22nd May 2018
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SIC agrees £12.4 million budget cut

SIC councillors have delivered an overwhelming vote of confidence in finance chief James Gray, approving his £116 million budget for next year with only one minor adjustment.

In stark contrast to last year’s day-long marathon, members took less than four hours on Wednesday to agree spending proposals which will result in £12.4 million of spending cuts in 2013/14.

Political leader Gary Robinson said that was testament to the detailed preparations which had gone into drawing up the budget since the autumn. With the cuts taking the council 70 per cent of the way towards balancing its books, Mr Robinson described it as a “giant leap” forward.

Mr Gray said the reductions in spending – likely to result in around 300 jobs being cut – were necessary if the council wants to safeguard its oil reserves at or above £125 million in the medium term. The draw on reserves this year will be nearly £28 million, but half of that will fund “one-off” items.

He said the council was still spending 45 per cent more than Orkney on day-to-day services. With council tax being frozen for a sixth consecutive year, Shetland residents will pay the fourth lowest rates in the country while benefiting from “the best funded public services in Scotland”.

Mr Gray said the budget was shifting spending to reflect the areas councillors wished to see prioritised, chiefly education and social care. While the infrastructure, children’s services and community care budgets are being cut by 10 per cent or less, spending on development is being slashed by 20 per cent.

Wednesday’s meeting saw votes held on four items. Only one resulted in a modification to Mr Gray’s proposed budget: while the planned £68,000 cut to community council funding goes ahead, the same sum will be made available for specific projects if they meet the necessary criteria. 

An impassioned plea from Jonathan Wills to reverse the decision to axe a holiday playscheme for pupils with additional support needs failed by 13 votes to eight.

Meanwhile Steven Coutts was rebuffed by a 16-3 margin when he sought a reduction in Promote Shetland’s budget.

Finally, George Smith wanted plans to remove skips from rural areas postponed until a new collection scheme had been “properly thought through”. But his amendment was trounced 16-4. 

Mr Robinson said the SIC had devised a “much more effective way” of setting its budget this year. He made a dig at the previous council, which commissioned some 52 service reviews after a chaotic nine-hour meeting last February to set the 2012/13 budget.

“Part of the problem last time was we were towards the end of a council,” he said. “It may have suited some of the members not to take the decisions, kick them into the long grass, push them into the new council.

“Because of the vast size of the structural deficit we inherited, it wasn’t something we could kick into the long grass any further.”

With nearly £16 million of cuts set to be banked in the current financial year, Mr Robinson said this council was finally taking action which had been badly needed for two decades.

“I think the message has got home,” he said. “It’s been said for a very long time. [Late SIC convener] Edward Thomason was saying as long ago as 1993 that there had to be a change in the way the council managed its finances to avoid getting what he called a ‘nasty dunt’.

“If everything goes to plan, we will manage to avoid the nasty dunt he spoke of, but it isn’t going to be easy.”

Looking to 2014 and beyond, Mr Robinson acknowledged that more taxing days lie ahead. A further £3 million of savings are pencilled in from shutting most of Shetland’s junior high schools and several primaries. There is also uncertainty over how big cuts in community care will be achieved.

He said the council intended to have a “full and open discussion” about school closures, and said parents’ suggestions on education cuts were being “actively looked at”. 

“I’m determined that as far as the law allows us to, we’ll deliver the schools consultations in as open and honest a fashion as the ferries review was conducted in,” he said.

Mr Robinson continued: “I think there’s a real recognition that the council has to change its ways in terms of its spending.

“There are still a lot of very emotive things caught up in that – Dr Wills spoke about support for ASN, and there was a lot of debate about services such as skips, public toilets, [the] bus station – all of those have turned out to be real challenges to members.”

Council convener Malcolm Bell, who chaired Wednesday’s meeting, said he was pleased with how events had played out.

“We’ve made a big step forward,” he said. “Even when we do get to financial sustainability we will still be spending more on services per head than any other council. I’m just pleased that this council is sticking together and showing resolve to get us through a very difficult period.”

There was limited public dissent from backbench councillors this week. However, one did say privately that there was a disturbing “lack of vision” as to what SIC services will look like when this council leaves office in 2017.

Meanwhile, with trade unions set to open negotiations on where job cuts are likely to fall, Unison branch representative Brian Smith said that while the council had an “incredibly well developed financial plan”, there were “absolutely no comparable social ideas”.

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16 comments

  1. Liam Brannan

    I think that the councils decision to shut the ASN holiday club is a disgrace!

