‘Deplorable’ welfare reform condemned by councillors

SIC councillors have torn into the UK government’s “utterly deplorable” welfare reform package, which they view as targeting some of society’s most vulnerable.

The government last year passed the Welfare Reform Act, which it says is aimed at simplifying the system and encouraging people off benefits and into work.

But it is also seeking to save £18 billion a year from the welfare bill by 2014/15, leaving members of the council’s executive committee to rail against changes which will see some of Shetland’s poorest households losing out.

The introduction of the so-called “bedroom tax”, which will penalise those deemed to be under-occupying a house, will result in a six-figure reduction in the amount of benefits coming into the isles annually.

Lerwick South member Jonathan Wills led the charge at Monday morning’s meeting in Lerwick Town Hall. He said it was “exactly what we should expect from a government of Old Etonians” who understand the needs of their own class and are out to “reward the rich and punish the poor”.

Dr Wills said the reforms were “mean-minded, petty and making life worse for the most vulnerable in society”. He viewed the bedroom tax as the sort of policy dreamt up by ministers who have “never lived in a small property”.

Councillor George Smith endorsed Dr Wills’ sentiments, saying it was vital that the “implications and shortcomings” of the “utterly deplorable” reforms to communities like Shetland were spelled out.

In addition to writing to the UK government, the council is to get in touch with Northern Isles MP Alistair Carmichael. He is deputy chief whip in the Tory-Lib Dem coalition, and councillors want to send him a clear message about the potentially disastrous implications of the benefits cuts.

Councillor Vaila Wishart said: “Our MP is a member of this government. He needs to be left in absolutely no doubt about the strength of feeling around the table – and [we should] ask him what he’s going to do about it.”

As previously reported in The Shetland Times, nearly 200 tenants staying in Hjaltland and SIC social housing could be hit by the bedroom tax when it is introduced in April. Those defined as having more rooms than they need could find themselves up to £100 a month worse off.

SIC chief executive Mark Boden said that, while he was not necessarily endorsing its view, one of the government’s intentions was to encourage more people to move into privately-rented accommodation.

But councillors pointed out that there were precious few small private or publicly-owned houses available. Political leader Gary Robinson said a small private home was likely to be more costly to rent than a larger public sector house anyway.

South Mainland member Allison Duncan said big companies who have sent workers to the North Mainland to build the Total gas plant were paying “astronomical rents” and taking up most available homes.

Head of housing Anita Jamieson said the SIC and Hjaltland Housing were looking at “mutual exchanges” so that more people were given the right size of house. But that would only go so far in solving the problem: “It really is restricted by the stock we’ve got, which is predominantly three-bedroom properties.”


Add Your Comment
  • robert sandison

    • February 11th, 2013 17:39

    Its a con/ lib/dem goverment

  • douglas young

    • February 11th, 2013 22:33

    How long are we going to support this coalition by voting in MP’s who are part of it? Or pretending that Westminster would be a better option than Holyrood?
    Thank goodness we will have a choice in 2014.

  • Iain Adam

    • February 12th, 2013 5:49

    Shocking, however the LORDS in the House of Lords will no doubt have many spare rooms in their mansions, so they will be hit likewise ? Whats next, the reintroduction of the poll tax ??

  • Ali Inkster

    • February 12th, 2013 11:46

    While our councillors sit in the town hall loudly lambasting the Westminster government for the cuts to welfare and the perceived attack on the poorest in society. They continue to make their own cuts to front line services while doing little or nothing about the bloated staffing levels in their own council offices. Surely if the rhetoric coming from the town hall and Unison is to be believed then the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the not so few and cuts to staffing should take priority over cuts to services, cut the terms and conditions that many if not most working in the private sector (those that actually create the wealth) can only dream about to levels comparable to the rest of us that live in the real world
    So get of your high horses and do what you were elected to do and start making the cuts where they will do the least damage ie to the over paid and under utilised staff of SIC central.

  • Stewart Mack

    • February 12th, 2013 13:13

    Well put Ali !

    From the published figures from the Scottish Government (i have them here) the SIC still has approx 800 staff more than it did at the start of the millenium, and thats without considering whether the SIC was over staffed at that point. Before they stopped gritting, or cutting the old folks meals, closing toilets or the like i wonder how many staff would have had to go to keep each of those services alive? 2 or maybe 3 staff to give old folks meals for a year? say what? half dozen to keep gritting at levels that dont endanger life? Well worth paying in my book!
    But i think it will be a long dark day before the SIC looks in at itself and the staffing levels it really needs rather than the levels it would like to have!

