Trustees of Shetland Amenity Trust were deeply shocked at our meeting on Wednesday this week to hear that council officials are proposing drastic cuts across a range of trust services, including a further cut of 35 per cent to the Shetland Museum and Archives budget over the next three years. While the trust is well aware of the financial difficulties faced by the council, these proposals, if implemented, would virtually close down the museum and archives services in Shetland.
Shetland Amenity Trust has a 25-year service level agreement with Shetland Islands Council. Under the terms of this agreement, the trust must provide the agreed building and facilities to house the Museum and Archives Collections and operate both services. In return, Shetland Islands Council must provide, as the contract price, the necessary revenue resources to meet the funding required for the delivery of these services. This contract was entered into as a pre-condition of the Shetland Museum and Archives project being substantially joint-funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF). At that time the HLF sought and received assurances from Shetland Islands Council that revenue funding at an appropriate level would be maintained into the future including allowance for inflation. This was confirmed by letters, reports and council minutes during late 2001; under this agreement the appropriate level of funding for 2010/11 should have been £1,185,000.
Notwithstanding this, since the first full year of operation the Museum and Archives services have been subjected to cuts each year. During the 2012/13 budgetary process a further cut of 10 per cent over two years (2012/13 and 2013/14) was imposed. Savings of nine per cent were identified and implemented for the current year with the remainder planned for 2013/14. The total level of cuts, since opening, amount to 27 per cent in real terms and the current year’s budget is now £1,035,000, already substantially below the figures promised levels to run the services.
At a meeting between Neil Grant and senior trust officers this week, he stated that he would be recommending a further 35 per cent cut over the next three years which would reduce the total funding to £681,000. If implemented this would result in at least 20 staff being made redundant and render it impossible to provide any workable or acceptable level of museum and archive services in Shetland. This would essentially turn the building into nothing more than a large storage facility.
This is completely unsustainable and flies in the face of the spirit and substance of the partnership agreements and undertakings which were made between Shetland Islands Council, Shetland Amenity Trust and the Heritage Lottery Fund. The trust agreed to take up the mantle of providing these important services on behalf of the council and the Shetland community in good faith, but the way that this is being handled and the absence of any form of consultation or negotiation is lamentable.
Trustees are convinced that neither the councillors nor the people of Shetland would support these proposals.
The Shetland Museum and Archives is the jewel in Shetland’s crown of heritage and culture. Its success is manifest. It is the top visitor attraction in Shetland with over 83,000 visitors each year and continues to draw visitors and researchers from all backgrounds and ages and is now widely recognised as a huge community asset. Almost two thirds of all Shetland schoolchildren have visited the museum this year alone.
Shetland Amenity Trust trustees are determined to take a firm stand on this issue to ensure that this magnificent success, the past investment made and its potential benefit is not lost to future generations. We hope that you agree with this view and that you will not allow these proposals to be implemented.
While this letter concentrates on the threat to the museum and archives services, Mr Grant stated that other significant areas of the trust’s work funded by the economic directorate would also be drastically cut under his proposals which, if implemented, would severely impact the trust’s services to the community and threaten at least a further 20 jobs within the trust. We will be writing to you separately on these matters in the coming weeks.
If you require any further information about the issues raised in this letter please do not hesitate to ask either myself or Jimmy Moncrieff, the trust’s general manager.
Chairman of Shetland Amenity Trust