Ferries service affected by staff departures

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A migration of engineers and electricians from the council is causing a headache to the SIC’s ferries, with staffing problems having brought disruption to services.

Councillors heard yesterday skilled staff were reducing in numbers, as a drift towards the private sector takes hold.

The problem has left the authority using overtime as a mechanism to help plug the skills gap and continue to deliver services.
Official Dave Coupe told the environment and transport committee 56 per cent of electrical staff had gone. Of them, 75 per cent were highly skilled.

The ferry service sought redundancies as it attempted to cut its workforce in light of public spending cuts. But staff have also been leaving of their own will to seek more lucrative incomes.

Mr Coupe was standing in for infrastructure chief Maggie Sandison at Tuesday’s meeting. He said overtime was often the only way for “frontline services” to progress as people leave.

Figures before members showed the council gave the green light to over 2,100 overtime hours in the ferries service  in the last 12 months. In total there were 6,057 overtime hours across the whole, vast infrastructure directorate in June this year alone. However, that is at least down on the previous June’s figure of 6,824, suggesting the directorate is keeping its overtime allocation to what is considered essential for service delivery.

On the plus side, sickness levels within infrastructure have remained the best in the council – which may be surprising  given the service’s staff are often out in all weathers delivering “front-line” services.

The sickness rate within ferries has been put at 3.1 per cent over 12 months, compared with 3.8 per cent across the whole council.

George Smith: "Unless we take some swift action we might not have a Shetland College or and NAFC either."

George Smith

George Smith said all members should be concerned about the difficulties in retaining skilled staff, but asked whether the re-introduction of an engineering cadet scheme at the NAFC could help solve the problem.

Head of ferries Ken Duerden said the council had stopped sponsoring cadets last year as part of its savings exercise. But he said it was considering employing cadets  – rather than sponsoring them – as a way forward. He cited modern apprenticeship schemes as a possible solution.