23rd May 2018
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Ousted chief executive complains about financial watchdog’s report

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Former SIC chief executive David Clark, ousted with a £250,000 tax-free payoff two months ago, has hit out at Scotland’s financial watchdog’s report into the circumstances surrounding his departure, describing it as “inaccurate, misleading and amateur”.

In a statement issued to media across the country, including The Shetland Times, Mr Clark said the report – which is due to be published tomorrow – had been handled in an “appallingly unprofessional” manner.

He did not receive a copy of the draft sent to all councillors until after it had been leaked last week. Mr Clark said he would be calling on the Accounts Commission, which meets next week to decide whether to take any action, to reject the report if the final version is not substantially altered.

He was critical of Shetland MSP Tavish Scott and northern isles MP Alistair Carmichael, saying he was disappointed the auditors’ report did not mention their “interference” in local government. He believes their intervention into council affairs was a “gross abuse of power”, adding that “their widely publicised concerns had no basis”.

Responding to Mr Clark’s remarks, Mr Scott said he had no regrets about asking Audit Scotland to investigate the deletion of Mr Shannon’s post and he was “surprised and disappointed” at what he called a “personal attack” on himself and Mr Carmichael. “Given the widespread concerns this issue raised I have no regrets that Alistair and I acted as we did. If the circumstances were repeated, I would do the same again.”

Mr Clark said he believed the report vindicates his earlier claim that consultation was carried out with assistant chief executive Willie Shannon when Mr Clark attempted to delete his post last summer. He says the report “confirms” that the council’s redeployment policy was followed. This is disputed by Mr Shannon.

There were “key factual inaccuracies” in the report, Mr Clark said, arguing that he had not failed to follow council redundancy policy (which states “employees and their trade union representatives will be advised as soon as practicable”) because Mr Shannon was “not at that time a member of any trade union, therefore he had no trade union representative”.

Audit Scotland’s report contended that the working relationship between Mr Clark and the council had broken down, but he disputed that. Mr Clark pointed to the statement issued by the SIC at the time he left in February. It had become “virtually impossible” for him to continue in the role because of “speculation in the national press which involved inaccurate insinuations about me” and repeated allegations with which his name “had been cleared”.

The auditors’ draft report – which councillors and senior officials were given the opportunity to read and comment on ahead of publication – accuses councillors of a “lack of strategic leadership” and says the use of nearly £500,000 of public money, including tax and legal costs, to pay Mr Clark off was “particularly unwelcome”.

However, the watchdog says the council’s decision to bring local government umbrella body Cosla in as an adviser was sensible, noting their view that there would be significant financial risks to the council should it pursue disciplinary action against Mr Clark. Six councillors submitted a detailed list of allegations about his conduct to convener Sandy Cluness in December but they were never investigated.

Mr Cluness said the investigation had been dropped as part of the settlement with Mr Clark, but the auditors suggest that if the allegations had been looked into it “may have affected the outcome”. The report states: “That public money was used in this way is particularly unwelcome in a time of tightening public finances but, in the circumstances, the settlement was negotiated on a reasonable basis and in compliance with relevant legislation. The amount of the settlement was judged by the council’s advisers to be an appropriate sum based on the circumstances of the case.”

Mr Clark expressed annoyance that the report, while focusing on his appointment and departure, made no mention of “the hysterical campaign waged against me in between”. “This was in fact the main issue affecting Shetland’s reputation.”

He defended his performance, stating that “the council itself has confirmed in writing” that claims there were issues with the way he did the job were “groundless”. He pointed to what he sees as key achievements, including restructuring the council and creating a new head of capital programme post.

Mr Clark also claimed credit for last week’s announcement by Alchemy Plus that it is to invest £12 million in a data farm for Shetland. Mr Clark was behind moves last year which saw the SIC spend £1.1 million on hooking up to a fibre optic cable to improve the broadband network and attempt to attract such business. “This investment results directly from an initiative created and driven forward by myself.”

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