Following the invitation to the Shetland public to contribute ideas and suggestions I would like to take part in the current discussion regarding cost cutting in Shetland’s budget.
I am not a native Shetlander, but I have lived and worked here for several years. I have made many friends and enjoy being involved in various activities in the community.
Moving to live in a new country and new community is no small thing. Following a holiday in Shetland during which my wife and I were overwhelmed by the friendliness of the Shetland people and Shetland’s wonderful natural environment we decided to take the idea more seriously of coming to live here.
My financial management background enabled me to view objectively the unique complexities of Shetland’s economic situation. I would very much like to share some of my ideas on targeting strategies for clearer and more straightforward decision making.
On 26 December 2008 I read a poster, published by Shetland Islands Council, proclaiming six strategic targets for 2020 and 2025. I was absolutely fascinated. However I was dismayed to see the small print at the bottom of the page which read: “These 6 Targets and Priorities are to be reviewed at the beginning of the new financial year.” It seems to me pointless to produce so-called long term targets only to review them after a year.
As there are discussions about cuts with the newly elected councillors I think it is the right time to mention the impact that targets and strategies could have on the development on the entire Shetland economy.
A strategy is like a route which has to be followed over many years to reach a defined target. To have a target means to make decisions in a way that the interim steps support rather than undermine the route to the destination.
Currently we are focusing on cost cutting in Shetland without reference to their impact on targets.
In my opinion the most important target of all is a stable if not increasing Shetland population.
The age group between 40 and 60 is currently the relatively largest sector. As this group ages the population will reduce unless additional people are drawn into Shetland to stay and work.
The question arising is how to increase the population?
Shetland must make the maximum use of those aspects which attract people to live here. Also even more importantly ways must be found to encourage young Shetlanders to return to these islands to live and work.
Having established population as the key target each new cost cutting action needs to be scrutinized in terms of its likely impact on the population.
Ideally a population target would need to focus on at least the next 30 years. In order to reach such a demanding target and to retain a population of at least 24,000 by 2020 increasing to 2040 a long term strategy is essential.
After all, the impact of the signed contract with BP in the 1970s is still an ongoing factor in our economic situation today 40 years later.
It is really important to determine the various strengths of Shetland in terms of attractions to potential newcomers.
Apart from the environment and the wildlife a very important factor to attract families is the education of their children here.
How will current cost cutting in the Educational Department affect future educational standards?
It is crucial where cuts are made in educational areas that they do not directly impact negatively on future qualification areas. In particular Shetland knitwear and Shetland music are bound to suffer in the long term as a direct result of cuts in specialist teachers.
Cost cutting in one area shouldn’t lead to higher spending in other areas as might happen closing schools and having to transport pupils for longer distances.
In order for all sectors to move in a direction of the final targets all cost cutting steps need to be analysed between departments to avoid one department’s plans impacting negatively on those of another. All department sub plans should be coordinated leading to an integrated model. This process would place Shetland in the best possible situation for meaningful planning in the future.
Summary and Vision
A well populated island with relative economic strength and a service sector meeting the needs of its inhabitants would result from carefully monitored and regularly reviewed management of its natural, human and financial resources.
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