Not so much more jam (Gary Robinson)

I was surprised to read in the local media recently that MSP Mike Mackenzie is openly suggesting that Shetland is about to receive an increased cash settlement from the Scottish government. While this would be most welcome if true, sadly, the opposite is the case as I’ll explain.

I have to say I’m disappointed that the MSP from Argyll didn’t speak to me about any of the issues he raises. Had he done so, then he would have known that Shetland Islands Council’s income has fallen since 2010 when we received £95.566 million and, in spite of a growing population, it continues to fall.

According to figures I received recently from finance minister John Swinney, our grant next year (2015/16) will be £85.382m. When inflation and the changes to the police service’s funding are taken into account, this represents a 19.8 per cent real terms reduction in the council’s spending power.

Mr Mackenzie goes on to speak of “more jam tomorrow”, but again his optimism for Shetland’s economy doesn’t translate into hard cash for council services.

Sullom Voe is destined to get busier again and we anticipate that the harbour will generate surpluses from 2016 onwards; however, this won’t see a return to 1980s levels of income. Industry analysts predict throughput that might result in a £4m surplus or, in other words, enough to meet a one year two per cent pay award for our staff and deal with the upcoming changes to National Insurance contributions that the council will suffer from.

Similarly, the £2m or so of income that we expect when the Total gas plant comes on stream would only pay for last year’s and this year’s one per cent pay award.

The MSP from Argyll goes on to suggest that we will benefit from increased council tax should our population increase as predicted, in respect of 2,900 renewable energy jobs that may come to the islands.

While it’s true that our income would increase, this needs to be put into context. Our council tax rate is one of the lowest in the country and consequently it only makes up seven per cent of the council’s income, so even if every one of those 2,900 additional jobs resulted in someone building a house in Shetland we’d only receive an extra £2.3m of income, equivalent to less than one year’s worth of inflation. We’ve respected the Scottish government’s freeze on council tax for seven consecutive years now.

Mr Mackenzie is right in saying that our grant-aided expenditure is impacted upon by population; however, this isn’t the only indicator used when calculating our grant. That’s why, in spite of our growing population, we’ve been told by John Swinney that our grant, along with 11 other local authorities in Scotland, will go down next year – in Shetland’s case, by around £1.4m.

It’s less clear what will happen beyond that, but the best estimates suggest we could be in line for two consecutive years of reductions with around five per cent predicted for each year in real terms.

Another indicator used to determine our annual funding is pupil numbers. The number of schools doesn’t come into the equation so we spend more and get less, on the basis of this indicator, than the Western Isles which has more pupils and fewer schools than we do.

The 8.35 per cent population increase in Shetland predicted by the General Register Office for Scotland (GROS) 2012-2037 isn’t likely to help us either when it’s compared to the 8.78 per cent prediction for Scotland as a whole.

This comparative reduction in population would result in yet further reductions to our grant under the current formula.

The GROS predicts a 2.79 per cent decline in those aged 0-15 in Shetland and an 18.3 per cent reduction in Mr Mackenzie’s area of comparison – Argyll & Bute – over the same period.

Meanwhile, the prediction is that the number of people over 75 in Shetland will more than double, increasing by 130.77 per cent. In Argyll & Bute that statistic is 72.7 per cent.

So I would argue that by failing to shift resources from an area of decreasing demand (education) to an area of increasing demand (care for the elderly) we would only be storing up trouble for ourselves in the future.

I for one wouldn’t like to be a pensioner in need of care in Arrochar in 20 years’ time.

Gary Robinson

17 Burside,



Add Your Comment
  • Ali Inkster

    • June 4th, 2014 15:57

    Do you still think it would be too greedy of us to play the oil card? you are out of your depth Gary you with the rest of the council should resign and let some folk with a grain o midder wit an backbone sort out this mess you have created, BEFORE IT IS TOO LATE.

    • Alex Zane

      • June 5th, 2014 8:11

      Who would you suggest Ali?

