Shetland Islands Council has kicked an 11th hour £5,000 funding application for the island games into the long grass – just as competitors in the flagship event are preparing to head off to Gotland.
Councillors were asked to consider the last minute request at this morning’s policy and resources committee.
But a motion by Theo Smith to offer £10,000 on the understanding that it was a “one-off” was beaten by five votes to three, after Mark Burgess successfully argued that the application be deferred to the next full council meeting.
That came after SIC director of corporate services Christine Ferguson suggested further information may be provided at a later date.
A letter, dated 19th May, was sent to council chief executive Mark Boden from Shetland Island Games Association (Siga) chairwoman Karen Woods.
“Shetland Island Games Association has appreciated financial support from the council in the past, which contributes towards the costs of our competitors’ participation,” the letter stated.
“The last grant assistance available to Shetland Islands Games Association was in 2013. However, competitors in the Western Isles and Orkney still enjoy financial support from their respective councils.
“Whilst we understand the ongoing financial pressures int he public sector in Shetland, we would like to ask the council if they would consider supporting the Shetland team with an equivalent level of financial support given to the Western Isles and Orkney Island Games Associations.”
During the meeting head of finance Jonathan Belford said granting the funding risked leaving the council open to “reputational damage” – particularly following the SIC’s recent history where funding was withdrawn from a range of organisations.
He said the island games team was “already committed to going to Sweden”.
Mr Belford asked whether the committee would consider making a contribution in relation to travel and accommodation and – if they did – identify where the money would come from.
Alastair Cooper raised points about funding from community councils, citing a request to Delting Community Council which had yielded support for two people.
He asked whether the SIC was being asked to provide “retrospective funding”.
Mr Belford replied: “I might choose to agree with you.” However, he said the games had not started yet and the team had not yet traveled to Sweden.
But he added: “This request is very, very late, in relation to the actual planning for the games.”
Allison Duncan said he was not opposed to supporting the games. But he voiced concern that it would “open the floodgates” for other organisations.
Stephen Leask asked whether Mr Belford had a record of the money Siga had received.
“What level of top-up are they looking for in relation to grant assistance?” he asked. He also pondered whether competitors would be “celebrating with champagne or Newcastle brown ale”.
Mr Leask later said members were looking at the “flagship of sporting events”.
“This is not just a local rugby team. It’s probably the biggest event we will see.”
However, the meeting heard Shetland had a high proportion of officials going to Gotland when compared with other island groups.
Mr Duncan pointed to figures which said Shetland had 21 coaches, managers and physiotherapists, while Orkney have 60 competitors and two officials.
“Is there any reason why we should be top-heavy?” he asked.
Mr Belford said that would be a question for the games association.
There was a sense that members were reluctant to put the brakes on support for what amounts to Shetland’s most significant sporting event.
But Theo Smith said the sum being asked was not a big one.
Mr Smith said: “I think we have to realise that this is a prestigious event. I think that we, as a council, should reflect on that. I think we, sometimes, are not very good at projecting Shetland’s image – in this case – abroad. These competitors are going to be ambassadors for Shetland.”
He added that many would be in full-time education or under 18.
Mr Cooper said the organisation had taken too long in coming with its funding request.
“We’ve kent about the island games for a long, long time,” he said.
But Ms Ferguson came forward with a suggestion to members. Stressing that she was not contributing to the debate, she said there was information which may help the decision-making process – particularly around the assistance the council would normally provide young people for their activities outwith the isles.
She said the details could not be provided today, adding it was open to the committee to defer a decision until the full council pending that further information.
Theo Smith put forward his motion that funding not exceeding £10,000 be made available. He said the money should be drawn from an underspend in the 2016/17 budget.
But Mr Burgess preferred bringing it to the full council. “I’d welcome deferment to the council for greater consideration as a community matter,” he said.