Anger as talks on future of council assistant chief executive collapse over ‘fundamental impasse’

Bitter recriminations have followed the collapse of talks between council chief executive David Clark and his assistant chief executive Willie Shannon on finding a way for Mr Shannon to return to work.

A “fundamental impasse” was reached early on in discussions on Monday, chaired by director of the conciliation service ACAS in Scotland Frank Blair, with each side blaming the other for the breakdown.

Mr Shannon has been on garden leave for the past 11 weeks after Mr Clark tried to delete the post of assistant chief executive as part of a restructuring of his executive team. Instead, he wants a “head of asset strategy” to take charge of the council’s £100 million capital programme over the next five years.

Mr Clark claimed he was acting with the authority of senior councillors and officials but at a Full Council meeting last month councillors voted to carry out further consultation on Mr Clark’s proposals while at the same time seeking a way for Mr Shannon to return to work.

In a note circulated to councillors after the meeting in Isleburgh, which also involved Unison representative Brian Smith, Mr Clark said he had been asked to give a commitment to Mr Shannon returning “in the long term” as assistant chief executive and for a “grading review to achieve a higher salary”, without which negotiations could not continue.

He told councillors that in light of their decision to consult further on the proposed changes he could not give a commitment to existence of the post beyond December, when a report is to be placed before a meeting of the Full Council.

“I remained happy to negotiate a return as assistant chief executive meantime (and remain so), without a long term commitment and wanted to progress to all areas identified by the council …

“I was informed by ACAS that there could be no progress unless I agreed to commit to a long term future for the role of assistant chief executive and regrading assessment … I can confirm that I set no preconditions, unlike the other party.”

However Mr Smith said: “He set the most fundamental precondition of all. What he said was that he did not intend the post of assistant chief executive would continue to exist for more than a few weeks. Even if Willie Shannon came back he would go ahead and delete the post. He would consult the unions but even if there was no agreement with them he would proceed.”

He described the talks as a “complete waste of time”, adding that they had no prospect of success given the different interpretations put by each side on what councillors agreed late last month.

Mr Shannon said: “I am extremely disappointed that the process ended before it started. The council decision that I was to return to my job as assistant chief executive was taken off the table by Mr Clark.”

Mr Blair, who had been due to take part in negotiations over two days, was said to be extremely frustrated at the outcome and felt that he had wasted his time and effort travelling to Shetland to host the meeting.

A joint statement issued by ACAS on behalf of both parties said: “ACAS, as requested by Shetland Islands Council, began a mediation process to facilitate the return to work of the assistant chief executive. The mediation process was not successful as it was established at an early stage that there was a fundemantal impasse between the parties over the future requirement of an assistant chief executive.”


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