New SIC chief executive Alistair Buchan says he is fully committed to addressing the chronic budget difficulties the authority is facing and will be placing savings at the heart of his agenda.
His package of measures to end the malaise within the SIC and respond to stinging criticism from the Accounts Commission was unanimously agreed by members at last week’s Full Council.
On the back of that, Mr Buchan told The Shetland Times he was eager to deal with the “significant financial challenges” faced by the local authority without delay.
Speaking ahead of the visit of Scotland’s finance minister John Swinney on Monday, Mr Buchan said: “The impression has been given in the past that the council does not take seriously the budget difficulties. That is not the case; we are tackling the budget deficit now and dealing with the significant financial challenges ahead will be an integral part of the improvement plan.”
It is understood that somewhere between £2 million and £2.5 million-worth of savings have now been identified towards an ambitious £9.9 million target in the current financial year, though councillors have persistently expressed concern that the target will be unattainable.
Mr Buchan said he was confident the council would be able to balance the books in 2009/10 through a combination of efficiencies, end-of-year savings and other measures.
“Senior managers are working hard now to take out all the costs which they can without impacting too much on frontline services,” he said. “The financial challenges in the years ahead will be even greater. However, I am keen that the council does not rush to take decisions on cuts. There is a need to take time over the coming months to discuss and refine the council’s priorities.
“I want to re-assure the community that looking after the finances of the council will be a key focus for me.”
Mr Buchan said he was putting the “building blocks” in place for the council to take the right approach to a series of difficult decisions, which will come against a dismal backdrop for public spending under over the next five years.
That will eventually include an open conversation with the public about what shape future cutbacks will take, Mr Buchan added. “When the time is right, I would wish the council to engage with the community in an open dialogue over the priorities and choices to balance the books, as we all work together to shape the services required to enable this community to continue to thrive.”