It is no great surprise that Shetland Islands Council has rejected The Shetland Times’ request for details of the payoff given to former chief executive David Clark. Transparency is to that organisation what monogamy was to Genghis Khan. It will have to learn to behave differently.
Readers may not have noticed the call last month by the Audit Commission, the English equivalent of Audit Scotland, for the disclosure of severance deals with council chief executives. Let’s hope Audit Scotland, fresh from interviewing councillors and officials as part of its investigation into the departure of Mr Clark and other issues, shares that very sensible point of view. We as council taxpayers have a right to know how much of our money is being spent, and on what. As the Old Rock has said before, it is a matter of legitimate public interest, not just something the public is interested in.
This newspaper will now ask the council to review its decision. When that process has been completed (it can take up to 20 working days) we fully expect to have to take the matter to the Scottish Information Commissioner, Kevin Dunion. He will then rule on whether there should be full, partial or no disclosure.
In the meantime, councillors and senior officials might like to consider how their secretive tendencies continue to affect public confidence in the authority. Remember, at the beginning of the year we were promised partial disclosure of the deal under which the council agreed to waive £411,000 owed to it by defunct knitwear firm Judane. We are still waiting. And then we were promised an article by convener Sandy Cluness on how the benefits of economic development funding outweighed the losses accured by that department. We are still waiting.
It’s all very well saying it is time to move on, but part of that has to be learning what went wrong, why and how things might be done differently in the future. We are still waiting.