A campaign from the islands has saved the Shetland office of the Pensions Service from being closed down by UK government cuts. The reprieve was greeted with relief by councillor Allison Duncan who has led the local campaign and met senior officials from London last week.
The government had announced in July without consultation that it was to close the local office as part of a plan to cut 300 jobs in the pensions service.
Pensioners and people with special needs would have had to rely on occasional visits to Shetland from pensions service officials based in Aberdeen instead of the familiar service from Lerwick which provides personal visits to those who require them.
Mr Duncan said the officials who came for talks last Tuesday “got a surprise” when the difficulties of Aberdeen-based staff travelling to Shetland and its remoter islands in winter were explained to them. He said today it would have been “a very backward step” if the government had closed the door.
One of the two employees in the Lerwick office has relocated to another government job in Edinburgh but the other is to remain.
The reprieve was also welcomed by Northern Isles MP Alistair Carmichael who had succeeded in having the closure delayed due to the impact it could have on vulnerable people in his constituency.
The office in Kirkwall is also to remain open with a single member of staff.
Mr Carmichael said he was delighted the service had “seen sense”.
“The suggestion that these services could have been provided by staff travelling from mainland Scotland was never a realistic one. It took some time and trouble to explain to them the realities of the geography they were dealing with but to their credit they now accept this and have changed their minds.
“Orkney and Shetland are different to Skye and other areas of the Highlands and Islands and it is important that the services available to local people reflect this fact. I have always been of the view that the withdrawal of the local offices would have had a significant impact on the quality of service available to older people in the isles.”