  • ian tinkler

    • February 12th, 2013 13:24

    Millions spent on Mareel, Bressay Bridge, Viking Energy and countless other projects, everything stupid and unnecessary. Blame Westminster for everything and squander precious funding on pet projects and something for nothing speculative ventures. Yet cut from the poor and needy. Words nearly fail me. You would not print my true views on these clowns.

  • Johan Adamson

    • February 12th, 2013 14:37

    They wont cut staff because they are too afraid of depopulation. Meanwhile, businesses go unsold and workers are left in the lurch, waiting to see where the axe will fall. Surely it will be soon so that we can all get on with things.

  • Sheila Tulloch

    • February 12th, 2013 16:54

    If you have the figures Stewart, does it give any further info. on how they are to be interpreted? (And I’m not sticking up for them!!) When they talk of staffing numbers, do they mean Full time equivalents? Or just how many on da payroll, maybe excluding holiday & sick cover. Theres also a lot more ‘Job-Sharing’ now, than 10 or 20 years ago.
    I’m waiting for when they announce job cuts & expect a pat on da back for makin savings, when rather than cutting full time equivalents, they’ve maybe only axed a handful of people on 3 hour week contracts, from staffing a youth club!!

  • John Inkster

    • February 13th, 2013 0:36

    The government is borrowing £100,000,000,000 approx. every year. This remember has to be added to the £1000,000,000,000 borrowed so far (some say it is twice or three times this figure). I think they call it a trillion. There is no money! The government has no money! We are broke!

    It can get only worse. It is a “perfect” economic storm. Just as the E.U. and UK runs out of money so does the Shetland Islands Council. The cuts we see are just the start of much worse to come.

    The council policy appears to be to cut the service but to employ the service providers to the end. The reasons are obvious. We could see a total collapse in confidence if public sector staff were unemployed to match the falling outputs. The economy has become a service sector economy like few others to be found in the UK. The starting position in a fight for survival is to cut and cut again the outputs. If this fails………

    There are no easy answers. For years Shetland has produced some of the best educated people in the UK, yet most have had to find employment outside the islands. We have failed to match employment opportunities with the level of talent
    which has come out of these isles. I would say that Shetland has done an excellent job in educating its people but done a poor job in providing work for all those so well educated. Perhaps the oil money made us lazy. We are probably guilty of creating many so called “non” jobs. But the money was there to do this.

    Things have changed.

  • Johan Adamson

    • February 13th, 2013 9:04

    They need to outsource things like doing certain of the the Trust’s payroll, their own and Trusts IT services, quarry, tug and airport operation, legal services (?) etc, put it out to tender. If someone else doesnt want it or cant do it cheaper, then fair enough. Then they can get on with core services like education and roads (which incidentally are the bits that are most decentralised and not always in Lerwick).

  • Chris Ash

    • February 13th, 2013 11:21

    I love the way Dr Wills ignores financial reality and cheerfully throws about prejudiced remarks about a ‘government of Old Etonians’.
    Does going to a good school mean one is deserving of scorn? I guess prejudice is OK as long as it is against rich white people.

  • Harry Dent

    • February 13th, 2013 12:55

    The Old Etonians in government deserve scorn, because they are slashing away at services and jobs in a way that indicates they neither know nor care what the consequences will be for the most vulnerable in our society.

    This really is government of the rich, by the rich, for the rich, and I have nothing but contempt for them.

    It’s claptrap to claim there is no money. There are billions upon billions stashed away in banks, earning interest for people who are already rich beyond the dreams of avarice.

    That is money that could be invested in jobs and services if we had a government that had the political will to tax wealth properly. There is no real need for any cuts in Shetland, or anywhere else in the UK.

    My only criticism of Dr Wills and his colleagues is that they were far too soft on our pampered masters.

  • Stewart Mack

    • February 13th, 2013 14:34

    Sylvia, The figures i received (which are for all local authorities in Scotland) are, I believe FTE numbers well that at least was what was requested from the Scottish Government so i guess the numbers, like many others, could be fudged. But on the face of it shouldmean those on reduced hours like youth work (which i did myself for a while) would not count as a “full” job. I am not attacking any individual or, SIC workers generally, but anyone who has ever worked for the Council knows there are a few individuals workin their socks off to keep things going while others swan around doing absolutely zero for productive output. It has got considerably worse over the years and there are now way to many chiefs for the number of indians as an old saying goes. There should be an outside assessment of productivity on a full commercial basis i bet the number of employees needed in commercial terms would eb significantly less than those actually in post. And, if assessed on a commercial basis the majority of cuts would come from higher up the pay grades

  • Johan Adamson

    • February 13th, 2013 15:51

    But no one is going to suggest it should be their own head on the block, are they? And some of the top officials did go in the last round which was a long time ago now, then there was no more talk of redundancy

  • John Tulloch

    • February 13th, 2013 19:40

    John Inskter has outlined the scale of the UK’s financial mess whose instigation was presided over, not by the “old etonians” but by Dr Wills’ erstwhile comrades, the “old Tolpuddlians.”

