Schools cash from council provides respite for SRT – but only temporarily
A one-off payment of £400,000 from Shetland Islands Council has provided temporary respite from financial worries at Shetland Recreational Trust (SRT).
The payment, which will be made today, is intended to cover the cost of schools’ usage of the isles’ swimming pools and leisure centres for this year.
The council had previously reneged on a deal to pay for educational use of the facilities, and earlier this year SRT had been forced to watch as the bill was passed instead to Shetland Charitable Trust, where councillor-trustees, after consultation with the charities regulator OSCR, again refused to pay out.
Finally, at the end of June an agreement was made with the SIC to make the one-off payment. A big question mark still remains, however, over funding for the coming year.
At a meeting of the recreational trust this week, general manager James Johnston told trustees: “The last 12 months have been a difficult time, but we’ve still managed to provide a good service.”
But, he warned, if agreement could not be made on a payment for next year, “we’re going to have a huge hole in the budget”. Four hundred thousand pounds, Mr Johnston explained, was the cost of running two rural leisure centres for a year.
“We could ask the council which two centres they’d like to close,” suggested trustee and former councillor Billy Stove, clearly frustrated by the SIC’s heel-dragging.
SRT’s budgeting process for next year begins in September, so the trust is crossing its fingers that the funding issue can soon be resolved. Mr Johnston has been in discussions over past months with schools across the isles, to assess the varying levels of facility usage.
Trustees at the meeting were adamant that schools should continue to make the best use of the centres, but that reduced provision was, unfortunately, a possible outcome of the current situation.
But if school use was to be reduced, SRT would then be faced with “a dilemma”.
Mr Johnston asked: “Can we keep the facilities open during the day when there’s no public use and if the school’s not going to use it?
“The issue of charging schools isn’t to make money. It’s about charging for the services they use.
“Would we allow our customers to use the services without paying? That’s effectively what the council has been doing.”
“We need the money. We’re not just asking for it for the way of it,” chairman, Joe Irvine added.
“If in six months or a year’s time this has not been resolved . . .” Billy Stove began.
“. . . We’ll be bankrupt.” Mr Irvine interrupted.
Mr Johnston explained that the trust did have overdraft facilities available to it, though these would of course incur charges. But the situation for the trust, it was clear, is very serious.
By MALACHY TALLACK