Radical proposals aimed at streamlining the council’s senior management system should save the local authority £1 million by improving efficiencies and shedding around 15 managerial positions.
The major improvement plan, outlined on Wednesday by chief executive Alistair Buchan and consultant Keith Yates – who has helped mastermind the proposals – will see the creation of five director posts.
The directors will be helped by a “single tier” of 40 managers replacing the current heads of service and service manager posts. Whoever the holders of the new posts are they will oversee new services aimed at leading the council out of its recent bad spell.
The changes should be achieved by retirements, redeployment and, in some cases, freezing vacancies. Mr Buchan insisted the redundancy packages would be an “absolute last resort”.
It is hoped the move will make the authority more responsive to customer needs and help protect frontline services.
The services within the new structure are: childrens service; community care; infrastructure; development; and corporate service.
Other proposals include the appointment of an unpaid non-executive director from outwith the council who, it is hoped, will provide a fresh perspective to the senior management team.
The council has given itself a tight timescale to introduce the improvements. It wants members to approve the changes next month before appointing directors and managers over June and July.
The operational start date is earmarked for September and Mr Buchan has already been holding briefing sessions with managers and trade unions.
He said the new system, which follows last week’s approval of the new constitution, was badly needed. “There is an urgency to get on with this,” Mr Buchan said. “I think the members have demonstrated a particular willingness to change.
“We’re all aware of the scale of the financial challenges. Restructuring the management is, for one thing, about getting the right management team and structure in place, and the other is about saving money.
“We’re looking to take £1 million out of the top three levels of management and the cost of that is £6 million. I don’t think our existing structure, either internally or externally, is regarded as fair or objective.
“Restructuring an organisation is never easy, and it’s particularly tough in a small community. It is hard, but it is very, very necessary.
“My initial view coming in has been . . . there is an imbalance in the management team, and since then the scale of the financial challenges have become increasingly apparent.
“There is a need for change in the way the organisation is managed and run. I’m more convinced than anything that this is necessary.
“I’m actually not a big believer in reorganisation as a method to cure all ills. It’s not something I enter into lightly at all – but it is necessary.”
Mr Buchan said the current system of 56 service managers – on top of 16 heads of service – “reduces the scope for innovation and slows down progress in taking decisions”.
He said it was unfair to expect communities who were experiencing the impact of cutbacks following budgetary constraints not to see changes within the authority.
“Services took a hit in January when the new budget was introduced and communities are seeing some of that being worked through just now,” Mr Buchan said. “Staffing is the council’s biggest outlay and management costs make up a considerable part of that.
“The new structure will be one that staff and the public can have confidence in. It will resolve any anomalies regarding pay and help us apply the principles of single status to chief officers.”
Mr Yates said he wanted to encourage a culture where people worked more “collaboratively” across the council, listening to the views of the wider community.
He said: “It’s about doing something which perhaps hasn’t been done in the past – about different parts of the organisation working together, having common processes and looking at communications . . . stopping the duplication which has been taking place in the organisation and getting the budgetary control in place.”
He added he wanted to see a council created which “has trust within the organisation” and is “trusted by the wider community and other organisations”.
Children, he insisted, was “not just about education and schools. He said the service would encapsulate elements of youth work and psychology, as well as the library service, which is primarily based in schools.
“Bringing that together, it provides the opportunities and achieves the potential for all the kids, but also protects the most vulnerable,” Mr Yates said.
Community care, meanwhile, will unite “all the services which are help amongst the vulnerable”.
Development, Mr Yates said, would draw in elements from infrastructure and concentrate on planning, housing and transport planning, as well as the college and Train Shetland.
“It’s all the things which are about the future development of Shetland, actually brought together in a single service development,” he said.
The corporate service, meanwhile, will manage finance, human resources, IT, capital programme and the improvement programme itself.
Mr Yates said: “The only thing left to Alistair [Buchan] as the chief executive is the member support services which operate in this building [the town hall], and there are five or six people doing that – communications . . . and internal audit.
“Almost by definition by legislation, an internal audit unit should report to the chief executive as well as finance. It’s quite a lean structure going to the chief executive, for all that there are several major services that operate through the chief executive at the moment.”
Unison branch secretary Brian Smith criticised the description of the measures as a “management restructure”, insisting the move could impact on staff and services if further jobs were cut.
He said: “We will certainly consider these proposals and the process that’s being used to achieve them, but our key demands are that the process is carried out fairly so that there is the least possible disruption and hardship to council employees.”
The news came less than a week after councillors debated the SIC’s new constitution and standing orders in a bid to improve the way the local authority functions.
Clear from the discussions was a demonstration of will among councillors to tackle the unwieldy naming structure for new committees.
Among several shortened suggestions were “education and families” instead of “children, families and learning”, and “social services” instead of the more cumbersome “community, health and wellbeing”.
The meeting heard various calls for a “plain language” approach to be taken in the council’s new structure.