The buck stops here

Following the public hearing in June on the running of Shetland Islands Council, the Accounts Commission announced its findings and recommendations on 16th August 2010.

The opening statement “Shetland Islands Council has serious problems with leadership, vision and strategic direction, governance, financial management and accountability” is damning, and puts in a nutshell what is wrong at the town hall.

If the head of the council, convener Sandy Cluness, does not take responsibility for this state of affairs, if he does not have a sign on his desk saying “the buck stops here” – which he should, then there is no option but for all the other councillors to take matters in hand and put their own house in order. He has said time and again that he would stand down; now is the time to do just that. Our country’s previous prime minister knew when it was time to go and he went with some dignity left.

If Mr Cluness does not resign it is up to councillors to take a vote of confidence or no confidence in their “leader”; those who agree with the need for change, for strong and open leadership, should themselves put forward candidates to stand for election for the post of convenor.

Mr Cluness appears to apportion blame for mistakes, waste, lack of direction and the sorry state of affairs at the town hall to his fellow councillors, some of whom have served only part of their term of office. Can he completely blame senior managers, lack of training or information, for mistakes made over the past few years? The captain of a ship cannot blame its engineers, its crew, for being rudderless and heading in the wrong direction – even when they head for an iceberg.

So, councillors, if you do nothing, say nothing, nothing changes. There needs to be a change of mindset at the town hall. Not only must the council follow recommendations that they need to address serious problems urgently by implementing an improvement programme, but that the terms of the Code of Conduct are understood and adhered to. There is no room for ambiguity; there should be no doubt as to the morality, principles, conflict of interests, or actions of a councillor.

So, to save more embarrassing marches to the town hall, more censure of the council’s actions by audit and accounts commissions, to regain respect in the community, this is the time for action. The council’s report card needs to read better than “D minus”.

With a new convener in place we could draw a line under recent events, but it may well have to be a dotted line, and a very short one.

Kathy Greaves
Ian Inkster



Add Your Comment
  • M A Goodlad

    • August 23rd, 2010 13:27

    Whilst your comments are all valid, let us not overlook the massive amounts of damage done recently by Dr Jonathan Wills, and to a lesser extent his sidekick Gary Robinson.

    The leadership can only do so much when councillors persist on ignoring their own code of practice, basic employmet law, and old fashioned common sense. Note that Dr Wills has already publicly stated (on radio shetland) that he still does not understand collective responsibility.

    The buck may land on Sandys desk, but the bills and a lions share of the blame belong firmly with Dr Wills.

  • Sandy McMillan

    • August 23rd, 2010 22:36

    Respective of what, the buck still is with the Convenor Sandy Cluness.

  • Kathy Greaves

    • August 24th, 2010 5:17

    Make no mistake, complaints against the council’s leadership go back a long way.

    There is a long list of time and money wasted over the years which the public does not forget. The convenor is not just a figurehead, but the responsible leader of the council.

    This past year’s public outrage was a response to a very obvious series of errors, mismanagement, lack of due care, etc. which could have been avoided.

  • Robbie Nisbet

    • August 24th, 2010 19:44

    I fully agree with the comment from “M A Goodlad”. But I can see that unlike Jonathan Wills, Sandy Cluness is a man of integrity who will accept that “the buck stops with him”.

    It is an absolute disgrace that Mr Wills has not stepped down for almost single handedly costing the SIC hundreds of thousands of pounds over the past few years, let alone the possible financial detriment caused by negative publicity due to his actions.

    How can any convenor expect to lead those who deliberately breach not just their own code of conduct, but basic decency just because they want to be the centre of attention.

    Ms/Mrs Greaves : Your rally about the payment made to Dave Clark was admirable. But now we know what really went on and who was really reasponsible, do you plan a similar demonstration to campaign for the resignation of Councillor Wills, who undoubtably would have cost “us” even more had it not been for the speedy way in which the leadership dealt with the matter.

  • mrs.C. Donald

    • August 25th, 2010 22:19

    I agree with Robbie Nisbet and can only say that the situation in Shetland of who you know and not what you know pushes an individual into a corner under pressure and a belief that things are done different here from the mainland has caught up in time and cost.
    What really went on was obvious and if someone is a councillor it does not take a degree to know when to tactfully in face of cost,legal implications and negotiations to be quiet.

    The boot was put in Dave Clark and is now moving on but I’m sure his thoughts will be like a quote from late President Kennedy — forgive your enemies but never forget their names.

    Christine Donald

  • Ted Knight

    • August 27th, 2010 13:06

    Having carefully read the ST report on matters shambolic SIC, one thing, above all others, chimed with my view on the future of Shetland’s governance. It came from the council’s previous CE, in the shape of a pentetrating reality check.

    David Clark writes of many things in his review of the Accounts Commission’s findings, and, as one would fully expect, he offers subjective opinions on much of it. But, as one who spent four years on Shetland, much of that time watching the greatest local governement comedy show (tragedy?) in the UK, he is absolutely spot on when he alludes/predicts upon Shetland’s guaranteed loss of autonomy, including the stewardship of its envied Oil Funds.

    Wake-up and smell the coffee, Shetland. The party is over. Viking rule via the Shed is now untenable. The chaps from Edinburgh are well and truly on their way to a point sixty degrees north, and nothing, but nothing can stop the untoppable.


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