Born and educated in Lerwick, I have lived in Burra for more than 20 years. My career has been in journalism, so reading turgid reports from bureaucrats does not fill me with fear (just dread).
I worked on Radio Shetland, on the subs desk at the Aberdeen Press & Journal and edited The Shetland Times for 14 years until retiring a few years ago. Since then I have tried to indulge my passion for travel, as far as my own finances will allow.
I am not, and never have been, a member of a political party, but I have had a lifelong interest in local, national and international politics. I have no vested interests other than a desire to see the council’s reputation restored locally and nationally and financial management back on track, with good quality services retained for the future.
Councillors face stark choices to get finances back on track. Previous councils failed to control spending and this profligacy caught up with them during the last council term.
The next five years are crucial if we want to leave a viable organisation providing good services for future generations. The cost of many of these services is too high and must be brought down, but cuts, which will have to be made, must be planned carefully and implemented gradually.
The council must set priorities and stick to them so that people know what is happening. There has long been a need for better communication with the public.
Education has already been hit hard and there is more to come, but primary education is crucial. A young person entering secondary education without being fluent in reading and writing faces years of disadvantage.
Small primary schools provide a good start for children and I would resist any plans for centralising Hamnavoe, Tingwall and Nesting primary schools at Scalloway.
Secondary education, on the other hand, needs larger schools with more sophisticated equipment. Brae and the Anderson High should be the main centres for secondary education with the phased closure of most junior secondaries.
Social care is going to cost more as our population ages. The welfare trust was scrapped because it was “too expensive”, but there is no sign that big savings have been made since it was taken back by the council.
Management and administration costs must be reduced and more use should be made of the voluntary sector before cuts are made to the front line services which are vitally important to those in need of help.
Housing is an ongoing problem throughout Shetland with a waiting list of more than 1000. The scandal of empty council properties around Lerwick must be addressed.
I agree with and will support those who campaign to get the council’s £40 million housing debt, incurred in the early days of the oil industry, written off by the government.
A plan must be developed to provide much-needed housing in Scalloway. The close working relationship with Hjaltland Housing Association needs to be continued and strengthened. Council-owned land should be considered for house sites for both private and mixed developments.
A healthy economy is one where private enterprise is encouraged and people are helped to start up new businesses, but this must not conflict with existing business. The council has interfered in a number of failed enterprises over the decades and lost tens of millions of public money as well as skewing the competition.
As far as Viking Energy is concerned, I believe the windfarm scheme is far too large and will adversely affect other businesses, especially those connected with the tourist industry. Furthermore, I do not believe that we should be blackmailed into getting an interconnector.
With oil and gas developments to the west and dredging at Scalloway allowing bigger ships to visit, new business can be attracted to the port which will have a healthy knock-on effect on the economy of the village.
Pressure must be kept up on the government to provide ferry fares on an equal footing with other island groups. And there must be a reliable daily freight service guaranteed throughout the year so the scandal of lost business during this year’s NorthLink refit programme is never repeated.
Skips are a hideous eyesore in some areas. If they are to be kept, and I think they should be, they need to be replaced more often than once a week. Some landscaping and screening would help and community councils might be prepared to take this in hand.
Shetland Charitable Trust
The plan to have eight trustees “selected” by councillors to the Shetland Charitable Trust is not democratic. The best solution would see all trustees elected, but failing that the proposal for eight directly elected trustees and seven councillors makes good sense.
This is why the first meeting of the trust after the election is crucial. And if these changes were approved, they would solve without further ado the problem of the council’s accounts being qualified year after year by those who do not understand what the trust is about.
Alliances are bound to be formed between councillors on certain topics, but I would resist the formation of a governing clique which would decide policy in advance of council meetings and exclude so-called backbenchers from any influence.
The workings of the council must be open and honest and not carried out by a few senior councillors and officials behind closed doors.
The decisions made by the next council will have an impact on council employees, individuals, local businesses and partners. The views of the local community must be represented in the council chamber, but it is also important that the needs of the Central Ward are balanced with those of Shetland as a whole.
Council policies need to be more joined up and I hope I would take a fair and balanced approach to the tough decisions which lie ahead.
Please consider giving me your vote on 3 May.
Phone 01595 859211