26th May 2018
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Changes to school closure plans will leave £1m budget shortfall

Alterations to the SIC’s programme of school closures will leave its education department with a £1 million shortfall, councillors will be told next week.

If the local authority’s latest blueprint for education proposals are pushed through, secondaries in Sandwick, Aith and Skerries will shut, as will five small primaries. However, the funding gap will inevitably raise fears that further closures might be necessary beyond 2017.

At the start of this council’s term last summer, the local authority had hoped to save nearly £3.3 million by shutting schools. But in September 2012 plans to shut Baltasound’s secondary department were struck out, leaving an estimated £520,000-a-year funding gap.

And, assuming members approve the “next steps” of the controversial blueprint, the further alterations will see the projected savings total slide to £2.25 million.

Councillors will next week debate whether to approve changes which would remove the threat of closure from Whalsay. That community’s secondary, along with those in Mid Yell and Baltasound, would then be the subject of a consultation on becoming S1-S3 high schools. Pupils are currently taught in the three islands until the end of S4.

The report will go before the education and families committee on Wednesday morning, to be followed by a full council meeting later that day.

As previously reported, Hayfield officials had hoped the “next steps” would be agreed upon in early August. But a delay was granted after trade unions objected to such fundamental decisions being taken in the middle of the summer school holidays.

If the proposals are waved through by councillors, it will give staff the green light to proceed with consultations on shutting Sandwick and Aith.

Parents in Sandwick have expressed a desire for the possibility of an S1-S3 secondary in the South Mainland to be examined too. That is expected to be raised by the area’s councillors next week.

Children’s services director Helen Budge’s new report states that, since April 2012, savings of £5 million a year have been found through non-closure savings.

Sources within Hayfield have indicated they believe that budgets for things like books and stationary have already been stripped close to the bone.

“This figure represents a significant reduction in the total spend across all areas,” Mrs Budge writes. “To identify the… shortfall of £1.018 million is challenging.”

There is no guidance, at this stage, as to where such savings might be found without looking at shutting more schools.

SIC political leader Gary Robinson admitted it would prove “increasingly difficult” to find savings in education.

But he believes it would be unfair to ask other departments to pick up the slack. He pointed to national statistics showing the SIC is spending “somewhere in the order of £3,000 per pupil more” than any other Scottish local authority on secondary education.

“It’s becoming more and more difficult to justify the amount we’re spending on secondary education in particular,” Mr Robinson said.

While he “wouldn’t like to speculate at this stage” as to whether schools beyond the present three secondaries and five primaries may have to shut, Mr Robinson admitted: “It’s clear that nothing can really be left off the table.”

He points out that the council’s medium-term financial plan will result in children’s services accounting for a higher proportion of the SIC’s shrunken budget come 2016.

SIC political leader Gary Robinson.

SIC political leader Gary Robinson.

“We need to cut fairly and evenly across the council services,” he said, “and we’ve seen some pretty tough decisions already in terms of economic development, and even in social care.

“I don’t think there’s any magic solution that avoids closing or amalgamating schools – every other local authority in Scotland has had to go down that route.”

But Aith Parent Council chairman Jeremy Sansom said parents throughout rural Shetland were united in their desire for a wider review to develop a clear vision for education into the mid-2020s, rather than just to the end of this council term.

“To me the only way is a willingness of this council to take the bold step of forgoing the savings for however long it takes to get that strategy developed,” Mr Sansom said.

“Children’s services will say the blueprint is their strategy – we’d dispute that it is either strategy or vision – [the “next steps” report] is purely an attempt to dress up the blueprint with some kind of educational benefit.

“We would dispute the amazing emphasis they put on transitions as being the most important factor with regard to Curriculum for Excellence – every indication is that it can be delivered by a variety of systems.

“We need that integrated, comprehensive strategy in place before any drastic closures are made.”