    Bank of England Governor Sir Mervyn King, announcing the quarterly inflation report criticised so-called “green” taxes and surcharges for causing simultaneous high inflation and low growth, saying (Bishop Hill blog):

    “It’s a bit of an own goal as it looks as if inflation is worse without any change in the underlying behaviour of the economy. Prices charged by utilities – to pay for green charges, green policies – are pushing up administered prices in a way that [is] … self inflicted in terms of damage done to real take home pay.”

    Ed Davey, Lib Dem Energy and Climate Change Secretary, whose party (the “Volvo and quiche set”) fanatically supports renewable energy said of UK shale gas to the Times last Friday:

    “It is not the golden goose. The experts are clear that they do not expect this to have a major impact on the gas price.”


    Meanwhile the Courier regales us with the news that:

    “Almost 30% of Scottish residents are being left in fuel poverty and Energy Action Scotland claims the figure could be as high as 40%.”

    Alasdair Carmichael MP and Tavish Scott MSP, prominent “volvo and quichians,” are party to this and Alex Salmond and the “old Bannockburnians” are up tae dir ocksters” in it.

    So tak your pick fir dir a baand o’ fuyls!

  • Jonathan Wills

    • February 14th, 2013 0:34

    I am glad Chris Ash has noticed my prejudice against Old Etonians. I take this as a compliment.
    It is a fact that the UK Cabinet contains an extraordinary, disproportionate number of Old Etonians. This is not a coincidence. I doubt whether some of those MPs who support the “bedroom tax” have any idea how many bedrooms there are in their own homes.
    Sometimes you can understand what led the late Nye Bevan to describe the Tory Party as “lower than vermin”. And that was in the days when you could still argue that the party had a social conscience. Mr Cameron’s so-called welfare “reforms” demonstrate that these pampered public schoolboys are truly antisocial.

  • Chris Ash

    • February 14th, 2013 6:38

    Harry Dent

    Perhaps you’d be better off moving to a people’s paradise like Zimbabwe?

    As a very wise lady once said: “The problem with socialism is that you eventually run out of other people’s money”

  • John Tulloch

    • February 14th, 2013 7:38

    Sorry, my own IT ineptitude has erased the bit about the British Geological Society reportedly being about to upgrade its estimate off UK shale gas by 200 times to between 1.3 and 1.7 quadrillion cubic feet – enough to heat all Britain’s homes for 1500 YEARS!!

    Ed Davey says it won’t affect the gas price – sounds a bit as if he is “in denial”?

  • Johan Adamson

    • February 14th, 2013 9:47

    No, John Tulloch, I think Thatcher started this, but Labour did nothing to question it, they just kept it the same, carried on where she left off, not questioning the budget frameworks set up, no new system has ever been suggested, the sales of the council houses, etc, letting the banks do what they wanted, getting rid of their branch managers, letting it all get into the shambles these redundant managers knew it would get into. Until we are in the position we are in now with no money and no sense of ethics, just the fast buck, leading some to be able to pass horse off as beef and then carry the profits off to some loadsamoney paradise.

  • ian tinkler

    • February 14th, 2013 12:18

    Breaking news… Today on BBC. Fracking and shale gas will lower the price of oil by about 40% over the next 25 years! What price wind energy now? Role on VE, nothing much more stupid than its council advocates, well done Wills and Ratter, well done indeed. Ref BBC Pricewaterhouse Coopers

  • Chris Ash

    • February 14th, 2013 13:08

    Dr Wills

    That you are proud of being prejudiced against a certain section of society would suggest you are unfit for public office.

  • John Tulloch

    • February 14th, 2013 14:06

    Beer and sandwiches at the Town Hall for Brian Smith, then?

  • Johan Adamson

    • February 14th, 2013 14:38

    Surely the questions are, Dr Wills and Mr or Ms Ash – 1) do you have to be poor to know about poverty? And 2) Are the current government are showing that they do not grasp the circumstances of poverty and is that because they have been educated differently to the majority of society?

  • Johan Adamson

    • February 14th, 2013 14:41

    Why do the lib dems not demand more fair policies of the coalition, surely they do have the power to say we want this or there’s an end to your government? It is surely worse to sit there and do or say nothing?