      • Ali Inkster

        • June 5th, 2014 18:37

        Is du sayin dir is nae wan in Shetland we ony wit Alex. but ta be honest me dugs cud dae a better job dan da current crop.

    • John Tulloch

      • June 6th, 2014 9:59

      For Shetland to expect to keep all the oil £billions would, indeed, be “greedy” since we would have to use some of it to pay for military security and other facilities from nearby larger powers and I’m unsure anyone is calling for ‘keeping the lot’.

      As I understand it, full independence is Ali’s recommended opening position for negotiations.

      Local control of even a fraction of Shetland’s resources will provide plenty of money, including a £billion submarine cable for those who want to throw money away, for all the facilities and services Shetlanders might reasonably wish for.

      For the SIC to surrender their best negotiating card at the ‘kick-off’ amounts to a spectacular own goal hat trick before their opponents got a kick of the ball.

  • Ali Inkster

    • June 4th, 2014 17:44

    This petition is available in most rural shops but for those of you that live in Weisdale you can sign it online.

    • John Tulloch

      • June 6th, 2014 6:54

      Congratulations, Ali, another chance for those who missed the last opportunity (ROTI petition) to make their presence felt.

      I won’t sign as I think it’s intended for residents and I’m not resident.

      Don’t miss it this time this time, Shetland.

      • Ali Inkster

        • June 6th, 2014 9:46

        Thanks John but sign du, it is for concerned Shetlanders wherever they may live, you will still have family in Shetland and it is their future that I am fighting for.

  • Brian Smith

    • June 4th, 2014 18:11

    Ali, I’m still no convinced that waving Stuart Hill’s book at George Osborne will mak him hand over yun oil revenue.

    • John Tulloch

      • June 5th, 2014 9:25

      That’s true, Brian, but a local independence referendum which voted for independence would.

      That’s what the Referenda On The Islands (ROTI) petition was about.

      Did you sign the petition?

      Did any of the most vehement opponents of the wind farm sign it?

      Did any of the most vehement opponents of the rural school closures sign it?

      Shetland needs a formal independence campaign as it had before when, if memory serves me right, a majority of councillors were in the Shetland Movement.

      And before any clown says it, I can’t organise one, sitting in Arrochar.

    • Ali Inkster

      • June 6th, 2014 9:47

      Neither do I brian, especially when you undermine the facts with your own brand of fiction.

  • John Anderson

    • June 4th, 2014 21:02

    A very informative and patiently explained letter from Cllr Robinson. An electioneering MSP should find out the facts before sticking his oar into Shetland’s affairs. It is a great relief to have resolute and intelligent people in charge, who can withstand the ill-informed and abusive personal remarks that are flung at them.

    • Ali Inkster

      • June 5th, 2014 7:24

      John we are subsidising the UK to the tune of £billions every year. The cooncil and in particular Gary have shown absolutely no resolution in redressing this imbalance of payments. And as for intelligence, don’t make me laugh. Did you miss his interview where he stated that playing the oil card would be greedy?

  • Marina Thomason

    • June 5th, 2014 7:31

    Gary Robinson says that “Another indicator used to determine our annual funding is pupil numbers. The number of schools doesn’t come into the equation so we spend more and get less……….” The financial picture remains extremely unclear. By closing secondary departments within JHS’s you don’t get rid of the school or the associated costs, it still has to exist for nursery and primary pupils. Primary schools with less than 70 pupils attract extra money or GAE of £2,600 to £2,900 per pupil (Commission on Delivery of Rural Education). So number of pupils and number of schools are in fact linked directly to the revenue grant because if you start amalgamating schools chances are you will of course have less schools but they will have more than 70 pupils in them so the SIC will no longer get the extra money from the Scottish Government.
    I have studied GROS figures before and looked at both projections and actuals for comparison (in relation to birth rates in Shetland) and have found them to be at times very wide of the mark. Unfortunately their crystal ball is no more accurate than anyone else’s. An increasing elderly population is a national problem but I would be very interested to know why they are predicting that in 20 years time Shetland’s over 75’s will increase by 130.77 per cent but Argyle & Bute only by 72.7 ? Does someone know something we don’t?

