Councillors proved themselves capable this week of taking tough decisions for the future welfare of Shetland. No-one likes cuts in services or the imposition or increase of charges for those services, but as finance chief Graham Johnston spelled out in stark terms in his report before members on Wednesday, if you think this is bad, the future is even more “grim”.
Only through prudent financial management now will Shetland Islands Council be in a position to face the prospect of real and very deep cuts in the years ahead. And Shetland will not be alone. As the public watchdog the Accounts Commission pointed out in its annual report this week, savings will have to be found in all local authorities in Scotland in future if they are to continue to provide core services. By 2016, admittedly a long way off, Shetland could be left with an £18 million cut in support from the Scottish government, according to Mr Johnston.
The real test will be whether councillors, as they receive representations from those most affected by the decisions taken on Wednesday, stick to their guns. There is already a revolt brewing over the £160 annual charge for musical instrument tuition for children. If the fear here is that talented youngsters might miss out on the opportunities open to those who went before, the council should ask the isles’ successful musicians – and there are many of them – to establish a bursary scheme which would pay for tuition for the brightest prospects.
It may be sad that it has come to this, but we are emerging from the worst financial crisis in more than half a century. We can either deal with the fallout or remain in denial.