A Lerwick councillor’s attempt to get Shetland Islands Council to show a bit more urgency in addressing long-standing governance issues has been thwarted for a second time in 12 months.
Speaking at this morning’s audit and scrutiny committee meeting, Jonathan Wills said he was concerned that – a year after he circulated a detailed discussion paper outlining what he sees as flaws in how the council is run – little or no progress has been made.
He described the level of democratic organisation within the SIC as “weak to non-existent”, claiming it allowed “a powerful chief executive and/or convener to dominate the agenda and exclude most councillors from serious involvement in policy formulation”. Instead of convener Sandy Cluness being both political and civic head, he wants to see the roles separated.
Dr Wills said he believed the amount of work being taken on by the council’s two executive directors, Hazel Sutherland and Gordon Greenhill, was “extraordinary” and he favours breaking up their super departments. Several smaller departments would each have their own committee to allow for more detailed public discussion of issues.
There are too many “fancy names” for committees, such as forums, sub-committees, boards, seminars, panels and working groups for Dr Wills’ liking and he suggested simplifying that. It also remains difficult, he said, to get “unpopular” or “unfashionable” ideas onto agendas for discussion among councillors.
There was sympathy for many of his ideas among fellow members, with committee chairwoman Florence Grains saying she agreed with “about 80 per cent of what you say”. Laura Baisley was less sure, agreeing with “some of it” but adding: “There are bits that I think are frankly loony.”
The lack of progress over the last year has been blamed on the turmoil which ensued after David Clark’s appointment as chief executive and, with the SIC in the process of recruiting an interim chief executive, members were reluctant to be overly prescriptive before a “new man” (in Mrs Grains’ words) takes the helm.
Dr Wills’ attempt to initiate a wide-ranging consultation involving councillors, staff and members of the public was rejected by 5-2 in favour of Mrs Grains’ suggestion that audit and scrutiny members discuss ideas among themselves initially.