Letter from Westminster
For anyone who cares about Shetland the Accounts Commission report into the events of the last year in the Town Hall could not make happy reading. Its contents will doubtless be well reported elsewhere in these pages so I do not intend to rehearse them here beyond saying that there was not much in it that has not already been predicted.
My hope now is that the report can be taken as a road map for councillors and officials to make the necessary changes to ensure that there is no future re-occurrence of these problems. If that is done then hopefully we will look back on this week in years to come and identify it as the point when we as a community were able to draw a line under the problems of the council. Central to this being done in a professional and comprehensive manner will be the role of the interim chief executive. The commissioners are right to warn against over-burdening Alistair Buchan with unrealistic expectations. He will need support from councillors, officials and the wider community if he is to do what we as a community need him to do. I have told him already that he has my complete support. I have observed and worked with Alistair in his role as chief executive of Orkney Islands Council since I was elected in 2001. He has always impressed me as a professional who is committed to delivering good quality services for the communities he serves. As an Orcadian he understands island communities and he probably knows more about the working of councils which have no party politics than anybody else. He is widely respected, not just in Orkney, but in local government circles throughout Scotland. For these reasons he has my support and also my confidence. As I have said before, the council is too important to Shetland to be allowed to fail. There can be very few households in the isles where there is not someone who is employed by the council or whose business is dependent on it either directly or indirectly. A failing council for us means a lot more than irregular collection of the bins.
As a member of parliament I have always thought that a strong working relationship with councillors was important. For that reason I have made it my usual policy not to involve myself in council business. The last 18 months have been something of a departure from that self-denying ordnance. This was not something that I did lightly but which I felt to be necessary. This week’s report, I hope, will allow me too to draw a line under events of the past year and to return to a practice where I can devote my time and attention to dealing with matters at Westminster. The House of Commons will be sitting again in just over a week after a shorter than usual summer recess. With a comprehensive spending review coming up that will be, to say the least, challenging I do not need to look towards the town hall to keep myself busy.
Alistair Carmichael MP