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Council / ‘We need people to stand’ – folk encouraged to start thinking about putting themselves forward for 2022 SIC election

Council convener Malcolm Bell: 'impressed by the committee's grasp of the concept of the bill'.
Council convener Malcolm Bell.

NOW is the time to start thinking about standing in the next council election, according to SIC convener Malcolm Bell.

The Lerwick North member encouraged anyone interested in standing in the May 2022 election to seek advice from current councillors.

It comes as the total number of councillors in Shetland is set to rise by one to 23 as part of a rejig of electoral boundaries to balance the number of voters per member.

But after the Shetland South ward was uncontested last time around in 2017, and two others were effectively in the same position, Bell said there is a worry that might be replicated next year.

“That’s clearly a trend we don’t want to see continuing, because it’s very dangerous for representative democracy,” he said.

“We need people to stand, we need people to come forward. Now we know the likely new wards, this is really the time when people ought to be considering coming forward to stand for the council.”

It is also understood that some current councillors are thinking to hang up their boots in 2022.

Bell acknowledged there are some drawbacks to the job, like being in the public glare and “vicious” comments which are sometimes posted on social media.

“But that’s a small part of the job, and you do have to be able to cope with that and develop strategies to cope with that.

“I think the council and councillors have always been criticised. I think social media amplifies that, or shines a spotlight on something that’s always been there,” Bell said.

The convener added that salary is also an issue which may put some people off standing, although generally folk do not do the job for the money. In 2020/21 the basic councillor salary was £17,854, while those chairing committees received more.

Historically the role has often suited retired people, but Bell said the current crop of councillors have bucked the trend somewhat.

“I think this council in particular has been much more diverse in that we have younger members and members who are councillors while they are holding down full-time employment,” he said.

“That’s a very positive change.”

Bell said being a councillor is a “tremendous opportunity to actually put something back into the community”.

The proposed electoral boundary changes coined by Boundaries Scotland, meanwhile, have gone to Scottish ministers.

They include the Shetland West ward reducing in size and dropping from three councillors to two, while Gulberwick will move from Lerwick South to Shetland South.

If approved, the proposed changes would come into force in time for next year’s election.