Four replaced in council shake-up

New blood is being drafted in to senior elected positions following a mid-term reshuffle of committee posts at the town hall.

Four councillors have been replaced as chairmen or vice-chairmen in their respective committees by members who were newly-elected onto the council in 2012.

The move is regarded as a chance for new incumbents still serving their first term of office to flex their political muscles now they have a couple of years under their belts.

It follows a far-reaching review of senior positions within the SIC, as required by the terms of its constitution.

The shake-up dominated proceedings at the town hall today. But although some of the decisions were seen as creating a tremor within the authority, the council’s most senior elected members remain in post. No challenge was mounted for either leader Gary Robinson or convener Malcolm Bell.

However, one long-standing councillor saw today’s moves as a rearguard action against established members who have led the council through some of its hardest times to date.

Jonathan Wills said the decisions reached by the full council amounted to “mutiny in the county” by a number of elected members getting “cold feet” over policies which have proved unpopular with the electorate. He said that undermined the work of what had been, in his opinion, the best council since the oil deal was signed.

Councillor Allison Duncan said he was fighting for what he saw as justice.

Replaced: Councillor Allison Duncan’s vice-charman role will go to Gary Cleaver.

First to fall victim today was vice-chairman of social services committee Allison Duncan, who was outvoted for the position by 11 votes to seven in favour of North Isles member Gary Cleaver.

The move was described as “shocking” by Dr Wills, who cited Mr Duncan’s key involvement in the far-reaching deal reached with Scottish and UK governments earlier this year over the council’s historic housing debt as just one example of how much the South Mainland councillor had done for the isles.

He drew on figures which showed Mr Duncan gained the second largest number of votes during the 2007 council elections, and the highest number in 2012.

“That was the voters’ judgment of a councillor they respect, trust and rely upon. Now let’s hear yours” he demanded of the Flea’s detractors.

Other changes were:

• Depute chairman of environment and transport committee Michael Stout was handed chairmanship after beating the incumbent chairman Allan Wishart 11-7.

• Amanda Westlake was appointed unopposed as vice- chairwoman of the audit committee, replacing Dr Wills.

• Peter Campbell replaced Drew Ratter as chairman of the Shetland College Board, following a 12-6 vote. Until now Mr Campbell has served as Mr Ratter’s depute.

Billy Fox: Move is "jumping the gun".

Billy Fox takes on the depute politcal leader role.

In another significant development, Billy Fox was handed the newly-created role of depute leader. It is hoped his unopposed appointment will help ease the burden placed on political leader Gary Robinson.

Mr Robinson said Mr Fox had the necessary skills to devote to the task.

Similarly, members agreed to create the post of depute convener to support Malcolm Bell, although exactly who will fill those shoes has not been decided upon yet.

Earlier, members approved changes to the remit of several of its committees.

The most significant alteration is the replacement of the executive committee with a new policy and resources committee instead.

Under recommendations presented by the council’s legal boss, Jan Riise, the new committee would have more teeth and would be able to “call in” council decisions.

Other changes include making the Shetland College board a sub-committee of education and families, making environment and transport accountable for transport planning – rather than development – and renaming the rather clumsily titled audit and standards to just simply the audit committee.

• For full story, see this week’s Shetland Times.

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About Ryan Taylor

Ryan Taylor is a reporter at The Shetland Times

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24 comments

  1. Jim Anderson

    Out of the frying pan and into the fire…

    Reply
  2. John Anderson

    I am not a fan of everything this Council’s done but at least the most competent people have held the responsible posts and they have at least showed a bit of bottle and professionalism.

    Westlake and Cleaver have exhibited less competence than almost any other member, as far as I can see. If this is some kind of mutiny it is a laughing stock before it even starts. I wonder why the ballots were secret? I think we should be allowed to know who landed us with this.

    Reply
  3. John Tulloch

    “Mutiny in the county”, says ‘Captain Bligh’.

    The details of this process reported so far are a bit vague and some guesswork is required, however, it seems:

    1. Jonathan Wills is a bit peeved, however, this is the way council procedures have been set up and, given the way democracy was flouted in episodes like the Skerries secondary closure, it’s little wonder there has been a backlash and I, for one, welcome it; it’s democracy and ‘grievously hath various minor ‘Caesars’ answered it’.

