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Local Government Election 2012 / Theo Smith

theo smith
Theo Smith
Shetland West

About Me

Firstly, let me tell you something about myself. I’m 59, married with two grown up daughters and stay in Wormadale, Whiteness. I have lived in the West Side all my life apart from 13 years spent in Orkney during my school years.

I am a Chartered Architectural Technologist and have been involved in the local building and construction industry in Shetland all my working life.

I have been a partner in a Lerwick-based architectural practice since its inception 27 years ago and if elected I intend to leave the firm and become a full time Councillor.

I have been interested in local and national politics since my school days and have been an active member of the local Liberal Democrat party and am at present vice-chair of Tingwall, Whiteness and Weisdale Community Council, which I have served on for the last 14 years.

I have thought long and hard about standing for election, but I feel that with my business experience together with knowledge of the area and my involvement in the community I can contribute to a new council.

Many issues will dominate the next Council but the following three, in particular, are going to be very difficult and divisive.

Spending Cuts

I am very concerned about the size of the proposed spending cuts and the speed with which they are to be implemented. We are in danger of wrecking our economy and driving people from Shetland. I believe it would be better to draw prudently from our reserves in the short term in order to stabilise our economy now.

What use is a huge reserve that leaves Shetland with a weak, fragile economy and a falling population? Whether we like to admit it or not, Shetland has come to rely on a council-run economy and until that changes the Council has a responsibility not to pull the rug from under it but try to support it over these testing times.

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How can we consider closing Junior Highs when Curriculum for Excellence isn’t clear? Having secondary pupils away from home between eight and nine hours a day or living in a hostel in Lerwick from the age of 12 is unacceptable. Proposed hostel charges will create a two tier educational system and will set a precedent for other charges to be applied.

Primary schools in Shetland West are unsuitable for amalgamation principally due to their geographical locations. Parents and children in many communities have been placed in a state of constant fear and alarm for many years due to yet another education review with school closures hanging over them.

Rural community sustainability and children’s safety and comfort must be a priority. Bussing five year olds over single track roads that the Council propose to grit less in winter is unacceptable. There will be an inevitable drift to the Central Mainland if out-lying schools are closed. Consideration must also be given to what happens to existing buildings.

Viking Energy

This has been the most divisive issue I can ever remember in Shetland. Some people relate it to being like oil coming to Shetland. That’s nonsense.

For a start the sheer visual impact of this far exceeds anything the oil industry built and Shetland wasn’t asked to put a huge amount of money at risk.

The massive scale of the project is intimidating to the communities of Aith, Weisdale, Voe and Nesting and people are naturally worried about their health and also what it may do to the value of their properties.

In the first place there should have been a Shetland-wide referendum. I had hoped that the Scottish Government would have at least called for a public inquiry and I am disappointed, but not surprised at their decision.

I fear that if this goes ahead and an interconnector cable is built it will trigger landowners setting up smaller wind farms everywhere, which will further blight the landscape.

As previously mentioned those are only three of the issues which a new Council will have to contend with. There are many more, like the governance of the Council, the make-up of a new Charitable Trust, the provision of social services, transport, housing, contract procurement and our future in Scotland to name but a few.

Over the years Shetland seems to have lost confidence in its ability to do things for itself and if elected I would hope to contribute a good common sense and transparent approach to these issues and try and maximise local resources so as not to see our money haemorrhaging out of our Islands.

Theo’s blog

Monday 30 April 2012

Within a few days all the candidates will know their fate.  I’ve been involved behind the scenes in seven national election counts and that’s nerve wracking enough, let alone attending one where you are actually a candidate yourself!

It’s been a very busy three weeks and I still have a place or two to revisit and a few people to see who weren’t in when I first called.

Shetland West hustings was held in the Whiteness & Weisdale hall last Wednesday night and attracted a pretty good turn out from all over the West Side.  The candidates each had five minutes to address the public and a question and answers session followed.  A number of topics were brought up including education, transport, wind farms, care of the elderly, spending cuts and supporting the economy, to mention a few, and I’d like to thank the public and other candidates for the polite and courteous way they conducted themselves.

