Schools and community care to be hit hard as SIC seeks to reduce budget by 22 per cent
Children’s services – schools in particular – and community care are to bear the brunt of proposed SIC cuts and “efficiency savings” of almost £28 million over the next two years.
But even if these targets are met, with increased costs in a number of areas a further £7.1 million will have to be cut in 2014/15 if the council is to end its dependence on the oil reserves to top-up the cash it receives from the Scottish government and council tax, according to a report by head of finance Hazel Sutherland.
When they meet on Thursday to set the 2012/13 and 2013/14 budgets, councillors will be asked to consider closing “very expensive” junior high schools at Aith, Baltasound (leaving a single secondary for the North Isles at Mid Yell), Sandwick, Skerries and Whalsay to remove £2 million from the £46.25 million children’s services budget.
They will also be invited to look at shutting primaries at Burravoe, Cullivoe, North Roe, Sandness, Skeld and Urafirth and proceed with an earlier plan to close Olnafirth to save £1,250,000.
The job will fall to those councillors elected in May because of a moratorium on school closures decreed by the Scottish government until June while its Commission on Rural Education is under way. The commission will report in August.
The schools at Burravoe, North Roe, Sandness and Skerries were spared closure last year, Burravoe after the intervention of Scottish education minister Mike Russell. Scalloway secondary department and Uyeasound primary were closed.
Councillors will also discuss job cuts and charges in education. There are proposals to: cut the number of additional support needs staff; reduce the number of teachers in nursery schools; reduce support staff in schools; cut 18 jobs among secondary school hub staff; give depute heads teaching roles for half the week; and charge £25-a-week for board at the Janet Courtney Hostel.
Music tuition, for which charging was introduced last year, will once again fall under the spotlight, with proposals to reduce the number of instruments taught and slash the proportion of pupils taught from 40 per cent to 25 per cent, cutting three jobs in the process.
In total, officials want to cut £8.33 million – 18 per cent – from the children’s services budget.
The £26.37 million community care services budget is to be cut by £6.3 million, or almost a quarter.
Officials are proposing the closure of Viewforth, relocating patients to Montfield initially and then Edward Thomason and Taing houses; the closure of the meals on wheels kitchen at Kantersted; the closure of Freefield; the ending of dedicated day care for some older people; and the integration of care homes in the North Isles.
Beyond education and social care, the infrastructure services budget is set to be reduced by £4.18 million (17 per cent); development services by £2.36 million (12.6 per cent); and corporate services by £1.45 million (nine per cent).
There are reviews going on into ferry services and fares; air and bus services; council vehicles; and the possibility of charging for parking in central Lerwick.
As previously revealed by The Shetland Times, the single status pay and conditions deal is to be revisited amid claims from un-named members of the public that they are “generous” in the hope of saving £2 million.
Councillors are under pressure to cut £15.24 million this year and £12.64 next year after the government announced its revenue support grant would fall to £90.68 million this year, £89.76 million next year and £88.82 million the year after that.
Audit Scotland has also demanded that the SIC significantly reduce its draw on the oil reserves, which are being rapidly eroded at a time when the funds in which they are invested are growing slowly or not at all because of the continued stagnation in the global economy following the financial crisis of 2007/8.
The council’s proposals have angered the unions who have called for any cuts to be made over a longer timescale and with more care.
In her report, Ms Sutherland highlights two reports by the James Hutton Institute and the council’s economic development unit which suggest the isles economy could cope with major cuts.
One piece of better news is that harbour income is set to rise, but this will be swallowed up by a black hole of £7.6 million in the Shetland Towage pension fund.
In her conclusion Ms Sutherland states: “The work done to move towards securing a sustainable level of spend … is significant, especially as the work has been done in a very short space of time …
“However, there are risks around the actually delivery of the reviews and projects within the timescales set out, which only when approved by council will … secure a significant proportion of the savings required.
“The council remains in the fortunate position of having resources beyond that normally available to local authorities and the scope, level and quality of service able to be provided locally is greater than would be possible elsewhere.”