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OIC Councillor John Ross Scott Suspended from Full Council Meetings

Councillor John Ross Scott who represents Kirkwall East on Orkney Islands Council has been suspended from attending full council meetings for a period of 3 months by the Standards Commission.

The hearing which was held online on 18th of January 2021 found that:

“in two Facebook posts published in March 2020, Councillor Scott disclosed sensitive information about the Council’s response to the coronavirus pandemic. This was despite the information having been provided by officers to elected members at private briefings. Having heard from a number of witnesses, including other councillors, the Panel was satisfied that it was evident to all that information provided at the briefings was to remain confidential until officers had time to prepare its public communications.”

Ashleigh Dunn, Chair of the Hearing Panel, said:

“The requirement for councillors to refrain from disclosing confidential information is a key requirement of the Councillors’ Code of Conduct. The Panel noted that a failure to do can damage the reputation and integrity of a Council and can also impede discussions and decision-making.”

“The Panel agreed that, in this case, it was legitimate for the Council to have decided that the information be kept confidential until such a time as the proposals discussed had been finalised and officers had sufficient time to prepare and manage external communications. This would ensure the Council’s position and response were communicated clearly and fully.”

The Panel heard that the Council wished to ensure its communications about the coronavirus pandemic were represented fully, and that its messages were managed carefully so as to provide reassurance and not cause any undue fear or alarm.

The Panel also found that Cllr Scott disclosed, in another Facebook post in April 2020, that another councillor had passed away, despite having been told that the news was to be kept private until confirmation had been received that all family members had been advised of the news. The Panel concluded that the Respondent had breached the privacy and
confidentiality provisions in the Code in respect of all three posts.

In addition, the Panel agreed that in sharing the news of the other councillor’s death, despite being aware that there was a possibility that not all the family members were aware of the news, the Respondent failed to show due regard for their feelings or wishes. The Panel concluded, therefore, that the Respondent had also failed to demonstrate courtesy and respect
towards the other councillor’s family as required by the Code.

The full written decision can be found here:

Councillor Scott is one of the more communicative representatives on Orkney Islands Council which has been accused of being too secretive in how it reaches decisions. It’s an accusation which raises its head every election. The council has recordings of its proceedings on Sound Cloud but not filmed. Many councillors do not reach out to their constituents with only a few using social media, for example, Facebook, to keep the public updated.

At the start of the pandemic and the lockdown in March 2020 many people felt that communication from the council was poor.

Councillor Scott who has been very active particularly in supporting youth organisations, has received a lot of support from the public. He has accepted the decision by the Standards Commission and commented:

“I am grateful for the support I have been given by the people of Orkney.

“The decision is fair and proportionate and the Standards Commission seem to have taken into consideration all of the points I made in my plea of mitigation and acknowledged the views of the members of the general public who wrote in defence of my character and the need for transparent openness and accountability in public life.”

“I aim to a reflect on this and will make a statement in the near future on any actions I might take.

“I will not appeal this decision.”

Authors of the report ‘Being Heard’ Kristopher Leask and Councillor John Ross Scott

Although banned from attending meetings of the full council, Councillor Scott will still be able to attend all committees, sub committees, seminars, briefings and meetings and activities in the community.

I am sure this will be very reassuring to the members of the public who have felt that Councillor Scott has been an effective and engaged councillor contributing much to the Orkney community.

Reporter: Fiona Grahame

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