I’m not a politician and I don’t have a manifesto or a personal mission statement. I believe very strongly that the duty of our elected representatives is to do what it says on the tin, and represent the views of the majority of their constituents and not to pursue their own political and social agendas.
My intention in this brief statement is, therefore, to give you some information about myself and my opinions to help you decide whether I am the sort of person that you can trust to represent you fairly.
First of all a little background. I’m 50 years old, single and, with the exception of a couple of years at college, have lived in Mossbank all my life.
I currently work for Shetland Amenity Trust as their communications officer. I am probably best known locally as a storyteller but I’ve been involved with various community organisations for most of my adult life and I am a great believer in the value of the voluntary sector.
Apparently for a number of years now we, as a community, have been spending more money than we have been making. As a result we’ve been eating into our savings and we’re all going to go broke immediately if we don’t stop spending.
We are, it would seem, in the middle of a financial crisis. I can’t think of anywhere else in the world where a community of 20,000 people with combined reserves of £400,000,000 would consider themselves to be on the verge of bankruptcy.
Yes, we do have to get our spending under control. No, we can’t afford to empty the piggy bank and leave nothing for future years. But we don’t need to rush headlong into the “slash and burn” strategy which is currently being proposed.
To haul over £25 million out of the Shetland economy within the next two years cannot be done without consequences. These consequences will, in my opinion, be felt not only in an inevitable reduction in services but also in a serious knock on effect for the private sector in Shetland.
I believe that we need to give consideration to a more measured reduction over a longer period of time. This will of course require using up more of the reserve fund but would allow the economy to adjust to the reduction and reduce the potential damage. Boom and bust doesn’t work for national economies and won’t work for local ones either.
Our economy and indeed our social structures have become much too dependent upon the council and we need to encourage both the private and voluntary sectors to get involved in providing services.
Changes within the council need to be driven not by the cost of services but by their value to the community. Staff working at the “coal face” need to be re-motivated and actively engaged in the decisions as to how services can be delivered more efficiently.
In recent years there has been a disturbing tendency towards centralisation of services both nationally and locally. On the local level we have seen a slow, but seemingly inexorable, shift of jobs, housing and facilities towards the central Mainland and Lerwick in particular.
Unless we make a deliberate effort to halt this drift we are likely to end up with rural communities which are less and less sustainable and a town which is groaning under the weight of overstretched infrastructure.
This will require first and foremost the creation of jobs based in rural areas or the transfer of existing jobs. The retention of rural schools is also an essential element in stabilising communities. The private sector also needs to be encouraged to provide both housing and jobs in rural areas.
On a national level we appear to have governments in both Edinburgh and London who are intent on wresting control away from local accountability in the name of saving money.
I don’t believe that centralisation ever saves money in the long term. It merely leads to ever increasing bureaucracy and a reduction in the level of service as decisions which would be simple on a local level become mired in complex management structures.
We need to be lobbying at a national level for decisions to be taken out of the hands of faceless and non-elected bureaucrats in government QUANGOS and returned to local control.
The price of fuel both for transport and for heating is crippling individual families and our economy in general. While the 5p derogation was a welcome move it became immediately obvious that any advantage gained could be wiped out in a matter of hours because of the extreme volatility of fuel prices.
We need a proper investigation into profit levels being made by GB Oils, but the reality is that the most of the money we pay goes straight to the government.
As a council we should be pushing for a fuel regulator that would ensure stabilisation of prices and a fixed level of duty throughout the UK rather than VAT which further penalises areas with already high prices.
Nothing has divided our community as much over the last few years as the chronic mishandling of the development of the Viking Energy wind farm project.
Whatever the ins and outs of the project itself, the way in which it has been progressed to date does not inspire confidence in the abilities of those concerned to actually manage its further development.
This worries me, as does the prospect of risking large amounts of public money in something over which we will ultimately have no control. (Does anyone remember the Smyrl Line?)
It also causes me great concern that a senior councillor is claiming in the press that the Shetland economy is unsustainable without Viking Energy. If this is indeed the case then we desperately need to do something to get ourselves out of that position.
We need a diverse and self-sustaining economy, not a dependency culture at the mercy of national government and the power companies.
The recent decision of the SNP to allow planning permission to proceed without a public enquiry indicates to me that their policy is bent on the development of renewable energy regardless of the consequences.
It is quite likely that once the interconnector has been put in place then Viking Energy will prove to be the thin end of the wedge in terms of renewable development and it is unlikely that any local control at all will be able to be exercised.
There are no easy answers to any of the issues discussed above. The work of the SIC has become increasingly complex as time goes on and no one is going to solve all the problems currently besetting us in any kind of short period of time.
firmly believe that the answer to many of our challenges lies in a council which is able to establish a clear vision for the future and, in conjunction with a very capable staff, to develop a plan for making that vision come to fruition.
Shetland is at a crossroads and the decisions we make now will shape the future for generations to come. We need councillors capable of resisting short term panic and taking a long term view with regard to building the future we all need and want.
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