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24 comments

  1. Stewart Mac

    I guess i probably should be surprised, but am saddened that i am not. I had thought that for all their faults, the present Council had at least realised that the books most definately required to be balanced, and sharpish if Shetland was to have a sustainable future. The SIC action will not make the required savings is perhaps something that we have all come to live with in recent years. The simple fact remains that you cannot continually spend more money than you have coming in without eating into your “savings” and, once your “savings” are gone (or in this instance depleated to such a level that the interest can no longer pay for its current commitments) you either cut spending further or will be bankrupt. Its not rocket science, it doesnt need a team of consultants to tell you that they shouldnt spend more than they have. These decisions are unpopular with everyone, and no doubt probably always will be. No one wants to see schools close, or care centres or even the pensioners lunch club but when you dont have the money to pay for steak you eat something less expensive from the menu, or go hungry! Every closure has a serious knock on effect on the community it serves but what are the choices? Its either cut spending or raise funding – which is the better option?

    Reply
  2. Johan Adamson

    S Mac – Yes, but you need to cut spending on the things you dont need, not the things you do need. And we still are the wealthiest council in the land. So we can choose to spend on the important things, like schools and pensioners. Spending on education should help us an the whole country in the longer term, if we get it right. We need to cut council support staff and cut the council inefficient businesses that they run, amongst other things. But this has been mooted before. The SCT could maybe pick up some of the education budget shortfall, if indeed education is picked out as our proirity.

    Reply
  3. John Tulloch

    Quite so, Johan. Charitable donations to the schools could and should be a prime function of SCT.

    One thing I do find irritating is the rationale that “everyone else in Scotland is doing it so we should, too” – reminiscent of the old Lerwick harbour night-time story, “folla’ my fite beets”……..”splash”!

    One of the main reasons for wanting autonomy is so that we can do what specifically fits our situation.

    It’s absurd to compare island spending levels with the Scottish average which is heavily weighted downwards by the ease of communications and size of conurbations in the central belt which I think contains about 80 percent of the population. Then throw in Aberdeen and the populous eastern counties and and the remaining area, about two thirds the size of Scotland, contains a lucky10 percent of its people.

    Even the Western Isles and Orkney do not have as many unconnected islands as Shetland but at least you’d be comparing “apples with something vaguely resembling apples”!

    Try putting the eye to the other end of the telescope and view the situation from the perspective of service level provided. Then look at how that can be provided at minimal cost.

    Reply
  4. John Anderson

    We need schools, we need good education. What we don’t need is so many schools. People fight to keep a school local, tooth and nail, and councillors cave in and yet again time and effort and stress is for nothing. Meantime everyone, right across this council, is losing out, and will lose out even more while we have a ludicrously inefficient system of education.

    You sometimes think the councillors are getting it – Gary Robinson seems to – and then they come out with an aberration like the new pitch for the school and you think, have they read their own budget? Are we allowing the lunatics to run the asylum, yet again?

    Reply
  5. John Tulloch

    What time would a child from Skeld or Sandness have to catch the bus to get to the Anderson High School?

    What time would they get home in the evening?

    Do we expect parents to continue living in those places if they have to send their kids away?

    Do we want country areas with reasonably thriving communities to become depopulated?

    If not I suspect you’ll have to build better roads, what will that cost?

    Ah, of course, that’s “a different budget”!

    Reply
  6. M Thomason

    When Cullivoe school was proposed for closure we had a meeting at Cullivoe school with Helen Budge. That was in 2010. My husband specifically questioned her about the costs of education and was told that the overall cost to her department was £42 million and the schools part of it was costing £38 million (even though it was widely reported in this newspaper that it was costing £37 million). At that time they had to save £2 million pounds. I remember my husband saying he almost laughed in her face because he found it incredulous that they couldn’t shave off £2 million pounds from an overall £42 million through efficiency savings alone without having to look at school closures. But no, apparantly closing schools was the only way to go.

    I attended a meeting in April where we were told that the schools part of the education budget is costing £33 and a half million pounds. So by my calculations that is a saving of £4 and a half million pounds since 2010.

    Is there something else happening that I have not taken into account ( possibly that closing schools does not make the savings in real terms that is predicted?) or is it a case of “lies, damned lies and statistics”?