    2. If Amanda Westlake was elected ‘unopposed’ then, presumably, Dr Wills didn’t stand for re-election and should have no complaint.

    3. I am surprised to read of the Flea’s despatch from office.

    4. I am not surprised to read of Drew Ratter’s despatch from office.

    5. I am surprised that Vaila Wishart survived, given the controversy – and shenanigans – over school closures. I had thought one of the isles councillors might have challenged her for Education Committee chair.

    6. The appointment of Billy Fox to Depute Political Leader is a welcome gust of fresh air.

    7. The provision of “teeth” for the Executive Committee is called for and once again, the Skerries school debacle springs instantly to mind.

    It doesn’t apply to all these folk but any cooncil ‘heid eens’ who have been involved in cynical manoevres over the past couple of years have only themselves to blame for their downfall.

    Reply
  4. John Tulloch

    Shetland Charitable Trust next!

    Reply
  5. Alan Skinner

    I note that Dr Wills believes this council to be ” the best since the oil deal was done”. I do hope that he is being ironic again, in the same sense that he believes ” Anderson High is better than Eton”. Otherwise, one worries.

    Alan Skinner
    Cullivoe
    Yell

    Reply
  6. John Tulloch

    Well, how auspicious a moment was that to hold the SIC reshuffle, bringing it forward from October to just before the breaking news of ‘Our Islands, Our Future’s (OIOF) stunning triumph of achieving UK government support for a submarine cable to link Shetland to the mainland electricity grid!

    http://www.shetnews.co.uk/news/8562-westminster-boost-for-viking-energy

    Little wonder they’ve been anointed ‘Local Politicians of the Year’!

    Still, I expect the Scottish justice system will throw a spanner in the works by upholding Sustainable Shetland’s legal action against Viking Energy?

    Don’t bet your house on it!

    Still, I expect Billy Fox will put a stop to VE following his meteoric rise to power?

    And you needn’t hope for a referendum, either, the SNP are trying to prevent it even being discussed in the Scottish Parliament and too many Shetlanders who should have had the wit to sign the petition, either, didn’t have the wit, were too complacent, or were simply too arrogant, to do so.

    You have to admit it’s all been pretty slick; pretty slick and pretty creepy!

    Reply
    • Robert Sim

      On the referendum point, you forgot to add: “or had the common sense”.

      Reply
  7. John Tulloch

    Of course, the DECC report is a “consultative” document and therefore, in the category of ‘Free beer, tomorrow’!

    Reply
  8. Neil Anderson

    Allison Duncan has been in to long , fresh ideas and input are needed

    Reply
  9. Sandy McMillan

    Surely the Flea Councillor Alison Duncan will be appointment, Assistant Convenor, if not I believe this will be the end of this Council, The Council are running at boiling point at the moment, they have to release the pressure before it explodes,
    When it comes to Councillor Fox he has been given the position to keep him sweet when it comes to Viking Energy, SSE, so as he wont get under there feet, you can now see through most of there moves, they have forgotten once again about the opinion of the residents, (of what is the place called O!!!! the Shetland Isles,)

    Reply
  10. Billy Fox

    Sandy, when it comes to a non-remunerated position which will probably increase my workload by at least thirty percent it hardly amounts to sweetening. I am disappointed but not surprised you choose to have such a short memory regarding Viking Energy, my views have not changed.
    What I do wish is that the more vociferous council critics would actually attend some meetings. In the past (pre-election) when I criticised the council I attended many meetings (including the Charitable Trust) and saw for myself what went on. Quite often I wondered if the media had been at the same meeting.
    So I would issue that invite to all council watchers, I know at least some of you have time on your hands, you may just get a surprise at the standard of debate which consistently goes unreported in favour of the more trivial eye or ear catching headline.

    Reply
    • John Tulloch

      Billy,

      It’s important that you and others like you gain greater influence in the SIC, to help broaden the tunnel vision malaise currently gripping the council in certain areas.