  • Stewart Mack

    • February 14th, 2013 16:25

    Johan, The answer is in my view simple, regardless of what they might have you believe the liberals are only in the coalition for one thing – to be in government. They do not have nearly the say (or sway!) they would have you believe. It is unfortunately a reality that the Liberal Democratic Party are very much the poor relation in the coalition and, if they rock the boat too much they may well find themselves on the back benches onse more. The SNP entered into a minority Government, I suspect that if push came to shove the Tories would do exactly the same

  • Johan Adamson

    • February 14th, 2013 16:47

    S Mack – But with a minority govt the Tories wouldnt be able to push things through in the same way. The situation just now makes them look weak, which is worse for them as they will never get the chance of govt again, being seen as colluding on Tory policy and not able to stand up for themselves. The Tories would have to make deals which they dont seem to have to do with the Libs, they just roll over.

  • John Tulloch

    • February 14th, 2013 17:30


    The Thatcher era certainly kicked off the “devil take the hindmost” highly capitalistic culture however as far as economic malaise is concerned I expect Thatcherites would be quick to remind us of Dennis Healey’s enforced genuflection at the IMF prior to their coming to office.

    I was thinking of the more modern era in which Blair and Brown, having inherited reasonably robust finances from Ken Clark, deregulated the banks, passed bank regulation to the FSA and began taxing pension fund interest.

    In due course Brown’s much vaunted “Golden Rule” on public spending soon took second place versus his power struggle with Blair, leaving his “end to boom and bust” utterances looking as ridiculous as as his “fifty days to save the planet.”

  • John Tulloch

    • February 14th, 2013 17:51


    The Lib Dems, as I explained above, are trying to ram expensive green taxes and surcharges down the throats of the poor and indeed also the not-so-poor.

    This is because of their and their supporters’ quasi-religious attachment to a belief that humans are causing “dangerous warming” of the earth.

    For those who are genuinely interested, there is a rather splendid exchange of letters between Dr Colin Summerhayes of the Geological Society of London and Prof Bob Carter and Prof Vincent Courtillot of the Global Warming Policy Foundation at “http://www.thegwpf.org/geological-perspective-global-warming-debate/”

  • Calum Irvine

    • February 14th, 2013 19:44

    The Sic have no right to criticise the Governent there doing exactly the same yurt in a smaller scale ,,

  • Joe johnson

    • February 15th, 2013 12:53

    Well said Calum! totally agree!

  • David Spence

    • February 15th, 2013 14:25

    Lets hope this political party for the rich, the Conservatives (aka Tory – the name comes from irish gaelic meaning ‘ outlaw ‘, quite apt I would say – rob the poor to feed the rich ) do not introduce ‘ Light Tax ‘, to which I would not put it past them to do. I guess in some ways Shetland would be marginally better off with this tax rather than a pseudo version of the dreaded poll tax being proposed……mind you, the summer time could possibly be an expensive time of the year……unlike the winter time lol.

  • George Kippets

    • February 15th, 2013 15:12

    Thanks to John Tulloch for the link which does little or nothing to bolster his so-called “arguments”, and which strongly suggests he didn’t bother to read it through. Keep up the good work, John, but don’t give up your day job!

  • Ian Tinkler

    • February 15th, 2013 16:07

    “Gathering these various thoughts together, we conclude that the risk of occurrence of damaging human-caused global warming is but a small one within the much greater and proven risks of dangerous natural climate-related events”
    George Kippets, I ask you ,which bit of this conclussion is too deep for you to undertsand? (http://www.thegwpf.org/geological-perspective-global-warming-debate/”

  • John Tulloch

    • February 15th, 2013 18:40


    I put up the link because I thought it gave a fair representation of the arguments of both sides in the global warming debate for those who “are genuinely interested.”

    My own arguments are up front and open for all to challenge, where are yours?

    Perhaps you are following Brian Smith’s line of “his account is wrong from beginning to end and if you want to know why, buy my book”?

  • John Tulloch

    • February 16th, 2013 14:30


    We are already paying “Light Tax” via the subsidies paid to renewable energy investors which find their way to all of our electricity bills, including those of “the poor.”

    Just because the government doesn’t actually touch the money doesn’t make it any less iniquitous a tax.

    And I’m afraid your socialist comrades led by Ed Milliband, along with the Lib Dems and the “old Bannockburnians” are the foremost proponents of this lunacy.

    At least, the Tories with all their obvious shortcomings, have a considerable body of dissent within their ranks about this.


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