    Reply
  7. Sheila Tulloch

    You think Councillor Gary Robinson ‘gets it’? When he says ‘it would be unfair to expect other departments to pick up the slack’, on savings. It would be equally unfair to expect them to have to spent more, ie on Transport, as a result of the Hayfield House proposals. Also, what loss of revenue to the leisure centres? Oh yes, again a different budget! But no doubt another one that would require a ‘bailout’ in the future.

    Reply
  8. Johan Adamson

    The council funded schools south seem to be falling apart. Councils have no money so where areas have become really popular, with new houses built, there are enormous class sizes because there has been no new investment in schools. As a result, people are taking their bairns out if they can afford it. We are blessed with good schools. Lets keep the best, and lets not compare us with this terrible situation.

    It costs money to educate a pupil where ever you do it. School closures do not result in the massive savings predicted.

    Reply
  9. John Tulloch

    You’re so right, Johan. What is going on is a kind of “Dutch auction” to find the lowest common denominator.

    The good old Scottish tradition of keeping education on a pedestal is being betrayed thoughout Scotland. I accept it can’t be a sacred cow but our children are the future and we must invest in education and aim to adhere to high standards with the constraint of avoiding actions which will lead directly to depopulation of country districts.

    It isn’t acceptable in this day and age for country pupils to spend 2-4 hours per day looking out bus windows wishing they could be somewhere else. Let’s not forget how long an hour used to seem when we were teenagers – for me, about the same as a day now!

    If you want kids to hate school that sounds like a good way to achieve it.

    Your comment on other Scottish schools reinforces the importance for the isles of gaining control of our own finances as indeed the SIC are doing with the “Our Islands, Our Future” campaign.

    Reply
  10. Stewart Mac

    Johan/John – So are you saying then that every area that currently has a school NEEDS that school to be there? The role numbers at some of the ones threatened with closure would appear to disagree entirely as would the studies conducted by the Education Department. Now whether we would all LIKE the areas currently served by schools to retain those schools at the heart of the community is entirely another matter. I woudlnt like to see ANY school close, students have (in my view) a right to a good quality education without excessive travelling being involved.

    That being said, that was not the point of my contribution which seems to have been missed. I am not saying there should be swathing cuts in education to balance the books (even though all the “high spenders” simply must be the focus of at least some attention). I am saying that if the Council fails to make the cuts it NEEDS to then something else must be cut more to balance the books. So where would you like to see that come from? Shall we attack the sick, elderly and infirm as seems to be the “target of the day” of the National Government or is there somewhere else that should be the focus of the cuts? I certainly know where i would like to see changes, but that too would have a knock on effect for the community.

    As for being one of the wealthiest Councils in the land, i quite agree, that is a legacy of a bygone era, hard fought for and it quite simply will be no more if the current spending patterns continue. Imagine no legacy for the future just the closure of all “luxury” facilities currently enjoyed by the Shetland population and paid for (one way or another) from the reserves. Avoid making the cuts now at your peril, the consequences will, in my view, be most severe if the spending continues at the previous rates. i do not want to look back in 10 years time saying “remember when the Shetland facilities were the envy of others…..”

    Reply
  11. John Tulloch

    Stewart,

    I hear what you are saying and I don’t disagree in principle – Wilkins Micawber and all that.

    I hadn’t picked up that the rolls were falling unacceptably at Sandwick and Aith, perhaps they are and if so, SIC should be looking into why it’s happening, in particular, is it a result of centralisation of facilities and employment at Lerwick which has already taken place and needs to be reversed.

    If we want the outlying country areas to go back to being moribund backwaters populated by ever-diminishing numbers of older people, closing the schools would be a good way to go about it.

    To my way of thinking it isn’t acceptable for kids to spend hours a day on buses and if we close the schools at Sandwick and Aith kids from the outlying areas can:

    1. Spend unacceptably long periods every day on buses OR
    2. Live in hostels/lodgings in Lerwick and go home at weekends.

    Now you might say, “why shouldn’t they, plenty of others have done it in the past?”

