Councils’ watchdog told of finance fears
The council may be on the cusp of having to answer awkward questions after two elected members paid a visit to the Accounts Commission to air their grievances over how the SIC is being run.
Jonathan Wills and Allison Duncan last week headed to Edinburgh to meet officials from the public spending watchdog for local government.
They held a one hour meeting with the body’s secretary, Paul Reilly, to let him know of their concerns that the SIC was no longer committed to the agreement it made with the commission in 2010 to control its spiralling expenditure. The two have accused the council of failing to get its finances under control.
However the council’s political leader Gary Robinson says he is unconcerned by the visit, and insists the council is expected to set a balanced budget in 2015/16 for the first time since the 1990s.
Dr Wills told The Shetland Times their concerns needed to be brought to the fore. He stressed the two had paid their travel expenses out of their own pockets.
“Mr Duncan and I, at our joint request, had a meeting on Friday in Edinburgh with the secretary of the Accounts Commission.
“The meeting lasted an hour, and we informed him of our concerns, not only about the likely failure to meet the medium term financial plan, but also our concerns about governance with the council.
“You know what my concerns are there, that there is an undeclared political group operating and there are office bearers undermining financial policy and education policy.
“The secretary, Mr Paul Reilly, listened to us very carefully and we are very confident that the council’s independent auditors will take up our concerns.”
He said the meeting was to “acquaint” the Accounts Commission with the concerns they had “voiced publicly, and in the chamber”.
“So we don’t intend just to sit back and do nothing. We felt it was our duty, if we had those concerns, to acquaint the Accounts Commission with it, bearing in mind the solemn undertakings the council gave to the Accounts Commission in 2010 concerning financial management and transparency and openness of governance.”
Dr Wills has spoken several times by now of a “cabal” operating within the SIC. He repeats his claims in an outspoken letter to this newspaper, in which he warns the council’s reserves have dropped from £500 million to just over £200 million in the last 14 years.
Earlier this month the council stepped back from closing primary schools in Urafirth and North Roe, before immediately scrapping consultations over the future Sandness and Burravoe primaries, effectively causing the council’s Blueprint for Education to crumble at the seams.
The vote against closure was instantly met with hugs and cheers from concerned parents who had campaigned to keep them open. But it was far from popular with councillors Wills and Duncan, who branded fellow members as “cowards” and “idiots”.
• Full story in The Shetland Times, 28th November.