I currently work as a columnist and photographer for the Shetland Times. I also work teaching young adults at the Shetland College, and am self-employed in the field of web design and digital media.
Some of the voluntary roles I currently hold include:
Scalloway Community Council (Vice Chair); Scalloway Public Hall (Trustee); Scalloway Museum (Project Management Team & Content Focus Group Coordinator); Scalloway School Parent Council (Co-opted member); Shetland Arts (Trustee); Stages ( Committee member & Technical Assistant); Shetland Moving Image Archive Group (Committee); Shetland Canoe Club ( Committee)
In my leisure time I enjoy wildlife and nature photography, cycling, kayaking and generally enjoying the outdoors and community events.
Why am I standing for the council?
Historically, some of the best outcomes for Shetland have been achieved by moderate folk giving their considered opinions and representation in civilised discussions, and that is the model of councillor I would hope to follow. I feel I have the qualities it takes to represent the community at grass roots level and view matters objectively.
Although not particularly fond of public speaking or the limelight, members of the community whom I hold in high regard and whose opinions I respect suggested I should put my name forward. In some ways it seems like a natural progression of my pre-existing and fairly extensive community involvement.
A sample of some of my views:
I am against Viking Energy as a whole, but for renewable energy.
Viking Energy has always been too big, and remains so. A more sophisticated model is required, factoring in subsequent developments to justifying the interconnector. Other technology such as a Smart Grid could ideally be tested and refined in a small enclosed grid network like Shetland.
I am all for Scotland becoming independent, but don’t necessarily see it as the best outcome for Shetland to be a part of that change. Shetland is the unpolished jewel in the treasure trove of UK resources. We sit in the middle of a surprisingly rich and diverse range of current energy and food production, with equally great future potential, and also in a key position for North Atlantic trade. We should recognise and appreciate our position and shine our light accordingly.
There are gas and oil fields west of Shetland that have the potential to produce more than the fields exploited to the east.
Decommissioning of oil fields to the east of Shetland could yield significant returns for the local economy.
The fishing industry has undergone stringent management for long enough to yield a sustainable and prosperous resurgence.
For an expanding tourism sector, we have everything that many UK tourists seek: wildlife, scenery, culture and quality of life. All we need to do is get them here.
Crofting will see a rise in prominence again. Increasing fuel costs and the drive to reduce food miles means that local produce will feature increasingly.
I believe that under the correct local leadership we can seek greater autonomy if independence comes and, until I am convinced otherwise, I think we are better placed remaining with Westminster under those terms.
Decisions have been made on where a large proportion of the cuts that must be made in the current financial situation. There is no doubt that savings must be made but the most vulnerable in our community should not be the first to suffer, nor should our future potential be jeopardised.
We have resources and infrastructure that any other local authority can only dream of. Spending needs to be reigned in, but we will still be better off than most and will continue to enjoy a relatively good standard of living.
The future of each school should be considered on its own merits, but schools are patently at the heart of a rural community. The Blueprint option chosen by the previous council, which began with the closure of Scalloway Secondary department, always did have the requirement to save another £3million from other educational services written into it. This is something largely overlooked in “per head” calculations made as other areas considered the savings to be made from Scalloway. Now that these, and further, reductions in cost are up for consideration, it is crucial to ensure that the easy or obvious options are not automatically exploited. The lessons learned from other, less prosperous, local authorities must be sought, and not purely within the schools’ service. We run the risk of “re-inventing the wheel” when it comes to identifying savings when so many other local authorities have already been down this route, and without seeking that knowledge we may be placing flat sides on our own “wheel” in the process. 10p saved on a ream of paper, may in reality cost £10 when jammed in a copier. The whole educational management structure must continue to be scrutinised for savings, not simply front-line services.
The three distinct areas within the central ward require individual consideration.
Tingwall and Girlsta are currently in a drive to bolster community values and generally improve their environment. Support for business in the area should be matched with pursuit of environmental projects to provide amenities and infrastructure to match the level of housing now present and soon to grow. The aspiration held by locals to reduce speed limits and generally recreate the area to be more conducive to leisure and community activity should be promoted.
Scalloway is in the unique position of having tremendous commercial growth potential to serve the west side oil developments, offshore renewables and tourist traffic sectors. Investment is available, our neighbours elsewhere in northern Scotland have proved as much. Scalloway is undoubtedly better placed geographically, but needs significant investment and cooperation with industry which will, in turn, provide local jobs and income for the SIC. This investment is still available despite the recession, from Europe, as proven by our competitors. Ports and Harbours need to engage specialist, trained and savvy promoters for the port, and similarly skilled officials to tap into every funding source and revenue sources possible, and soon.
New housing should be developed. The previously supported plan for Hjaltland to build new homes at upper Scalloway should be rekindled and other areas considered. Traffic management needs addressing, and the plans to extend the Burn Beach to accommodate more parking and potentially encourage development at Garricks Station need serious consideration.
Burra and Trondra have continuously initiated their own community drives to better their community infrastructure and this should be continued through support of the new Burra & Trondra Community Development Group. Self-motivated organisations like this most often yield the best community-based outcomes for the people who live in the areas they serve. That is, projects identified by people in the area, to best benefit people in the area. The prospect of a local Community Benefit Fund, tapping into all major renewables developments, could greatly benefit this and other similar organisations.
If elected, I would hope to remain one of “us” and not become one of “them”, as the public perception seems to be. I wouldn’t be aiming for the self-publicity or self-promotion, but rather to act as a spokesperson on behalf of those who chose me. The Shetland Islands Council has taken on something of a celebrity status during recent years because of a number of high profile disputes and bad investments. We need to strip this element away and focus on policy and strategy, not management or media politics.
The SIC employs some eminently qualified and handsomely reimbursed executives to manage the business of local government, and they should be accountable for just that. Responsibility needs to be allocated throughout the ranks, as it would in any commercial business so that decisions are made by those employed to make them. Heads of Service should give power to their staff and in doing so minimise bureaucracy and unnecessary communication between middle management. Here a huge saving can potentially be made.
Those who excel and those who take responsibility should be rewarded. The era we are now entering requires officials who will look to do more, and to behave in a dynamic fashion, not reactive or static. This applies to almost every aspect of service delivery. Channels of discussion between the public, council staff and councillors should be open, and examples of good practice and cost savings in different departments or services shared, not as a set routine, but where and when it occurs.
I may be optimistic in my hopes for what the council can achieve in these times of tough decisions and recession but I am not naive. I do , however, think that the best way for the Central Ward, and Shetland in general, to progress at this time is to look outward, think big and cast aside old habits.