Councillors have today agreed a “balanced budget” despite hefty cuts in the settlement from the Scottish government that sees the SIC grant down about 5.1 per cent compared with some other Scottish council grant cuts of 1.5 per cent.
The budget agreed by the SIC includes a mandated freeze in council tax, £1m to be spent specifically on adult social care and maintaining a nationally agreed pupil/teacher ratio. Breaching any of these conditions, which apply to all Scottish local authorities, would see the council’s money chocked back by another £1.5m.
The council’s capital grant has seen the biggest reduction from £7.363m for 2015/16 to £5.535m in 2016/17, although another £1.25 million will be added to this over the course of three years.
SIC finance executive manager Jonathan Belford told the council that “we as a local authority have received the biggest cut, the worst that any local authority will receive for 2016/17. But that will get worse if we do not accept the conditions of the grant.”
Altogether, the council has been left with a £9.3m hole to fill when reduced grants and less than expected income from Shetland Gas Plant are offset against increased wages. Mr Belford said it had taken a major effort to create a budget based on these figures. This had been done by reducing the costs of services and contingencies and increasing income from SIC resources.
This includes a two per cent increase in council rents and an additional £1 a week increase in one and two bedroom properties.
“I am hugely disappointed that a cash increase from Westminster has translated into a £350m cut [across all local authorities] from the Scottish government.” GARY ROBINSON
The figures are worse than those contained in finance secretary John Swinney’s December announcement once extra “detail” emerged about what exactly each council will be awarded.
Leading the debate on the budget SIC leader Gary Robinson said that he did “not believe anyone in this room has any illusions about how difficult this will be for this council and this community.”
Mr Robinson added: “I am hugely disappointed that a cash increase from Westminster has translated into a £350m cut [across all local authorities] from the Scottish government.”
He blamed the reduced budget on the failings of centralising Police Scotland and an expensive failed NHS computer system. He said it was clear the SIC had suffered since the “fine detail” had emerged and that Shetland’s settlement had put the lie to headlines of much lesser cuts being imposed elsewhere.
But he congratulated the council on working hard to make the books balance despite the financial pressures being faced.
The council resisted an attempt to have a £6m replacement ferry for Papa Stour removed from the Budget Book for 2016/17. Mr Robinson said it was essential the Scottish government be presented with the financial challenges faced by the council.
An amendment tabled by North Isles councillor Gary Cleaver to have the replacement Eric Gray Centre removed from the budget and put through the procedural “Gateway” process was later withdrawn in view of the “mood in the chamber”.
• More on the budget in Friday’s Shetland Times.