The concerns Lee Goodlad expresses in his letter (Five years time; SN, 02/12/14) will be echoed in the other economically vulnerable areas of Shetland.
The point he makes about the need for investment is well made, and has been emphasised by many, myself included; we are on common ground.
No constructive purpose is served however if we adopt a scatter gun approach to each SIC proposal for curbs on the council’s budget, and fail to identify areas where real savings can be made.
There is also a need for SIC elected members and officials to consider more carefully the likely impact of their more simplistic strategies; which ultimately prove to be counterproductive.
SIC also needs to take heed of previously agreed policies and reassurances given to the peripheral communities if they wish to avoid accusations of tokenism.
A few years ago Unst, Fetlar, the North mainland and Yell were designated, under the Initiative at the Edge scheme (IAE), as being in need of investment.
Local agencies were then established to formulate solutions to specifically local problems – and then what happened?
Just as real progress was being made, the short term funding came to an end.
The former IAE premises on Yell continued to be used by a new development agency – Bluemull Development – and were well on the way to becoming self-financing.
The staff acted as booking agents for Shetland businesses; assisted with business plans; a variety of tutors arranged classes there; locals paid to use the office facilities – and SIC staff were able to operate from the premises.
When SIC management abandoned the office outreach facility, the exorbitant rental charges proved prohibitive, and the unit had to close.
Meantime, the other agency addressing community development issues, the SIC Community Office at Yell Leisure Centre, was under scrutiny, and also faced unrealistic charges (determined by elected council members in the guise of trustees?) and it was closed by SIC: the two agencies which the community looked to for advice are no more.
It is little wonder that those living in the areas identified by IAE tend to regard SIC with despair, and a dollop of cynicism for bye.
The former Bluemull Development is now on the market for c. £30,000: the rental charge equivalent which was imposed on the community office and Bluemull Development would have been sufficient to purchase the unit outright in just over two years….
A much closer dialogue with the community and SIC is needed: the council should abandon the ‘this is what we decided, like it or lump it’ attitudes of the past, and attempt to alleviate the effects of its more Draconian measures. Ferry charges are a good example.
Many in the north isles have no alternative but to seek employment on the mainland. There are examples (and I include my own relatives) where a young couple, each working different hours, on mainland are faced with combined travel charges in excess of £400 a month.
Some have already made decision to leave, and reinvest their travel expenses in a mortgage.
The statistics don’t reveal the demographic shift: the numbers alter little, but as the young vacate their island homes, the elderly and retired move in.
Services for the ageing population are fast approaching breaking point at present, and current trends do not auger well if the young are sifted away. Net savings? More care assistants flown in from out with Shetland? Build another care centre?
Of course we should not object to older people moving in – I’m a 41 year settler myself – but in the absence of a thriving younger population an island community can become dysfunctional, and an increasing serious – and costly – challenge for the local authority.
As an interim measure SIC should consider either abolishing, or greatly reducing fares for essential travellers, in an attempt to halt the inexorable trickle of the young towards the centre before it becomes a flood.
And a more constructive exchange of ideas between the elected and the electorate should be established.