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Letters / Taking charge of your own future

The SIC policy and resources committee discussions this Wednesday were revealing. This year’s budget outturn revealed that the mere one per cent savings had not been achieved, or simply not attempted by senior managers.

The ‘ask’ was to reduce your oil monies propping up council services to make their budget balance. Projections are to see more money spent in 2024/25, accounting for wage and inflationary cost increases.

Council money comes mainly from central government (Westminster) via Holyrood grant plus a minuscule local top-up from council tax, rates, rents, service charges/sales etc.

With a global economy emerging from global (Covid/ wars and local troubles – Liz Truss wiping billions off the public purse) we are still asked by the Conservative government at Westminster, and through it, cuts to SNP government at Holyrood, and hence cuts sought to our public infrastructure and services.

Programmes, projects and service delivery are normally annually tailored to the monies available. Not here. Our rainy day fund is deployed to prevent cuts, or is it to sustain inefficiencies?

Failure to find one per cent of savings this year, with wages the biggest chunk, even with many unfilled jobs, begs serious questions and even more serious answers.

So elected members seem to have been defied yet again by senior management team. It is a tricky business, given recent rampant Westminster backed Ofgem making billions for energycompanies, fraudulent Covid PPE contracts by Conservative MPs.

This after 16 years of Conservative austerity with five year Lib Dem backing. (Note their electioneering second leaflets just in time for Easter. See if you can find their Golden Eggs?)

So public austerity, for private gain, set up by Labour getting lots of  borrowed money at your expense, from the Bank of England, to make more money for private banks. (They sacked them in Iceland!)

The council has a high-level strategic vision document. Nice, warm, woolly words, still not consulted on by the Shetland public.

The debate, after today’s police and resources presentation, could have been a re-run of any I sat through from 1986 to 88. So little learning from the experience of the past 38 years by councillors and senior management?

Albert Einstein said: “The definition of stupidity is always doing the same thing and expecting a different answer.”

I’ll leave you to judge the intelligence, if not integrity, of elected members and senior officers. You elected them, or indeed not, as election turn-out showed, and our ongoing democratic and governance deficits. It’s not just the money.

So difficult decisions. What, indeed, perhaps who, to cut? Stop doing, do more better with less – improved efficiency – or the novel ‘invest to save’ model – spend more money to guarantee (?) reduced long-term costs.

This a favourite of not so prudent Gordon Brown with private finance initiatives (PFI). Still costing you a fortune that goes into the pockets of billionaire banks and global companies. Serco disguised as NorthLink comes to mind!

Please find time to watch (rain is coming) the next full council meeting live or afterwards – link below – and make up your own minds which of the options you’d choose, or none/other? It’s Easter. What would Jesus do?

See https://shetland.public-i.tv/core/portal/webcast_interactive/842704 

Doing things differently can be risky. Doing nothing or the same thing again is riskier. It is complicated applying a variety of options across a variety of projects and services. It takes time and deliberation. Time part-time councillors maybe don’t have, with other full-time/part time jobs, businesses to run, retirement activities and/or grandchildren to mind.

People are waking up to the fact that the system of governance from top to bottom (even community councils) is very badly broken/inefficient. Perhaps a new one is needed that makes us take much greater interest and responsibility for what happens in our neighbourhoods, communities and islands.

The Faroese and Danish are much happier than most in Western Europe. It’s called local democracy, and with it, accountability, involvement, in person. Our model does not even come close to deserving the name local democracy. Look out for Lesley Riddoch’s films coming to Shetland on 28 May.

So, exit Westminster and Holyrood, as we did with the rotten borough of undemocratic Brussels. (No, not xenophobic, just detesting corruption of the public purse.)

Local council elections are not until 2027 – so plenty of time for the current council to prove their worth. You on the other hand have an earlier opportunity this year to prove your worth as active, engaged and caring, responsible citizens of Shetland. It’s called a general election.

To date none of the main parties are offering the change we desperately need to prevent depopulation and turn Shetland into a sustainable place to work, rest and play.

It’s not rocket science – demanding, challenging, requiring hard work, yes.

Let’s not give our votes away easily or squander them by not using them but vote for a manifesto that means something beyond pleepsin’ to Holyrood and Westminster – a completely false narrative.

Let’s see if any party/candidate appears offering to support putting you much more in charge of your own future. To create the sustainable future so urgently needed for your grandchildren, with a practical vision and programme enhancing Shetland’s place at the crossroads of northern Europe (but out of the Common Fisheries Policy!) and build on our global standing and attractiveness to do business with the world. We already have the clients.

Join the growing numbers interested in our future to challenge, inspire and ultimate get an elected representative that puts Shetland before personal or party interests. It may yet be ‘ None of the Above’, but that in itself might be a good start?

Mair Poostir!

James J Paton
Administrator/moderator
SAAT – Shetland Autonomy Action Team

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