As the results sink in from the local council elections, for many, especially those who did not vote, particularly and sadly in Lerwick, with the lowest turnout, it may seem like the chairs on the Titanic have just been rearranged.
For optimists like myself, the number of new councillors offer if not a new broom, then certainly a new head if not some new bristles. The new council offers a good mix of the experienced and the new, therefore it should not be a foregone conclusion that it will be business as usual.
Feedback from one new Councillor quoted Einstein: ‘Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again expecting a different result.’ So, in that vein one can hope that there will be some new ideas and experimentation. Evolution not revolution of course, this is Shetland, not Cuba.
This said, whilst issues on the doorstep may well have revolved around big ticket issues such as the cost of home heating and the cost of living generally, where we are largely in the hands of big government and big business (OVO, Tesco, Co-op, BP), change and new ideas at the very local are possible.
On the energy front, given no local tariff relief seems forthcoming from SSE Viking Energy and the Yell wind farm developments on completion, where energy export for the big bucks lie, the VE community benefit fund could be used strategically by community councils to lever in SIC reserve funds to create community generation companies with localised small turbines – wind and tidal.
Local energy production already exists in the charitable trust’s ownership of SHEAP and the Lerwick district heating scheme, where profits remain local and for the public benefit.
The development of local food production and security also can lie in a major community development roll-out of polycrubs. Local development companies at community council level can assist in very local community economic development as witnessed in Northmavine, Bressay, Nesting and Sandwick.
Every community council could and should have one, including Lerwick where there is an SIC fund explicitly in place to support such development and the VE community benefit fund could be used strategically for such development rather than new fitba strips.
I direct the new councillors to an urgent assessment of two strategic documents wherein some glaring contradictions seem to lie.
The ‘Our Ambition’ Plan 2021-26 and the Medium-Term Financial Plan (MTFP) 2021-27 seem at odds with each other.
One cannot have an ambitious plan for a “positive and sustainable future” without a coherent strategic investment plan. There is something of the crying wolf about the MTFP, where the erosion of the reserve fund (oil monies) is spelled out.
There is a big difference between topping up departmental revenue funding streams ad id finitum, where Holyrood funding and council tax do not meet ‘the bill’ and strategically investing for a return in the longer term through community economic development activities.
The freeze on council rents and council tax will have helped some a little, but freezing the latter will only have benefitted the wealthiest, with bigger houses, the most.
I do hope elected members will spend time initially away from the ‘normal’ stuff of council meetings and senior officer driven agendas, to get to know each other and dare to dream of new ideas and approaches that call on communities the length and breadth of Shetland to play their full part in developments over the next five years.
James J Paton