Letters / Guilty of omission

Not perhaps like me to criticise the fourth estate, except when it is clearly biased, untrue or in this case perhaps guilty by omission.

Your article on Audit Scotland’s latest appraisal of the Shetland Islands Council may be taken entirely out of context. It is talking about the previous administration, isn’t it? So, readers may need to stop rolling their eyes and muttering ‘bloody cooncil!”

Mixed feedback for council in best value report

The new council administration, all of three months old, and with a significant 11 new members out of 23, has the potential to be, at least half a new broom. Let’s give them a year to come to terms with the enormity of the challenges they face.

The challenges are equally for the vast majority of the Shetland public, if voter turn-out is anything to go by. Clearly 47 per cent could not give a ‘tinkers damn’ (as both my grandfather and father used to say) about their future. Maybe they are so rich they don’t have to?


The council is, or will be, as good as its electorate, that’s you, the public.

The 12 members of the old administration really do need to act – not take note – but act on this report. After all they were there, a majority on the former council, so it is to them and up to them to raise their game then.

Let me be very clear, it is also up to the Shetland electorate, many in these small isles, who work for the council to significantly up their game too. You know who you are, and we the public know who you are too.

So the new council is very much a game of two halves that need to bond (away-days away from senior management as I suggested immediately after the elections and before the officer led ‘induction’ to help achieve the ambitions set out in Our Ambition 2021-26).

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The last administration had less than a year to act on this weighty tome.  What I want to know is: who wrote it? Officer or members or both? And how many Shetlanders have actually bothered to read it?

Hairst us coming, plenty of time to do so and comment on it to your local councillors.

Whilst I have been fast (too fast?) out of the traps in lobbying and informing the newly elected members on issues such as the remaining democratic deficit – one requiring council and community cultural change – openness, transparency and community engagement.

This way a mandate, not achieved at the ballot box, but through practical, participatory democracy, can be achieved for more powers, locally controlled, to play hard-ball with Holyrood and Westminster, where our local representatives to these bodies are so very clearly absolutely powerless.


So go to the big issues but as well do not forget the very local ones of neighbourhood renewal – broken walls, pavements and roads and poor local amenity.

Through my new role as elected secretary of the Sooth-End Residents Association – we, the public, do need to give the new administration time to make the significant and important cultural and organisational changes it needs to make, to be the best it can be for, and so importantly, with, the people of Shetland.

So take us with you through the next five years to make the fine words in the Our Ambition 2021-26 a reality.

The community councils, and their new found wealth through the wind benefit fund, need to play their part too, but perhaps much more engaging and inclusive with their communities too and – collectively, collaboratively, collegiately – be much, much more strategic in meeting local needs.


So councillors, perhaps start by having that missing consultation, a proper one, without external consultants, on Our Ambition, even though it is a creature of the last administration.

Old clothes?  Let’s see the King’s, sorry Queen’s, new clothes, before the end of the new administration’s first year. That in itself would demonstrate serious intent for the required changes in culture, management and engagement the Audit Commission report is alluding to.

A note of caution, yet one of hope. Local government is severely hampered by Holyrood’s centralised iron grip on policy and finance, it in its turn hugely hampered by Westminster’s stainless, carbon fibre re-enforced, steely grip on policy and finance.

We, all of us, need to break and discard the yoke. Talking of which, you can’t make a souffle without breaking a few eggs.

James J Paton

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