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SIC backs new chief over Eye article

New SIC chief executive Mark Boden

SHETLAND Islands Council has thrown its weight behind new chief executive Mark Boden after islanders checking his background out on the internet discovered a controversial article about his past.

Council watchers noted a piece which appeared earlier this year in the satirical magazine Private Eye connecting the former Wiltshire Council corporate director with “secret” bonus payments.

Bonuses totalling around £60,000 were paid to around 20 staff working for the now defunct Kennet District Council for the extra work they had put in preparing for the merging of five smaller councils into a single unitary authority in 2009.

Private Eye names three former Kennet council employees, including Boden, who received more than £10,000 as chief executive.

The legality of the payments – “non pensionable honoraria” – was questioned the following year by Liberal Democrat and independent members of the new Tory-led Wiltshire Council.

Outside auditors KPMG carried out an investigation in 2010, declaring the payments had been properly authorised and there had been “no direct evidence of deceitful or illicit behaviour”.

However the auditors did take issue with the way in which the payments had been accounted for, saying they had been poorly documented.

Speaking on Tuesday, Boden told Shetland News that over a two year period he had been working 60 hours plus a week to ensure a smooth transition to the new council.

“Colleagues and I took on a lot of extra responsibilities and put in a substantial amount of extra time over a long period,” he said.

“As well as winding up the old authority we were trying to keep all the services going properly and setting up services for the new council at the same time.”

He said councillors decided to reward the staff for the extra work they had put in, and called it “a sensible management decision” to keep staff on board during a highly testing period.

“I was very grateful to receive that payment, it was a very busy and unsettling time and none of us knew what our future’s were.”

The history came to light following Monday’s council meeting when commentators on the online forum Shetlink drew attention to an article written by Wiltshire Council Liberal Democrat member Trevor Carbin.

Carbin referred to the Private Eye article published in January, and accused the Tory-run authority of trying “desperately to keep a cloak of secrecy over the dodgy deals”.

However SIC leader Gary Robinson insisted that all 29 candidates for the post of chief executive had been thoroughly scrutinised, especially the six that made it onto the shortlist.

Speaking from Stornoway on Tuesday night, Robinson said he was “more than content” with Boden’s appointment.

“I’m aware there has been speculation and gossip across local social media about the circumstances surrounding Mark’s departure from Kennet council,” he said.

“This was a comprehensive, fully-audited process, the issue was subsequently considered by the authority, and no action proceeded from it.

“I’m seriously disappointed in the response of a few ill-informed individuals towards someone who not only wants work in Shetland, but is also keen to help us through what will undoubtedly be challenging times for the council and the community.”

Convener Malcolm Bell added: “It is all too easy these days to trawl the internet and come to dubious conclusions.

“Our process was both extensive and rigorous. I have every confidence in the process and I expect Mark Boden will prove to be an asset to Shetland.”

The SIC paid the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives (SOLACE) to help recruit the right candidate for the post, and the selection panel suggested that Boden stood out as exemplary.

There is sensitivity about the appointment of a new SIC chief executive following the debacle surrounding the tenure of David Clark, who received a £300,000 golden goodbye two years ago after just nine months in the post.

Lerwick South member Jonathan Wills, who was highly critical of the way in which Clark was appointed, said he was confident in the approach that had been taken this time around.

“We have checked the facts very, very carefully and there is absolutely no question of any corruption,” he said.

“If there was any question that somebody told lies or had taken monies inappropriately they would not even have made it to the interview panel.”

Meanwhile Shetland’s new chief executive said that he is hoping the storm that has blown up around the Private Eye articles will die down so that he can get on with his new job.

“This is a great adventure for me and I would like to concentrate on my future in Shetland rather than be distracted by events that happened four years ago in Wiltshire and which have been dealt with.”