Charges for music tuition to remain despite lower than expected yield

The council is to press ahead with its system of charging for music tuition in schools despite earnings falling short of original projections.

Members of the services committee heard today that in its review of the system, the schools service said the original expected yield from charges of £130,000 was “an overestimation” and that due to several factors it was now likely to be just £49,000.

The review also proposed a reduction in the range of instruments on offer, as well as the appointment of a temporary part-time administrative post to manage the system.

The decision to accept the review was made on the casting vote of outgoing chairman Gussie Angus, who said it should be noted that music provision is the only service in Shetland which is demand led, with every other service having to undergo means testing.

The issue of music tuition fees was first raised in February of last year when the council voted 11-9 to introduce charging, sparking widespread protests.

The proposal was fought by Shetland South councillor Rick Nickerson, who said at the time he felt it was a “tax on talent”, but his decision to have the introduction of charges postponed until a full review of the system had been completed was overturned at a meeting of the full council in June.

Mr Nickerson defended his position today, saying that while there was “lots of good stuff” in the report, it was not the full service review that he had expected.

He had a number of concerns, including the shortfall in the amount of money the system would yield. This leaves a shortfall of £81,000 to find in savings.

Mr Nickerson argued that the system would not offer greater equality and said he had a “fundamental problem” with the recommendation in the review that the range of instruments on offer should be reduced “through natural wastage over a number of years”.

Mr Nickerson said: “Are we to determine the future of music provision based on who retires first? This certainly can’t be sustainable or support equality.”

A number of the concerns he raised previously, he said, had not been addressed, such as whether the right range and number of instruments are being taught or how the tuition system will link in with further education at Shetland College.

He also said more needed to be done to look into savings through, for example, travel costs and the number of music instructors teaching in each school, as well as the issue of the admin post, the cost of which has not been outlined.

This, he said, would surely have some impact on the budget in terms of savings.

“We don’t want to lose the range of instruments we teach. We were told we were going to make a saving of £130,000, that’s why the council voted 11-9 for the scheme. We’re £81,000 short – I haven’t heard where this is coming from.

“The charging regime is not working, it’s not defensible, it’s incredibly reductive, vastly unpopular and hugely bureaucratic.”

Mr Nickerson did receive support for his amendment that charges be ceased and a full service review of provision be carried out, with the voting 8-8.

Vice-chairwoman Betty Fullerton felt the report was a “very good audit of where we are” but had concerns about the inequality of instrument provision across the isles.

She said however that compared to other island groups, Shetland has a comparably higher student to tutor ratio.

Mrs Fullerton said: “Compared to other islands we are at least doubling, I think it’s fair to say we’re providing much better than an adequate service.”

Shetland North councillor Bill Manson moved the recommendation and said he felt that with school closures on the agenda, the council “can’t afford” to consider paying for a full review or to wait until the Blueprint for Education has been completed.

He said he recognised the amount of work in the review and suggested that the administrative post only be created until the end of this academic year, which would allow for work to be done on the current scheme.

After more was known about the school closures, he said, a “full scale review” could then be carried out.

Mr Manson said: “It would be a bad message to be sending out to say we’re considering this … I don’t think we can afford it when we’re talking about closing schools in other parts of the isles.”


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