No vow of omerta (Jonathan Wills)

Councillor Gary Cleaver, writing in Readers’ Views on 22nd November, makes some clever points. This is no surprise to those who have heard him speak in the council chamber, where it is always obvious just how clever he is.

Tempting as it is to ignore Mr Cleaver’s strictures on my character and motives, I think it wiser to refute, lest folk get the wrong impression.

First of all, he expresses “dismay” that I have “chosen to disregard the democratic decision” of the council on 13th November (about reducing all junior secondary schools to nine-year “super-primaries”, or “middle schools” as they are called in some countries).

Clever, but wrong: I don’t disregard it at all. I accept it, but that will not prevent me pointing out that, if implemented, it will indeed breach council financial policy – unless the £600,000 cost is found from savings elsewhere in the schools budget.

Then there is the shocking accusation that I insist on “looking for arenas outside of the council chamber” to continue my arguments. I plead guilty as charged: I have a right, and in my opinion, a duty, to explain my position to the voters, using the public media.

If councillors observed a vow of omerta except when taking part in debates in the chamber it would be a very strange state of affairs, reminiscent of the orchestrated machine “politics” of the People’s Republic of China.

So, at the risk of further upsetting Mr Cleaver, I will continue to take part in public debates in the media about council policy. I think that is part of what councillors are paid to do.

Next comes the charge of “unfortunate scaremongering” in my letters and radio appearances. If I may presume to translate, what Mr Cleaver probably means is that he disagrees with me and would prefer if I did not point out the possible consequences of the education committee failing to save the £1.5 million a year which it is obliged to save, under a council policy for which Mr Cleaver voted a couple of months ago. These consequences obviously include amalgamating some primary schools.

Like Mr Cleaver, I had read the report for the council meeting thoroughly (although he cleverly insinuates that I had not). I cannot agree with him that council education spending per pupil “remains stubbornly complex”. In fact it has been repeatedly analysed and explained to councillors over the past ten years, in five fudged attempts to reform our education system and reduce the number of schools to what we can afford, while providing the best possible opportunities for all pupils.

As for the “uncertainty that surrounds the full cost of the service and the potential for further efficiency savings”, if Mr Cleaver knew of a clever way suddenly to save the £600,000 a year he wants to spend on making Aith and Sandwick into super-primaries (apparently by cutting back on school dinners and cleaning), why on earth didn’t he tell the education committee about it, long before the report on school costs came to full council?

If he and his clever colleagues have no confidence in the ability of our council’s education officials to do the arithmetic, perhaps they should have the courage to say so in public.

It is clear from his comments that Mr Cleaver has still not fully understood what he voted for. The council decision to add £600,000 to the education department’s annual costs, on top of the £916,000 in savings it had already failed to deliver, leaves the department £1.56 million short.

The vice-chairman of the education committee attempted to have this saving shifted to other departments which had already met their savings targets. When I pointed out to the meeting that this would be in breach of council financial policy, he amended his proposal to mean that education, and not other council services, would still have to find the saving, unless and until the full council decides otherwise.

After the meeting, he attempted to suggest that the money would be found by other services after all. This was a fudge. To have ignored it would not have been clever at all.

Jonathan Wills
Councillor for Lerwick North


Add Your Comment
  • Johan Adamson

    • November 24th, 2013 11:03

    As I understand it, there are reports to come on why our education cost per pupil is higher than Orkney. I would like to know how and why our total council spend is higher than Orkney & the Western Isles.

    A junior high for Lerwick! Than will save your £1.5m, amalgamating the AHS with Bells Brae and putting Brae back to being a junior High and setting up an Anderson for S5 & S6

  • Brian Smith

    • November 25th, 2013 15:06

    What I love most about Shetland in summer is the silence.

  • Johan Adamson

    • November 25th, 2013 15:30

    Tumble weed …

  • Christopher Ritch

    • November 25th, 2013 16:34

    I am sure the officials can do the arithmetic. There are enough of them there to double check everything, as Prof Ledingham noted, officials in many larger authorities would have been “swamped” by the amount of clever sums and obfuscation that the blueprint process has required. It is now over 2 and a half years since Gordon Dargie asked

    “I have to ask, yet again, just how much does it cost this council to administer its schools?”

    Did you ever find out Jonathan?

    • John Tulloch

      • November 25th, 2013 20:10


      I can’t decide whether your comment is best interpreted as a “tumbleweed moment chez Wills” or a hand grenade through the window at Hayfield?

      As defeated football managers are prone to say, “trying to take a positive from this! SIC is half-way to “openness and transparency”, they may not be open but they’re certainly transparent.”

      Let’s hope in five years’ time they’re not quoting former Aberdeen FC Manager Ebbe Skovdahl, “The operation was a success, but the patient died!”

  • Laurence Paton

    • December 2nd, 2013 16:07

    Well that’s a week gone by now and I for one would really like to see an answer to Christopher Ritch’s straight forward and reasonable question.
    What’s the problem Jonathan?

    • Christopher Ritch

      • December 9th, 2013 21:23

      Another week passes…

      It would be interesting to know how the schools administration costs compare to other council areas, but it looks as if we will not be getting the information from Jonathan. Perhaps it is more complex than he thought. Or perhaps he knows that people will be outraged to learn that more could be saved by deleting one post at Hayfield than by closing the Skerries secondary school.

      • John Tulloch

        • December 12th, 2013 19:37

        Hit’s most horrid quiet, Christopher, I doot dir mebby been a vow a ‘merta, eftir aa!

      • Christopher Ritch

        • December 13th, 2013 17:02

        Dey mibbe ir John!

        I am aye blyde ta see Jonathan tröttlin ida media, an I wiss at mair coonsillirs wid dö da sam.

        I doot we’ll hear wi ‘m yet, he’s likly joost ower trang flytin upo Alistair Carmichael eenoo?

  • Donnie Morrison

    • December 14th, 2013 14:32

    Na boys – I doot you’re got it aa wrang – Jonathan haes moved on noo ta defendin da investment in da windferm.
    In atween dat an nyitterin at Comical Ali, he’s braaly trang – bit he’ll maybe hae time ower Yule.


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