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.
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.