    • Ali Inkster

      • June 5th, 2014 18:33

      That’s because of the rate that we are importing pensioners.

  • John Tulloch

    • June 5th, 2014 7:56

    Gary, I am a pensioner in Arrochar, right now.

    Being fortunate to have an occupational pension and having saved hard to pay off our mortgage, we are in a position in which our modestly well-off estate is under threat from the tax man, should we require care in one, ten or twenty years’ time.

    That is exactly how it will be for pensioners in Shetland in twenty years time.

    Oh, yes it is! I have first hand knowledge of a case in Shetland in which, having originally been told by the council that Shetland Charitable Trust (SCT) would pay £400 per week towards care home costs, when that care became necessary a few years ago the story had changed and no support at all was available from SCT.

    “Oh, whit’s happint…er….we wir telt…..etc.?

    “Oh, Im sorry bit da Inland Revenue is seeminly pitten a spoke ita dat an da Finance Dept said at hit wid hae ta be stoppit.”

    “Oh, dat’s too bad!”

    “Yis, Im sorry aboot dat.”

    So, Gary, how exactly are the Shetland pensioners needing care in one,met nor twenty years’ time going to be any better off than those in Arrochar.

    And the tax man has become considerably more aggressive towards tax evasion since then.

    I confess I was tempted at the time to raise a FOI Act request to see the correspondence between SIC Finance from the tax man, perhaps, I’ll be able to find the time now that I’m a “pensioner in Arrochar”?

  • David Spence

    • June 6th, 2014 21:58

    ‘ And the tax man has become considerably more aggressive towards tax evasion since then. ‘

    Not for the rich and well off John.

    If this vile Tory Government (and previous Governments) does anything to claw back taxes which are due from those people in a position in which they can avoid paying tax (and I suspect the vile Tories will do nothing……..they do not want to hurt their business chums, do they?) then we would be better off by atleast £50 billion……..but as said………like many politicians…….what they say and what they do are entirely two different things…….and in most cases the opposite.

    I find it quite hypocritical that a politician can get a prison sentence for claiming expenses (tax payers money) but people who avoid paying tax, a certain individual who was part of a trashy, talentless pop band, to the tune of £20 million does not even get a slap on the wrist……..because they are a buddy of Mr David Cameron……………no wonder people are angry at our political system.

    • John Tulloch

      • June 8th, 2014 14:35

      I’m referring to the behaviour of the tax man, David, not the Tories or any other demons you may nurture, but what the heck?

      Not cracking down on tax evasion for the well-off?

      What about the crackdown on offshore investments, Swiss bank accounts, etc?

      The point, David, which you seem to have missed, was that if Shetland Charitable Trust (SCT) was told several years ago by the tax man (around the time that all SCT money was earmarked for Viking Energy) that paying £400 per week per person, or, indeed, anything towards long term care for the old and infirm was not to be allowed then, given the renewed vigour of the tax man’s aggression towards all tax evasion schemes, we need not expect a reversal of his rejection of paying charitable money to help long term care.

      If it was stopped five years ago it won’t be allowed in the foreseeable future.

      I’d appreciate it if you resist the temptation to dilute this important point with a lot of tripe about the Tories, global corporate, or anyone else.

      I’d really quite like to see the correspondence between the SIC and the tax man about the £400 pppw, perhaps, the council will be good enough to publish it?

  • Duncan Burgess

    • June 7th, 2014 22:13

    When you vote on Monday. I hope you have at least the smallest consideration for the people of the rural communities. You do not seem to the see how important the Junior Highs are and how little you will gain from closing them. (but really how much you will lose)
    Do you seriously want people traveling for over 2hrs? For some this will be much more.
    Do you want packed classes with no space to learn?
    Do you want to get rid of some of the best schools in the country? (and that is something you can not deny)
    Destroy the communities?
    and much more.

    These consultations have already harmed pupils.

    I ask you to really consider this,
    Duncan Burgess
    Sandwick Junior High School


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