    My little brother has Cerebal Palsy. He is dependent on a wheelchair. He loved going to this holiday club. Also it gave me and my other siblings the chance to do stuff with mam that we would otherwise not be able to do if he was with us.

    The question I would like to ask those 13 councillors that said no is what is my little brother meant to do in the summer holidays now. Yes, there is mainstream activities set up and they are really good, I know cause I have been on them a few times. But these activities are things like coasteering, mountain biking, boat trips. These are all good for able people like myself but what about an 11 year old boy in a wheelchair. Not only him but many others like him across Shetland who need constant attention and care.

    But yet in times when they are trying to save money they are going to build a mega brilliant new high school in the town which is going to school all bairns my age across Shetland. SURELY if we have enough money to shut nearly all Junior High Schools across Shetland (that are probably just as good if not better) and put them into this “brilliant” new high school, then we surely have enough money to open a holiday club for children with special needs.

    I completely agree with Johnathon Wills when he says that the council should be ashamed of themselves. How selfish can you get.

    Reply
  2. Harry Dent

    Absolutely right, Liam.

    In their desire to please their masters by cutting spending to the bone, councils across the UK are targetting the most vulnerable first.

    The government has led the way by villifying disabled people and smearing them as workshy scroungers, softening public opinion ready for real attacks on services and funding.

    The brunt of their vicious agenda is borne by people like your brother, while the architects of the policy such as Cameron and Osborne continue to live in the lap of luxury – their children will never know what it means to go without the things they want or need.

    Reply
  3. Becky Tilston

    I think Liam’s comments are all spot on. Although my little brother is able bodied, he has severe autism and routine is everything. Once the excitement of up-helly-Aa is over, my brother spends the next 6 months excited about summer playscheme and now there’s no respite, care or help for children and parents for 7 weeks, 7 weeks of parents unable to work and trying to explain a massive routine change to all these kids who’s most important thing is to stick to a routine, not to mention all the jobs the playscheme provides for uni students. And to those 13 councillors who voted against the playscheme, drop by our house on the first day of the school holidays and see how long you can stay and put up with the screaming and crying and tantrums and then maybe you’ll think twice about the playscheme being ‘non-essential’.

    Reply
  4. Sarah Polson

    I cannot believe that the council are even considering getting rid of the playscheme for disabled children! My sister has autism and the playscheme got her through many summers and she thoroughly enjoyed every minute! Soon there will be nothin left for anyone in Shetland except for one school and mareel! Shetland has always been known for providing a great service for disabled kids and now they are willing to throw that away to pander to rich councellors! The council need to think about their community and not their purse!!

    Reply
  5. Emily Moss

    Growing up with a sister who has special needs has not always been easy. I have put up with other children mocking, mimicking a belittling my sister. One day I snapped and I defended my sister against the bullies but I still expect children to behave like that because they don’t know any better; I learned to hide the tears. The day of the council debate I cried again as I read with horror the comments made by elected councillors. I would like them to know that my sister is not a baby – she does not need babysitting. She is a teenager with severe and complex needs. Hearing adults demonise and belittle my sister and all the children in Shetland with severe disabilities made me really angry. Listening to adults pick on my sister is an absolute disgrace – adults that are elected to represent all the adults of Shetland. The staff of the ASN summer teams that have supported her over the last five years are qualified, trained and dedicated professionals who have made a huge difference in the lives of Shetlands disabled children. My sister cannot access the activities out of school that I or other children can. It is simply unfair to say that they can. Finally, one lone voice uttered “Shame on you” to the councillors who voted to cut the ASN summer activities budget. I would like to thank that man, because if my sister could speak she would say it too.

    Reply
  6. Amanda Tait

    Perhaps if they open a summer club in mareel, the council might have second thoughts and fund it.

    Reply
  7. Marina Thomason

    I physically squirmed in my seat when I read councillor Vaila Wishart describe the ASN holiday scheme as a ‘ free babysitting service’. I do not have any personal experience of this scheme but you only have to read the letters contributed above to see how important this is to families who have children with special needs, not just for the child but for the family as a whole. I am shocked that the chairperson of the Children and Families Committee can make such a statement.
    Councillor Wishart’s crass insensitivity aside, I do agree that money has to be saved from the ASN provision as a whole and the SIC should be doing everything possible to help families access external funding so that the holiday scheme can continue. This might include applying for lottery funding or to Children in Need etc. You could even try our very own Charitable Trust. Presumably this is not classed as a statutory provision so I would have thought this would tick all the boxes.

