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Call for unity among Orkney councillors as new leaders decided

The newly elected leaders of Orkney council, Heather Woodbridge, James Stockan, and Graham Bevan.
Orkney council's newly elected leaders. From the left depute leader Heather Woodbridge, political leader James Stockan, and convener Graham Bevan. Picture by Andrew Stewart/DCT Media.

The leaders of Orkney council were elected at the first full council meeting on Monday – prompting a call for the new elected members to work together for the good of the county.

The names elected to the top roles probably won’t come as major surprises, as many were heavily rumoured ahead of the meeting.

James Stockan returns as the council’s political leader, while Heather Woodbridge was elected as depute leader.

Notably, councillor Stockan’s re-election received a nod from councillor Steven Heddle, who seconded the nomination.

There had been rumours that Mr Heddle – a previous council leader himself – may want another go at the leader role.

However, these rumours were quashed on the day.

Councillor Stockan will now hold the leader role for another five-year council term. He said: “It has been a very rewarding job, to see Orkney be able to project itself with the opportunities we have in and around our shores.

James Stockan accepts Orkney council leader role for another five years

“We’ve gone through a time of election where many things have been said and many things have been insinuated. But, I really believe it’s time to draw a line beyond that so that we all work collegially, collectively, and form a united front to face the challenges we’ve got ahead of us.”

These comments came after an election campaign period marked by accusations of cliques at the council.

New councillor Graham Bevan has been elected as convener. While there were no other nominations for this role, not everyone was completely happy.

Councillor Duncan Tullock asked the clerk to “register his dissent” at the appointment.

Councillor Bevan will need to hit the ground running, as he takes part in Orkney’s Norwegian Constitution Day events being held today.

The 21 councillors elected by the Orkney public on May 5, 2022. Kirkwall, Orkney. Picture supplied by Orkney Islands Council.

Aside from the three top jobs, the chairs of the council’s committees were also decided at the meeting.

Kirkwall East’s David Dawson is serving as chair of the development and infrastructure committee this time.

Kirkwall West and Orphir’s Sandy Cowie accepted his nomination as chair of the Monitoring and Audit committee.

There was a bit of a shock as Mr Cowie unexpectedly nominated Gwenda Shearer as chair of monitoring and audit.

However, he had jumped the gun. He had actually meant to nominate her to head up the education, leisure and housing committee.

When the time came, councillor Shearer accepted the appointment, which passed as yet another unopposed nomination.

She said she would be “absolutely delighted” to return to the post she also held with the last council.

Secret ballot held to decide chair of planning

The decision over who would take the chair for the planning committee came down to a secret ballot.

Owen Tierney will be the new chairman, but John Ross Scott was also in the running.

It was as close a race as you can have, coming down to just one vote.

There may have been déjà vu in the chamber, as Mr Scott also lost out on heading up planning by a single vote, again to councillor Tierney, back in 2017.

Aside from these key roles, positions on a variety of other boards and committees were also decided.

For example, the North Isles’ Melissa Thomson was elected chair of Orkney Ferries, John Ross Scott will sit on the Kirkwall Bid,  and Rachael King was elected vice-chairwoman of the integrated joint board.

Appointments were also made to the Pickyaquoy Trust among others.

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