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Council / Audit report ‘one of best I’ve ever seen’, chairman says

A COUNCILLOR has described a new external check on SIC activity as the one of the best he has even seen while on the local authority’s audit committee.

Committee chairman Allison Duncan felt it showed that the council has “excelled” itself over the difficult past year.

The publication in question was an interim report from external auditor Deloitte looking back over the past financial year.

South mainland councillor Allison Duncan thinks more can be done to tackle drug use in Shetland.
Shetland South councillor Allison (Flea) Duncan. Photo: SIC

Conor Healy of Deloitte told Wednesday’s audit committee meeting it was notable that only three recommendations for improvement were put forward, as more than 20 were reported in 2018/19.

Two of these were deemed ‘high’ priority – enhancing the detail provided in financial monitoring reports to provide clarity on revisions made to the budget, and conducting an evaluation of completed projects to compare actual inputs and outputs.

Elsewhere in the interim audit report Deloitte said the SIC has strong financial management in place.

It added that the current level of reserves held are at an acceptable level and are in line with policy.

However, Deloitte said the “continued draw on reserves is unsustainable in the long-term”.

There was some concern raised over apparent “weaknesses” in the structure of the council – including vacancies on committees and leaks to the media.

But the report said political leadership of the council remains effective and that chief executive Maggie Sandison showed strong leadership during the pandemic.

Deloitte said the SIC has performed a comprehensive review of how open and transparent it is, identifying areas of good practice and areas for improvement – with a review due to be presented to councillors soon.

Healy told Wednesday’s meeting that the SIC has a “commendable approach” to openness and transparency.

The audit report also noted that referrals to the Commissioner for Ethical Standards in Public Life in Scotland was another evidence of weakness in the council’s structure.

Councillor Ryan Thomson was censured last year for failing to keep his register of interests up to date, while Shetland Central member Ian Scott was reported to the watchdog for conduct in the council chamber, although in his case the accusations were thrown out.

During debate Duncan said chief executive Sandison has performed an “outstanding job” for the council during the pandemic and has lead by example.

He also praised partnership working in Shetland, particularly between the council and NHS Shetland.

When it came to the “weaknesses” around governance and transparency, he said previous leaks of confidential material to the media had to stop.

He said it threatened to bring council members into disrepute, but Lerwick North member Stephen Leask said it already had.

“It’s not helpful, let’s put it that way,” Duncan replied.

Meanwhile the chairman also said more could be done to address the financial situation.

“I would encourage members to work with officers to address the unsustainable issue to make it sustainable,” he said.

But Duncan said having been on the audit committee since 2007, Deloitte’s feedback was “one of the best reports I have ever seen”.

Meanwhile, councillors on the committee said it was a “good news story” that the local authority has recruited an experienced officer and a trainee in health and safety.

The issue of health and safety monitoring was raised previously by auditors.

Elsewhere in the meeting there was some frustration shown over the complex nature of business cases which are presented to elected members when deciding on whether to back capital projects.