    Well, I expect most of the kids would cope fine with spending the week in Lerwick however if my memory of being a parent serves me right, we would have been looking to move into or near to, Lerwick to avoid the premature loss of our kids from our home.

    Assuming most parents are like what we were, closing the schools will lead inevitably to an exodus of young people from the outlying districts.

    And to my way of thinking the loss of these currently thriving communities will be very damaging to the Shetland “way of life” and must be avoided, even if it costs a few million pounds a year. What’s that, actually, in a billion pound economy.

    Yes, in my opinion, cut every other thing you mentioned first, before you close Aith and Sandwick schools.

    Reply
  12. Johan Adamson

    I agree there are some schools with falling roles that have to close. Voe and Bressay have given up and will close, I am sure (but the SIC did not have to accept all the placing requests that have lead to the loss of pupils, I know in Tingwall they have refused on the grounds that the pupil did not live in the area. A political moving of bairns?). I cant imagine how tough it is to be a child in a school of only a dozen pupils.

    But Aith and Sandwick are large centres of education and have become more efficient in the recent past. There is a size when it is efficient to have a dinner service, a janitor etc. And if you take the secondary depts away, that must mean you are then providing a less efficient service to the primary dept which is left – and it will still cost the same – you will still need the dinner service, the janitor etc. And you will have the additional cost of busing the bairns. It cant lead to savings.

    We cant live beyond our means and we need to prioritise. Rural areas, especially the west are slowly depopulating. We have lost factories in the west, jobs that have not been replaced. Everyone now has to drive to Lerwick. We need development and keeping the schools might just encourage that development. Shutting them will be the death knell.

    We still need to demolish the SIC empires, sell off the businesses the council runs, make it smaller and more efficient, reduce the support services. Taking 10% across the board has meant that we shut public toilets but we still employ about 60%? of the population. And we have full employment in Shetland. Let them go. Other areas of the council must cut more so that we can keep schools open, including the admin section of the education dept. But the council itself should be coming up with these ideas. Voting to cut their own departments?

    Reply
  13. Stewart Mac

    Hi John,

    I agree entirely – I do not think its acceptable for children to travel the lengths that are being suggested here, but my point is, if the schools are to be kept (which arguably they should), then something else has to go.

    My view, and only my view, is that before anyone can say “oh no you cant do….” this that or the other, they have to back that up with an alternative to achieve the same result. So far all i see is no we cant close the schools, but no realistic suggestions as to where the additional £1,000,000 of cuts can come from to “save” them. And i am all for saving them if at all possible!

    I believe that if we can give the Council a realistic alternative that achieves the same goal then there is significantly better prospects for keeping a particular school than there would be simply saying that they cant close x,y or z.

    Hope that clarifies somewhat

    Reply
  14. John Tulloch

    Stewart,

    Thanks for the clarification, I do understand what you are talking about and that “coats can only be made according to our available cloth”, as opposed to the converse which, sadly, has been the order of the day.

    I’ve already mentioned the fallacy of the cost per pupil for Shetland v other places and I’d like to know how much of the extra is due to higher overheads i.e Dept of Education empire costs.

    Johan is right that the SIC employs a staggering percentage of the population and I think you’d find trimming about 20 jobs by natural wastage would comfortably save a million pounds a year.

    If departments then find themselves under pressure it will be all the more incentive to introduce more efficient systems to reduce the workload, as opposed to saying “we have to do all this and we can’t manage so you need to give us more staff ….oh, goodness me, look how many staff I have now! With all this responsibility I should be paid more than I am, please, may I have a raise?”

    How much per pupil does the departmental overhead amount to and how does THAT compare to other places?

    Reply
  15. John Tulloch

    Maybe I’ve missed this but when the new AHS is built what will happen to the old school at Bellevue-Twageos?

    I assume it will be transferred from the Education budget to somewhere else if it isn’t going to be disposed of?

    Reply
  16. Sheila Tulloch

    Stewart, I believe the Wastside is looking at ways to reduce running costs at Aith, but will the ‘powers that be’ take their suggestions on board? Also, now that they are looking at closure in Bressay, not in the original closure plan, has any figure been published to state the potential saving there? Surely this could be added to the savings already made, thus reducing the shortfall.

