Councillors’ attendance and expenses revealed

Councillors’ attendance records as well as their pay, allowances and expenses have been revealed in figures released by the council today.

It is the first time the SIC has issued members’ record of attendance at meetings and the figures reveal that in the 2013/14 financial year, two Lerwick South councillors were the lowest attenders.

Lerwick councillor Amanda Westlake.

Lerwick councillor Amanda Westlake.

Jonathan Wills’ council calendar included 38 meetings, but he actually went to 22, an attendance record of 58 per cent. Next lowest was Amanda Westlake, on 59 per cent. She went to 33 out of a possible 56 meetings. Neither were available for comment when The Shetland Times attempted to contact them.

The highest attender was Shetland South councillor George Smith, with 100 per cent attendance at 57 meetings. Fellow Shetland South councillor Billy Fox was next with 97 per cent, only having missed two of 73 meetings, with North Isles councillor Gary Cleaver also only missing two of his 46 possible meetings, giving him 96 per cent attendance.

Other councillors scoring 90 per cent or more were Mark Burgess, Alastair Cooper, Steven Coutts, Allison Duncan, Vaila Wishart and Cecil Smith.

The figures show that Shetland South councillors posted the best record, 97 per cent, while Lerwick South was the lowest on 73 per cent.

Convener Malcolm Bell went to 37 out of 48 meetings, making 77 per cent, while council political leader Gary Robinson clocked up 66 per cent attendance with 52 meetings out of 79.

Councillors’ salaries and expenses have also been published with members costing a combined total of £488,196.61.

Mr Robinson had a salary of just over £27,000, plus nearly £17,000 in expenses, giving him the highest total of just over £44,000. His expenses included £1,303.60 in mileage; £4,624.83 subsistence; £894.48 telephone and ICT and £ 10,147.65 “other expenses”.

Drew Ratter claimed £ 961.78 for telephone and ICT costs

Drew Ratter claimed £ 961.78 for telephone and ICT costs

Chairman of Shetland College board Drew Ratter, whose meeting attendance record stood at 70 per cent, came next, with a combined total of £31,242 including £2,690.10 mileage; £ 1,923.77 subsistence; £ 961.78 telephone and ICT and £ 5,349.11 other.

Mr Ratter said his absences and expenses could be explained by his attendance at University of the Highlands and Islands meetings on the mainland, as well as attending the Committee of Peripheral Maritime Regions in Europe.

His expense claim was followed by that of Mr Bell, whose total came to £30,313.

The two lowest claims were from Mr Burgess and Davie Sandison, who both took home £16,551. Mr Sandison said: “I have a full-time job in Lerwick so I don’t need mileage, and I earn a full-time living so I don’t tend to claim for minor expenses.” He added that he had “no problem” with the expenses claimed by other councillors.

The basic salary of a councillor who is not a chairman of a committee is £16,252.

• After this story was published Dr Wills replied to the newspaper (see comment below).

• Full details and a table of councillors’ attendance and expenses claims will appear in The Shetland Times, 6th June edition.

6 comments

  1. Jonathan Wills

    The reason I did not respond to your reporter’s inquiry about councillors’ allowances and attendance rates was that I was at work, steering a passenger vessel. I told her so and asked her to call me back after work. She did not.

    Unlike some of the more regular attenders at the 100 council and committee meetings held over the past year, I am not retired. I have always given valid reasons when unable to attend meetings – usually because they clashed with other meetings or because I was at work. I note with interest that these reasons are not included in the press release put out by council officials.

    Most of my council work for constituents is done in the evenings and early mornings, along with reading the papers for all council and committee meetings. Last week alone these weighed three kilograms. Unlike most backbench councillors, I also spend a lot of time researching and writing detailed discussion papers on council policy. These I usually circulate to all colleagues. It is rare that any of them responds. One example was my recent proposal to have all the business of the main spending committees dealt with by the full council. This would have saved a great deal of staff time and money and speeded up decision making (from as much as 18 weeks down to about four or five). Officials took it upon themselves to exclude my suggestion from the papers for our meeting to discuss “governance” where, like most of my contributions, it was ignored. I am well used to that.

    The statistics issued by the Town Hall do not record the time I spend as a council representative on the Anderson High School parent council, Shetland Amenity Trust, Shetland Charitable Trust, Shetland Tourism Association, Shetland Heritage Association and Conference of Peripheral Maritime Regions (CPMR). All these organisations generate papers which must be read and often lead to extensive correspondence, even when I am not able to attend meetings in person.

    Most of my expenses are accounted for by the CPMR duties, which I share with Councillor Ratter. Our costs in doing this work are a large part of the council’s budget for lobbying Europe on issues such as regional aid, environmental issues and fisheries. Unlike some other councillors, we make very detailed reports back to our colleagues after we attend meetings on their behalf. These are available to your reporters if you wish to check.

    Like other councillors, our expenses only cover the actual cost of travel and subsistence and are of no financial benefit to us. On the contrary, we sometimes have to lend the council money, interest-free, for a month or more until we receive reimbursement. I never claim car mileage or the cost of using my own phone and office equipment on council business, which must be considerable. I have not used a council phone for many years.

    The allowances received by the council convener, the political leader and other office-bearers are derisory when you consider the hours they put in. Few of their vocal critics in the local cyberchatterboxes would work for such a low hourly rate, which in many weeks is somewhere around the minimum wage.

    Jonathan Wills
    Independent, Lerwick South ward.

    Reply
  2. Ali Inkster

    They may be working for minimum wage, but we’re still not getting value for money. And your right Johnathan I would not work for that remuneration but we’ve all heard the saying “pay peanuts, get monkeys”.

    Reply
  3. Leslie Lowes

    Glad Jonathan managed to find the time to explain all this, he is clearly very busy!

    Reply
  4. Martin Tregonning

    Jonathan does raise a very salient point. Shetland is one of the few (possibly the only) Scottish Council that holds all of its council and committee meetings during working hours, which does make it difficult for working people to either become a councillor (they would need a very understanding boss) or to attend meetings as members of the public.

    At the moment, except for major issues such as schools, there is very little public engagement with the council of the political process. I know that the council was looking at holding some meetings outwith Lerwick, but at the same time they might was to consider holding some meetings outside working hours to improve public engagement.

    Martin Tregonning
    Member of the Public

    Reply
    • Ali Inkster

      Possibly a way to keep people of ability away from council business.

      Reply
  5. David Lister

    I love the fact that last year, the reduction in Councillor expenses was touted as showing their commitment to helping to achieve the councils targeted savings. Based on current years expenses, one can only assume that the need for savings has evaporated, and the financial situation is nice and rosy. I think we can all see the value we get from this half a million pound price tag(!)

    Reply

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