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Shetland: Hopes for good engagement with community council consultation

Publication: Shetland News

A consultation on Shetland's community council boundaries hopes for many responses – amid concern from one elected member about potential “apathy” from the public.

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

A number of ideas will be floated in the consultation, including merging Fair Isle, Fetlar, Papa Stour and Skerries into a single “islands with small populations” community council.

But speaking at a meeting of the full council on Tuesday, Shetland West representative Mark Robinson said previous consultations have tended to result in a “high level of apathy”.

The SIC’s governance and law manager, Jan Riise, said there would be no limit to the breadth of the consultation, adding that there is a hope to have a presence at upcoming food and craft fairs in Lerwick.

He said there would also be engagement with Shetland’s Scottish Youth Parliament members.

It all comes as the SIC reviews Shetland’s community council scheme. The last major review of the scheme was held in the 1990s.

There has been a relatively low number of people interested in standing to become community councillors in recent years, with contested seats a rarity.

There are expected to be three different consultation phases during the review process.

A number of options on boundaries will be presented in the first consultation, with one being the status quo of 18 community councils.

Option two is to create a new island with a small population community council and adjust the boundaries of the Dunrossness and Sandness and Walls community councils.

A third option is to introduce the ‘small populations’ community council, maintain the existing status for the remaining islands and create five new mainland community councils that match SIC ward boundaries.

As well as the option to have only seven community councils which match SIC wards, a final idea is to increase the overall number to 20 by creating new community councils for Fair Isle and Foula.

People responding to the consultation can also submit their own proposals.

At Tuesday’s meeting SIC leader Emma Macdonald warned her colleagues against offering their own views on boundaries as there will be an opportunity to do so at a later stage.

However, there were some hints from members, with Stephen Leask warning against “diluting” the Lerwick and Bressay community councils and Robbie McGregor pondering how a ‘small population’ islands community council could work regarding distance and travel.

Regarding McGregor’s point, development director Neil Grant said the islands of small population group – which meets to discuss issues relating to Fair Isle, Fetlar, Papa Stour and Skerries – has tended to work well with remote meetings.

Meanwhile, Shetland Central member Davie Sandison suggested the council may put the “cart before the horse” by consulting on boundaries first – before other aspects like functions and powers of community councils.

His views were echoed by ward colleague Moraig Lyall, who said this could “predetermine” the next consultation phase.

Another Shetland Central member, Ian Scott, suggested more people might be keen to join a community council if they had more powers.

As well as giving the go-ahead for the consultation, councillors also agreed to extend the current community council term of office by a year to allow the scheme review to take place.