Letters / ‘Wide of the mark’

SIC deputy leader Gary Robinson responds to James Paton

I will graciously accept your correspondent James Paton’s comment that I often speak a “great deal of sense.” However, I’m afraid I cannot reciprocate that sentiment on this occasion for it is Mr Paton who is “wide of the mark.”

Autonomy would empower community councils

In moving a motion to ‘note’ a recent report which followed a notice of motion regarding the connection of Sandveien houses to the Lerwick district heating scheme, I did not prevent the scheme from being connected. However, I did put the matter back into the hands of the council’s officers, where I believe it always should have been.

Mr Paton might find my fellow Lerwick North councillor’s “accusation” of “micro-managing officers” laughable, however, a councillor’s role is firmly rooted in policy and strategy, not operational matters and the choice of heating systems is, in my view, deeply operational.

There is no doubt in my mind that the proposals for the first phase of the housing scheme refurbishment were within the council’s policy at the time that the work was approved and, given that this work is underway, it was unwise – in my view – and potentially expensive to seek to change it at such a late stage.


The fact that the counterproposal to “instruct” the installation of district heating was un-costed also meant that it was potentially a blank cheque.

Despite his comment about micro-managing officers, Mr Paton goes on to say that councillors fail to “manage their senior officers […] a major part of their job description that they consistently ignore” – which is it?

Of course, elected members should scrutinise proposals, challenge opinions, and hold to account in a respectful way, but managing staff is the job of the chief executive and executive directors.

While the company that runs the district heating scheme, Shetland Heat Energy & Power Limited, holds a privileged position in our community, it is, nonetheless, a wholly owned investment vehicle for the Shetland Charitable Trust and a private, limited company in its own right.


Of course, it is welcome to bid for council business, and of course the council is a longstanding customer of the district heating company, however it must engage with the council through its officers, just as any other business would do.

Mr Paton laments what he sees as the poor standard of debate, but on this occasion the tone was set by an elected member making an apparent pitch on behalf of the aforementioned private company.

Why does any of that matter, I hear you ask? – Well, it does matter.

The councillors’ code of conduct covers member/officer relations and lobbying, amongst other things, and just last month the Standards Commission suspended a Stirling councillor for five months for being disrespectful to council officers, becoming inappropriately involved in operational matters, and pressuring officers into taking certain courses of action, in respect of a development site.


It’s also untrue to say that the proposal to instruct the installation of district heating in Sandveien fell because landward councillors voted against town councillors.

It fell because a majority of town councillors weren’t convinced by the proposal and either voted with me to note the report or didn’t vote at all.

There’s more in Mr Paton’s letter that I could pick up on, however I cannot let his misguided attack on the convenor and her use of her casting vote go unchallenged.

Far from “demonstrating an unwillingness to fulfil the demands of leadership”, I think councillor Manson showed courage and conviction in using her casting vote against a proposal which, in my view, should never have been brought to the council chamber.

All 23 Shetland Islands councillors, myself included, need to reflect upon how it ever came to a situation where a vote, let alone a casting vote, was needed on a matter such as this.

Gary Robinson
Councillor for Lerwick North and Bressay



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