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Attempt to shorten term length of Orkney council leader role fails

Councillor Dr Steven Clackson outside the Orkney Council chamber
Councillor Dr Steven Clackson outside the Orkney Council chamber

An attempt by an Orkney councillor to shorten the length of the term held by the leader of the area’s council has fallen, with a vote of 14 to 5.

Councillors voted in favour of the leader continuing to hold the post for the full five-year council term, rather than changing every two years.

The next leader of Orkney council will be elected by the new council after May’s local elections.

The current leader James Stockan has held the post for the past five years. He abstained from today’s vote and said he fell on neither side of the debate.

According to Mr Stockan, what was important is that the council has leadership that takes it forward to where it’s going, at any political level.

The changes were proposed by councillor Stephen Clackson who said it was not an “expression of dissatisfaction” with Mr Stockan. However, he said it was “a tall order” to expect new councillors to pick a leader at their first general meeting.

There are procedures for removing the council leader during their term, via a vote of no confidence.

Current arrangements for ousting council leader are ‘nuclear option’

However, Dr Clackson said this could be considered “the nuclear option” as it would require other councillors to take proactive action. It would also leave the council leaderless while an alternative is figured out.

At Thursday’s meeting of full council, there were strong feelings about the proposed shortening of the leaders’ term, not least because this is not the first time the discussion has been had.

Dr Clackson tried to get similar changes made ahead of the current council term starting back in 2017.

Supporting the proposed changes, councillor Steve Sankey said: “Not one of us should be made a special case, not even the leader.

“We should all be accountable for our actions at all times. I believe a rain check on the leader, as is the case with other senior council leaders, is not only essential but common sense.”

However, the support for change wasn’t there.

‘We should all be accountable for our actions’

Councillor Graham Sinclair said: “Maybe polite conversation could describe this as déjà vu. I’m afraid, for me, it’s a disgruntled ‘here we go again.’

“I’ve served for three councils and this topic has been raised in each council and been resoundingly defeated.”

Mr Sinclair said he struggled to find the benefit in making the change.

Many other councillors also spoke up, with Barbara Foulkes saying “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”.

David Dawson said, for him, it was about three words “continuity, continuity, continuity.”

Leslie Manson said the proposal was “what the Americans would call ‘a nothing burger'” meaning it lacked substance.

Proposals are ‘a nothing burger’

Duncan Tullock said he felt it was an attempt at “further politicising” the Orkney council chamber. Quoting some of Dr Clackson’s earlier words back at him he said it is “not the Orkney way.”

Dr Clackson responded to points made that all this should be a choice for the next council.

He said: “The very first meeting of the next council is the statutory general meeting. At that point, there would be no option to go for a two-year term.

“I feel we ought to be putting democracy into the hands of the members. Although, it seems there are various members who feel differently.”

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