A REVIEW is set to be carried out into how the committees Shetland’s councillors sit on are run after auditors suggested merging them could save time and resources.
An audit report of Shetland Islands Council’s last financial year written by Deloitte recommended that the local authority should look into whether it could bring together the work of some of its committees to avoid “overlapping” of agendas.
Chief executive Maggie Sandison confirmed at Wednesday’s full council meeting that the local authority is due to review its committee structure – but she stressed that nothing may actually change.
At committees reports are presented to councillors at public meetings on specific topics, who can then comment, debate and make decisions on council matters.
Councillors are divided up onto committees covering subjects like audit, development, education and families, environment and transport, licensing, pension fund, planning, policy and resources and Shetland College – while all 22 members attend full council meetings.
The council also holds harbour board meetings and puts forward councillors to transport partnership ZetTrans, the integration joint board and the community safety and resilience board.
Councillors can find themselves on a number of committees, with North Isles member Ryan Thomson for instance chairing environment/transport as well as sitting on audit, education/families, harbour board, pension fund and policy and resources – while he also presides over ZetTrans and Shetland’s external transport forum too.
Deloitte said in its report that the council has a “large number of committees, with some members on a significant amount of these”.
“The council should consider if the responsibilities of any committees can be merged to reduce the number of committees whilst maintaining the overall responsibilities, given that this will reduce the administrative time in preparing papers for and attending differing committees without the loss of any scrutiny,” it added.
It is not unusual for the same report to be passed through a few committees in the same week, meaning some councillors end up having to repeat their views at different meetings.
Lerwick South councillor Peter Campbell suggested at Wednesday’s full council meeting, however, that having more committees – but with less topics – could actually work better as there would be more scope to discuss matters with greater focus.
Fellow town councillor John Fraser also questioned if the policy and resources committee was needed – although convener Malcolm Bell politely reminded him that discussion of particular committees for was another day.
Speaking after the meeting, Sandison said it is “good practice” for the council to continually review its governance arrangements.
“During this year we will be carrying out a review of committees and making sure that they’re doing the business that we need them to do,” she said.
“One of those issues clearly is that we need to make sure that they’re being used for decisions, because actually officers have the capacity to make decisions, and the authority to do so, and sometimes we send reports to committees which are looking at providing information rather than asking for a decision to enable business to go ahead.
“So really what we want to is to make sure that the agendas are fit for purpose, the business of the committee is being conducted properly, and then making sure there is no duplication in the constitution that we have.”