19th September 2018
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Councillors vote down call for more public scrutiny

A call for the council to be more open to public scrutiny was defeated by an overwhelming majority at a meeting this morning.

At the final meeting of the current council Lerwick south representative Jonathan Wills argued that the next elected council should review council policies on openness.

Dr Wills said that he believed an increasing number of private meetings were occurring on matters which “could and should be discussed in public.”

He spoke about occasions where debate, questions and discussions occurred behind closed doors prior to meetings where the press and public were invited.

The result of this, he said, was that councillors were arriving “fully informed” but that the public was not getting the full details, via the press, because the most pressing discussions were occurring in private.

But political leader Gary Robinson did not accept Dr Wills’ points. He said that this council had been more “open than councils that have come before it.”

He defended the behind-closed-doors seminars and said that they provided a safe space for councillors to “ask the questions that they might not otherwise ask… without the full glare of the media.”

Dr Wills argued, however, that these seminars were operating in such a way that a consensus was being reached without public scrutiny before matters were rubber stamped in the public gaze.

He accepted that there were matters which “quite rightly” had to be discussed behind closed doors but felt more scrutiny of council documents should be done where the media could witness it and report back to the public.

Dr Wills said: “Why should we be frightened of the glare of the media, as it has been called? The glare of the public?”

Councillor Michael Stout responded with resentment “to the accusation that there has been secret cabals” making decisions of public interest in private.

Shetland south councillor George Smith lent his support to Mr Stout and said that Dr Wills’ suggestion was a “backwards step”.

Allan Wishart and Gary Cleaver both spoke about the usefulness of seminars in allowing councillors to make informed decisions.

 

“Why should we be frightened of the glare of the media, as it has been called? The glare of the public?” JONATHAN WILLS

 

Perhaps sensing the tide of the room against him Dr Wills’ made arguments in closing defending his suggestions. He argued that he didn’t believe seminars should never take place but said that he could not “see why we couldn’t do the scrutiny in public”.

He said that it was not right that when councillors came to the formal, public debates the most pertinent questions and discussions had “already taken place.”

A vote on Dr Wills’ amendment calling for the next council to consider their approach to openness revealed that the only councillor he could swing to his side was Shetland north member Andrea Manson.

The other 17 councillors in the chamber all voted against the amendment.

They were: Malcolm Bell, Mark Burgess, Peter Campbell, Gary Cleaver, Alastair Cooper, Steven Coutts, Billy Fox, Robert Henderson, Drew Ratter, Cecil Smith, George Smith, Theo Smith, Michael Stout, Frank Robertson, Gary Robinson, Allan Wishart and Vaila Wishart.

Allison Duncan, Davie Sandison and Amanda Westlake were not in attendance.

About Keegan Murray

Reporter for The Shetland Times. Interested in politics, literature and music. Born and bred Shetlander. Long suffering Newcastle United supporter.

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17 comments

  1. Allen Fraser

    So the Cabals have it – this is the reason I won’t be casting my vote on the 4th of May – I don’t trust a single one of the 17 if they are not prepared to trust the public.

    Reply
    • Steven Jarmson

      Way to show them.
      As we all know, politicians try to woo the voters that don’t vote!!
      I’ll be watching out for your future comments.
      If you don’t vote, you have no right to moan about the decisions that are made by those elected.

      Reply
      • David Spence

        Steven, we in the west are quick enough to criticize other countries for rigging or fixing votes or elections, who is to say we are not doing the same?

        I am very skeptical with regard to today’s politics, national or local, because the driving force, in many cases, is based on the commercial interests of the few at the cost to the many. Hilary Clinton, based on the number of votes, should have won the US Election, but you had one system, in affect, over-ruling another system (Electoral College Role) thus giving a different result.

        A film which points this out stars the late and brilliant Robin Williams, it is called ‘ Man of the Year ‘. I would recommend you watch it.

  2. George Dickson

    Wonder why they don’t want us to know what they’re getting up to? Perhaps it’s because what they’re doing is personally beneficial to them and not the people. Just a thought, of course.

    Reply
  3. Gordon Downing

    Typical of the SIC. Lets keep the public out of the loop despite the fact they elected us. Lets abuse our position claim mega expenses, then cut council services. But why should the electorate know what we are up to

    Reply
  4. Michael Garriock

    Notwithstanding that a (retiring??) member of an outgoing regime has no business attempting to influence (dictate??) how the incoming replacement regime behaves.

    “He [Robinson] defended the behind-closed-doors seminars and said that they provided a safe space for councillors to “ask the questions that they might not otherwise ask… without the full glare of the media.”

    Then, bluntly, any such member is in the wrong job. If any Councillor feel at any time unable to stand up and say/ask what needs said, regardless of the press, public or anyone or anything else. They can pack their bags, go home, and stay there, as they’re have no place in public service.

    Reply
    • Malcolm Henry Johnson

      There is a difference between retiring and retired. Elected councillors have a duty to represent the people who elected them right up until the last day they hold office. They are not expected to abandon this responsibility the day or week or month BEFORE they retire.

      In any case, everyone has the right to try and influence the way in which we are governed. Even a retired councillor or a retired anything-else should have the right to comment whenever they are given the opportunity.

      Reply
      • Michael Garriock

        Of course they do, but this was a clear attempt by a sitting member, who thus far, as far as I’m aware, clams they won’t be there after May, attempting to dictate new policy, which will have absolutely no effect during the remainder of their expected tenure, and only impact upon those succeeding him.

