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Council / Council leaks are not in the public interest – SIC convener

SIC convener Malcolm Bell
SIC convener Malcolm Bell.

LEAKING council material to the media is not in the public interest and could undermine the effective internal workings of the local government, council convener Malcolm Bell has insisted.

Bell spoke to Shetland News following a series of “unauthorised disclosures” of material and e-mail exchanges that would otherwise not have seen the light of day – at least not at this stage.

These include confirmation that Shetland’s bid to host the 2023 Tall Ships’ Races has been accepted as well as some limited insight into misgivings some councillors have expressed in relation to the ongoing Viking Energy planning process.

None of the material disclosed was particularly revelatory and only gave a short glimpse into what goes on behind closed doors in the council chamber, where there is no formal opposition in place to provide checks and give balance.

Bell said he would not speak about individual cases, but was happy to comment in general terms.

“While most council business is conducted openly, occasionally it is necessary to keep some information private,” he said.

“This could include, for example, the detail of ongoing negotiations with governmental organisations or sensitive information relating an external organisation or individual.

“It is not reasonable to suggest that everything can be played out in the full glare of publicity in real time. No organisation conducts their business that way and it wouldn’t be in the public interest if we did.”

The council convener continued by saying that councillors were accountable to the public and represent the public’s interests.

“To discharge that duty we are entrusted with information which cannot be placed in the public domain. In other words, on behalf of the public, we are given privileged access to information which for good reasons cannot be shared publicly.”

Councillors are also personally and legally responsible under the code of conduct to maintain confidentiality.

“If unauthorised disclosures are made it damages the essential bonds of trust that exist between officials and councillors, between councillors and councillors and also between the council and those we work with on behalf of the community,” Bell said.

“This is certainly not in the public interest. I am confident most members understand that and act responsibly.”