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Councillor suspended for disclosing confidential information

Councillor John Ross Scott will not be able to attend meetings of the full Orkney Islands Council for the next three months.

Orkney Islands Councillor John Ross Scott has been suspended from attending meetings of the full council for the next three months.

Last week a hearing panel of the Standards Commission 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, chairwoman 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 also found that Councillor 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 Councillor Scott 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 he had also failed to demonstrate courtesy and respect towards the other councillor’s family as required by the code.

A full written decision is available on the Standards Commission’s website.

Councillor Scott has the right to appeal the decision. However, at this stage, it is not yet known if he intends to do this.

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