As some of you may have seen, I expressed my concern in the letters pages of the Shetland Times and Shetland News websites last Friday about the calling of yet another meeting of the Charitable Trust to discuss and decide on whether or not to grant Viking Energy a further £6.3M to progress the wind farm.  I wrote last Friday morning:

“I read with much concern that yet another Charitable Trust meeting has been arranged for next Monday, I presume, to force through £6.3 million for Viking Energy.

I was hoping that the trustees, who seem so hell bent on railroading this money through, would have listened to the arguments put forward by councillor Grains at the last meeting and left this decision to a new set of trustees.

This is exactly the kind of behaviour that has brought discredit to the outgoing council and has completely eroded the Shetland people’s confidence in our ability to manage our own affairs properly and democratically.

I do hope that sense prevails and that trustees see this as a desperate act by a few trustees who seem afraid to let a new trust make this decision.”

It has since emerged that seven trustees demanded this meeting take place in what I consider to be an arrogant, disrespectful and undemocratic attempt to force through a decision which, in a few days, a completely new set of trustees will have to follow through.  Conduct like this has antagonised many more people in Shetland.  What a spectacular own goal! What have they learned from past mistakes; nothing, it would appear? I hope the seven trustees are ashamed of their behaviour.

Worse still, the Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator (OSCR) intervened and directed that the meeting could not go ahead as it thought existing trustees should not be thrusting any decision on a set of new trustees at this late hour; a sensible decision which our own trustees and officials should have reached themselves.  Again, trustees and officials have brought not only themselves into disrepute but have once again dragged Shetland’s previous good name into the gutter by having to bear the indignity of an outside body making decisions on our behalf. 

I know it has nothing to do with our own campaign out west but I was concerned to see a high profile candidate make a very personal attack in the press on another well know candidate. To the latter’s credit, he responded in a reasonably conciliatory fashion.  If this is the tone before the election, I fear what it’s going to be like if both are elected to the chamber.  A great deal has been written by all candidates over the last weeks about the ability to work together for the good of Shetland.  I see little sign of it from this pair.

On a lighter note, I took a break from campaigning on Saturday and, as usual, joined my family, friends and neighbours in Wormadale for Da Voar Redd Up at the head of Whiteness Voe.  This Shetland institution seems to go from strength to strength and what a pleasure it is to drive down to the head of the voe and see no litter or plastic on the beach.  This common-sense and hard-working approach truly demonstrates how people can work together for the good of Shetland and prospective politicians should take heed.

Again, I’d like to thank the people of Shetland West for the politeness, kindness and encouragement shown to me.  As a new candidate I could not have asked for more.

Lastly, whatever your persuasion, please take time and make the effort to cast your vote and make Shetland West the highest poll next Thursday.

Friday 20 April 2012

I am very concerned that this election may end up being dominated by one issue. Some candidates, voters and the media seem to be obsessed by Viking Energy. I know how important it is but things are getting personal and that is unacceptable. I have said many times that this has been the most divisive issue I can remember and I am sad to see a community like Shetland tear itself apart.

I was not surprised that the Charitable Trust meeting last Monday descended into chaos. Any further decisions should be left to a new set of trustees as I fear there is a credibility issue here. Nothing that has been said or written over the last few weeks has altered my position and my views have now been well documented on this issue.

We must also concentrate on other issues which may not be so dominant but are just as important to many people.

The threat to our schools has been raised to me as many times as the wind farm issue. Make no mistake; closures are high on the ‘Refresh the Blueprint’ list. I just hope that a new Council will see the folly of closing outlying rural schools that, through no fault of their own, are geographically unsuitable for amalgamation. Many a previous Council has wittered on about helping and sustaining rural areas. Well now is a chance for a new Council to put its money where its mouth is and cease this constant threat of school closures or take the consequence of mass centralisation.

Transport has again figured high on people’s lists this week. During the road upgrade works through the Houlmalees the Walls bus used the Staneydale to Staney Punds loop road. People in Browland, Gruting, Selivoe and Staneydale still think this route put more people in closer contact with the service. Quite a few bus users have questioned if the current buses are the best type for rural routes. Coaches would be the preference as has been mentioned in the past by the Council.  Complaints about the air quality on the current buses have also been raised.