        “….At the final meeting of the current council […] Wills argued that the next elected council should review council policies on openness”.

        The phrase “Don’t do as i’ve done, but do as I tell you” springs to mind. Only Wills knows his true motivation for performing this pointless and patronising stunt, but in its plainest terms its a blatant attempt to usurp democracy. The new council will be more than capable and much better placed to decide for themselves how they wish to conduct their business, and if they, individually or collectively wish to draw upon Mr. Wills’ sage wisdom, I’m sure they’ll find him quite easily. He should not presume they want it foisted upon them regardless, as he has attempted here.

  5. ian_tinkler

    Extrerordinary comment from Gary Robinson. He stated ” a safe space for councillors to “ask the questions that they might not otherwise ask… without the full glare of the media.”. If a counsellor is afraid of the glare the public media, he or she is unfit for public office. Whatever question they wish to ask, should not the public have a right to ask also and have an answer? Hiding behind closed doors may be OK for our political leader, Gary Robinson. I regard it as the sign of a coward, or someone just trying to hide the truth from our people.
    Ian Tinkler, West Ward Candidate.

    Reply
    • Bill Hall

      As long as the answer is pertinent to the question, and not a mixture of hyperbole, name-calling and links to Wikipedia.

      Reply
  6. Chris Williams

    Councillors are elected public servants, their electoral members have the right to hear for themselves what their representatives are doing with the councils funds! All I can say is those councillors who are afraid of what their electoral members may think of them should resign forthwith with their heads hung in shame!!

    Reply
  7. Peter Hamilton

    The proposal would allow the public an insight to the advice being given and a chance to influence decision making thereafter, which would be very healthy. The downside for councillors is that they might feel exposed to ridicule when they ask questions which a critical public might think they ought to already know the answers to. Given the abusive nature of too much public comment, and I’m no saint in this regard, I can sympathise with their fear, but it is a shame nonetheless. Similarly, on Shetland Charitable Trust, the real decisions are taken ahead of public meetings behind closed doors where the main elements of the debate have already been well rehearsed. Wills is right to raise this and right to remember better elements of previous councils but, as a whole, given that their hands were tied by austerity, this council has served Shetland fairly well. Ian, swallow your bile and take a chill pill for heaven’s sake. No one wants to vote for Mr. Nasty. Although Gary may be wrong on this, he has done a good job and has lifted the tone of public debate on many an occasion.

    Reply
    • ian_tinkler

      Thanks for that Peter. I would rather be Mr Nasty and speak my mind and tell it like it is than ignore the facts as they clearly are. A public figure hiding behind a veil of secrecy is quite unacceptable in my book. I find that quite unacceptable and will certainly campaign to stop “behind closed door politics”, rather a past speciality of Shetland I regret.

      Reply
    • Michael Garriock

      @ Peter Hamilton.

      ….and in what way could that kind of ridicule be any worse than the ridicule they currently attract from accusations of dictatorial cabals, making “stupid” decisions, being “useless” and/or “pointless rubber stampers”. As that is the only conclusion the public can reach, when they are excluded from the pertinent debate and only presented with a, by all appearances, highly inappropriate outcome.

      Additionally, unless the maximum amount of business is fully debated in public, how on earth can any constituent know what stance and contribution their representative(s) are contributing to any given debate, so that they can know whether they need to make representations to them, and if they’re worth voting for if they seek re-election.

      Governance, like justice needs to be seen to be done, and the only way that occurs is through maxium transparency and accountability, something the SIC has lacked from Day 1. We can but hope the new council will seek to change that, but that is their choice to make, not something that should be attempted to be pressed on them by an alleged retiring member of the current council in its death throes. That attempt is five years too late.

      Reply
    • Ali Inkster

      No such thing as a stupid question.

      Reply
  8. Ian Tinkler

    Bill Hall, if our Political Leader, Gary Robinson, and his fellow councillors are not in fear (cowards), just what do you think is their motivation for avoiding the glare of media scrutiny? I would hate to think you are implying a more sinister motive! That I am not doing, although regarding some decisions by “The Trust,” some voters on the West Side are indeed suspicious of past conduct (the Viking Cabal)! As a point of interest, I was once called “the “Donald Trump” of Shetland (Brian Smith), your response to that was to call me, the “”Katie Hopkins” of Shetland, how very childish and hypocritical you, who is the puerile name caller? Now I abhor Trump and all he stands for, however his comments about, “draining the swamp”. Very sadly, that comment can perhaps be applied to a few on Shetland, particularly those murky dealings of past by Councillor Trustees, that have been kept so secret to us. That is a why media scrutiny is so vital and if I am successful in the coming election is something I will fight for and insist on.
    (Reference Bill Hall, December 24th, 2015 11:34, Shetland Times, “Brian Smith remains very high in my esteem, for posting the most succinct of comments, (and no cutting and pasting either!) however on this occasion I would amend it to “Mr Tinkler is the Katie Hopkins of Shetland.” PS Whoop, whoop, I originally mixed up Katie Hopkins for Katie price above, that confused ma a bit!!!!

    Reply
  9. John Tulloch

    I have always supported the purported independence of Shetland councillors however this decision to carve up decisions behind closed doors is a gift to those who argue for the instigation of party politics.

    It would be impossible for ofiicials and leaders to ‘caa da yowes’ in this way because there would always be an opposition who would necessarily wish to be seen publicly “opposing” the policies of the ruling administration.

    As Jonathan says, privacy is appropriate in some instances however these pre-meetings are a transparent ploy to thwart “transparency.”

    Reply

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