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Community / Call for community council powers to be enhanced

Brae

THE ROLE and responsibilities of community councils in Shetland was discussed in the SIC chamber earlier today (Tuesday) – as well as reasons why some people may be discouraged from becoming a member.

It comes as Shetland Islands Council gets set to go ahead with a second phase of consultation on the isles’ community council scheme.

The first phase looked at the boundaries of Shetland’s community councils, and the status quo is set to remain.

But there was support from some in the SIC chamber for community councils to be more empowered.

It comes amid continued relatively low numbers of people who put themselves forward for community councils.

Shetland Central member Ian Scott suggested Scalloway Community Council’s voice was not heard when it expressed its views against “the windmills” and also a proposed Co-op supermarket in the area.

Convener Andrea Manson noted that SIC councillors are bound by legislation when it comes to deciding on planning matters.

The meeting was also told that there are constraints on the level of power and responsibilities community councils can have because they are not deemed to be a legal entity.

Shetland Central councillor Ian Scott.

Shetland Central’s Davie Sandison also said there was some frustration among community councillors about an inability to get things done “because they don’t get the answers they need”.

“I’ve seen good people come onto community councils and leave because they’re frustrated at things never being resolved,” he said.

Sandison also suggested that people are put off from standing for community councils as they would not want to potentially go head-to-head with people in their area in an election.

Meanwhile there was also praise for a proposed change to the community council scheme which would allow 12 to 16 year olds to take part in meetings.

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SIC leader Emma Macdonald this could potentially encourage young people to think about being involved local democracy in the future.

But Lerwick councillor Neil Pearson questioned by these young people would stand to have no voting rights, and suggested that as a result there would not be much incentive for them to attend meetings.

Another Lerwick councillor, John Fraser, also raised the idea of mandatory training for community councillors in areas such as planning.

Legal chief Jan Riise told members of the full SIC at Tuesday’s meeting that community councillors are offered training and that there is generally a good take-up.

There was also concern raised about the idea of placing mandatory training on voluntary community councillors and the capacity for folk to take this on.

Fraser took note of the concerns and later raised the idea of a “planning or licensing champion” on community councils who receives training.

Meanwhile Sandison advocated looking at the functionality of community councils to make them more appealing.

He also suggested expanding participatory budgeting, where the community is involved in where funding goes.

Other proposed changes which feature in a draft community council scheme include “population bands” which should ensure the number of seats in a community council better reflects the number of people living in the area.

There also stands to be a revised code of conduct.

There could also be a requirement for chairpersons to only serve a maximum of four years in the position, and that they cannot return to that role for a minimum of two years.

However the meeting heard that there could be exceptional circumstances where this rule does not apply.

The meeting heard that the second phase of consultation is set to get underway in mid-April, with a third following later in 2024.

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