    Reply
  8. John Tulloch

    The news that a Scottish goverment-funded study has found that building wind farms on peatlands causes an increase in carbon dioxide emissions overall and “should be avoided” (Sunday Telegraph) may lead to the opening of charitable trust financial floodgates sooner rather than later?

    Sustainable Shetland did “tell them so” – on many, many occasions – and have now been vindicated.

    Reply
  9. ian tinkler

    Wind farms will create more carbon dioxide, say scientists.
    Just you wait and see. Our very own donkeys will now try and justify wasting £10 million plus SCT (Charitable trust) funds by throwing even more at Viking Energy. The clowns did just that to justify and keep the Mareel fiasco solvent. Now for VE. Too spineless to admit a mistake; have to keep our “White Elephants” afloat until we are all truly stuffed. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/earth/energy/windpower/9889882/Wind-farms-will-create-more-carbon-dioxide-say-scientists.html

    Reply
  10. andrew shearer

    Councillors act in their own political interests and the council’s. What happens to a person when they are elected to the council? I suspect that there are several factors that mitigate against any prolonged discussion and critical analysis of reports presented to them. They don’t read them properly, and simply rubber stamp these when the vote is taken. Or, they they vote according to the arguments presented in the council chamber by officials. But I suspect councillors and their officials perform they way they do because of human nature.

    Of the models for making cuts that have been proposed, including those by Parent School Councils, they naturally have overlooked one model that would ensure a more democratic and accountable approach to the cuts in all the Council Departments.

    That is for each Council Department to examine how the various jobs done in the Council offices could be done more efficiently, democratically and more accountably by frontline staff delivering the various services.

    In education for example, most of the officers in Hayfield could have their workload done by School staff, by Head Teachers, Depute Heads and Principal Teachers taking on additional collegiate responsibilities. It is not as if these employees do not know what the challenges are, they do. Therefor they are best placed to devise and implement policies that would make savings to the education budget.

    This model will of course never be applied either to education or the other departments in the Council as indeed, we would then be tampering with efficiency saving much closer to home, and affecting the very policy-makers themselves.

    Councillors of course also, would find this a hard pill to swallow in their far too cosy relationship with their officials. It is much easier, less democratic and less accountable to cut at the fringes, the jobs of the faceless and less important employees in the Council.

    This Council like others before it, will continue to protect its own interests, and of course that means the salaried and expense interests of its officials and Councillors.

    Reply
  11. Stewart Mack

    And what exactly does Wind Farms have to do with the ASN Ian? or is there some link here that I cant see?

    AS for the Councillors who describe the ASN as “a free babysitting service” well tell you what those words will come back to haunt you again and again as every parent of a disabled child in Shetland exercises their RIGHT to have their children included in EVERY activity available to others – You may want to have a wee look at the Disability Discrimination Act and see how much your “free babysitting service” actually costs you in additional expenditure in other areas.

    And finally, to the elected members who voted for this – Shame on you all for the despicable act of picking on those who are leas table to defend themselves

    Reply
  12. ian tinkler

    And what exactly does Wind Farms have to do with the ASN Ian? Or is there some link here that I can’t see? The link is £12 million lost from the Trust to VE and £6 million plus to Mareel. Now could that money not have been better spent? The link is simply money, and how it could be best spent. Simples!

    Reply
  13. Robert Lowes

    As you well know by now Ian, the money from Capital Projects that was invested in Mareel could not and would not be used to run services. As for the Trusts investment in VE, agin, that is the CT’s money to be invested as it’s trustee’s see fit, not SIC money used to shore up education budgets. Your points are erroneous and irrelevant. Simples.

    Reply
  14. Stewart Mack

    Yes indeed simples Ian but that is Trust Monies and not Council monies, they are seperate things although i admit sometimes in the past it has been hard to see the difference. Might i suggets we save the windfarm/Mareel debates for the relevant pages of this esteemed publication and not highjack other topics with it

    Reply
  15. ian tinkler

    Your points are erroneous and irrelevant. Simples. Really Robert. Out with human ingenuity to transfer funds from ones source usage to another. Maybe for bureaucrats and fools, in the real world when contingencies require that is exactly what happens all the time . That is the only reason why and how Mareel keeps its doors open today. £600k of reserve funds transfer I believe to keep the elephant afloat. Now how about a reserve fund transfer to ASN, to keep something worthwhile afloat.

    Reply
  16. ian tinkler

    Stewart I hope the above shows you the link. £12 million funds to a now near dead VE project, £6.6 million towards an insolvent Mareel project… Nil funding available towards ASN.

    Reply

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