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Election / Cleaver keen to re-join council as member for North Isles

FORMER North Isles councillor Gary Cleaver is among the latest candidates to throw their hat into the ring to determine who will become the third councillor to represent the island communities of Unst, Fetlar, Yell, Skerries and Whalsay.

Gary Cleaver was councillor for the North Isles from 2012 to 2017. Photo: Shetland News

The 67-year-old, who lives in Baltasound, said radical thinking was needed to sort out the “state of the ferries” that made life in the North Isles very difficult.

A fifth candidate, Sonia Robertson of coach operator Robertson & Son, has also put her name forward. She joins and Douglas Stewart, Robert Thomson and Marie Williamson.

He said he decided to submit his candidacy papers after realising that a number of candidates who were rejected in their own constituencies had put their names forward for the North Isles ward.

The by-election is taking place on 4 August after only two candidates came forward for the North Isles’ three seats in May’s local government election.

“I was quite dismayed that the North Isles couldn’t even muster a full complement of nominations [at the 5 May election],” Cleaver said.

“It’s bad enough that there was no election, but even with no election, the fact that there weren’t enough people standing was pretty awful.

“When I started seeing who was stepping forward for the by election, i.e. people with at best tenuous connections to the North Isles, and some with none whatsoever, who had already had their own constituents not want them, I thought this is not really desirable and I’ll give people a bit more choice.”

Cleaver represented the North Isles for five years from 2012 to 2017 before choosing not to stand again.

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He described the ongoing problems of providing a regular and reliable ferry service, mainly on the Yell and Unst routes, as a “perfect storm” of crew shortages, Covid related absence, ageing ferries and linkspans and a number of legacy issues.

“There is no slack in the system, it is now and not some time in the future. It really needs sorting,” he said.

And he pointed the finger at ‘single status’ as the one of the main problems the council faces in recruiting and retaining ferry crews.

“Part of the problem is single status, because the way the ferry crews are assessed in single status meant that they are yoked to terms and conditions that don’t reflect any other marine employment, and they all got good tickets,” he said.

The single status agreement, signed in 1997, unified pay and grading structures across local authorities, mainly to remove pay differences between men and women undertaking similar jobs.

Cleaver said the council’s marine staff were trained to a high standard and had all the right qualifications to take on better jobs in private industry.

“They can take those and get much better money and better conditions elsewhere, and that’s what they are doing because we are in the middle of a cost of living crisis, and people are going for jobs on salmon boats or stand-by vessels, and you can’t blame them,” he said.

Nominations close at 4pm this afternoon (Friday).

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