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Community / Community council association favours keeping boundaries the same

Brae

KEEP the status quo on boundaries was the message at last night’s (Thursday) meeting of the Association of Shetland Community Councils.

The association took the view after discussing a consultation on future boundaries for Shetland’s community councils.

All representatives present at the meeting suggested they felt there was more benefit to keeping things as they were rather than change it.

Shetland Islands Council (SIC) recently went out to consultation to gather people’s thoughts on how the network of community councils should look in the future.

The first phase of consultation revolves around the boundaries, and a range of options have been floated.

These include the status quo to merging Fair Isle, Fetlar, Foula, Papa Stour and Skerries into a single “islands with small populations” community council, as well as mirroring SIC wards.

It is part of a wide-ranging review of Shetland’s community council scheme. The last major review of the scheme was held in the 1990s.

The final decisions rest with SIC councillors.

Shetland community councils had been discussing the boundary consultation themselves prior to Thursday’s association meeting.

The meeting heard that many community councils did not want to comment on proposals which would affect other parts of Shetland.

Some other recurring views included that increasing the geographical size of community councils could lose focus on local issues, and affect representation.

Yell Community Council’s Annette Jamieson also said that it’s “hard to say what the area should be when all the other elements [such as responsibilities] still have to be discussed”.

Meanwhile Delting’s Alastair Cooper, who has been a community councillor since the late 1970s, said changing boundaries might “create more problems than we’d solve”.

One issue across community councils is the relatively low number of people interested in standing to become members.

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Sandsting and Aithsting’s Osla Jamwal-Fraser suggested that it could be “counterproductive” to merge some community councils because “the bigger the area, the less invested folk are in what’s happening”.

Meanwhile Cooper said from his experience more people attended community council meetings when there were big issues at play; in his ward he mentioned oil and gas and housing matters.

He suggested there was not as many big issues on agendas these days, creating “less drive” within the community council.

Sandwick’s Bryan Peterson said in his ward people have been reluctant to put themselves forward for community councils if it results in an election and vote, because the other person may lose out.

Scalloway’s Mark Burgess also suggested that enlarging community councils would increase the “volume of bureaucracy” already faced by clerks and members.

The smallest existing community council in terms of population is Skerries. Its chairman Paul James said the view within his community was that things work “extremely well” as it is.

“There’s an enormous amount of value in keeping the local democracy that we have here, as close to the point of use as possible,” he said.

The meeting heard that in Skerries there is about one community councillor to eight people, whereas in Lerwick that is about one to 300 or 400.

The meeting also heard that Fair Isle seemed happy to continue to be included with Dunrossness.

SIC legal chief Jan Riise was also present at the meeting, with the officer encouraging community councils to explore the pros and cons of all options to enable better dialogue and ultimately inform higher quality debate at decision time in the council chamber.

Representatives at the meeting were keen to stress however that their own community councils did assess all options.

Very few benefits of changing boundaries were raised at the meeting; one was that bringing together Yell, Unst and Fetlar could potentially make it easier for SIC councillors to attend meetings.

But Yell’s Annette Jamieson reiterated that the community council there is happy with things as they are.

Lerwick’s Jim Anderson proposed that the association state in the consultation that it prefers the status quo, which was seconded by Skerries’ Paul James.

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