Big plan aims to improve life in the isles

Maggie Sandison

SHETLAND Islands Council has signed up for an ambitious ten-year plan aimed at improving life in the isles across a broad range of measures.

The Shetland Partnership Plan has entailed months of work iterating a “shared vision” for the isles with the council operating in conjunction with community and other public bodies.

Its key focus is to “reduce inequality of outcome in Shetland” and tackle issues that lead to poorer quality of life.

SIC chief executive Maggie Sandison outlined the draft plan for approval at a meeting of the full council on Wednesday after earlier feedback from councillors had been factored in.

She said: “It puts community groups on a statutory footing….it focuses on the issues where the Shetland outcomes and indicators are worse than for Scotland.”

Sandison added that the plan did not supersede the council’s existing commitments, but was in addition to these. She paid tribute to the work of community planning manager Vaila Simpson and her team in drawing up the draft.

She said that there were many “complex pieces of work” ahead implementing the vision and that councillors were ideally placed as representatives of the people to ensure that the other partners did not backslide on their involvement.

Councillors hailed the broad sweep of the document and its potential for furthering democratic input to a range of policies via the inclusion of the council.

Lerwick North member Stephen Leask said: “This is fantastic news and its great to see the Shetland Partnership Plan is getting engaged in.”

But he warned that given its 10-year timeframe, it was not a can to be kicked down the road.

The plan and its outcomes are based on statistics derived from central surveys of 200 households in each local authority area annually. These repeatable surveys will allow a picture of change to be built up over time, with the indicators hopefully moving in the right direction.

Several councillors were shocked to learn that the cost of living in Shetland could be 20 to 60 per cent higher than the UK average depending where in the isles you live.

Eyebrows were also raised at Shetland’s carbon footprint being 73 per cent higher than the Scottish average. North Mainland councillor Alastair Cooper said that this was largely due to Sullom Voe Terminal and the Total gas plant.

Shetland’s average annual income was 11 per cent higher than the Scottish average, but even with that, 49 per cent of households did not earn enough to “live well”, while 53 per cent of households were in “fuel poverty”, according to the figures.

Questions were raised about the accuracy of some of the statistics, but council convener Malcolm Bell said that the council’s own survey on domestic heating had tallied with the government figures.

Councillors approved an amendment by South Mainland member George Smith that would ensure council scrutiny and oversight of the plan as it progresses.

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