Schools’ use of SRT centres adds to council’s budget

Councillors have approved a sub­stantial increase in their reimburs­ment of Shetland Recreational Trust (SRT) for use of its facilities to almost £500,000.

It is expected that a review of the financial agreement between Hayfield and the SRT will cause the bill to rise to £400,000 a year, from roughly £100,000 at present. In addition, £70,000 a year is to be spent on putting in place manage–ment arrangements to allow com–munity groups to use school halls in Brae, Sandwick and Scalloway.

Three weeks ago, SRT general manager James Johnston had stressed that without the extra money, his organisation may have had to look at closing one of its rural leisure centres as a result of savings targets it is being asked to meet by its main funder, Shetland Charitable Trust. Mr Johnston said this week he was pleased at the news, which means no further service cuts beyond the recently-announced closure of leisure centres over Christmas and New Year will now be necessary.

The decision to approve the extra money was taken unanimously during last week’s services committee meeting, although North Mainland councillor Alastair Cooper said he was struggling with some of the additional costs being imposed on the council’s budget – particularly with the spectre of a further £200,000 annual bill for equalisation charges between the council and charitable trust to subsidise care homes. “I’m struggling with the additional costs here,” he said. “I don’t think the general fund has the money – where’s it going to come from?”

But Betty Fullerton pointed out that the council had a statutory obligation to provide physical education for school pupils. “It’s a burden but they [the SRT] have got to make savings,” she said.

Councillor Jonathan Wills agreed, saying the SIC had been paying the SRT “peanuts” for the use of their facilities when the charitable trust is meant to be there to provide “the cream on the cake”. He added that if the recreational trust wanted to charge the proper market rate to the schools service, they could have been looking at a seven-figure annual bill.

Last month, head of finance Graham Johnston delivered a comprehensive report suggesting the council’s coffers were in much better state than had previously been feared, with the recession so far having had relatively little negative impact. However, the SIC’s revenue budget still relies on drawing money from the oil reserves at a greater rate than they are being replenished each year.


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