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Audit probe may not go deep enough

AUDIT Scotland’s investigation into Shetland Islands Council’s recent problems with its short lived chief executive David Clark may not be going far enough, according to some members of the local authority.

This week two junior managers of the local government watchdog arrived in Shetland to interview the SIC’s senior councillors and its two top officials about the way Mr Clark was appointed in May last year and his subsequent departure with a cash free £250,000 pay off last month.

Their visit follows concerns raised by the Accounts Commission about “deeper problems” within the council after a series of fall outs between councillors and Mr Clark during his brief tenure at Lerwick Town Hall.

Audit Scotland’s best value portfolio manager Martin Walker and audit manager Carol Hislop arrived in Shetland on Tuesday for three days to interview SIC human resources manager Denise Bell and sit in on yesterday’s full council meeting.

The pair had pencilled in interviews lasting between 30 minutes and one hour with eight members of the SIC’s senior member/officer liaison group – convener Sandy Cluness, vice convener Josie Simpson, councillors Alastair Cooper, Gussie Angus, Betty Fullerton, Iris Hawkins, Allan Wishart, acting chioef executive Hazel Sutherland and infrastructure director Gordon Greenhill.

They will also speak to the chair and vice chair of the audit and scrutiny committee, councillors Florence Grains and Allison Duncan.

This weeks’ interviews will be followed up by a visit next week from Audit Scotland’s assistant director (best value) Fraser McKinlay and assistant director (audit services) Fiona Mitchell-Wright, who will be accompanied by Ms Hislop, to provide the council with “initial feedback on the audit conclusion”.

The team have a short timescale to carry out their work, promising to report back to the council with a draft report on 12 April.

Audit Scotland intend to focus on their recent “qualification of the (SIC’s) accounts, shortcomings in the budget process and other governance issues”.

The will examine “the strategic leadership of the council, as demonstrated by its ability to take difficult decisions and the effectiveness of working relationships”, as well as the recruitment, selection and departure of the chief executive.

However some councillors and officials have privately expressed concern that the auditors are not looking at the events that took place during Mr Clark’s period in office, which raised such public concern.

One member said the community was expecting them to look at what happened regarding the deletion of assistant chief executive Willie Shannon’s post in August and the appointment of Mr Clark’s former business associate Andrew Laidler to co-ordinate a planning review of Anderson High School.

“These issues are symptomatic of deeper problems within the council and they need to be looked into and brought out into the open,” he said.

There have also been comments on the level of importance attached to the investigation by Audit Scotland, compared to 1999 report on the termination of chief executive Nick Reiter which was carried out by then Controller of Audit Robert Black.

Yesterday convener Cluness gave councillors an assurance that there would be an opportunity for them to have a private discussion with Audit Scotland to raise any concerns they may have.

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