A community councillor took to the Market Cross in Lerwick to protest about what she sees as a breakdown in trust between the public and elected councillors over the weekend.
Kathy Greaves said that while blizzards and cold weather meant there were not a huge number of people on the street, several people stood with her for a full hour on Saturday lunchtime and many others, including SIC chief executive David Clark, stopped for discussions about her protest.
She said the protest was designed to “express my outrage” at events in Lerwick Town Hall over the past six months and to find out what the public’s thoughts were, adding she had told Mr Clark the public felt they were not listened to and were “sick of our money being wasted”, particularly after the recent news that the council had agreed to settle for £400,000 less than they were owed in loan repayments by knitwear firm Judane.
Mrs Greaves said she was so infuriated at yet more public funds being lost, and Lerwick North councillor Caroline Miller’s involvement in it, that she would be taking the matter to the Standards Commission. It is understood that at least one other individual has already complained to the body, which is responsible for upholding ethical standards in public life in Scotland.
Mrs Miller is refusing to comment on why £21,500 in rent payments for the building, made by budget salesman Chris Hodge, were made to her as a sole trader in Northern Isles Knitwear rather than to Judane (Shetland) Ltd.
In response to a query from The Shetland Times a spokesman for the office of the chief investigating officer, which has the power to refer complaints to the Standards Commission, asking whether a complaint had been received, said: “We are unable to comment on any such allegation at this time.”
Other issues mentioned by the public, according to Mrs Greaves, included the frittering away of over £5 million without a brick being laid for the new Anderson High School. She said many also viewed the SIC’s £6 million contribution to cinema and music venue Mareel as a “waste” of money and blamed the local authority’s lack of frugality and incompetence for its failure to secure Scottish government grants towards a programme of council house building.
Mrs Greaves, who stood unsuccessfully as a candidate in the Lerwick North ward in the May 2007 elections, said many of those she spoke to wished to see convener Sandy Cluness and many other councillors resign, while others believed Mr Clark should be sacked from his post. The idea of picketing the town hall was also talked of.
“It was agreed that there is a very nasty boil [at the Town Hall] to be lanced; some said that [Lerwick South councillor] Jonathan Wills was helping to do this. There was praise also for a few other councillors who are for changes to be made in this council.”
She added that she understood the exercise represented only a small minority of the Shetland public’s opinion and that further research may shed light on just how widespread discontent about the SIC had become.
Six councillors recently called for an investigation into a series of allegations about Mr Clark’s conduct and are still waiting for a response from Mr Cluness a fortnight later. Recent months have seen a myriad of complaints and counter-complaints by councillor and officials, with the most recent development seeing Audit Scotland and Cosla being brought in to examine the manner in which the council is being run.