18th February 2018
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School win brings joy to Northmavine community

The message from the Northmavine community is clear: "Our children their future". Photo: Dave Donaldson

The message from the Northmavine community is clear: “Our children their future”. Photo: Dave Donaldson

Parents embraced upstairs at the Lerwick Town Hall as a controversial plan to axe two primary schools in Northmavine was voted down by councillors.

Urafirth and North Roe primary schools and Urafirth nursery will be kept open while consultations on the future of Sandness and Burravoe primaries have been dropped entirely.

The decision gives at least five-years of respite to the north primary schools which have periodically been faced with closure. The West Side and Yell primaries have also been reassured of their short to mid-term future.
And councillors heard that the schools consultation has cost the council £645,000 in staff hours and other expenses since the process began.

But it sparked a furious reaction from councillors Jonathan Wills, who vowed not to stand for re-election, and Allison “Flea” Duncan – who stuck to their guns in moving for the closures in the face of disintigrating council support for the project, which was supposed to save money and provide better educational opportunities.

Councillor Allison Duncan said he was fighting for what he saw as justice.

Councillor Allison Duncan accused fellow members of being gutless and cowardly.

Lerwick South councillor Wills, who moved to close North Roe and Urafirth, branded his fellow councillors “idiots” who had suffered a mid-term failure of nerve. An emotional councillor Duncan added that the council was “gutless” and “cowardly” and called for the resignation of fellow south end councillor Billy Fox and vice-chairman of the education committee George Smith, who split with his chairwoman Vaila Wishart over the fate of North Roe.

North Mainland councillor Andrea Manson hailed the excellence and quality of the Northmavine schools following the votes which ended 12-9 in favour of keeping North Roe open and 18-3 in favour of Urafirth, which had yesterday received the backing of the council’s education and families committee.

Along with colleague Alastair Cooper, Ms Manson had argued the case for educational, health, social and community benefits of keeping the two schools, whose combined rolls number less 20, but are set to expand in the near future.

The third North Mainland councillor, Drew Ratter, was conspicuous by his absence at the sometimes fractious full-council meeting.
The three-and-a-half hour meeting kicked off with a formidable presentation of the case for the school cuts by schools quality improvement officer

Audrey Edwards. The work of Mrs Edwards and her team was hailed by both sides of the debate for its thoroughness and the sheer amount of work that had gone into the consultation process. She made clear that if councillors voted against closures, it could be a minimum of five-years before consultations could start on such a process again.

Following the votes councillor Wills said that the decisions were illogical and any rational, evidence based decision-making had been thrown out the window.

He wondered what the hard-working officials would make of the work they had produced, at the behest of the council, being rejected. He suggested they should join Petrofac where they would have better jobs on better money and “fewer idiots” rejecting their recommendations.

Councillor Duncan said: “I think this is a gutless council. You are cowards,” before calling for the resignations of councillors Smith and Fox.

Parents sitting upstairs in the main Town Hall chamber made their feelings known with their feet as the vote results were announced.

But the loudest cheer came at the announcement by councillor Wills that he would not be standing for the council again.

• More from the meeting and full reaction to the decision in Friday’s Shetland Times.

About Peter Johnson

Reporter for The Shetland Times. I have also worked as an employed and freelance reporter and editor for a variety of print and broadcast media outlets and as as a freelance photographer and film maker/cameraman. In addition to journalism, I have experience in construction, oil analysis, aquaculture, fisheries, the health service and oral history.

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38 comments

  1. john irvine

    Great news!

    hats of to all the councilors who stood up to all the bullies and intimidation within the council, heres hoping that they also stand up to all the other heinous proposals of closure to primary and changes to our first class secondary education.

    All things considered the savings would have been minimal anyway and more could be saved by cutting all the overpayed and unnecessary jobs within the council of which they are many.

    If there are to be resignations as the Flea suggests then maybe himself, Jonathon Wills and Allan Wishart would be happy to stand forward. The world would then be a much better place!

    Reply
    • Jonathan Wills

      Your spelling is very poor, John. Almost as bad as your manners.

      Reply
      • Michael Garriock

        ‘When the debate is lost, personal attack becomes the tool of the loser.’

        With apologies to Socrates.

    • Ali Inkster

      Resignations what a guid idea https://www.change.org/p/shetland-islands-council-resign there are at least 9 that need to go.

      Reply
  2. John Tulloch

    We all know Jonathan Wills is apt to “ham it up” at moments of high drama, flouncing out in “righteous outrage” at the democratically-derived decisions of whatever committee happens not to agree with him on one of his dearly-held “hobby-horses”, in this case, the Thatcheresque entrainment of country kids onto conveyor belts to Lerwick, in the name of saving money.

