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New SIC finance chief appointed

The council's new finance chief James Gray.

AN AUDIT manager who was drafted in to help Shetland Islands Council sort out their accounting problems last year has been appointed as the authority’s new finance chief.

James Gray was appointed executive finance manager the day after the Accounts Commission highlighted “significant concerns” over the authority’s finance section.

The local government watchdog said the department was under resourced, which led to last year’s accounts being submitted three months late. The accounts have been qualified for the past six years over the failure to group them with the Shetland Charitable Trust.

Mr Gray currently works from the Edinburgh office of global accountancy giant PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC).

He takes over from Hazel Sutherland, the council’s former executive director for education and social services, who was filling the post until a replacement could be found prior to leaving the authority.

SIC corporate services director Brian Lawrie, who is also a temporary appointment, said it was worth waiting three months for Mr Gray to work out his notice with his current employers.

“The chief finance officer is such an important position in any council, so we were acutely aware that this needed to be filled on a permanent basis,” Mr Lawrie said. 

“James is well known and respected for the work he did last year on the accounts, so is starting from a strong position. I’m conscious that there is a gap before he can start, owing to notice, but it’s better to wait a bit longer to get the right person on board.”

Mr Gray said he was looking forward to the challenge. “Having worked closely with staff in finance last year, I have developed an understanding of the issues the council has faced in preparing good quality accounts,” he said.

“I’m also very aware of the messages coming out of the recent Audit Scotland report and the challenges around delivering reductions in the budget over the next few years. 

“I see this as a great opportunity for me to roll up my sleeves and contribute to addressing some of these issues”.

The SIC has also recruited a financial accountant to address deficiencies in closing the annual accounts.

In their report on Wednesday, the Accounts Commission said that the SIC’s new finance manager must have “adequate authority, profile and opportunity to challenge directors of services on budgetary matters, during times when difficult choices on expenditure and savings will need to be made”.