GR Direct - Sony - Save up to £300 on selected Bravia OLED & LED TVs
Monday 27 May 2024
 11.3°C   SE Gentle Breeze
Ocean Kinetics - The Engineering Experts

News / Departing leader highlights achievements in office and denies fallout prompted resignation

Cecil Smith, who is standing down as SIC leader after around nine months. Photo: Shetland News.

OUTGOING Shetland Islands Council leader Cecil Smith says “a lot of good things” have come out of his time as a council member – and maintains that “personal reasons”, rather than political fallouts, were behind his decision to step aside.

The veteran councillor announced on Tuesday that he was relinquishing the position after nine months in charge following weeks of unrest behind the scenes over the ferry funding deal the SIC secured from the Scottish Government.

SIC deputy leader Steven Coutts will take on the senior post in the interim, with council convener Malcolm Bell expected to wait until a meeting in early May before asking members to appoint a permanent replacement.

Smith spoke openly and amiably to journalists after overseeing his final meeting as leader – he will continue to serve as councillor in his Lerwick South ward – on Wednesday afternoon.

Asked what had prompted yesterday’s decision, he replied: “I suppose there’s been the issues of the ferry funding – I’m sure you’re aware of that – and there’s not been any huge fallout among members.

“We have our differences of opinion – that happens in politics every day, not only in Shetland Islands Council but wider afield, and I’ve stepped down for personal reasons. It’s nothing to do with a fallout with members, there’s been nothing of that.”

Smith had regular disagreements with environment and transport committee chairman Ryan Thomson in particular during recent months. Those were heightened when Smith accepted an offer of £5 million from Scottish finance minister Derek Mackay to plug the local authority’s ferry funding gap.

The SIC had been seeking £7.5 million and, while Orkney Islands Council received the full £5.5 million it had been after, some members were irked that Smith accepted a lesser amount without consulting other senior councillors – while there were more general criticisms of his leadership style too.

Become a supporter of Shetland News


The way the ferry negotiations played out was also known to have frustrated Shetland MSP Tavish Scott, though both he and Thomson were magnanimous in publicly praising Smith following Tuesday’s announcement.

Speaking in a measured and fairly relaxed manner at his soon-to-be-vacated Lystina House office, Smith said that when he took the role on following last year’s council elections he was “quite sure in my own mind that I wouldn’t do it for five years”.

Reflecting on almost 11 years as a councillor, he said he had “always worked for the benefit of the Shetland community and the folk”. The former police officer is in particular proud of the role he played in ensuring the new Eric Gray care centre – currently nearing completion at Seafield – would come to pass.

He has also been involved at a time when the council has got to grips with its spendthrift habits of old. Yesterday members heard that the council’s oil reserves are now worth around £365 million – a far cry from just a few years ago when questions were being asked about whether a £250 million minimum floor was achievable.

“In 2010, I said we had to stop spending so much of our reserves and get our house in order,” Smith said.

“In 2012 when I came back in, I spoke to the convener and instigated the committee that recovered £20 million [in housing debt owed to the SIC by the government], following on from my friend the Flea [councillor Allison Duncan] who accosted the chancellor at Inverness Airport, which was a good result.

“In my time in leadership there has been some positive things. We’ve completed a new high school, we’ve set a new budget for 2018/19… appointed a new chief executive, we’ve got some money [towards ferry services] from the Scottish Government and are still open to negotiations with them.

“One of the highlights of my 11 years in the council is that I’ve had the stamina to challenge the decision not to hold back the hockey field when it had been set aside for the new Eric Gray, seconded by the Flea, and you see what we have out the road.

“The families are all very happy that they’re getting a new building – I am proud that I was the one who got that to where it is, so there’s been a lot of good things. Officers have been speaking to me today and reminding me of that.”

Smith said he would continue to be a member of the licensing board and planning committee, and was here to offer advice to “any members, new or old” who wish to draw on his experience.

He advised anyone thinking of putting their name forward to replace him to recognise that it is “something that’s going to take a lot of time”.

“When you become leader you become the chair of several other committees automatically, and sit on other forums and committees, and you need to be prepared to do it all. Anyone can do it if they put their mind to it and can take the flak [both within and outwith the council] that goes with it.”

A seemingly relieved Smith, who is looking forward to a pre-planned holiday in Inverurie at the end of the week, finished the cordial interview by warning that – while the council’s reserves are currently in good health – the stock exchange “can go down as fast as it can go up”.

He reiterated what has been a consistent mantra throughout his short tenure as leader: “I would never use our reserves to top up something the Scottish Government should be giving us money for.”

Become a supporter of Shetland News

Shetland News is asking its many readers to consider start paying for their dose of the latest local news delivered straight to their PC, tablet or mobile phone.

Journalism comes at a price and because that price is not being paid in today’s rapidly changing media world, most publishers - national and local - struggle financially despite very healthy audience figures.

Most online publishers have started charging for access to their websites, others have chosen a different route. Shetland News currently has  over 600 supporters  who are all making small voluntary financial contributions. All funds go towards covering our cost and improving the service further.

Your contribution will ensure Shetland News can: -

  • Bring you the headlines as they happen;
  • Stay editorially independent;
  • Give a voice to the community;
  • Grow site traffic further;
  • Research and publish more in-depth news, including more Shetland Lives features.

If you appreciate what we do and feel strongly about impartial local journalism, then please become a supporter of Shetland News by either making a single payment or monthly subscription.

Support us from as little as £3 per month – it only takes a minute to sign up. Thank you.



Subscribe to a selection of different newsletters from Shetland News, varying from breaking news delivered on the minute, to a weekly round-up of the opinion posts. All delivered straight to your inbox.

Daily Briefing Newsletter Weekly Highlights Newsletter Opinion Newsletter Life in Shetland Newsletter

JavaScript Required

We're sorry, but Shetland News isn't fully functional without JavaScript enabled.
Head over to the help page for instructions on how to enable JavaScript on your browser.

Your Privacy

We use cookies on our site to improve your experience.
By using our service, you agree to our Privacy Policy and Cookie Policy.

Browser is out-of-date

Shetland News isn't fully functional with this version of .
Head over to the help page for instructions on updating your browser for more security, improved speed and the best overall experience on this site.

Interested in Notifications?

Get notifications from Shetland News for important and breaking news.
You can unsubscribe at any time.

Become a supporter of Shetland News

We're committed to ensuring everyone has equitable access to impartial, open and quality local journalism that benefits all residents.

By supporting Shetland News, you play a vital role in ensuring we remain a pivotal resource in supporting the community.

Support us from as little as £3 per month – it only takes a minute to sign up. Thank you.