There is lingering anger among some councillors at Audit Scotland’s refusal to publish the full details of the SIC’s settlement with David Clark, which saw the former chief executive pocket a £285,000 tax-free payoff to leave the local authority earlier this year.
During today’s session of the audit and scrutiny committee, two members again voiced irritation at Scotland’s financial watchdog for not making public its confidential agreement with Mr Clark.
Several councillors have said they would like to be able reveal all, but they have been advised by head of legal Jan Riise that to do so would breach the agreement and leave the council open to potential legal action and further costs.
There is no such restriction on Audit Scotland, which has been provided a copy of the agreement by the council. But last month, in response to a freedom of information request from The Shetland Times, Audit Scotland confirmed it would not be releasing the contents of the agreement.
The auditors were branded “incompetent” by councillor Jonathan Wills for their failure to publish the settlement, while Gary Robinson simply asked: “Why have they not done it?”
But committee chairwoman Florence Grains said the important thing was to look forward rather than “going over old ground again and again”.
Audit Scotland’s Fraser McKinlay informed this newspaper that the information being sought was exempt under sections 36 and 38 of the FOI (Scotland) Act: “We are not able to release the actual compromise agreement between David Clark and SIC as this information is personal and confidential in nature.”
On top of the £285,000 paid to Mr Clark, the council has incurred additional legal fees and costs up to £21,000. But because the lump sum payment does not include tax, the overall cost to the taxpayer is likely to be in excess of £400,000 once negotiations with the Inland Revenue have been concluded.
When details of the payoff emerged in February this year, it sparked almost unprecedented public outrage at the local authority with protesters marching on Lerwick Town Hall to demand the resignations of convener Sandy Cluness and vice-convener Josie Simpson.
During the Accounts Commission’s two-day hearing in June, it emerged that Cosla had advised the SIC that the settlement was the “best deal” even though “paying out any money in such circumstances is unwelcome”.
In his evidence to the hearing, Mr Clark said that public criticism from councillors including Dr Wills had provided the basis for possible legal action, while the Lerwick South councillor blamed the failure of Mr Cluness to properly investigate a formal complaint by he and five other councillors against the former chief executive in December 2009.