Open letter to councillor Cecil Smith

My apologies but I am despairing at the lack of understanding in where you and your fellow councillors stand in terms of conflict of interest.

When we make criticism of how the council governance and Shetland Charitable Trust is set up it is not on a personal basis, we are criticising the system. A conflict of interest does not mean there must be monetary gain for it to apply. In the case of councillors holding a 45 per cent stake in Viking Energy Partnership and sitting on the planning board, the conflict arises because it compromises your ability to represent your electorate and at the same time seek what you may or may not see as the best way forward for the SCT.

Last night on Radio Shetland’s public platform you gave an insight to listeners of the difficulty councillors are having in grasping their situation. We criticised the planning board’s position in relation to the mast application because the applicant is Viking Energy Partnership in which you hold a share through the SCT. The applicant for the converter station is the Scottish Hydro Electric Transmission Ltd in which you do not hold a share; therefore in that case you do not have a direct conflict of interest, which is why we did not criticise in that instance. It is not because we agreed with the decision to defer on the converter station and therefore kept quiet! Having said that the deferment was the correct decision and we applaud you for it. SHETL on the other hand may take a different view; it is not out with the bounds of possibility that they might even consider complaining against you!

In the past your legal official Jan Riise has advised you of this irreconcilable conflict of interest in matters relating to Viking Energy Partnership. He should also be advising you in this instance! Similarly you have been advised by the council’s legal consultants and as trustees by the SCT’s legal consultants. Additionally the Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator has advised that change must come. Four out of the five parliamentary candidates in the recent Westminster elections were also of the opinion that local councillors sat with a serious conflict of interest.

When you were all elected in May 2007 my sympathies went out to you; the need to set an economically sustainable course for Shetland while retaining our cultural and natural heritage was no small challenge. Not least of all you inherited a Viking Energy Partnership Agreement in which the 13 newly elected councillors had played no part.  This became 14 when Cecil Eunson sadly passed away and Jonathan Wills was elected.

As I said our criticism is not personal, it is of the system and it is valid. Change must come. There is a danger that central government may seize our oil reserves, by applying whatever sanctions they feel necessary to bring into line what they evidently see as a local authority which has lost its way.

I have expressed my respect for you as an individual and your abilities as a councillor; I believe you have colleagues of like vein and I sincerely hope together you will begin to turn this council around. I have also stated in the past that we the public have a major role to play, by lowering our expectations to sustainable levels and offering the support you need to take the necessary actions on spending. It is crucial however that this is done with an abundance of common sense. The first step is to remove the word grandiose from the council’s vocabulary.

Billy Fox
Sustainable Shetland


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