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SIC appoints first female chief executive

New SIC chief executive Maggie Sandison.
SIC chief executive Maggie Sandison.

SHETLAND Islands Council’s new chief executive Maggie Sandison – the first ever female occupant of the office – has vowed to make the organisation’s workforce her primary focus. 

Forty four year old Sandison has served as director of the local authority’s infrastructure service department since October 2013 and first joined the SIC back in 2004.

She has served in local government all her working life, including the role of service manager at the council’s environmental health department.

Sandison replaces Mark Boden, who departed at the end of last month, at a time when the local authority is arguably in its most stable financial condition for several decades, though it continues to face stern challenges amid continuing public spending austerity. 

She told Shetland News it was a “real honour” and she was excited about getting down to the job, while recognising the challenges that lie ahead.

“We’re going to continue to face reducing financial allocations from the government, and our costs are growing, and the demands on our services will be growing,” Sandison said.

“My focus initially is really to understand what that means for people, and work with the staff, because our staff know how we can be better, more efficient, meet the needs of the community.

“I want to do a lot of listening, using the innovation and creativity of our staff to help make the transitions that we need to make.

“I think I have been appointed because of the fact I was so interested in the staff, and working to make the culture of the council more focused on being a healthy environment to be at work.”

It is not something she envisaged when she arrived in the islands over 13 years ago: “No, I didn’t, definitely not, so I’m absolutely delighted, and I think it really shows people that you can make a career in the council, there are opportunities, and you can make your way up and demonstrate your skills,” she said.

“it is a long time since [the SIC] appointed internally, and again we had a really strong interest in this post, so it is a really good sign for the council that the number of internal candidates again shows the commitment to staff development.”

Sandison, who at 44 is also the youngest person to take on the role in recent times, will be working with a predominantly male council – 17 out of 22 members – and that is something she is already accustomed to.

“I think it’s a real honour and securing a place in history as the first female chief executive of the council,” she said. “I’ve always worked in a very male environment. Infrastructure is a heavily male-dominated workforce – it doesn’t feel that different to me because that’s been the route I’ve made it through the council.”

She was one of several members of the SIC’s senior management team to be interviewed for the role, and felt that “any of the internal candidates had the skills and capability” to take the job on.

Council convener Malcolm Bell said he was “very much looking forward” to working with Sandison.

“We had some very strong candidates for this position, but after a lengthy process, Maggie Sandison has been appointed.

“Our outgoing chief executive Mark Boden left the council in a robust condition after his six years of outstanding service – and I’m looking forward now to the future with Maggie at the helm.”

Prior to moving to Shetland, Sandison had been working at Arun district council in West Sussex, where she was in charge of environmental health in the towns of Littlehampton and Bognor Regis.

She is a popular figure among many within the local authority, and is also widely viewed as one of the SIC’s most effective public communicators. 

Development director Neil Grant – not one of the applicants – had been acting chief executive since Boden’s departure.

The job, which was advertised in November with a £105,000 salary, was held by Boden for over five years, with his predecessor Alistair Buchan in the job for over two years from 2010.

Prior to the short-lived tenure of David Clark in 2009, native islander Morgan Goodlad had been in the post for a decade and that longevity – if perhaps not his management style – is something Sandison hopes to emulate.

“I think it would be good for the council to have some stability, some consistency in their chief executive,” she said. “I certainly hope I’ll be there for a decade or longer, but you also have to be aware of your own expiry date, and if I ever lost enthusiasm or commitment to the job, I will not submit the council or the staff to that.”

Sandison, a huge fan of live music who travels all over the UK and beyond to festivals every year, is determined that her new post won’t get in the way of that pastime.

“My music festival habit is what keeps me sane, so I’m going to need it even more than I did before!”