The number of social care staff employed by the SIC is to fall by around 10 per cent.
Letters went out last week to 69 staff whose applications for either early retirement or voluntary redundancy were accepted. In addition, around 50 unoccupied posts are to be deleted – taking the total number of social care employees below 900.
It follows what Unison representative Brian Smith described as a “kerfuffle” between the local authority and trade unions over changes to care workers’ rotas earlier this year.
Mr Smith said there were “bound to be implications for the people that are left, and that’s why there was all that kerfuffle about rotas – because the way [the council] dealt with that exacerbated the problem”.
Trade unions have now agreed that there will be a review of the situation in five months’ time to see if any “really intractable problems have arisen” as a result of the job cuts and rota changes.
“We’ve worked that through with them,” Mr Smith said, “but there’s no doubt at all that the council failed in the requirement that it negotiate properly with individuals about that, and certainly the way that it was done was not a good advertisement for the way the council is dealing with the change project in general.”
He added: “Hopefully some lessons will have been learned from all that.”
Delays to making job cuts is one of the chief causes of the £1.1 million spending gap that has sprung up in community care this year.
Interim director Simon Bokor-Ingram, who took on managerial responsibility for the council’s care services in addition to his role as an NHS director, said that from day one SIC managers had been “really working tirelessly” to find savings.
But he admitted it would be “extremely difficult” to make up the budget shortfall in 2013/14. In addition to slow progress on reducing staff numbers, which roughly trebled over the past decade, income from the introduction of new care charges has fallen well short of expectations.
Meanwhile, in line with the inevitable drift towards more sharing of services between the NHS and SIC, the social services committee on Monday backed plans to recruit a joint permanent director of community health and social care.
But councillors remain divided over the need to tie the two organisations together. In June members resisted plans to set up a joint “shadow board” for health and social care, instead asking for more research to be conducted.
With parties at Holyrood all favouring health boards and local authorities pooling their resources where possible, new Scotland-wide legislation is likely to be passed by 2015.
“We’re going to be integrated whether we like it or not,” said councillor Allison Duncan. “Let’s accept that as an island community and see what we can progress. Otherwise, the Edinburgh parliament is going to try and impose… [something that] may not be right for Shetland.”
No councillors seem to object outright to the policy, which could save up to 10 per cent in affected areas thanks to eliminating duplication and sharing premises.
But councillor Billy Fox feels there are “different cultures at play” between local government and the health service, and again urged caution this week.
“I don’t think we need to move forward in a very swift fashion here at all,” Mr Fox said. “We’re looking at a bill that’s still in enactment and is only going to be implemented in two years’ time.
“I actually take issue with this constant barrage that we get, that if we don’t move forward swiftly the government will tell us what to do. We need to measure twice and cut once, and that will get us to a better position.”
Corporate services director Christine Ferguson said it was expected that there would be “much more clarity” on what the legislation might require of local authorities in the spring.