24th February 2018
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Convener rejects fresh talk of plot to depose him from office

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Sandy Cluness has said he has no intention of standing down as council convener amid fresh rumblings of a plot to depose him.

Mr Cluness reiterated his intention to retire at the next council election in 2012, adding that he did not believe a majority of councillors wanted him to quit before then.

His remarks came after councillor Gary Robinson called on BBC Radio Shetland for the convener to “consider his position” in the light of the way the council has handled recent events.

Mr Robinson was referring to council chief executive David Clark, who was absolved of threatening violence in a phone call to councillor Jonathan Wills, and Willie Shannon, whose job of assistant chief executive Mr Clark tried to “delete”.

The convener, vice convener Josie Simpson, Mr Clark, deputy chief executive Hazel Sutherland and head of legal Jan Riise reported Dr Wills to the Standards Commission for an alleged breach of the councillors’ Code of Conduct. That has already attracted the ire of Mr Robinson and other councillors who say they were not consulted over the move. Attempts are being made to bring Mr Shannon, who is currently on garden leave, back to work.

A senior councillor, who did not want to be named, has told The Shetland Times he believes there are between four and six councillors who want the convener to resign, although he had not heard “any serious mention of a vote of confidence”.

Speaking at the launch of the council’s new culture strategy on Friday, Mr Cluness said: “I had always decided this was my last spell [on the council], so I really have no intention of standing down before then.

“There are ways of going about this. If a majority of councillors wanted me to stand down, I’m a democrat, and I would do that, but I don’t get any sense of that at all.”

With regard to the decision to report Dr Wills, a close ally, to the commission Mr Robinson said: “I was really disappointed entirely with the way that was handled and I think it’s really made the situation worse. There [are] serious issues of trust and confidence in our community because of the way that and other things have been handled of late. The council has set bad example in this instance. We must try and draw a line under this.

“I think there needs to be an element of truth and reconciliation that there have been mistakes made. I think it’s time they were owned up to and I think that’s the only way we can possibly move forward and I think that we maybe do need to look at changes in the leadership as well.”

He added: “I do think quite clearly that the only way that we can actually put this behind us is for a restructuring of the council as it is now. At this moment I would stop short of calling for the convener to resign, but I do think he needs to consider his position.”

Speaking on the same programme, councillor Gussie Angus said: “I share Gary’s concern and I, equally, am disturbed about the way this has been handled. To be fair to the council leadership, they’ve sought legal advice and acted on that advice. I think some of the councillors could have given them wiser council.

“There are lots of private conversations going on as you might imagine. There are a number of us concerned about what we can do to draw a line under this and I think there are some steps that might be taken that might mitigate against the intervention of ACAS and other agencies and I think we have to explore that.”

He said he did not share Mr Robinson’s view about Mr Cluness. “It was me that proposed Sandy as convener and yes I have confidence in the convener. He’s pretty isolated but in defending Sandy he has taken the very best legal advice that the council was able to buy, and that’s quite expensive advice. It’s very difficult in the circumstances he is in to fly in the face of that, but the situation is far from resolved.”

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