At first glance, SIC chief executive Alistair Buchan’s reform proposals, accepted unanimously by councillors this week, appear rather procedural. But, as members were quick to recognise, they represent just the sort of under-the-bonnet work that will get the engine of the local state functioning a lot more smoothly in the years ahead. It is clear that Mr Buchan, if no-one else, believes Shetland Islands Council has fallen well behind the rest of the country’s local authorities in terms of functions and professionalism, and he is determined to rectify that.
It will take hard work and long hours from councillors themselves to exploit a new committee system, a re-organised senior management team, a communications office. The near-euphoria that greeted Mr Buchan in the council chamber on Wednesday was understandable given the events of the past year, culminating in the Accounts Commission’s report. However, it is clear that there is a genuine strong desire among members to ensure the SIC becomes a much more coherent and effective organisation.
The Scottish government’s finance minister, John Swinney, will no doubt be pleased, when he meets Mr Buchan and the convener, to hear of the progress so far. His letter to the council carried an implicit threat of central government action should radical changes not be made. That would, of course, be very much a last resort, but it is to be avoided at all costs on all sides. The threat is being treated seriously at the top of the Town Hall, although it is clear Mr Buchan is confident of avoiding such an eventuality. So far, so good.