    However, despite not sharing his opinion on this, I sincerely hope he “duysna “tak da dorts” wi wis at da neist election”, because he has some very interesting views, a different perspective and huge commitment, and the last thing the SIC needs is everybody in agreement – groupthink!

    Debate has brought us here, not malice, or folly. When people and their lives are involved, politics – and psychology – beat straight arithmetic, nearly every time.

    Reply
    • Jonathan Wills

      So many experts, and so few who can do arithmentic, John. If you read the council’s accounts you’ll see where the problem lies. But I’ll leave clever people like George Smith, Billy Fox and the rest of the Shetland Insular Cabal to explain the numbers to you, assuming they understand the sums themselves, which I increasingly doubt. Perhaps then you’ll understand that, because the council is currently spending about £30,000 a DAY more than it can afford, by the time of the next election in May 2017 there will be far fewer reserves, earning far less to spend on pencils, paper and teachers’ salaries (this is because of something called compound interest, about which most pupils learned when I was in Primary Six).
      When that happens, we’ll see how popular the parochial populists are at the polls. Why, you could even stand yourself, John. I feel sure it would be a landslide.

      Reply
      • John Tulloch

        Jonathan,

        2017 is a long time away and we’ll see what it brings, “if wir aa’ spared”.

        I accept that the SIC’s finances, while significantly improved, remain under considerable strain, that difficult choices will have to be made and that it’s a lot easier to sit in an armchair in Arrochar, taking potshots at council policies, than it is to make those policies.

        That said, I stand by my previous comments.

        Looking forward, rather than back, the point has been made repeatedly that the Scottish government (SG) provides £28 million towards Shetland’s education cost of £48 million, which is roughly in line with the ratio of cost per pupil, “Shetland/Scottish average”.

        Q1: Is the money from the SG based on the Scottish average cost per pupil? If not, how is it arrived at?

        Q2: How much money do Orkney and the Western Isles receive from the SG and what are their total expenditures?

        Q3: If Shetland has a £20 million pa shortfall and Orkney and the Western Isles do not, why is that so when Shetland’s primary and secondary costs per pupil are about the same as Orkney/W.I.?

        I agree with Ali Inkster’s point below that Shetland is being short-changed by government and I welcome the quantum leap in ambition in the SIC’s submission on devolution, although, I have yet to see the full document.

        However, Shetland needs an autonomy-focused campaign group to push from the “grass roots”, to win and demonstrate popular support for the council’s aims. Without that, government will continue to obfuscate while pillaging Shetland’s resources.

  3. Johan Adamson

    The electorate want to spend money on education. Other budgets will have to be cut as a result, otherwise money will need to be found from elsewhere, e.g. the Charitable Trust. This is our rainy day money is it not?

    Reply
    • Robert Duncan

      The Charitable Trust cannot fund the day to day costs of education.

      Reply
      • Johan Adamson

        No, but it could fund the extras schools expect and generally help in buying equipment, additions to school buildings. The Scottish Govt should be asked for more too, if rural education does cost more than we are allocated.

      • Robert Duncan

        They could support non-statutory provision, yes, but that isn’t going to make much of a dent to the disparity between what we spend and what we can actually afford.

        The majority of our primary schools are small enough to benefit significantly from Scottish Government Grant Aided Expenditure, so I expect the response were we to ask for more would be to tell us to cut our cloth and get on with it like everybody else. The costs or rural provision are unquestionably higher, but the costs of rural provision to the standard that Shetlanders seem to feel we are entitled is higher still.

    • Ali Inkster

      But it is not raining here, it may be in the UK but that is no fault of ours, we have generously provided the exchequer with £billions over the years also blood in their wars, Yet our council expects us to face savage cuts to our most fragile areas so that we can carry on bailing out either westminster or edinburgh, none stood up for Shetland during the referendum debate. It is time our representatives stood up for Shetland and its people or they stand aside and let others do the job they seem afraid to do.

      Reply
      • Robert Duncan

        Do you intend to stand in 2017, Ali?

  4. Robert Duncan

    This isn’t a problem if they’re ready to make the difficult decisions elsewhere, but if they’re just ducking out for fear of being unpopular perhaps it is time for me to sign one of Ali Inkster’s petitions.

    Reply
    • Johan Adamson

      We could also try to think of more innovative ways of delivering education in more cost effective ways, with out closing schools

      Reply
      • Robert Duncan

        We could, but it’s now more than ten years since the first “Blueprint” consultations and genuinely realistic ideas for delivering the savings required haven’t really been forthcoming.

