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New SIC chief is here for the long term

New SIC chief executive Mark Boden should start work in October. Pic. SIC

SHETLAND Islands Council has appointed the former corporate director of an English unitary council as its new chief executive.

Mark Boden beat five other candidates to take charge of Scotland’s wealthiest per capita local authority, which is currently going through traumatic change as it strives to slash spending by around 25 per cent.

The 54 year old was made redundant from his £130,000 a year post with Wiltshire Council along with its chief executive last December as part of a budget cutting exercise.

Born and brought up in South Wales, Boden is a trained lawyer whose local government career began in 1980 at Oxford County Council and has extended to both rural and urban authorities.

He rose to become chief executive at Kennet County Council for 10 years, one of England’s most sparsely populated areas with more than three times the population of Shetland covering a region that includes Avebury stone circle.

It was an independent authority with few councillors representing political parties, another similarity with Shetland.

In 2009 Boden was heavily involved in creating a single unitary authority for Wiltshire, which merged Kennet with four other local authorities in the area.

Helping to lead that change was one of the attractions for councillors who interviewed Boden in Shetland last week.

Convener Malcolm Bell said: “He is an experienced chief executive who has experienced successful change management, and someone who frankly had done his homework and was able to convince us that he would do the job required of him.”

At Wiltshire Council Boden was corporate director of operations, which put him in charge of a £123 million budget and almost 3,000 staff and contractors running every aspect of the authority outside of education and social services.

The cuts forced on Wiltshire were similar to those faced by the SIC, with more than 10 per cent of its budget being cut in a single year. That was the council’s third round of cuts, and it was then that senior management was reduced from five to three and Boden lost his job.

After that experience, he said he took “a pause” to do some voluntary work and help a friend set up a charity for apprenticeships before deciding what to do next.

“I restricted my search to things that appealed and to be honest the job in Shetland appealed more than anything,” he said, after his appointment was confirmed on Monday.

“Most jobs tick a few boxes, but Shetland ticks loads. It’s a fabulous place with lovely people and there’s lots of opportunities for the islands in terms of gas, renewable energy, decommissioning, superfast broadband…all sorts of interesting things where you could do stuff and make a real difference.

“I wanted to get this right. I did my research and the more I read the more I liked. I don’t want to be a fly by night, this is a long term commitment for me.”

Boden had never been to Shetland before, but developed an affection for northern climes during visits to northern Scandinavia in his “voluntary second career” as a member of the Territorial Army for the past 28 years.

He is married with a grown up son and expects to start his new £97,000 a year job in early October.

He replaces interim chief executive Alistair Buchan who returns to lead Orkney Islands Council after spending the past two years implementing an improvement programme in Shetland following a damning report by local government watchdog The Accounts Commission in 2010.

SIC leader Gary Robinson said he believes they have made a good choice. “He certainly has a strong record in local government, he is an effective communicator and has experience working at the highest level of local government,” he said.

Scottish Parliament election, 6 May 2021