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Election / Prospective councillors outline first priorities ahead of by-elections

Lerwick Town Hall.

THE TEN candidates vying in two Shetland Islands Council by-elections have outlined what their first priority would be if they are elected next week.

Five candidates each are in the running for the Lerwick South and Shetland Central wards following the resignation of Beatrice Wishart and Mark Burgess.

Here is what each candidate said their first priority would be should they be elected following the votes on 7 November.

Stephen Flaws.

In Lerwick South, Stephen Flaws said Viking Energy has been the most talked-about topic when he has been on the campaign trail.

“If elected as a councillor, the first priority would have to be to ensure that the council prepares a strategic plan, in conjunction with an updated carbon management plan, setting out how sustainable energy will play a part in Shetland’s future,” he said.

“Amongst other factors, a plan detailing the level of renewable energy to be produced, how it’s to be produced and the community benefits it will bring, will go some way in helping the public understand how Shetland means to shape its sustainable future. I believe the majority of people appreciate the need for reliable sustainable energy but the focus on the Viking Energy project has polarised opinions to such an extent that the alternatives have not been adequately explored.”

Flaws said it is “imperative that the council has a clear view on how it uses and produces affordable and sustainably energy” in a time when people are calling on the local authority to declare a climate emergency.

Caroline Henderson.

Caroline Henderson said her first priority would be to “get the answers to questions that people have told me they have been waiting for, for way too long”.

“As I’ve always said accountability is key – when issues are outstanding that affect people’s lives and the stress that causes, they deserves answers,” she said.

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“If answers can’t be given they need to know why not, and when they will come. Then they need me to follow through on this for them, for as long and as often as it takes, till a conclusion is reached. Everyone has more pressures on their time now more than ever and it would be my role as councillor to get answers for them.”

Getting the council’s finances “back in order”, meanwhile, would be a top priority for Gary Robinson.

“Whether it’s education, social care, housing or transport, you can only plan sustainable services with a firm financial foundation,” he explained.

Gary Robinson.

“The council is expected to overspend from its reserve fund this year and that situation is only predicted to get worse over the next few years resulting in a £15.6 million deficit by 2023 if nothing is done. It could be even worse than that as the council’s auditors estimate that this gap might have been underestimated by as much as 40 per cent.

“If expenditure is left to go unchecked, then we’ll rapidly find ourselves in the same position that we were in seven years ago when it was predicted that the reserve fund would have dwindled away to nothing by now.

“By cutting our cloth according to our means, Shetland Islands Council can continue to supplement its spending by teens of millions of pounds every year and support services that would otherwise be unaffordable.”

Frances Valente, meanwhile, said the climate would be high on her agenda.

Frances Valente.

“My first priority would be to try and get councillors and the appropriate officials around the table to look at how the climate emergency should start to be addressed,” she said.

“Climate change is one of the biggest issues we have to face now. It is such a huge issue and something that is often talked about as being something of a problem for the future. However, if the next generations are to have any kind of future it needs to be addressed now, and not when it really begins to affect our every day lives.

“Although it is a mammoth task the council needs to put as much effort into this as it did to the exercise to cut down on spending. Climate change should, and will, affects every aspect of local government business from this point forward.”

Arwed Wenger.

Arwed Wenger, meanwhile, is a little more pragmatic – saying that the question cannot be answered with one subject.

“I am afraid 20 councillors in a routine, doing the job already for 2.5 years are not waiting for the by-elected councillor to post an agenda,” he said.

“So I think as new councillor it is necessary to listen, look, think, decide, and act”.

Wenger did promise, however, that he would start a monthly Sunday redd-up if he was elected.

In Shetland Central, Johan Adamson said one of her first priorities would be to propose that the council creates a new committee – possibly called the climate change committee – to oversee the declaration of a climate emergency, as well as to bring together ideas on how to tackle the issue.

Johan Adamson.

“They would also be tasked to examine current practices such as waste disposal to ensure us that this process is the most effective possible,” she added.

“This committee would also have to negotiate with the Scottish Government to obtain funding to support our needs, and be allowed to have an input on issues like Viking Energy and the continuation of Sullom Voe and the gas plant and the just transition with the assistance of the unions.

“This committee would have to come up with an action plan alongside other councils to meet climate objectives as soon as possible and ensure that action is taken, not just spoken about.

“As an accountant I would also be keen to learn about the council and the finances. I believe we get an induction to help us understand and navigate our way through the various departments, so I would also like to offer support to the finance department, audit and to the external auditors, and make sure any ideas the staff and auditors have are listened to and actioned.”

Julie Buchan.

Julie Buchan, meanwhile, said in the early days she would create the foundations to enable her to best represent her constituents.

“My first priority would be to immerse myself in learning the job that I have been elected to do,” she said.

“I want to be an effective councillor that will make a difference to the constituents of Shetland Central. I would not take my responsibilities lightly and to do this I will work hard, listen well, be approachable and available and above all put the interests of all residents of this ward first and foremost.”

Stewart Douglas, who is the only candidate standing for a party (SNP), said his first action would be to approach the relevant Scottish ministers with planning and housing concerns.

He said he would also “encourage positive engagement in general

Stewart Douglas.

with ministers on other matters such as improving our public transport, high speed broadband connectivity, NorthLink ferry fares, and airport car parking charges – I will take Shetland Central’s case to the heart of government”.

“I have spoken to many people on the campaign trail for the past four weeks and it has been very inspiring to hear the views of so many people,” Douglas added.

“Clearly the above issues, along with SIC taking climate change seriously are the major issues of concern to many in Shetland Central and that is why my approach to Scottish ministers will be my first priority.”

Gordon Laverie, meanwhile, said there is “so much to be done it is very difficult to prioritise”.

Gordon Laverie.

“However, as an example, huge budget cuts are planned for public transport services,” he continued.

“With climate change targets to be met, we have to encourage people out of their cars and onto public transport. An objective hard enough to achieve as things stand. Cutting budgets will render it pretty much impossible.

“Public transport to the outlying areas need to be much improved too. They are totally inadequate at the moment. The fact is, that rather than budget cuts, massive investment is required. The only time for cutting public transport services will be when we are all driving around in electric and/or hydrogen powered vehicles.”

Moraig Lyall said that she would use her first moments as a councillor to understand the lay of the land – and use this as a

Moraig Lyall.

“strong foundation” going forward.

“If elected my first priority would be to get to know my fellow councillors and key people employed by the SIC,” she said.

“I would get to grips with how things operate and the issues currently being looked at by the council and identify where I think I would be able to most make a difference. This would give me a strong foundation for being able to fulfil the role of a councillor well.”

There are a total of five candidates competing in each by-election. They are in alphabetical order, sorted by ward:

Lerwick South: Stephen Flaws, Caroline Henderson, Gary Robinson, Frances Valente, Arwed Wenger.

Shetland Central: Johan Adamson, Julie Buchan, Stewart Douglas, Gordon Laverie, Moraig Lyall.

Read more about the Lerwick candidates here, and the central candidates here.

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