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.