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SIC praised for making “good progress”

SHETLAND Islands Council has received a pat on the back for the rapid improvements it has made following last year’s highly critical report by local government watchdog The Accounts Commission.

However Scotland’s controller of audit Fraser McKinlay says in a follow up report that the country’s wealthiest authority still has a long way to go to become a best value council.

The Accounts Commission’s two day public hearing last year into the way the SIC was run following the sudden departure of its previous chief executive David Clark was a wake up call for the entire authority.

A damning report highlighted a breakdown in working relationships among officers and councillors, as well as poor governance, accountability and strategic leadership.

Sixteen months after the authority took on Orkney Islands Council’s chief executive Alistair Buchan on a temporary contract to help resolve their difficulties, Mr McKinlay praises the SIC for their prompt action in addressing many of those concerns.

The council has completely redesigned its management and political structure, brought in a string of local government experts to provide advice and set up a major public consultation exercise to plan for the future.

Mr McKinlay says that there are still areas of “significant concern” around the SIC’s finances, saying it will have difficulty delivering this year’s budget.

But he added the council was more “self aware” and was now moving in the right direction.

“The full impact of the improvement action taken to date has yet to be realised and the council understands that that there is still a long way to go before it can demonstrate all the attributes of a best value council,” he said.

“However, the changes to date do indicate a clear commitment to change and provide a solid foundation to support on-going improvement.”

The Accounts Commission will meet on Thursday to discuss the report at a meeting which will be attended by Mr Buchan and councillor Cecil Smith, who chairs the board of councillors managing the new improvement plan.

Mr Smith said he was very pleased with the progress that had been made since he was elected four years ago.

“Coming into the council in 2007 it was quite obvious to me that there were issues with officer and member relationships, but since we have the new structures there are far better relationships,” he said.

“Having gone through what we have gone through I see a vast improvement and I think the Shetland community should be proud of what we have done in the last wee while,” he said.

Mr Buchan, who was singled out for considerable praise in the report, said that the new systems which he had introduced were “pretty bog standard stuff that most other local authorities work to”.

He added: “The last few years have been very hard for the Shetland community and its council.

“This important report demonstrates very clearly that Shetland is now forging ahead. Change can be a painful process but I say a heartfelt ‘well done’ to our staff, our councillors, our partners in all walks of Shetland life, and also to the many members of the public, all of whom played a key role in getting us to this point.

“Our challenge now is to keep up the momentum which we have established and to start to reap, for the community, the rewards which come from doing the right things in a better way.”

The full report can be read at