      I would cheerfully accept it if you said I was one of the “more vociferous critics” of the SIC, on certain issues such as school closures, Viking Energy, etc., where I feel very bad, if not disastrous, decisions are being made, where golden opportunities are being missed, or where there is clear evidence of political ‘jookery-packery’.

      I like to think, however, that I also give credit where it’s due and have strongly supported some council initiatives such as the housing debt campaign and ‘Our Islands, Our Future’ only, in the latter case, to be bitterly disappointed by the apparent outcome.

      Reply
      • Ali Inkster

        John the housing debt was and will be a disaster for the next 40 years, for that is how long we are going to be paying off the £30 million shortfall in the governments repayment. And how did they announce this Oh yeah a success story in that we were getting preferential treatment on the debt that we now somehow owe that will save us £1million over the period of the loan, that we will now be able to spend in the community no mention of the £50million that we will now pay to the government over the same period. So its not £25,000 a year gain but a £1,250,000 a year loss that we won’t be able to spend in the community.
        If these idiots don’t have the good grace to resign then we need to sack them.

    • Sandy McMillan

      Billy the story goes you were the Chairperson or Leader of Sustainable Shetland; at a meeting in the Tingwall Hall you resigned your position, which was a great surprise to many of the supporters at the meeting. And a great loss to a great cause,
      Which put a lot of fear into the members of Sustainable Shetland, you told the folk the reason for giving up your position was so you could concentrate on your Photography.
      Shortly after we heard you had put your self forward as a Candidate for the local Authority Council, what were the supporters of Sustainable Shetland thinking?
      The thoughts of some like my self said that Billy would make a good Councillor, others thought the opposite and there were a few nasty comments flying around as you can imagine, my little go at you was nothing to what had been said a couple of years back,
      If I have offended you I apologise

      Reply
  11. Ali Inkster

    Billy if you think the council is doing anything other than making a complete and utter mess of things then I’m afraid you must be infected with the same brain rotting disease that the rest of them seem to have.

    Reply
    • Brian Smith

      Mild contribution, Ali.

      Reply
      • Ali Inkster

        I can assure you Brian it is a damn site milder than my first draft. and it was only tempered because it was addressed to an individual that I like many others had hoped would be a positive wind of change. But in the face of the incumbents has proved ineffectual, He has taken too long to make any difference now in the face of the Our Islands Our Futures dismal failure dressed up as a success. This council may have a few good men and women but they have not shown the determination needed to stop the train wreck, and now I’m afraid we are casualties of that wreck.

  12. Jonathan Wills

    I did not stand again as vice-chair of the Audit Committee after I had received a vote of no confidence from my fellow councillors because they clearly had a more knowledgeable, experienced, articulate and eloquent replacement in mind. I am still waiting for the courtesy of a detailed explanation of exactly where I had failed in my duties. But I don’t think these people do courtesy or explanations. It seems to be just a case of “Buggins’ turn”.
    My main objection to what happened at the council meeting is not only that three experienced and skilled office-bearers – Da Flea, Allan Wishart and Drew Ratter, were ejected from their positions, but that an unofficial group of councillors met in secret beforehand and decided how they would vote, irrespective of the arguments presented to them at the meeting. They ignored detailed evidence of the contribution of these three councillors and provided not a jot of evidence that Messrs. Flea, Wishart and Ratter had proved inadequate in their discharge of the duties of office-bearers.
    This is the old politics of the council cabal and da kabbilabi. It is undemocratic and the exact opposite of the pledges the new council made to operate in a different and more open way than the last. This will damage the council’s reputation and undoubtedly attract the attention of the authorities, who will see that half of this council has no intention of sticking to the new code of governance when it doesn’t suit their personal agendas.
    As for Councillor Vaila Wishart, the chair of education, I can only wonder at her forbearance after her vice-chair has repeatedly undermined her by opposing democratically agreed policy. Any councillor is welcome to do that, but not as an office-bearer. There is something called collective responsibility. Happily, I am now free of that, so I can and will criticise in public those councillors who in my opinion are making some very serious mistakes, not least in seeking to thwart the council’s unanimously agreed financial policy. If they succeed, the council’s reserves will be run down and the result in the long term will be hundreds of compulsory redundancies and serious damage to public services.

