Wills turns to ombudsman for help
A COUNCILLOR is taking his quest to get the bottom of capital project failings which have cost the SIC several millions of pounds to the public services ombudsman.
Lerwick South member Jonathan Wills confirmed that he would be writing to the ombudsman after being told face-to-face by Audit Scotland’s Fiona Mitchell-Knight that the auditors had not looked in any detail at his call for an investigation into the council’s handling of three major capital projects, the new Anderson High School, the now-abandoned Bressay Bridge project and the Mareel cinema and music venue.
He is trying to get to the bottom of who is to blame for £6.1m being spent on the projects without a single brick being laid. Dr Wills said he had been waiting for this week’s meeting of the Full Council to see if there was “any sign of contrition or apology” but because that had not been forthcoming he now had “no option” but to write to the ombudsman.
The councillor alleges there has been “serial maladministration” at the highest echelons of the council leadership, but has been accused by SIC convener Sandy Cluness of pursuing a “witch hunt” against him.
Ms Mitchell-Knight said the auditors had not examined a detailed dossier of information from Dr Wills relating to the three projects and they did not want to step on the toes of an internal report by SIC head of finance Graham Johnston, which went before the audit and scrutiny committee last month.
The auditors gave the SIC’s books for the last financial year a “qualified opinion” because of its continued refusal to group its accounts with those of Shetland Charitable Trust, a body which it sees as essentially an extension of the council’s own functions. Mr Johnston said the situation remained at an impasse, though Audit Scotland was pleased to note the reincorporation of Shetland Development Trust onto the council’s balance sheets.
Ms Mitchell-Knight said the £29m draw on reserves in 2007/8 had been lower than the anticipated £33m but there was concern at reported slippages in the capital programme and a funding gap of £37m over the next two years. There remains a “considerable drain” on the council’s oil reserves and she said the auditors were expecting the council to make “significant improvements” in its project management.
Audit Scotland is also worried about the impact of the single status agreement, not only because of the estimated £4m cost of its introduction but because of the “ongoing impact on staff morale”.
Councillors agreed at Wednesday’s meeting to ask for a report into possible options to improve the standard of financial monitoring within the SIC, which will now come before them in January.