Orkney Islands Council began a series of meetings throughout the islands in June as a means of having ‘conversations’ with the communities it serves. Orkney Community Urged to “Think Out of the Box”
The council had been under some criticism over budgetary decisions being made, cuts to local services and poor communication with the public. It may surprise many outside of Orkney but there is only 1 political party councillor in Orkney (Scottish Greens) which means people are voting for individuals who then have to work together. In most parts of Scotland councillors hold surgeries so that constituents can approach them with problems – this does not happen in Orkney. Some councillors have taken to social media to put across their views, others appear on the local radio station, most attend community council meetings and other organisations.
Orkney, unlike most councils also has a reserve fund. It defended its use of the fund at the meetings as it was faced for calls to dip into it more.
Attendees at the Community Conversations were asked to comment on a set of pre-selected questions. Perhaps because of this many of the responses from those who attended were similar in nature. Included in the suggestions were: a tourist tax, using volunteers to do some aspects of work which currently the council provides, more action to dispose of Orkney’s many empty properties and local firms to be involved in future projects.
You can read the whole report here: OIC Community Conversations
James Stockan, Leader of Orkney Islands Council who attended and led all five meetings, said:
“The response we received during the meetings in the summer was very heartening. The meetings were well attended and those who came along not only listened to what we had to say about the challenges we are facing but also offered some solid advice and opinion on the direction the Council should be moving in – and where our communities fit into that.
“We posed a specific question on the use of the reserves, expecting to generate a lot of conversation – and local folk did not disappoint on this. The feedback we received was that there was an absolute understanding of why we had been prudent up until now – but that folk felt the time had come to ‘loosen the purse strings a little’ and help to maintain those things in Orkney that make it the wonderful place it is to live and work.
“The feedback received will be key as officers and members begin to set our budget for next year. A combination of measures, many suggested by the community, will be required to provide some stability to our local economy whilst still being judicious with the reserve fund, ensuring services are as efficient as possible and pursuing opportunities for working together with the community and partners wherever possible.”
The council intends to further consult and engage with communities as the uncertainties of Brexit and its effect on the economy of Orkney plays out.
Reporter: Fiona Grahame