Mad hatters of the SIC

On 7th December a majority of the 22 councillors of the SIC services committee voted to recommend to themselves (when they next met as the 22 members of the Full Council) that they should close the Scalloway secondary school.

And the very next day, on 8th December, the same 22 people solemnly ratified their own recommendation.

I should be interested to know if anybody believes that this is a proper and meaningful process. Anybody at all.

But particularly I should like to invite any of the 22 councillors who took part on both days to explain to us how, if at all, this process was anything other than a parody of government.

Many will remember the committee structure of previous councils when the education committee would first have considered a report like this, paying particular attention to its educational merits.

The education committee, which involved only some of the councillors, would then have brought their recommendations to all of their colleagues at the Full Council. These recommendations could then be seen being considered again before they became council policy.

Those were the days. In contrast, with their present structure, what did our councillors achieve on 8th December, other than ticking a box as required? And was this the only occasion in this process when some of them just ticked the required box?

The cliché that councillors offer when these occasions frequently arise these days is that they were wearing different hats on different days: one day wearing the hat of a committee member and the next day the hat of a councillor. (And on other days they can get to wear yet another hat as a trustee of the charitable trust.) It’s like an Easter parade, but all year round and very tired.

It is easy to mock an organisation like this that seems mad as hatters but for some time now the council has seemed to parody itself and that is seriously wrong. For, while some councillors might seem earnest in trying to get this system to work, cynicism might just do the job too.

The only event seemingly worth reporting on 8th December involved the convener coming in for some point-scoring criticism, evidently because he had actually listened to the community during the consultation exercise.

We should remember that this is the same council that recently (The Shetland Times, 27th October) accepted its interim chief executive’s judgment that it is not in a fit state for achieving any meaningful savings across the council and (The Shetland Times, 6th November) that it requires “root and branch” reform before it can do so.

Some humility might be expected but most of the councillors still seem to think they might just be fit enough to close schools, especially if they can single out communities one by one.

Now with a bullying zeal for economy from others, they plan to pick on other communities for similar treatment next year. But perhaps before they do this, would anybody in the council finally care to address a question which has been left unanswered for some time now, but which will not go away: just how much does it cost to administer the schools?

For example, how much did the council’s central administration charge all the schools in Shetland to cover all of its costs last year? And what does that central administration cost work out for every child in Shetland every year?

When it suited, the council was quick enough to produce a number that was spuriously used to show what the cost of Scalloway represented for every child in Shetland, so telling us the administration costs should not be difficult, except, of course, for any embarrassment about the amount. And no school closure will save a single penny of that enormous central cost which will just be reallocated among the surviving schools.

It seems reasonable to ask if a council that is presently not fit to bring its costs under control is really fit to prioritise school closures. Perhaps the council should first put its own house in order before, or even instead of, picking off communities in Shetland.

But then perhaps a council that had really informed itself about education (and here an education committee might have helped again) would not have tried to use the new Curriculum for Excellence as a perverse excuse for shutting a good school.

I wish the Scalloway parents every success in putting their case to the minister. It’s time their case was properly heard and it seems a shame that it was not properly heard here.

Gordon Dargie
Burra Isle.


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