      • Johan Adamson

        Has there been any serious look at other ways of saving, other than by the schools themselves? It has seemed rightly or wrongly that closure has been the only option for the past 10 years, and nothing else has been consulted on.

      • Robert Duncan

        There have been multiple “informal consultations” allowing free and open suggestion of alternatives, although every closure proposal also offers opportunity for folk to put forward viable alternatives.

        The “Alternative Blueprint” put forward by a Parent Council group was a well prepared document and highlighted some interesting proposals, but even that a) suggested a disproportionate effect on pupils with Additional Support Needs and b) looked very unlikely to deliver all of the required savings.

  5. David Spence

    ‘ Other budgets will have to be cut as a result, otherwise money will need to be found from elsewhere, e.g. the Charitable Trust. ‘

    Johan, I think you may find that the CT has no money at all after its ill advised investment in the money draining, bleeding Shetland dry, Paying Staff (whose financial contribution to the project is zero (please prove me wrong investors)) a wage before the Business has even started (its a bloody joke that is) Look after number 1 and screw the rest of the Shetland people Viking Energy Project…………Did I mention the ‘ Viking Expensively Drainage Project ‘?

    Reply
  6. Jonathan Wills

    I think I’ve worked out what those CURE placards stand for: Completely Undermining the Rest of Education.

    Reply
    • Gordon Harmer

      No Jonathan it stands for; Council Unmanageable Replace by Election.

      Reply
    • Ali Inkster

      No Jonathan that would be C.U.T.R.E. It seems the expensive university education paid for by everybody else that you benefited from was wasted after all. And if you think all those bums keeping seats warm in SIC offices could get jobs with Petrofac please encourage them to do so. It would make a change from the golden goodbyes normally doled out from the town hall. with the prime benefit being we would actually see some real savings. If you guys in office had any brains or balls this would of been the first place you looked to make savings. It’s not just the top line figure of numbers employed at the SIC that is out of kilter with Orkney and the Western Isles but the ratio of chiefs to indians. Then we have the ferries using day raters from south to cover shifts. Fair enough if the multitude of managers were already covering shifts if not then heads should roll. You moan about the government not collecting tax from the likes of Vodafone but going after the unemployed. Just like the council going after rent arrears but letting Judane off scot free, people n glass houses comes to mind. You were also very vocal in your support for edinburgh so maybe you would explain to us your employers just what the hell happened in edinburgh with the Total agreement, because armed with the ZCC act we should of done a hell of a lot better than we did. When westminster was in charge we got a pittance but we could of had a lot more, With edinburgh in charge even the pittance looks good.

      Reply
      • Robert Duncan

        If you’re being pedantic, why is not CUTROF? Why is the original not CUFRE?

        I don’t think it takes a university education to recognise that acronyms don’t typically work like that.

    • Marina Thomason

      CURE – Communities United For Rural Education. At the end of the day we are just a bunch of people from all over Shetland who are trying to ensure the best outcome for our bairns and rural communities. I personally find your sarcastic remarks insulting and uncalled for. We obviously have opposing views as to the best way to deliver education in Shetland but there is no need for a Councillor to publicly insult parents. Looks like John Irvine is not the only one on here with bad manners.

      Reply
  7. ian tinkler

    “Jonathan Wills, who vowed not to stand for re-election”, Thank God for small mercies, lets hope he is not being disingenuous.

    Reply
  8. john irvine

    Jonathon

    I would have thought that you knew better than to make a comment like that, It is extremely immature and just goes to show how your mind works.

    It is obvious to most that the very existence and future of small communities throughout our isles are under extreme threat by the these heinous proposals and that you do not give one jot, you are one of the ” I`m all right Jack keep your hands off my stack” type of which there are of many.

    Reply
  9. john irvine

    David

    you couldn`t have hit the nail cleaner on the head!

    The exploitation of the Charitable trust is scandalous and millions have vanished into thin air never to be seen again.

    Reply
  10. Jack Brunton

    Having read Johan’s comments on the computer and listened to Gordon Thomson’s on the wireless I remain unconvinced that they have a clue where the savings currently attributed to The Education Dept can be found without closing some terribly inefficient to run buildings and reducing the vast staffing costs. When these campaigners can come forward with realistic, achievable proposals then maybe the majority of the population of Shetland will support them. Until then what are the options? care centres? Ferries? Social care? Are these any more palatable?

    Reply
    • Johan Adamson

      Actually, we have made suggestions in earlier threads, as have parents and teachers during the consultations, none of which have been fully explored, yet. Why cant the staff move between schools if we are overstaffed, rather than the bairns moving? Why cant more use be made of technology? Does closing the schools mean the end of costs of the building? No it doesnt. You still have to transport and feed the bairns where ever they are. And it would be worse if Northmavine had no school and one had to be re-opened to accept an influx of bairns in the area.

