The Viking Bus Station in Lerwick, which provides a vital crutch for bus users and a hub for sending freight packages to rural areas of Shetland, could be one of the victims of Shetland Islands Council’s colossal spending cutbacks.
Shutting down the Lerwick bus station and freight centre would save an estimated £67,961, with a possible £12,000 to be levered in by renting the building out for other purposes, according to the cuts report which will go before councillors on Thursday.
Setting the budget for 2012/13, members will consider a package of measures aimed at saving up to £28 million over the next two years from its £127 million annual budget, including £9 million-worth of ongoing “efficiency” savings made in the current financial year.
The Viking Bus Station provides a waiting room and left luggage service for bus users, some of whom the report acknowledges are “often the most vulnerable” in society. Its closure would also make it more difficult to securely pick up and deliver small items of freight, which keeps the station bustling with deliveries and collections on weekday mornings, particularly on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
Alternative ways of providing rural freight collections and a left luggage service should be investigated, the report suggests. “If the station was to close these services would be lost, unless other manned premises could undertake the task,” it states.
As well as stripping millions of pounds from education and social care spending (see earlier story), the infrastructure budget will be hit hard. Members are being asked to consider measures amounting to nearly £2.5 million of savings through changes to a variety of services in the year ahead, and a further £900,000 in 2013/14.
The bulk of that will come from yet to be defined inter-island ferry services cuts. A comprehensive review is being carried out and should be published in the summer, spelling out how the SIC will save nearly £1.5 million over two years. North Isles councillors have spoken of how they fear swingeing cuts to ferry timetables are inevitable.
Winter gritting is to be cut back to save £375,000 in the year ahead, which could prevent many people – particularly those living in remote areas – from getting to work, school or college. With fewer gritters and fewer roads being treated, it is “highly likely that this would result in redundancies” once a review of the service is completed.
Four part-time neighbourhood support workers will be axed to save £80,000, risking an increase in anti-social behaviour. It will mean less resources to tackle underage drinking, bullying and littering, and less support for vulnerable housing and social work clients.
Maintenance of roads and pavements will be reduced, while switching off street lights in some areas might save around £25,000. Cuts to street cleansing mean there is likely to be more litter, chewing gum and weeds on the streets of Lerwick and Scalloway, with each settlement standing to lose a cleaning worker.
The council will no longer provide a Christmas tree and lights, something the council believes businesses or community groups should be funding.
Neighbouring Orkney makes £100,000 a year from charging for the use of 302 parking spaces, and meters could be introduced in Lerwick to generate a similar sum for the SIC.
After two public toilets in Lerwick were closed last year, half a dozen rural loos are now in the firing line. Savings of £5,000 apiece could be achieved by shutting down public toilets at Jarlshof, Bressay, Hamnavoe, Sandness, Hillswick and Uyeasound.
Tingwall Airport could be shut on Saturdays and for a half-day during the week to save £20,000. Because it is used by the air ambulance, a third full-time person must be on duty to act as a fireman – the council is to investigate whether the NHS ought to be paying for the service.
Free inter-island ferry fares for concessionary pass holders could be a thing of the past – instead, concessions will be asked to pay 50 per cent fares. The council says that if the scheme is targeted at those on low incomes, it could improve equality across the islands.
The full cuts proposals are contained in appendices 2 and 3 of SIC head of finance Hazel Sutherland’s report to councillors.