Councillors vote down call for more public scrutiny
A call for the council to be more open to public scrutiny was defeated by an overwhelming majority at a meeting this morning.
At the final meeting of the current council Lerwick south representative Jonathan Wills argued that the next elected council should review council policies on openness.
Dr Wills said that he believed an increasing number of private meetings were occurring on matters which “could and should be discussed in public.”
He spoke about occasions where debate, questions and discussions occurred behind closed doors prior to meetings where the press and public were invited.
The result of this, he said, was that councillors were arriving “fully informed” but that the public was not getting the full details, via the press, because the most pressing discussions were occurring in private.
But political leader Gary Robinson did not accept Dr Wills’ points. He said that this council had been more “open than councils that have come before it.”
He defended the behind-closed-doors seminars and said that they provided a safe space for councillors to “ask the questions that they might not otherwise ask… without the full glare of the media.”
Dr Wills argued, however, that these seminars were operating in such a way that a consensus was being reached without public scrutiny before matters were rubber stamped in the public gaze.
He accepted that there were matters which “quite rightly” had to be discussed behind closed doors but felt more scrutiny of council documents should be done where the media could witness it and report back to the public.
Dr Wills said: “Why should we be frightened of the glare of the media, as it has been called? The glare of the public?”
Councillor Michael Stout responded with resentment “to the accusation that there has been secret cabals” making decisions of public interest in private.
Shetland south councillor George Smith lent his support to Mr Stout and said that Dr Wills’ suggestion was a “backwards step”.
Allan Wishart and Gary Cleaver both spoke about the usefulness of seminars in allowing councillors to make informed decisions.
“Why should we be frightened of the glare of the media, as it has been called? The glare of the public?” JONATHAN WILLS
Perhaps sensing the tide of the room against him Dr Wills’ made arguments in closing defending his suggestions. He argued that he didn’t believe seminars should never take place but said that he could not “see why we couldn’t do the scrutiny in public”.
He said that it was not right that when councillors came to the formal, public debates the most pertinent questions and discussions had “already taken place.”
A vote on Dr Wills’ amendment calling for the next council to consider their approach to openness revealed that the only councillor he could swing to his side was Shetland north member Andrea Manson.
The other 17 councillors in the chamber all voted against the amendment.
They were: Malcolm Bell, Mark Burgess, Peter Campbell, Gary Cleaver, Alastair Cooper, Steven Coutts, Billy Fox, Robert Henderson, Drew Ratter, Cecil Smith, George Smith, Theo Smith, Michael Stout, Frank Robertson, Gary Robinson, Allan Wishart and Vaila Wishart.
Allison Duncan, Davie Sandison and Amanda Westlake were not in attendance.