The SIC has invited Willie Shannon to resume his job as assistant chief executive with immediate effect, following a decision taken by councillors on Wednesday.
Members have also unanimously approved a proposal from chief executive David Clark to create a new head of capital programming post, with the recruitment process set to begin shortly.
The motion to bring Mr Shannon back to his job, from which he has been absent since late August, was made by SIC convener Sandy Cluness during the private part of Wednesday’s Full Council meeting in Lerwick Town Hall. The remit of his post, should Mr Shannon agree to return to work, will be to “undertake a range of strategic projects” as required by the council.
Reacting to the news after being informed late on Wednesday afternoon, Mr Shannon told The Shetland Times: “Obviously I’m delighted to be going back to my job; being off for the last four months has taken its toll but I’m genuinely looking forward to returning and doing a good job for the community.
“The decision is that I will be taking on strategic projects – I need to know what that will be and how this can be best delivered. I’d like to thank people for the amount of support I’ve had across the community for the past four months.”
Mr Shannon’s post was controversially deleted by Mr Clark as part of his proposed restructuring, with Mr Shannon given the option of two alternative roles or a redundancy package.
Mr Clark’s report on the proposed restructuring suggested that creating an additional post, rather than his original idea of replacing the assistant chief executive post with the new role, would cost the SIC an additional £100,000 a year, although that sum is being disputed by some councillors.
Talking to journalists in his office after the meeting’s conclusion, Mr Clark said he did not see the outcome as a defeat for him in any way. The chief executive was “thrilled” with what he saw as a “fantastic step forward” in his attempt to get the council moving forward after events in recent months.
“The outcome is that at last I’ve managed to get us in place a structure to drive ahead and move forward with the capital programme. Now we can move forward to recruitment, so I’m absolutely delighted.”
He said the decision to bring Mr Shannon back to work served as proof that he was willing to listen to concerns and criticisms. “I have reflected on criticism and taken into account perceptions. What we’ve come up with today, in my report as amended by the elected members, is something that absolutely delivers what I want to deliver and tries to take into account concerns that have been expressed. I think it’s a good and a positive thing. I hope to continue learning from experience until the day I die.”
Asked if he had learned lessons in his first six months in the job, Mr Clark responded: “Perhaps one of the lessons is to pace myself differently. Perhaps sometimes the speed of change has given people unnecessary concerns and so perhaps what I’ll try to take into the future is making sure concerns are allayed earlier on to avoid people having miscomprehensions about what we’re seeking to do.”
Lerwick South councillor Jonathan Wills, one of six members involved in submitting a formal complaint to convener Sandy Cluness this week about Mr Clark’s professional conduct in a number of areas, said after the meeting: “I’m very pleased that Willie has been invited to come back to work – for the last 16 weeks we have been paying his salary without having the benefit of his very considerable expertise in local authority law and practice, expertise which has been sadly lacking in my view lately.”
Dr Wills, however, said he was disheartened that the council had not informed Mr Shannon of the decision until several hours after a press release had been issued, which he said seemed to be “adding discourtesy to insult and injury”.
The council has also agreed to bring in local authority umbrella group Cosla to help sort out various problems raised by Audit Scotland in their recent report to members, addressing the SIC’s difficulties in reducing its draw on oil reserves and in sorting out its capital programme.
Cosla and other external experts are to be invited to work with a formal liaison group of senior members and officials to monitor the council’s performance on key issues such as balancing the revenue budget and approving a five-year, £100 million capital programme.
The group will comprise Mr Cluness, vice-convener Josie Simpson, councillors Gussie Angus, Alastair Cooper, Betty Fullerton, Iris Hawkins and Allan Wishart along with Mr Clark and executive directors Gordon Greenhill and Hazel Sutherland.
Mr Clark said the move, to make formal a more ad-hoc arrangement he had put in place shortly after starting the job in June, meant the group would now be meeting fortnightly. He categorically stated that input from Cosla would not be associated with bringing to an end difficulties in the relationship between himself and some councillors.
“If we can get benefit from other councils throughout Scotland in advising getting this up and running then I think that would be advantageous,” he said, referring to the capital programme and budgeting issues.