The council plans for savings would seem to be giving priority to prestige projects over the needs of the most vulnerable in our society. In particular, the proposed closure of schools in remote communities and how that will affect bairns who are starting or have only recently started school.
Journeys from North Roe, Sandness and Burravoe, to their nearest available other school, are all along single track roads. On a fine sunny day it is a pleasure to travel these roads but nevertheless such journeys take a long time.
While the actual journey from North Roe to Ollaberry or Hillswick on a good run might take as little as 20 minutes this does not take into consideration the time taken in picking up all the bairns. With any delays at all, at any house, this could easily double to 40 minutes or more. In the case of Sandness it would be longer still.
Many bairns understandably can be nervous or upset at being separated from mum when going off to school for the first few times. If they are the first to be picked up what sort of state will they be in 40 minutes later? Is this not a consideration, or is the council intent on traumatising many of the youngest bairns?
So far I have mentioned only good weather. Having travelled to North Roe every day in the week before Christmas, I know what a considerable undertaking that was even without young bairns in the car. It more than doubled the journey time.
The Shetland Times (Friday 4th February) on its front page highlighted the fact that for Burravoe, savings from agreed cuts amount to £157,626 irrespective of school closure, the closure only saving a probable additional £25,244. I’m sure that a little council honesty would give similar parallels for North Roe and Sandness.
The agreed cuts far exceed any financial savings from closing the schools and the schools are crucial to the survival of those communities. While intent on making these small savings, the council intends spending several hundred thousands of pounds fitting out, staffing and supporting the Mareel, a luxury that we cannot currently afford.
Why not finish the building, mothball its intended use, and temporarily use it for council offices or storage? Mareel would not then be wasted, or deteriorate and would then be fully appreciated by everybody, at a time in hopefully the not too distant future, when the islands can truly afford it.