“Mean, discriminatory and downright cruel” plans to axe a summer playscheme for children with additional support needs (ASN) should be reversed, according to an SIC councillor.
Lerwick South member Jonathan Wills told Thursday’s executive committee that he will try to have the £74,000 scheme restored when the 2013/14 SIC budget is set next week.
Dr Wills said the playscheme had operated for more than 20 years, providing “invaluable respite” for the families of 50 ASN children. It operated three days a week for a month in the summer holidays and during the Easter and October school breaks.
Referring to the families affected, Dr Wills said: “Because of the decision to remove funding for the ASN summer playscheme, their levels of stress, and physical and emotional exhaustion can only rise. Already one mother has told me she has no idea how she will cope during the summer holidays this year.”
He said a group of parents of ASN children were trying to organise a voluntary alternative.
They have received assistance from council staff and Disability Shetland and plan a three-day trial of a programme of activities this Easter. That will involve using Clickimin, Islesburgh, the Shetland Library and Mareel.
“However, the alternative scheme will rely entirely on volunteers, including parents, and there will be a charge for each session,” Dr Wills said.
“Even if this is successful, it will not meet the children’s needs as the former playscheme did. One problem is that many of the parents work and will have to take time off work and forego part of their family income if they volunteer.”
He was also unhappy to have been informed there had been no consultation with parents before the decision to end the funding.
The draft budget (investigated fully in this week’s paper) was discussed department-by-department during a meeting lasting longer than three hours on Thursday afternoon.
Political leader Gary Robinson comfortably batted off an attempt by some councillors to reduce the size of the funding cut Shetland’s community councils are facing.
Spending on community councils is to drop by £60,000, a cut of 30 per cent to the £200,000 budget. An attempt by Dr Wills and councillor Allison Duncan to have that restricted to 15 per cent was voted down 7-3.
Mr Duncan said the cut was “a step too far” and could reduce people’s willingness to voluntarily give up the time needed to be community councillors.
But Mr Robinson did not accept that the SIC was “being nasty” to community councils. He rejected the notion that community councillors would be “leaving in droves” and said there would be no further cuts to the budget in the lifetime of this council.
Finance chief James Gray’s £113 million proposed budget for the next 12 months will be debated in full by all 22 councillors on Wednesday.
For comprehensive coverage of the budget proposals, see Friday’s Shetland Times.