Lerwick councillor springs to defence of ‘failing’ SIC

A Lerwick councillor has launched a staunch defence of the SIC’s reputation following an endless stream of public criticism in recent months, arguing that one of its biggest shortcomings is explaining what it does to the people of Shetland.

Speaking during Monday evening’s meeting of Lerwick Community Council – at which “public unrest” and “the perception that the council is failing” was discussed – Allan Wishart said that while he understood the reasons why people were angry, the SIC had to do a much better job of keeping the public properly in the picture.

The last six months have seen almost unprecedented anger at a series of high profile fallouts between council officials and members, most notably the spectacular and highly damaging breakdown in relations between chief executive David Clark and Lerwick South councillor Jonathan Wills.

Mr Wishart rejected the notion that the council was “failing”, principally because it was continuing to provide a high standard of public services to the community. He gave a “conservative” estimate that between them, the council and Shetland Charitable Trust had disbursed somewhere in the region of £2.5 billion over the past three decades and failed investments made up a tiny proportion, less than one per cent, of that. “The overwhelming majority has been spent for the evident benefit of the Shetland people,” he said.

A major target of criticism has been Shetland Development Trust, now back under council control as the economic development unit, over a string of investments gone bad – including Judane, SSG Seafoods, a string of salmon farms, Smyril Line and No Catch.

Mr Wishart countered that by saying a host of other investments had been hugely successful in generating employment and argued that the SIC’s biggest problem was a chronic lack of public relations nous. In the case of knitwear firm Judane, to whom the council recently wrote off £400,000 in unpaid loans, he said ongoing legal matters were still to be tied up but “there’s a lot more to be told and it will be told”.

“Press statements are long and complicated and don’t hit the mark,” he said. “I just think we have lessons to learn in how we deal with the press and the statements we write, and to make them more readable.”

His fellow Lerwick North member and Judane adviser Caroline Miller was also present in the council chamber, along with fellow town councillors Gussie Angus, Jim Henry and Cecil Smith, to hear some stinging criticism from community councillor Kathy Greaves.

Mrs Greaves, who stood unsuccessfully for the Lerwick North ward in the 2007 elections, staged a protest at the Market Cross regarding the crisis at Lerwick Town Hall shortly before Christmas and she read out a series of comments from members of the public she had spoken to that day.

The losses on two loans to Judane were “the last straw” for many people, she said, and some islanders felt the council was treating public cash as “monopoly money”. Others had suggested individuals involved with companies which fail to repay money to the public purse should be treated in the same way as people who fail to pay their council tax and be compelled to do so.

Mrs Greaves told the five councillors present that they “can’t make it all look rosy”, urged them not to ignore public concern and “sort yourselves out”. “There are a whole lot of things that people are not happy with,” she said.

But services committee chairman Mr Angus also rejected the notion that the council was “failing” by pointing to the high quality of services being provided in terms of education, social care, children’s services, ferries and housing – the latter which “I would put to you is probably the best in Scotland”. He said recent weeks had also highlighted the quality of the gritting service being provided by the roads department.

Mr Angus, one of six councillors who has called for an investigation into a host of allegations of misconduct against Mr Clark, said he was “not trying to pretend [the council] doesn’t have issues to be addressed”. He accepted there had been some “spectacular losses” in a number of high-profile investments, but stressed that the council got involved in unsecured loan schemes and put money into companies and ventures “because nobody else would” and “a surprising number did succeed”.

Mr Wishart said he thought every councillor was “painfully aware” of public perceptions and he hoped the involvement of Audit Scotland, which should be arriving in the isles to investigate how the council is being run before the winter is out, would help bring certain issues to a head.


Add Your Comment
  • Billy Fox, Quarff, ZE2 9EY

    • January 12th, 2010 17:01

    Can councillors Wishart and Angus supply publicly a comprehensive list of successful council/charitable/development trust investments. How much was invested in each, grant and loan, how many jobs were created and what are the current and projected potential of these investments.

    Councillor Wishart could also begin his participation in public relations nous by letting us know why his current Project Co-ordinator job with Viking Energy Ltd was not advertised and indeed how much of a salary he is drawing for it.

  • Gussie Angus

    • January 13th, 2010 14:37

    Billy Fox, like all members of the Shetland public, can find information on all SIC & Shetland Development Trust invesrments in local commerce and industry from the minutes which are readily available. Of all moneys invested by the various arms of SIC investments since 1984, I understand the losses to be less than 1%.

  • Billy Fox, Quarff, ZE2 9EY

    • January 15th, 2010 12:42

    Perhaps it was a bit much to ask for a comprehensive list of all investments, let me rephrase my question.

    It is not difficult to reel off examples of significant losses, SOES, SSG, Smyril Line, Judane, No Catch, SHEAP (capital write off), losses on fish quota, Scatsta Airport hanger (was that a loss?) etc. Other losses for various reasons such as, the ongoing Anderson High School fiasco, the LPA dredging interdict etc, not all by definition investments but presumably coming within the figure of your £2.5 billion of disbursements.

    Given your assertion that you have losses of less than 1% since 1984, I would simply ask you to provide the necessary examples of investment gain, to offset the examples I have mentioned. You should be able to fulfil this to 99% to justify your claim.

  • Kathy Greaves

    • January 18th, 2010 10:45

    “The overwhelming majority has been spent for the evident benefit of the Shetland people.”

    Some comments at the Market Cross on December 18th strongly reflected the sense of grievance felt – that monies loaned to companies such as Smyril and SBS apparently had no guarantees of involving Shetlanders or any built-in security for the repayment of our money.

    There were no seeming guarantees; in Smyril Line’s case they did not/would not even employ Shetlanders on the Norrona, nor did they or would they purchase Shetland produce – meat, veg, dairy produce – even when Shetlanders strongly protested over this at the time.

    Likewise “a company locally who received about £12 millions of our money then packed up their operations and moved to Aberdeen”, with no benefit to Shetland at all, needs to be explained.

    Councillors say that they have to take some risks in many cases – I would argue about what level of risk is acceptable. Funds given to those two examples alone would pay for a new care home, or hospital. For the benefit of the Shetland people.


Add Your Comment

Please note, it is the policy of The Shetland Times to publish comments and letters from named individuals only. Both forename and surname are required.

Comments are moderated. Contributors must observe normal standards of decency and tolerance for the opinions of others.

The views expressed are those of contributors and not of The Shetland Times.

The Shetland Times reserves the right to decline or remove any contribution without notice or stating reason.

Comments are limited to 200 words but please email longer articles or letters to editorial@shetlandtimes.co.uk for consideration and include a daytime telephone number and your address. If emailing information in confidence please put "Not for publication" in both the subject line and at the top of the main message.

200 words left

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.


Get Latest News in Your Inbox

Join the The Shetland Times mailing list to get one daily email update at midday on what's happening in Shetland.