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Council / Petition challenges the way the council works

A GROUP of islanders is calling on Shetland Islands Council (SIC) to hold an emergency meeting within ten days to address growing concern in the community over the Viking Energy wind farm and other developments.

They are particularly concerned with the way the SIC has gone about leasing land to developers and allege that councillors are being kept in the dark while officials act on delegated authority.

The petition, signed by 25 local people and submitted to SIC on Wednesday, does not mention the Viking Energy lease agreement by name but refers to “a recent project”.

Petitioners allege that councillors often appear to be unaware of what is being done in their names. Photo: Shetland News

The petitioners also raise concern that current and former councillors have allegedly been denied access to information regarding the disposal of land and property, and had to revert to Freedom of Information requests to obtain information from the SIC.

The petition, signed by Susan Jolly from Virkie and 24 others from across the islands, says councillors often appear to be unaware of what is being done in their names.

It reads: “We are concerned at an apparent lack of safeguards with regards to disposal of property, land, etc.

“We are further concerned at what, on the surface, appears to be a lack of record-keeping and also passing on pertinent information from officers to either the CEO and council leader or other senior councillors to the rest of the councillors in order for all to be enfranchised and to perform their duties for their constituents.

“We call upon the council and its members to hold an emergency meeting within 10 days to discuss these points.

“At least two of the signatories to this request would like to be present, be it in person or virtually, and to address the council sitting in chamber.”

Speaking to Shetland News on Thursday, Jolly added: “Councillors should be in charge, but the position with the wider council that we are coming across is that it is very much the other way around in that the civil servants are in charge and the councillors half the time don’t know what is happening.

I would like to know what safeguards there are in place, and is it a two-way street in regards to the flow of information because over the years it appears to be getting worse and worse with each council.”

The petitioners have not yet received an official acknowledgement of receipt from the SIC, but council convener Malcolm Bell said he was aware that a petition had been submitted.

He said he was unable to comment on the content of the petition, as it was for elected members to first debate it and decide how to respond.

This, however, is unlikely to happen before the next meeting of the full council on 9 September, he said. There is a council meeting on Monday afternoon though.

Following debate councillors will have to decide whether to note the petition – as was done with a recent petition with regards to local coronavirus test and trace provision – or to instruct officials to compile a report for the next meeting.