14th November 2018
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Wishart: Council cannot keep making “cuts at the coalface”

9 comments, , by , in Headlines, News

The council cannot keep making “cuts at the coalface” when it comes education.

That was the warning of the SIC’s education and families committee chairwoman Vaila Wishart, following a school comparison report shown to members today.

The near 200-page document was given to councillors and included a table showing estimates of Scottish council’s net revenue expenditure for 2015/16. Shetland Islands Council’s education budget was 36 per cent of the overall council expenditure, or £40,802,000.

That meant the council was below the national average of 40 per cent, and the third lowest local authority in Scotland based on the percentage spend on education.

Orkney was joint third with 36 per cent, Edinburgh City second from bottom – 32 per cent – and Glasgow City bottom with 31 per cent.

However, the report noted despite the low figure the SIC’s used investment returns from its reserves to “enhance spending across all services”.

Spending on transport was also higher than mainland councils – the highest in Scotland with 19 per cent for roads and transport. Orkney was second with 16 per cent.

Vaila Wishart – "a critical time for education"

Vaila Wishart – “We can’t continue to make cuts at the coalface”

But the low education ranking caused concern with councillors, particularly with the council looking to cut more from its budget in future.

Members were told the children’s services directorate had to find savings of £3.165 million by 2019/20.

In line with directorate savings, the schools/quality improvement service is needed to make savings of about £727,000 in the 2016/17 financial year and £2,5 million by 2019/20.

Though Lerwick south councillor Peter Campbell, worried whether the council could meet such saving targets “without doing any damage”.

Director of children’s services, Helen Budge warned that if the SIC’s school estate was maintained at the same level and savings had to be made, “over the next few weeks and months there will be difficult decisions around quality [of education]”.

Mr Campbell said the council needed to consider how its resources were best spent.

“I think the evidence of the table speaks volumes,” he said.

“We are the third equal lowest spending authority in terms of spending our budget [on education] and we know that we are not confined like Edinburgh and Glasgow to a very limited area.

“We have a range of problems we have to address which we have to finance through our educational budget.”

He believed the council should consider boosting its percentage spend on education.

Committee vice-chairman George Smith also raised issues with the ranking.

“We have, as we keep getting reminded, an expensive model, we keep getting told we have got too many schools,” he said.

“Yet we are the third lowest equal spending authority in Scotland.

“Is that really where we want to be? Is that really what we want to be doing?”

He added: “I think we really need to stop and think; are we as a council, allocating resources appropriately?”

Ms Wishart said the table was “illuminating” and also drew attention to the council’s spend on ferries which other councils did not have have to consider.

But, she said: “The cuts that have been made already [in education] are fairly deep” – assistants had been taken out of classrooms and administration and that had a knock effect on teachers.

“I would suggest that while we are coming to budget setting time that we have to put our minds to what we are going to do about this, because we can’t continue to make cuts at the coalface where it really matters.”

• More in Friday’s Shetland Times.

About Adam Guest

Reporter for The Shetland Times. I have also worked as a senior news reporter at The Press and Journal, The Barnsley Chronicle and as a freelance reporter for The Doncaster Free Press. Alongside news reporting I specialise in music and sports journalism. Pork pie lover.

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9 comments

  1. Donald Sandison

    I understood that there are plans to merge Shetalnd college and the fisheries college to make savings in the education budget. How is this process coming along and will this not realise the necessary savings?

    Reply
    • Robert Duncan

      It is still in process but definitely looks to be happening.

      However, the savings coming from that would be a fraction of what is being sought overall, even in the best case scenario.

      Reply
  2. John Tulloch

    Why are we talking about cutting education spending when SIC is third lowest spender on education (proportion of total) in Scotland?

    Why are we talking about cutting education while hundreds of millions of pounds a year are siphoned off Shetland’s fishing grounds by the EU, courtesy of its Common Fisheries Policy?

    Why are we talking about cutting education while billions of pounds a year are taken out of Shetland’s oil fields and transferred to Westminster?

    Reply
  3. Gordon Harmer

    LET’S CREATE THE IMPRESSION WE’RE BEING CHEATED OUT OF FUNDING BY NOT SPENDING WHAT WE’RE GIVEN.
    £444 million underspend for the year 2013 – 2014.
    £347 million underspend for the year 2014 – 2015.
    That’s £791 million in two consecutive years.
    £70 Million shortfall on education alone this last year, along with a now unsustainable council tax freeze.
    The ball lies with the Scottish government who continually blame Westminster.

    Reply
  4. Johan Adamson

    Im not sure this percentage of spend is really very helpful. We, like Orkney, are an Island authority and so have a bigger variety of things to spend money on, like transport, so as a proportion it might be less than others. What is important is that we are prioritising the right things and spending on what an authority should be spending on, and not putting money into vanity projects or luxuries which we dont need, when education needs more resources.

    Reply
    • John Tulloch

      Johan, we were told, categorically, during the rows about Mareel, that revenue spending and capital spending not interchangeable – as in “east is east and west is west and ne-er the twain shall meet”.

      Now we hear that the new high school will be paid for in annual instalments from the revenue budget.

      How can that be possible?

      And is that the reason why cuts are still being sought in (revenue) education spending?

      Reply
      • Johan Adamson

        Rent or interest on the PFI

  5. John Tulloch

    Gordon, chapter and verse from For Argyll, this year’s underspend is reportedly £350 million!

    http://forargyll.com/?p=101781

    Reply
  6. John Tulloch

    Johan,

    I was under the impression that it was the £19 million contribution from the SIC which would be paid off in revenue instalments, that’s capital spending, is it not?

    “The council will pay its AHS proportion of its £19m chunk of the costs off in revenue instalments over the next 25 years by which time it will own the building. Scottish Futures Trust will foot the bill for the rest. Arrangements for the halls of residence will be more conventional with the council paying its share in fewer instalments.”

    https://www.shetlandtimes.co.uk/2015/07/30/red-letter-day-as-contracts-finally-signed-on-new-ahs-project

    I ask again, is this why we are still talking about cuts in education spending?

    Furthermore, from the above article:

    “Director of children’s services, Helen Budge warned that if the SIC’s school estate was maintained at the same level and savings had to be made, “over the next few weeks and months there will be difficult decisions around quality [of education]”.

    It seems we have come “full circle”. The new AHS was needed to accommodate children from country schools closed to save money, but now we need to close the schools to pay for the new AHS???

    “Keep your eye on the pea while the thimbles move!”

    Reply

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