    Reply
  17. Stewart Mac

    John/Johan/Sheila,

    I take all your points on board and fully agree that the SIC employs far more people than its statutory undertakings require, you only need to look at Orkney or the Western Isles staffing levels to see that Shetland has “way too many chiefs” for want of a better expression. That being said, a reduction in staff numbers (whether to realistic levels or otherwise) will too have a knock on effect on the local communities with loss of employment comes loss of money being pumped into the local economy and all the consequences of that including people moving out of the rural areas. Not infact too dissimilar to the closure of a local school (depending on the numbers of staff redundancies of course). Maybe 20 jobs going will be enough, or maybe less at a higher level?

    It is not an easy path that must be trodden here, but i believe it is a journey that needs to be made to restore the financial sustainability of the Shetland economy.

    The work the westside are doing to try to cut costs at Aith is laudible and i sincerely hope that their efforts are rewarded accordingly. All i am asking people to consider is that if they had alternative proposals to achieve the required results it may well strengthen their case(s) for retaining their respective schools.

    The only thing that seems to be certain (and accepted?) is that the budgets need to be cut, so the big spenders are obviously targeted first. I say what is cut and how deep is a matter for the people to put their point of view across but simply saying you cant cut schools/health/roads or whatever wont work without building in an alternative, like cutting 20 jobs for example.

    Reply
  18. John Tulloch

    How many SIC employees are based in the “Wastside”, a tiny proportion, I suspect.

    The vast preponderance is surely employed in Lerwick and as Johan has noted, Shetland has full employment so reducing numbers by natural wastage and/or voluntary severance is unlikely to have a particularly damaging effect.

    I’d still like to see the education dept overhead per pupil versus those of Orkney and the Western Isles.

    Reply
  19. Johan Adamson

    John, I am not sure how many the SIC now employs, but it is still a high percentage of the population (excluding the transient workers).

    We have such a demand for staff we cant now fill some posts. There are job vacancies no one applies for. Sullom Voe contractors are still recruiting. This would be the best time to let people go, and BP are still to take on 500 at Sella Ness.

    Reply
  20. Johan Adamson

    Id like to see that overhead too, John. I think it is vast and I saw the detail during the Scalloway closure; and it doesnt disappear if a school does – it is just divided between fewer schools. Incidentally, I would like to know who much closing Scalloway secondary actually saved. Nothing – since theys still have the teachers and the buidings and the students and have additional busing to Lerwick? And they also adapted bits of the AHS to fit them in .. You’d have heard if there was any positive spin, you would have thought.

    There has been ideas of putting more SIC jobs outside Lerwick but it never happens

    Reply
  21. John Tulloch

    The last figure I saw quoted for SIC staff was around 2500 – about 1 in 9 of every man, woman and child in Shetland!

    Reply
  22. John Tulloch

    Quite so on your last comment, Johan.

    I expect we’re not the only only ones who’d like to see it, too?

    If I was a parent in the “Sooth Mainland” or the “Wastside” I’d want to see it; and I’d ask to see it and if it wasn’t forthcoming, I’d put the Freedom of Information Act to the test.

    Reply
  23. Johan Adamson

    Important meetings today.

    I think these figures will be available on the website when consultation begins, if you know where to look

    Reply
  24. Sheila Tulloch

    Re; the meetings. I don’t know why such great importance is being placed on pupils not having to make a ‘transition’ to another school during their secondary education?
    A fair chunk of those responsible for these proposals did exactly that, when they moved to AHS at the end of S2! If they do move in S4, it would be as a group, so less daunting. For me, thats not the most important thing.
    If you end up busing pupils to town, having to be up at maybe as early as half 6, so there’s time to be organised to catch a school bus, they won’t be able to stay awake long enough to pay attention in class! Hows that for quality of education? And if this starts in S1, they will have done the route for 4 years, so be far less likely to want to stay on for Highers, and put up with the journey any longer. Thus affecting the choices available to them later in life.

    Reply

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