At least half a dozen SIC councillors – including both the authority’s political leader and the convener – are to bid farewell to the Town Hall chamber ahead of May’s SIC elections following a turbulent five-year term.
So far the six to have indicated they will not stand for re-election are Josie Simpson, Sandy Cluness and backbench councillors Laura Baisley, Jim Budge, Andrew Hughson and Rick Nickerson.
Central ward stalwart Iris Hawkins retired late last year. With several more councillors saying they are undecided 10 weeks ahead of the deadline, as many as 14 seats could be vacated.
It comes following a term of office which descended into chaos for 18 months after the appointment of David Clark as chief executive, culminating in a two-day Accounts Commission hearing, and will conclude with councillors grappling with a recommended £18 million-worth of spending cuts.
Barring unforeseen events, a minimum of seven councillors – Gussie Angus, Allison Duncan, Caroline Miller, Frank Robertson, Gary Robinson, David Sandison (who replaced Mrs Hawkins following last month’s by-election) and Jonathan Wills – will be seeking a new five-year term on Thursday 3rd May. In addition, though he is not 100 per cent sure, Jim Henry said this week he was thinking to stand again.
Inquiries from The Shetland Times have elicited cagey responses from the remaining eight elected members, all of whom say they are keeping their options open at this stage. The deadline for nominations to be lodged with the local authority is 29th March.
The octet of undecided councillors is: Alastair Cooper, Addie Doull, Betty Fullerton, Florence Grains, Robert Henderson, Bill Manson, Cecil Smith and Allan Wishart.
Veteran West Side councillor Mrs Grains is understood to have indicated to colleagues that she intends to retire, though she told this newspaper she remained unsure. Some councillors also expect Mr Doull to step aside.
Big changes are guaranteed in the North Isles and the South Mainland, where at least two members are definitely standing down. If Mr Henderson should decide to join Mr Simpson and Mrs Baisley in departing the political stage, it would clear the path for a trio of new faces to represent Fetlar, Skerries, Unst, Yell and Whalsay.
Exits for Mr Budge and Mr Nickerson – each having served a single term – mean the outspoken Mr Duncan will be the only incumbent name on ballot papers in that ward.
Mr Simpson said his age was the main reason for standing down. If he was to stand and be re-elected he would be approaching 80 by the end of the next council term.
Across the two Lerwick wards, Mr Cluness, who revealed publicly two years ago that he would be retiring after several decades in public life, is the only councillor definitely standing down.
Five years ago a total of 14 new councillors were elected, and some council sources are talking of their apprehension at the prospect of a similarly extensive new intake. Many of those first elected in 2007 believe it took at least a year to “bed in” and get to grips with how the SIC operates.
So far, Sustainable Shetland chairman Billy Fox and former councillor Drew Ratter – at polar extremes on the Viking Energy windfarm debate – have signalled their intent to stand.
Among others expected to join the election race are unsuccessful candidates in the Central ward by-election, including former SIC head of children’s services Stephen Morgan and union man Robert Williamson.