    Reply
    • Ali Inkster

      With £20 million reduction in the block grant you and your fellow councillors negotiated jonathon there is going to be a lot more school closures and cuts in services. but never mind we will have an army of qualified carers to look after the retirees for that is all that will be living here if this council is allowed to carry on.

      Reply
    • Johan Adamson

      So its like Animal Farm then? The new councillors have taken over and the pigs have become the dictators? Maybe they have had to meet in secret and decide how to vote as they were making no in-roads any other way? To try to break through to make some decisions, and show they can do the job, perhaps?

      In the education committee example, how does George Smith go about changing things if he doesnt agree with what Vaila Wishart has decided? Especially if she is just rubber stamping what Helen Budge proposes and she is wrong, and the community disagrees? There has to be some challenge made to Messrs Flea, Ratter, Wishart and yourself or nothing will ever change (although I was really surprised at the Flea’s ejection).

      Reply
  13. ian tinkler

    Thank God for small mercies. SCT next?

    Reply
  14. John Tulloch

    Thank you, Jonathan, for clearing up the point about the vote of no confidence which, oddly, I didn’t see reported. In those circumstances it would be pointless to stand for re-election and indeed, it was also reasonable to withdraw from the committee concerned.

    I agree, in most cases, this is more about politics than capable individuals’ abilities. Here’s my take on it:

    As to “cabals”, I recall Drew Ratter calling, during the last council elections for “like minded candidates to ally themselves together” and indeed, I recall writing about the subject following the formation and cake-division process of the new council. I wrote:

    “Looking at the distribution of power in the new council and Shetland Charitable Trust (SCT) I am reminded also of Drew Ratter’s pre-election call for like-minded candidates to ally themselves together. Only those who know can testify as to whether that has quietly transpired however my early impression is of one pretty savvy “king-maker,” a Shetland “Svengali,” who picks the tune and pulls the strings while others dance.”

    I continued:

    “I can live with that as long as the arguments are sound and seated in a genuine desire to do what’s best for Shetland without trampling unlucky people under-foot and to be honest, I’m encouraged by the opening performance in that the peculiar spectacle of Viking Energy formally running SCT has ended and there now appears to be some prospect of competent political management and serious concerns being heeded.”

    http://www.shetnews.co.uk/letters/5169-capt-pugwash-and-a-shetland-svengali

    The arguments, in my opinion, have not all been sound and “unlucky people” have been and will continue to be, “trampled under-foot”.

    The arguments relating, in particular, to the closure of rural schools and Viking Energy (which seems to have the only reason for SIC’s interest in Our Islands, Our Future) have not, in my opinion, been sound.

    And my optimism on “serious (VE) concerns being heeded” proved unfounded.

    When “unlucky people”, rookie and experienced councillors, and democracy itself are “trampled under-foot” by a, frankly, dictatorial clan then, given the council’s policy of reshuffling at half way, a backlash was on the cards.

    The “clan” had gone too far and failed to position itself adequately to defend its empire from the known threat posed by the halfway reshuffle.

    Reply
  15. Billy Fox

    Sandy,
    The ‘story goes’, and went I dare say, but my reason for resigning as chair of Sustainable Shetland was not to concentrate on photography but because I was standing for the council. In the event of not being elected I would have likely offered my services once more.
    I clearly stated this as the two positions are incompatible, some people may not have understood why but there is not a lot I can do about that.
    Your apology is accepted.

    Reply
  16. john irvine

    When is Jonathon`s head going to come out of the clouds?

    It is good news for the people of Shetland that Allan Wishart, Drew Ratter and Himself were removed from their positions, I am glad that I am obviously not the only one who can see through them.

    Hopefully now that the dead wood has been cleared out common sense will prevail, these aforementioned Councillors have been involved heavily in the squandering of £millions and would have continued to do so.

    Maybe things will be done properly and some of the difficult decisions that have to be made will not be influenced by personal gain.

    Reply

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