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Watchdog clears councillors over Viking

THE PUBLIC Standards Commissioner has “unequivocally” cleared 14 Shetland councillors of breaching the code of conduct over their involvement in the Viking Energy wind farm.

Lerwick community councillor Michael Peterson submitted a complaint in March after Shetland Islands Council had recommended the Scottish government approve the highly controversial development.

He also complained about the decision to approve a planning application for a converter station to export electricity from the 457 megawatt wind farm down a subsea interconnector cable to Scotland.

His complaint surrounded the SIC’s original investment in the £800 million project as joint partners with Scottish & Southern Energy.

Then when the council’s share was passed to Shetland Charitable Trust in 2009, councillors continued to have a conflict of interest as they control that body as trustees.

Public standards commissioner Stuart Allan published his decision on Tuesday afternoon, stressing that his decision to exonerate all 14 councillors was “unequivocal”.

Mr Allan decided that all the councillors had “scrupulously” declared their interests at the appropriate time and the four members directly involved in Viking Energy had withdrawn from discussions when they should have done so.

He added: “I found no evidence of impropriety in the council’s original decision to invest in the windfarm project, which appeared to hold out a considerable prospect of exploiting renewable energy potential for the benefit of the community and in meeting longer term renewable energy aims.”

The key factor, he said, was transparency and he was encouraged by moves already in place to reduce councillors’ dominance of the charitable trust.

The decision was welcomed by SIC leader Josie Simpson, who said: “I’m absolutely delighted. This is very, very welcome news, particularly that the commissioner has made it clear that, as he says, there is no evidence whatsoever of impropriety.

“We had the best advice and that advice was correct. I think this sends a very good message, loud and clear to the people of Shetland that councillors have always and always will act in the best interests of the people of Shetland.”

However Mr Peterson described the decision as “perverse”, referring to advice from SIC legal chief Jan Riise.

He said: “The public standards commissioner’s conclusions are perverse and fly in the face of Jan Riise’s conclusions that there exists an ‘irreconcilable conflict of interest’ between Shetland Islands Council members as councillors and as Shetland Charitable Trust trustees.”

He also pointed to the insistence of local government watchdog Audit Scotland and the Scottish charity regulator that the SCT change its structure of governance to remove the dominance of SIC councillors.

The complaints were against councillors Bill Manson, Alastair Cooper and Caroline Miller, who are directors of SCT-owned Viking Energy Ltd, as well as Allan Wishart, who is employed as project co-ordinator by the company.

Complaints were also laid against councillors Gussie Angus, Laura Baisley, Jim Budge, Sandy Cluness, Addie Doull, Betty Fullerton, Robert Henderson, Rick Nickerson, Frank Robertson and Josie Simpson.

A second complaint against nine councillors has been submitted by the Sustainable Shetland campaign group opposing the Viking Energy development.
The full decision can be found at: