Retired NHS Shetland chief executive Sandra Laurenson has been hired by the council for six months to help in its drive to cut costs and improve how it operates.
She will join in about a fortnight’s time to work three days a week on council chief executive Alistair Buchan’s improvement plan which is looking at nearly all major aspects of the local authority.
Ms Laurenson joins several other consultants brought in to help with the task, including former Argyll and Bute Council director Nigel Stewart to re-draw the committee structure and journalist and DJ Tom Morton to improve communications.
Ms Laurenson will be involved in identifying efficiency savings and better ways of working. She said she was relishing the challenge of working as part of a team trying to improve the way the council does its business. She believed much of what she learnt during a career in the NHS could transfer into a council context.
She said: “Over many years I was proud of the way the local NHS found efficiency savings by working directly alongside staff whilst maintaining services for the public. I’d aim to take the same approach here.”
She said it was vital that staff were asked for their ideas and kept involved in the process of making the council run more cheaply and efficiently. “One of the first things I would like to explore is engaging staff in the possibility of introducing a scheme where they are able to develop suggestions for savings and are then supported to deliver them.”
Ms Laurenson spent almost 34 years with the NHS, including the last 25 years in Shetland, before getting early retirement at Christmas.
Mr Buchan said the former health chief had a huge amount of local experience and he was delighted to have her on board. “She comes with a well established track record of achieving cost savings in NHS Shetland.”
He said saving money and working more efficiently was “vital” for Shetland’s future. He admitted his improvement programme involves “a huge amount of change” and said it was important that he could call on specialist input from consultants as and when it was needed.
Councillors have already agreed to a new committee structure – due to take effect from next month – and to changes in their roles in an attempt to address some of the criticisms last year by the Accounts Commission about lack of leadership and direction.
They backed the elevation of vice-convener Josie Simpson to the role of political leader while convener Sandy Cluness remains as civic head.
The cost-cutting and restructuring programme is now about to enter a new phase which will involve thinning down the big wage-earners in top management – a course of action that many islanders may approve of wholeheartedly.