The council’s graduate placement scheme is to be suspended to cut costs, despite a last-ditch attempt by some councillors to save it.The scheme has been widely praised for giving young graduates the opportunity to return to Shetland to gain work experience, leading to some being able to remain and pursue a career in their home islands. Several have set up businesses following their stint on the scheme.
Up to 12 graduates used to be taken on each year but that was cut to six from 2010/11 to save money. Head of human resources Denise Bell said this year’s posts had been advertised but no promises had been made to applicants due to uncertainty about the scheme’s future.
Council managers think it cannot be justified when many of their own staff members are in fear of losing their jobs in the drive for cuts.
At yesterday’s meeting of the Full Council, councillor Allan Wishart warned that keeping on the scheme would send out entirely the wrong message to the community and to the council workforce in particular.
To bring in six graduates would mean that the equivalent of four road workers would have to be laid off, he said. He reminded members that 440 people were already effectively on placement with the council, languishing on temporary contracts.
Councillor Jonathan Wills said suspending the scheme was a very short-sighted measure and he called for half the funding to be kept in place, rather than cutting the entire £143,000 budget.
Controversially, he suggested the funding could be taken from an £800,000 pot allocated for buying whitefish quota. Why the council was still involved in buying fishing entitlement he did not know.
He praised the graduate scheme as a very cheap way of getting very high-quality work done. It would be a false economy and a foolish move to suspend it.
He was backed by councillor George Smith but they lost the vote 15-4.
One of those on the other side of the debate was councillor Steven Coutts, himself a product of a Highlands and Islands Enterprise graduate scheme. It had probably made the difference to him being able to stay in Shetland, he said. But he could not support the scheme when the choice was having to push council employees out to make way for graduates.
Councillor Alastair Cooper believes the private sector might be persuaded to take on some of the graduates and he called for more effort to pursue that possibility.
Councillor Peter Campbell thought some of the various trusts funded by the council and Shetland Charitable Trust might be able to take graduates on.