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Councillors “sidelined” by new SIC structure

COUNCILLORS in Shetland have severely criticised the local authority’s new committee structure, saying the gulf between decision makers and backbenchers has never been wider.

Members of Shetland Islands Council’s audit and standards committee said they felt sidelined, had very few opportunities to influence policies and were governed by a “ridiculous” debating structure.

The SIC implemented a new committee structure last year as part of its improvement plan in the wake of the highly critical Accounts Commission report in 2010.

The new structure is designed to strengthen the council’s leadership by transferring most decision making to a powerful 11 member executive committee, made up of senior councillors on the five other council committees.

On Thursday backbenchers agreed that an overhaul of the committee structure had been necessary but expressed doubt that the right balance had been struck.

Laura Baisley said she feared that any new members elected in May would feel like “spare parts” in the current structure.

Gary Robinson said he had never been given the chance to see the council’s submission to the government’s commission on rural education, as this had never been discussed at committee level.

Councillor Robinson announced that he had resigned from the sounding board, a temporary committee of seven councillors tasked to overlook the improvement process.

In his resignation letter, Mr Robinson said that despite changes to the leadership and the structure of the local authority very little had changed.

His letter can be found here.

The committee’s vice-chairman Allison Duncan added that while there had been no alternative to creating a new structure, he was equally dissatisfied with the way it was working.

“Backbenchers should not be left out of debating issues,” he said.

Councillor Jonathan Wills renewed his call for amalgamating the council’s chief executive and corporate services departments.

He also said it was time to start the recruiting process for a new chief executive to replace Alistair Buchan, on loan from Orkney, who had made it clear that he will leave no later than April 2013.