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SIC threatens Wills with legal action

SHETLAND Islands Council has warned Lerwick member Jonathan Wills he could face legal action for raising concerns in private about a £250,000 deal to pay off the authority’s former chief executive Dave Clark.

In February the council signed a confidential agreement with Mr Clark reached with help from local government umbrella group COSLA, awarding him the tax free lump sum plus three months pay and legal fees. The final bill to the SIC is at least £306,000.

After councillor Wills saw the detail of the settlement, he wrote to his 21 colleagues questioning the way it had been reached and copied his correspondence to Shetland MSP Tavish Scott and local government watchdog Audit Scotland.

His letter was leaked to Mr Clark’s lawyers who wrote to the council with their own concerns that councillor Wills had breached the confidentiality clause in the final settlement.

In response, the council authorised Murray McCall, of law firm Anderson Strathern’s Glasgow office, to warn Dr Wills that he could face legal action and a complaint to the Standards Commission for his actions.

The letter came the same day that the Standards Commission cleared the councillor of a complaint from the SIC’s leading councillors and officials, including Mr Clark, following a seven month investigation.

On Thursday Dr Wills reacted with fury to the lawyer’s letter, saying that Mr McCall could “get stuffed” and the council should be more concerned about who leaked his private letter to Mr Clark.

“I wrote to all councillors in confidence and without prejudice because in my opinion after studying the agreement it raised serious issues of public policy and involved a waste of a very large sum of public money,” he said.

“Our job is to scrutinise the spending of public money and if I see a quarter of a million which I don’t think has been properly spent it’s my duty to ask questions, as I have in confidence with councillors and Mr Scott, who is my representative in Parliament.”

Mr Scott said he was “deeply concerned” that the council had still not drawn a line under the events of last year which led to the departure of Mr Clark and will be the subject of a public hearing by the Accounts Commission in June.

“Many people won’t understand why a sum of money is being spent on Edinburgh lawyers when surely the thing to do is get a grip of this situation,” he said.

“I don’t know of any law which stops a citizen approaching their elected representative with information that they wish to see and I do hope that someone has checked the laws of Scotland before they wrote that letter.

“The lessons of yet another week in the life of Shetland Islands Council is surely that openness and transparency would assist everyone in all of this coming to an end because the more that people try to cover things up or issue more legal letters the more it goes on.”

Acting SIC chief executive Hazel Sutherland said on Thursday afternoon that she was unable to respond to any questions or comment on the matter.

“I am not permitted to discuss with you any views expressed to the media by a councillor, beyond clarifying a policy or service delivery matter,” she said.

SIC head of legal Jan Riise did not respond to media enquiries for a comment. Convener Sandy Cluness is away on holiday.