Council on track to make major savings
Shetland Islands Council is set to save about £11 million pounds from its budget this financial year including £5.5million from its general fund for services.
Councillors at the SIC’s policy resources committee, and later the full council meetings were given the news on Wednesday.
The projected saving of £5.523 million on the council’s general fund is largely attributed to savings in children’s services and community care departments. The council is expected save £11.254 million overall.
The council’s general fund also includes money for corporate services, infrastructure and development. It forms part of a revenue saving of £7.480 million. Capital savings of £2.105 million also make up the overall figure.
At the policy and resources meeting social services committee chairman Cecil Smith warned about spending cuts impacting on services.
He said the savings were good news but he had a huge concern about “forcing directors into efficiency savings” and the impact continued savings would have in future.
Afterwards, he said: “We are still delivering the service [social services] but we are having to put a lot of pressure on staff to deliver the service and we are having an issue recruiting.” That issue had improved, he said, but staff had been asked to take on extra shifts.
With an ageing population and demand increasing, he added “I do have concerns, that we never know what’s on the other side of the horizon and could come at us some day.
“I think there’s a corporate approach to this, not just social services having to make savings.”
Mr Smith said he would like to see more people coming back into “this very valuable service”.
Shetland’s economy was “booming at the moment” but Mr Smith would like to see the council taking on workers through apprenticeships. Three years ago school leavers went to college to do training in social services and a number of them remain with the council, he said.
But competing industries, including the oil and gas industry, was offering larger hourly rates of pay. He encouraged people to make enquiries about the service and employment in the council.
SIC political leader Gary Robinson said he was encouraged by the predicted saving. But he said the failure to recruit in children’s services and social care was contributing to the savings figure.
“It’s £5.5 million less that will be taken out of reserves if we manage to hold that figure through to the end of the financial year.
“Clearly we are still expected to have made savings next year in order to balance our budget but the progress that’s been made this year will help offset the savings that are required next year.
“Some of those will be savings that have been brought forward.”
The biggest issue the council faced back in 2012 was getting the finances under control, and the council had come a long way towards doing that, he said.
But savings and impact on services was something that needed to be monitored, said Mr Robinson.
“I think the big issue now for the council is around the retention and the recruitment of staff in the current climate.
“I think it’s actually vacancies and our inability to recruit particularly in social care and social services that’s impacting now.
“We have the budget there, we could recruit people but we are just not getting the people coming forward for jobs and that’s particular in social care but also in social work as well and I think that’s why its impacted across children’s services and the social services sector.”
Apprenticeships was something the council was looking at, he said.
“We certainly already have a high number of apprentices in Shetland as a whole and within the council but it’s definitely the case we would encourage folk to work up through [the council].”
“I think we are doing everything we possibly can,” he added.
“But when the unemployment figure in the islands is at or below one per cent it’s difficult to see where the people are going to come from.
“Again this is another area where the lack of affordable housing is impacting on us.
“We are trying to address that as quickly as we can and we’re supporting Hjaltland Housing Association in the work that they’re doing.”
But Mr Robinson said, when it came to building houses, there wasn’t a quick fix and “it’s going to take a bit of time”.