A fight to preserve free music tuition in schools has been lost as Shetland Islands Council starts imposing the cutbacks it has long spoken about.
Musician and councillor Rick Nickerson attacked the £160-a-year charge on children as “a tax on talent” but failed in his bid to prevent its approval at Wednesday’s Full Council. “This is a soft choice,” he said. “It’s an easy target.”
When the system is introduced it is expected to bring in around £130,000 a year but cause a big drop in the number of children taking up lessons on instruments such as fiddle, guitar and accordion.
Councillors agreed to the charge as part of a package of measures suggested by finance chief Graham Johnston designed to close the £6.7 million gap between what council departments want to spend and what they can afford.
Details of the scheme have yet to be worked out but there is likely to be grants available for families on low income, although they would face some form of means-testing. But Mr Nickerson said charging families was discriminatory and divisive. It would mean only the children whose parents could afford to pay would get lessons and it presented a dilemma for families with a particular musical talent in having to decide which of the children should be taught.
Charging would also drive a horse and cart through the council’s own culture strategy, he said, and could result in the Shetland College having no students for its music courses in 10 years and Shetland producing no more top class musicians like Chris Stout and Maggie Adamson.
He wanted the savings found elsewhere in the council’s sprawling £100 million budget and he was particularly unhappy that the SIC organisational development office was getting a 35 per cent increase in its budget without it being justified to members.
Councillor Florence Grains said it was illogical to cut music where it starts, with children, then expect to produce good musicians for the college music courses. She said music was one of the only things Shetland was good at so councillors should not knock it.
Few councillors were avidly keen to back the charges for music but councillor Allan Wishart said members simply had to face up to the unpalatable and unpopular cuts they were going to have to make. On a vote to halt the charges Mr Nickerson failed by 11 to nine.
The level of instrumental charge is considered by the council to be “middling” compared to those imposed by other Scottish councils.
For comprehensive coverage of the council’s budgetary decisions, see this week’s Shetland Times.