16th October 2018
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Commission tries to allay fears over job threat to senior council officials

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The Accounts Commission has moved to allay the fears of senior SIC officials about losing their jobs in the fallout from the two-day public hearing to be held later this month.

There had been concerns, aired in today’s Shetland Times print edition, that an entirely new management team might be imposed on the crisis-ridden local authority and that some or all councillors might face suspension.

However in a statement the commission, which is to hold the hearing following a critical report by financial watchdog Audit Scotland, said it would not be seeking to apportion individual blame. For sanctions potentially to be imposed on an official or councillor a “special report” would have been required from the watchdog’s controller of audit.

The hearing on 28th and 29th June will take place in a febrile atmosphere, with officials and councillors at loggerheads over the way forward. It is understood that councillors are being asked to attend a special meeting behind closed doors prior to the 14th June deadline for submissions to the commission with a view to approving a joint submission from the SIC.

One councillor said that in the fractious circumstances it was “highly unlikely that any consensus could be reached”. Individual members are also entitled to make their own written submissions.

In a statement in March Audit Scotland, which reports to the Accounts Commission, said the commission had powers to order more audit work, hold a public hearing and, in certain circumstances, censure, suspend or disqualify councillors.

But today a spokeswoman for the Accounts Commission said: “The responsibility of the auditors is to consider the operation of a council as a whole, examining and assessing factors which are likely to influence the ability of a council to fulfil its obligations to its local citizens. The commission’s aim in holding this hearing is to find out more about the situation at Shetland Islands Council and consider how the council can ensure that it acts in the best interests of the people of the Shetland Islands.

“A ‘special report’ by the controller of audit is one which considers specific allegations of blame or failures, negligence or misconduct by members or officers of a council. The controller of audit’s report which led to the commission deciding to hold this hearing was not a ‘special report’.

“The commission is not, therefore, considering a situation in which it can impose sanctions against any particular member or officer. Any specific issues about individuals are subject to separate processes, such as those of the Standards Commission in respect of any issues relating to the code of conduct for councillors.

“Following the hearing the commission will adjourn to consider its findings. Once these have been agreed, the commission will publish its findings and issue a press release to announce this. The commission will be able to give an indication of the likely timings for this once the hearing has taken place. The findings may include recommendations. Recommendations are usually mainly directed at a council itself. Should the commission consider it appropriate to do so, it is also able to make recommendations to Scottish Ministers.

“Shetland Islands Council will then be obliged to consider the findings at a meeting of the authority within three months of receiving them. If the findings contain any recommendations, the council must decide whether to accept any or all of the recommendations and what, if any, action to take in response to the recommendations.”

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