Letter from Westminster 18.09.09

In the normal course of things I do not regard it as part of my job to involve myself in the workings of the council. As a general rule they have their job to do and I have mine and we respect the divide.

It was not, therefore, without careful consideration that Tavish Scott and I made our view known that recent events in the council require to be examined by an outsider. I refer here to the decision by the chief executive to “delete” the job of assistant chief executive. The other investigation involving the complaint by a councillor is an entirely separate issue and must be considered separately.

This is not just about staffing in the council. If it were it would not be necessary or appropriate for us to involve ourselves beyond some correspondence.

A staffing matter might be where the procedures had been followed and a questionable outcome had been reached. In dealing with the post of assistant chief executive, however, that is not what has happened. Some of the most important procedures that are in place appear not to have been followed. As a consequence the council is left very exposed.

This is of wider public concern for two reasons. Firstly, other employees of the council (probably the single largest employer in Shetland) are entitled to have confidence that their jobs are secure and if they are not then they will be treated fairly in any changes up to and including redundancy.

Secondly, claims of this sort inevitably attract publicity which is rarely good. What is bad for the council, in this regard, is bad for Shetland as a whole.

The question which arises is how did we get to this point? This is where this stops being just about the chief executive and becomes a wider question about the way in which the council runs. The council has built in to it a series of checks and balances to ensure that everyone from the bottom to the top follow the proper rules and procedures. It actually has a designated official with a duty to ensure that happens. In this case these internal checks and balances appear to have failed. That is why examination by an outsider is urgently necessary.

I was disappointed that the con­vener did not see this as being the best way forward but was never­theless reassured that the matter was going to be dealt with by an internal route. I was more concerned on Wed­nesday to learn that it is apparently not going to be dealt with at all for the foreseeable future.

The last time I ventured an opinion on the wisdom of the council pursuing a course of action that took them into the courts I was told that they were determined to pursue it come what may. Then they were in dispute with Lerwick Port Authority. We still do not know the final bill for that one but if its not a seven-figure sum I shall be astonished. It would be wrong to sit back and let history repeat itself.

Alistair Carmichael MP


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