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SIC governance review on hold

A CALL for a council-wide consultation on how Shetland is governed has been put on hold, one year after it was initially proposed.

Lerwick councillor Jonathan Wills this week proposed that Shetland Islands Council’s audit and scrutiny committee invite all council staff to come up with ideas on how the local authority should be run.

He also suggested the general public be asked to put forward suggestions to the committee and everyone be given the chance to contribute anonymously.

His move marked the first anniversary of his initial proposal to redesign the way the SIC operates, when he expressed his alarm at how much power was concentrated in the hands of the convener and the chief executive.

Councillor Wills said his contribution to the debate would be to see:

  • the convener and vice convener decide which of them was civic head and which political leader;
  • the annual election or reconfirmation of office bearers;
  • the “super departments” controlled by executive directors Hazel Sutherland and Gordon Greenhill broken up into smaller departments each with their own committee to allow “detailed public discussion of the issues”;
  • committee chairs having more authority over what is discussed, and fewer “fancy names” for the network of “committees, sub-committees, boards, joint boards, partnerships, short term working groups, informal working groups, panels, forums, seminars and trusts”;
  • the council’s internal audit section moved out of the finance department “to reinforce and underline its independence”; and
  • a return of the policy and resources committee.

The councillor criticised committee chairwoman Florence Grains for failing to follow up on last year’s commitment to consult with staff, unions and the public on his ideas.

Councillor Grains said she agreed with 80 per cent of Dr Wills’ ideas, but wanted the audit and scrutiny committee to meet privately to discuss a way forward that would be palatable to the full council.

“I would suggest we sit down as a group and come up with more definite things that we can put to the council rather than putting up something so wide sweeping, because I don’t think that would likely get far,” she said.

She won the day by five votes to two, councillor Gary Robinson being the only other to support an immediate consultation exercise.

On Wednesday Mrs Grains had yet to finalise a date for the private meeting, saying it was difficult to “get everyone together”.

Meanwhile acting chief executive Hazel Sutherland told the committee that work on council governance had been put on hold until a new interim chief executive had been appointed, saying it would be their decision to implement any changes to the council’s management and committee structure.

This includes long term help from local authority umbrella group COSLA’s Improvement Service and ideas for a new finance or policy and resources committee.

She said the consultants working on recruiting a new chief would update councillors on progress on 4 May.