Practical suggestions please (Jonathan Wills)

I’m glad Andy Holt (Readers’ Views) belatedly agrees with me about Mareel, but sad that he then accuses me of cheap political trickery over the future of Shetland’s small schools.

My offence was to dare to point out that we will have less money to spend on each pupil if we spread our education budget too thinly over more schools than we actually need.

Andy alleges that I favour “slashing the services of the most vulnerable parts of Shetland society”. I do not. Andy, of all people, knows that the council has massively subsidised Papa Stour’s ro-ro vehicle ferry, new ferry terminals and repairs to the island’s road. We also re-opened the school, at considerable expense, when a new family arrived (only to leave again through no fault of the council’s).

Papa Stour residents can apply for council grants and loans for agricultural, tourism and craft projects like anyone else. Far from undermining the remoter areas, the council spends more per head on them than any local authority in the Highlands and Islands.

Returning to the schools question, the expensive political trick is to provide the highest standards for all pupils, wherever they live. To do this, we need to amalgamate some very small primaries to create schools of at least 100 pupils, so we can make most effective use of our dwindling budgets for staff, equipment, materials and building maintenance.
The very small islands like Fair Isle and Foula will always need small primaries. These are not under threat.

Perhaps the biggest contribution the council could make to rural development is to provide childcare in school buildings before and after the teaching day. This would enable more parents to take jobs, pay taxes and help the local and national economy. It happens in many other European countries (eg the Czech Republic). While looking at how they do this elsewhere, we might ask why there’s so little bureaucracy in Norway’s excellent primary schools, compared with the Scottish system.

What is certain is that our existing “scheme of educational provision” is no longer affordable nor (which is even more important) the best way to educate our children. Rather than hurling some rather un-Christian insults, Mr Holt and some other correspondents might be better employed making practical suggestions for our new “scheme of provision”.

Jonathan Wills
Lerwick Town Hall.


Add Your Comment
  • Andy Holt

    • June 15th, 2011 19:14

    In anwer to Jonathan, I hope he will be somewhat mollified by my letter that will hopefully appear in this friday’s times, but my point, perhaps poorly put is not that cuts are not necessary, but that there is a singular lack of imagination and vision in how and where they are to be applied. I am well aware of the ferry and terminal costs and indeed when the officials came to Papa to tell us the glad news I pointed out firstly that it would be cheaper to give us the cash to provide for our own transportation and secondly that Orkney Islands Council built a pier for Stroma, resulting in depopulation and absenteeism and that would happen to Papa too! And lo, it came to pass. As to the repairs to the road, they had to be done to repair the damage done by Scottish Water during the construction of a completely unnecessary and vastly expensive water treatment plant in the dead of winter. Finally, on the subject of “unchristian” insults, I can only refer the good doctor to Jesus who was something of an insult expert. Try Matthew 13:13-36. And please don’t take it personally. Respect, Andy Holt

  • Ted Knight

    • June 16th, 2011 7:15

    The thorny problem of balancing a whole Shetland interest whilst dealing with a number of its uneconomic islands that require excessiive per head funding is, perhaps, at the nub of Shetland’s future viability.

    It always comes down to Population, Population Population which equals funding via workers’ taxation – something that Shetland clearly lacks.

    Funding from outwith is coming under increasing pressure; the future looks grim: time I think for the hard-heads to knock some sense into those that believe in the proverbial Money Tree.

  • Tim Parkinson

    • June 16th, 2011 7:37

    Wasn’t it “He” who said “Go forth and multiply”? In the context of the time it was meant as a sincere blessing, but if either of you gentlemen said that to each other today….?

    So are most helpful peices of advice or opinion often taken as offence by the recipient. Let the school debate continue. ( I have a remote vested interest in the Scalloway scenario)

  • Paula Goddard

    • June 16th, 2011 17:46

    Mr.Wills has obviously not done his homework —-yet again. Unst actually has an extremely well used creche ,usd by ALL the northern isles workers ! Unfortunatly like our primary school it is fighting to keep going because of lack of support from the powers that be.
    Stick to your own neck or the woods and stop commenting on things you know nothing about.

  • Sandy McDonald

    • June 27th, 2011 21:05

    Dr. Wills is right to ask for practical suggestions. Most readers seem to have myriad complaints but rarely offer an alternative or ideas of their own.

    Most folk are tightening their belts and facing reduces Terms and Conditions in their employments. The council has to save money, make cuts and somehow balance their books as the local budget diminishes.

    The plain fact is that some schools have to close. The obvious seems to have been missed in this case – In my humble opinion Ollaberry and North Roe should close and the pupils move to Uyesound. Olnafirth should close and the pupils move to Brae.

    Other cost saving measures:

    Councillors should make their own way to work like the rest of us and stop claiming travelling expenses (trips sooth not included of course).

    Does Yell really need two large ferries running back and forth constantly? Reduce it to one.

    How much money has been wasted in consultations and planning in the building of projects such as the new Anderson High School and Bressay Bridge? Just make a decision and stop dithering and wasting money (not aimed at any council member in particular as this has been dragging on for decades).

    Come on folk – brainstorming suggestions please!

  • Alma Lewis

    • June 28th, 2011 11:44

    Bit far for bairns to travel from Ollaberry and North Roe to Uyeasound. Two islands away!
    I presume you mean Urafirh or maybe Aith? Perhaps its time to invest in a map of Shetland.

  • Sandy McDonald

    • June 28th, 2011 13:30

    Fair game Alma! I did indeed mean Urafirth/Hillswick (red face, blush blush). I actually have a map of Shetland to my shame. Although the money wasted in the Bridge and New High School projects could have funded a helicopter to fly the kids to Uyeasound for good while!

    P.S. – Practical suggestions please!

  • Mark Ritch

    • July 8th, 2011 12:47

    “The plain fact is, that some have to close”

    Maybe they do, maybe they don’t. But we should set some sort of policy basis founded on good research and reasonable benchmarking rather than treating this as a truism.

    What’s affordable in Shetland has always been a line in the sand muddied by the Trust system that allows heavy spending on gilded shanties like Mareel while leaving spending on vital infrastructure (like two ferries on Yellsound) open for public squabbling.

    Clawing expenditure out of the rural areas to prop up the centre is self defeating. Healthy populations and high levels of economic activity in the periphery maintain that of the core (year one economics Jonathon) Cutting spending on economic development and public infrastructure in the outer isles might garner some loose change to spend on new playthings for the toon in the sort term but ultimately damges the whole of Shetland’s economy.

    The same logic that compells those south of the Brig o’ Fitch to bewail any spending on ‘underpopulated’ outer isles might equally apply to any central government spending on Shetland as a whole. Its a dangerous argument – and one that’s devoid of ‘plain fact’.

    Practical suggestions? Sandy’s smack of divisive sniping rather than anything constructive. What is apparent is that a house divided cannot stand and rather than whinging about expenditure in anything other than our own backyard, we might be well advised to take a slightly broader view.

    On that note, I’ll withdraw the ‘gilded shanty’ remark about the pointless gewgaw on Hay’s dock …………..damn! I did it agian.


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