Squabble over “contemptuous” behaviour sees meeting postponed

Key decisions on affordable housing and care for the elderly were postponed as one member of the council’s social services committee protested at being treated with “contempt”.

Several councillors complained they had not been given enough time to absorb the contents of a chunky 317-page agenda in time for Wednesday’s committee meeting. Following a circuitous debate, it was agreed to reconvene on Monday instead – allowing members more time to digest the 12 reports.

Mark Boden – relevant timetables were complied with.
Mark Boden – relevant timetables were complied with.

However, the local authority’s chief executive Mark Boden said the papers had gone online last Wednesday, and hard copies were distributed on Friday. “That all complied with the relevant timetables,” he said, “but one or two of the members… didn’t feel they’d been able to read them sufficiently.”

Councillor Billy Fox said he felt members had “drawn a line in the sand”, sending out a message that “this is not going to be a rubber-stamping council”.

Under previous SIC regimes, it was commonplace for some councillors to be seen opening their unread agenda papers at the start of meetings.

“I think in the past fairly hefty reports have probably gone before council and probably not been digested properly,” Mr Fox said.

“This is a council that wants the appropriate amount of time to digest reports. I did not put myself forward for the council to be treated [in] what I regard, actually, as a fairly contemptuous manner, and I did not come onto the council to be made a fool of.

“The decisions lie with the council members. We’re the ones that will carry the can for this – we have to be informed to the very best of officials’ capacity, and digest the facts, probe and ask the appropriate questions.”

Billy Fox says the issue marked a
Billy Fox says the issue marked a “line in the sand”

After several members – including Mr Fox and Gary Cleaver – raised those concerns on Wednesday, social services chairman Cecil Smith adjourned the meeting to take legal advice.

After a 20-minute break, Mr Smith resumed briefly to announce that the committee’s business would be postponed for five days, allowing members to read and analyse the reports fully.


Add Your Comment
  • Jenny Henry

    • September 18th, 2013 14:56

    Well done, Billy Fox. It seems like common sense to me, but if more care, attention and thought was paid beforehand to a lot of the council ‘business’ there would be less need for the seemingly constant and costly deferrals and postponements.

  • John Anderson

    • September 18th, 2013 20:58

    What? They had time to read the papers. It says there is a normal agreed amount of time and it was complied with. They are the committee. They are councillors. It is their job to read the papers, and re-read them till they understand. They know weeks in advance when the committee will be, and they’ve been in office long enough to know when the papers will be available. Yet they still wander into a meeting, an important meeting, and bleat that they haven’t read things. Meanwhile gangs of officials are paid to keep putting reports to this shower, then have to come back next week when the poor dears have managed to do their job and read the reports.

    ‘Didn’t come into the council to be made a fool of?’ No, you’re managing that all by yourselves, with your deferring and indecision. If you are on a committee, at this crunch time, you should be flaming well taking it seriously and doing your homework. I worked for several local authorities. Never have I seen such a shambles as happens back in Shetland.

  • Brian Smith

    • September 18th, 2013 22:27

    If you read the Shetland News, J.A., you will see that (thanks to a technical error) the papers weren’t available in due time. You have spluttered too soon.

  • Chris Mackie

    • September 19th, 2013 8:31

    One thinks they could at least have ran the committee so the Members could have asked questions and educated themselves about the reports. Will they come back next week full of off-the- wall new theories which they will then send officials off to explore, hence deferring decisions further? They could at least have got all the uninformed nonsense out of the way at this meeting, so that we had a chance of a professional display at the next.

  • Stewart Mac

    • September 19th, 2013 14:09

    Its probably highly cynical but I wonder sometimes if this sort of thing is a deliberate attempt to “slip something through” a committee.

    Yes elected members should all familiarise themselves with all the relevant papers etc. ahead of the meeting we should remember that each of the members is usually on more than one committee (they are all on the Planning Committee for example) so if each committee has in excess of 300 pages produced by their officials how are they supposed to read it all, understand all the implications and be able to make an informed decision?

  • John Tulloch

    • September 19th, 2013 15:36

    Dare one enquire who writes the 300-page documents?

    Why are councillors expected to sift through such minutiae?

    Or is most of it just “guff” that can be ignored – “The purpose/scope of this document ……etc., etc.”?

    Or does it include “Executive Summary” and “Conclusions” sections totalling 10-20 pages referenced to relevant detail referenced in the main body of the report?

  • John Anderson

    • September 19th, 2013 19:41

    Hah, ok B.S., I did splutter slightly excessively, but the frustration, the disbelief at how this council operates overcomes me. Councillors are squirming, they’re uncomfortable, and it seems they like to keep running back and blaming the officials, for both the procedure and the policies. It’s how we ended up in this dreadful situation in the first place, and if we don’t fix it now, it’s disaster.

  • Michael Bilton

    • September 22nd, 2013 2:35

    Old civil service trick – blind Government ministers with paperwork – then you can slip in the things that might be controversial, without them being noticed.


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