly economic report Mr Mackay said: “The three areas with the highest growth rates in 2011 were Shetland, Aberdeen City and Aberdeenshire.

“The main reason for that is clearly the North Sea oil and gas industry, which has had a surprisingly good year, partly because of high oil prices.

“A new gas processing terminal is currently under construction at Sullom Voe in the Shetland Islands, which has boosted the local economy.”

Shetland’s unemployment rate at 1.3 per cent was also the lowest in all 32 Scottish local authority areas.

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