SIC members cost almost half a million pounds last year
Isles councillors have claimed nearly half a million pounds in salary and expenses, new figures have revealed.
Statistics detailing the total £493,415 awarded to elected members during 2014/15 have been released by the SIC, together with attendance figures for the year.
Top attender at council meetings was licensing committee chairman George Smith, at 97 per cent. Joint second were education chairwoman Vaila Wishart, depute leader Billy Fox and Lerwick member Michael Stout, who all returned a record of 96 per cent.
Bottom of the pile for attendance was North Mainland member Drew Ratter, who turned up at just 54 per cent of the meetings he could have been at. However, his total expenses totted up at £7,033, the fourth highest claim in the council.
Lerwick councillor Jonathan Wills was at 20 of the possible 32 meetings, giving him a third from bottom attendance rate of 63 per cent – ahead of Mr Ratter and South Mainland member Allison Duncan, whose attendance rate stood at 62 per cent.
Mr Ratter claimed the figures were a “crude measure” of what elected members did for the authority.
He said: “I’m the chair of the joint valuation board and I put a lot of work into that, for example.
“I’m involved in the charitable trust and do a lot of work there for the council. None of these things are counted in those attendance figures.
“I think to measure just simply your committee meetings and full councils is a very crude measure of assessing your activity as a councillor.”
Mr Ratter insisted his mileage claims were “way down”, which he said was testament to work he did from home, where he relied on the internet and telephone more than he used to.
“Virtually all the council’s European work now is done on the members expenses budget,” he added.
Dr Wills argued that the figures failed to take into account the time taken at trust meetings. He is vice-chairman of Shetland Charitable Trust, and also serves on the amenity trust.
He said: “Shetland Amenity Trust and Shetland Charitable Trust take up a great deal of my time and I go to community council meetings as well. And many other members are in the same position.”
Dr Wills stressed that the figures failed to “paint an accurate picture” of what councillors were putting in.
He said: “I represent the council on the CPMR [committee of peripheral maritime regions] which is the council’s representation in Europe, or a large part of it. Sitting around in airports for a day each side of a meeting is not included.
“I think they should list other things that councillors do and I’m quite happy to tell them what I do. I recently spent a lot of time on a constituent’s case with the planning department, it was not resolved in his favour.
“You sometimes succeed and some times not. These things take up a great deal of time. The council is being run for retired people.
“I’m not going to suffer in silence this time – it’s very unfair.”
However, Dr Wills’ expense claims were relatively low compared with other elected members, at £1,700.
At the other end of the scale, social services chairman Cecil Smith claimed £9,941 in expenses, behind only convener Malcolm Bell (£10,229) and political leader Gary Robinson (£19,041).
Mr Smith was a good attender, however, at 91 per cent. Mr Bell recorded a 78 per cent attendance record, some way ahead of Mr Robinson’s 66 per cent.
The lowest level of expenses were claimed by Andrea Manson, at just a smidgen over £61. Mark Burgess and Davie Sandison were also good value, at £232 and £289 respectively. Allan Wishart’s claims came to just over the £300 mark.
• See report and tables in next week’s Shetland Times.