      We are a wealthy area, of course we are having difficulty accepting that cuts have to be made. Why cut education, it has always been high priority here? Cut elsewhere.

      Reply
      • Robert Duncan

        The prospect of “teachers travelling instead of bairns” HAS been explored. It was a component of the Don Ledingham report and aspects of it were even worked into the Sandwick proposal that followed that.

        It would be an important step, and I expect it will be one of the first items on the agenda now that closures have essentially been taken off the table, but again it alone did not deliver anywhere near the requisite savings.

    • Johan Adamson

      Ands what would you say was a realistic acheivable proposal given that you now have to move on and think of something else? Its not CURE who have a lack of imagination.

      Reply
  11. Sheila Tulloch

    Yea, Yea, very good Jonathan. When there is a consultation, it has 2 possible outcomes. The contents of the document is either accepted or thrown out. You seem to be treating it as if it were a ‘given’ that the contents be accepted. You need to accept the result of a democratic vote and stop name calling your colleagues.

    Reply
  12. Stuart Hannay

    I don’t really think it is up to the campaigners, who are all doing this work voluntarily in their own time because they care about their communiities, to come up with feasible plans to provide a quality education for the children of Shetland. Having said that, they have come up with a few excellent suggestions which have not been taken seriously because they don’t fit in with the department’s ‘vision’. The vote to me seemed entirely plausible, is it truly ‘gutless’ to vote against plans that have been shown to be severely lacking credibility? Seems to me like common sense. Disappointed to hear some of the comments from those who didn’t get what they wanted from the vote. As some of them seem fond of describing the CURE acronym in disparaging terms, I think they should have their own. I suggest DINOSAURS – Democracy Is Not Our Strength – Actively Undermining Rural Societies.

    Reply
  13. Jack Brunton

    Will CURE et al fully endorse widespread sharing of teachers between schools to make savings as suggested in Johan’s post? I’ve heard that the teachers don’t like working like that.

    Reply
    • Johan Adamson

      I already know of schools with shared teachers. Music teachers travel. What is the difference between music, art etc and other subjects?

      Reply
  14. John Tulloch

    @Robert Duncan,

    Jonathan Wills, writing in Shetland News today, presumably, has no intention of answering my above questions to him.

    Now, you’re a fellow with near-encyclopaedic knowledge of all things council, perhaps, you can help me by answering my questions or pointing me towards a place where I can find them for myself?

    Here are the questions and context, from my above comment:

    “Looking forward, rather than back, the point has been made repeatedly that the Scottish government (SG) provides £28 million towards Shetland’s education cost of £48 million, which is roughly in line with the ratio of cost per pupil, “Shetland/Scottish average”.

    Q1: Is the money from the SG based on the Scottish average cost per pupil? If not, how is it arrived at?

    Q2: How much money do Orkney and the Western Isles receive from the SG and what are their total expenditures?

    Q3: If Shetland has a £20 million pa shortfall and Orkney and the Western Isles do not, why is that so when Shetland’s primary and secondary costs per pupil are about the same as Orkney/W.I.?”

    Reply
    • Ali Inkster

      Johnathan won’t answer any question where the knows the answer will make him look stupid, It’s why he answers so few questions posed. But here is another for him anyway. He was quite prepared to stick two fingers up to the English saying it’s Scotland’s oil and they are not going to share it with them so it can pay for whatever in Edinburgh and Glasgow etc. So my question is this. Why wont he do the same for Shetland, why do he Gary Robinson et al think to do so would be greedy yet it was OK for Scotland, why are our rural schools and services less important to Jonathan and at least 8 other councilors than schools and services in Scotland

      Reply
  15. Hattie Jones

    PERHAPS SIC should consider the impact on the emotional well-being of the children involved and the sustainability of these rural communities without varying levels of education, it will be the beginning of the end communities will die – I feel that perhaps those pushing for closures are somewhat disconnected emotionally, financially and sociologically and unable to know how a young child feels. Has SIC thought about the consequences of ripping families apart purely on the bases of rubbing pennies together.

    I would like those that propose the closures to travel in the shoes of those pupils that are perhaps more vulnerable; travelling from Haroldswick to Lerwick on their own! away from their parents! dodging the traffic getting on and off the boats IN THE DARK, meeting strangers! we all know what happened to two 14 years old girls propositioned in broad daylight in Lerwick!!! HUM you watch the fear in their eyes!!

    SIC should look within themselves to make savings “before destroying the future” (thats a metaphor!!)

    Reply

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