Skips are another big issue in the Walls area. As these are provided by the Community Councils we must ensure that finance is maintained to keep the service, if not improve it. The consequences of not doing so would fly tipping in the hills, quarries and over the banks.

I’m glad to see the Walls pier back on track. Coming from a construction background, if elected, I shall be keeping a very close eye on this project as many people in the West Side are quite rightly furious as to how it has been handled in the past.

Public toilets, and the threat of their closure, has also been raised. You try covering an area the size of Shetland West without them. Enough said!

A local rural business is thinking about renewing their premises and expanding their business. They have been in contact with Business Gateway and SIC Development and were met by a very negative tone  due to being a retailer and not a manufacturer.  No grant aid is available and loan terms are no better than the banks. This is a well established business that employs eight people in a rural area, exactly what the Council says it wants for Shetland. Where is the help and support?

I’ve been out and about in Shetland West every day, except Sunday, since I blogged last. I’d like to thank people for their good wishes, courtesy and kindness and also for taking the time and opportunity to raise issues with me either on the door steps, by ‘phone or by e-mail.

Lastly, if the people of Bixter, Effirth, Aith and East Burrafith are wondering where I am you’ll probably be sick of the sight of me by this time next week!


Week 1 Campaigning

That’s a week of the campaign gone already.  Apart from last Sunday and two days I had to be away on the mainland I’ve been out and about in Whiteness, Weisdale, Sandness, Tresta, Sandsound, Tumblin,Skeld and Walls.  Three issues have been continually raised by a great number of people I’ve spoken to.

Firstly, Viking Energy has been by far and away the hottest topic not only in the most affected areas in Shetland West but from Whiteness to Sandness.  I get a growing feeling that since the Scottish Government gave the go-ahead people’s fears have been focused.  I am greatly concerned that charitable trust reserves will be put at risk and there is a perception among folk that the council is too involved by way of the charitable trust having councillor trustees.  I am also very much opposed to the existing trustees deciding on Monday whether or not to release another £6.3M for the project.  This feels like an attempt to railroad a decision which should be left to a new trust in whatever form it may take.

Last Saturday I attended the bi-annual meeting of the Association of Shetland Community Councils.  Helen Budge informed us that the current council required an additional £3M savings to be made over and above what had already been agreed.  She presented a consultation paper with suggested savings options to be ticked. 

The chair of the meeting quite rightly dismissed a ‘ticking’ exercise as this had been presented with no warning.  In a nutshell, the options for Shetland West included closing Aith JH secondary department together with closing Sandness, Happyhansel and Skeld and moving all pupils to Aith. 

I am strongly opposed to any such closures, not only on the basis of community viability, but also purely on geographical location.  Similar implications were suggested for the north and south mainland and the north isles.  Community set against community?  I said at the meeting that a new council will have to revisit this particular savings request with a view to reducing it and spreading it over a longer period as there were some viable options included in the paper.

The third issue I have picked up very clearly is anger and hostility about education and social care cuts when an enormous amount of money has been spent by the last two councils with nothing to show for it.  Poor decision making, poor advice, delegated powers, cliques, cabals, and lack of leadership have all been mentioned, together with lack of accountability and transparency. 

The chief executive’s view of ‘corporate responsibility’ has not gone down well with the public either.  This reinforces my argument that the executive committee should not be a majority of the council, and that leaders, committee chairs and vice-chairs should have to stand for mid-term re-election.  More decisions must be made by full council.

I also met with Jane Puckey from Papa Stour last Thursday and we were in agreement that the ferry service they have at the moment is the minimum that can sustain the island.  If we start cutting our most rural and far-flung ferry services what argument do we put up to the Scottish Government to maintain a nightly ferry service to Aberdeen?

I hope to report weekly on my progress and issues raised as I fear a daily blog is too much for the electorate to bear!



Contact details
Phone 01595 840480
Email theoforshetlandwest@hotmail.com
Blog http://theosmith.blogspot.co.uk/

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