Councillors approved a new constitution and standing orders after a two hour debate today in a bid to help the local authority improve the way it functions.
The aim of the documents, according to a report by head of legal Jan Riise, is to provide strong support for the new political management arrangements agreed by members over the last few months, including the formation of a political executive and the separation of the leadership of the council into a civic leader or convener and political leader, roles now held by Sandy Cluness and Josie Simpson respectively.
Mr Riise warned that unless the council adopted the rules, practices and procedures in the various documents, “there is a real risk that the objectives to be achieved by the significant changes made in the political management arrangements will not be achieved”. In its report last year the Accounts Commission said it would be looking for such improvements.
Mr Riise noted that unlike most other local authorities in Scotland, the SIC had not previously prepared a formal protocol clearly differentiating the roles and responsibilities and expectations of councillors and officials to ensure that “good governance underpins good council work”.
The purpose of the constitution is to:
• Enable the council to provide clear leadership in the community and to the organisation;
• Support the active involvement of “citizens and partners” in the process of council decision making;
• Help councillors represent their constituents effectively;
• Support “rigorous options appraisal” and review of different courses of action;
• Enable decisions to be taken efficiently and effectively
• Create a powerful and effective means of holding decision makers to public account;
• Ensure that those responsible for decision making are clearly identifiable to local people and that they explain the reasons for their decisions.
However, the introduction to the document spelling out the role and duties of councillors states: “The quality of elected political leadership is core to the effective governance of communities.”
It goes on: “A councillor represents and acts for everyone within his or her ward and not just those who voted for him/her. A councillor must act collectively with all other councillors in the wider interest of Shetland and everyone who lives there.”
The council is to provide much-needed training to help councillors improve their skills and knowledge.
Among the 19 new standing orders is one governing the changing of earlier council decisions, which specifies that no decision can be revoked within six months unless the convener or head of legal is satisfied that a material change of circumstances has occured.
Clear from the discussions was a will among councillors to tackle the unwieldy naming structure for new committees.
Among several shortened suggestions were “education and families” instead of “children, families and learning” and “social services” instead of the more cumbersome “community, health and wellbeing”.
The meeting heard various calls for a “plain language” approach to be taken in the council’s new structure.
Members also went over their concerns surrounding accountability in the 11-member executive committee, which includes the civic head, Sandy Cluness.
Jonathan Wills said: “We have already decided this, but councillor [Gary] Robinson is at a Cosla meeting and reports their incredulity about the fact we have left the convener as civic head and put him back on the executive.”
There was, however, clear overall support for the measures, with Dr Wills calling for them to be implemented straight away.
Mr Riise said the council could not stray from the date set down for their implementation, which is next Wednesday.
Councillors had met to discuss the report on Monday, but agreed to defer any decisions until yesterday’s date to allow extra time to digest the contents of the report.