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Angry islanders march on town hall

AROUND 120 angry islanders turned out for a protest rally in Shetland yesterday (Monday) calling on all councillors to resign to allow for new elections.

Their anger was directed at the recent performance of Shetland Islands Council and particularly at the offer of £250,000 to the local authority’s controversial chief executive Dave Clark to make him leave his post.

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Lerwick councillor Jonathan Wills has called on convener Sandy Cluness and vice-convener Josie Simpson to resign.

Forty four year old Mr Clark has been the chief executive for just eight months. He left his office at the end of January following a series of high profile fall outs with elected members.

Last week it emerged that new evidence had come to light and Shetland police had re-opened its investigations into allegations that Mr Clark had threatened violence against Dr Wills in September.

Protesters gathered yesterday noon at Lerwick’s Market Cross and marched the short distance to Lerwick Town Hall.

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They said they were fed up with the way the council was run, making Shetland the laughing stock of the nation.

The unprecedented move is the culmination of months of growing anger with the apparent inability of Shetland Islands Council to tackle pressing issues.

Last Wednesday councillors decided to scrap free instrument tuition for all pupils while two days later they agreed a six figure package to part company with the chief executive.

The march followed a petition signed by 1,300 islanders calling on the council not to agree a “golden handshake” with Mr Clark

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One of the organisers, Lerwick community councillor Kathy Greaves said: “How often and how long must we be shocked, outraged and aggrieved at our council’s actions, by the increasingly poor decisions being made in our name.

“The scandalous catalogue of errors made over the years, the waste and misuse of public money must stop now.”

Fellow organiser, retired Lerwick businessman Ian Inkster added: “We feel that neither a golden handshake nor any compensation is due to the chief executive, as he has not fulfilled the duties expected of him, while at the same time he behaved in such a way as to tarnish the reputation of Shetland.

“So we ask those responsible, those accountable, the convener and vice-convener, to stand down, resign, as we Shetland call for a new local election.”

Speaking from Prague, where he is on a private visit, Lerwick south councillor Dr Wills added his voice to the protest. “The convenor and vice-convener have to resign because they are responsible for the catalogue of mismanagement that has left the council in this appalling situation.

“I think they should also be personally liable for the vast sum of money that is about to be wasted.

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“The chief executive is just a symptom, but the council’s leadership is the cause of the whole problem.”

He added that he would withdraw his complaints against the chief executive should that be required as part of a deal between the council and Mr Clark.

After initially declining to be interviewed, Mr Cluness and vice convener Josie Simpson briefly appeared from the town hall to speak to protesters.

Mr Cluness said he could not speak publicly about the negotiations with Mr Clark since this was a confidential staffing matter.

Afterwards, Mr Cluness made a short statement: “I fully understand people’s concern in this matter. However, it is an employment issue and as such subject to legislation to deal with it.

“We have asked the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities to help us in this; they have the necessary expertise and experience, and are dealing with this on our behalf.”

In another statement yesterday afternoon, CoSLA’s chief executive Rory Mair said the issue should not “be discussed in public at all”.

Every employee in Scotland had the “right to confidentiality with regard to the details of their employment and every employer has an obligation to ensure that confidentiality”, he said.

He added: “That is the process which governs employment and all other matters in the public sector and the residents of Shetland can be assured that these processes will take place in this case. Trial by tittle tattle is not a satisfactory alternative.

“We would therefore urge everybody who has information on this matter to live up to their obligations with regard to confidentiality.”

As negotiations with Mr Clark’s legal team continue, protesters said last night that they would stage another rally this Saturday to further increase the pressure on the local authority.

Mr Clark was in Shetland yesterday but declined to comment.

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