SHETLAND Islands Council is gearing itself up to saving £8.4 million through cutbacks during the next financial year.
Closing schools, leaving posts vacant, cutting back on overtime, increasing charges and slimming down services will all contribute to seven per cent savings across the board.
Councillors have already agreed cuts of £7.85 million during a series of private meetings with senior staff over the past two months, which include closing six schools and major efficiencies in children’s services.
Proposals to save a further £550,000 will be debated on Thursday. Councillors have drawn up a list of options that total £1.68 million, from which they must choose where the axe will fall.
These options include deleting four currently vacant social car posts; rationing care at home packages; a 10 or 15 per cent increase in ferry fares; changes to the Whalsay ferry service; reduction in road repairs; stopping the gravestone repair service; charging for housing support workers and not providing free dog litter bags.
Once agreed the savings will help the council fill the £18.5 million deficit it faces in the coming year, as income from central government and the oil industry combine with growing service demands to squeeze public spending.
A further £8 million will be met through a £4 million cut in capital spending and by drawing £4 million from the SIC’s oil funded reserves.
The remaining £2 million will come from an increase in capital spending grant from the Scottish government.
This will be the most coordinated effort the oil rich authority has ever carried out to save money since the flow of wealth from Sullom Voe and its global investments started to dry up over the past decade.
New chief executive Alistair Buchan, who was brought in to discipline the authority following highly critical reports from local government watchdog The Accounts Commission, is leading a programme of fundamental change in the way the council operates.
He hopes that changes in senior management and committee structures will cascade down through the authority making it possible to run a much tighter ship in the years ahead.
Mr Buchan warned that as soon as next year’s budget is agreed, work will start on planning for the next two years where savings are likely to be even greater.
However Shetland remains far better off than any other local authority in Britain, its financial cushion from hosting the oil industry for the past 30 years allowing it to avoid the drastic cuts being experienced on the mainland.
The biggest proposed saving of around £1.5 million will come if the closure of six schools goes ahead this coming year, a process which is currently meeting staunch community resistance.
This saving is already open to question as the council has already agreed not to close one of the six schools, in Skerries, and the Scottish government has called in December’s decision to close Scalloway junior high school.
The communities in Uyeasound, Burravoe, North Roe and Sandness are fighting hard to keep their schools open and questioning the education authority’s claims about how much money the closures will really save.
Other savings already agreed include:
•£1 million less on buying in goods and services;
•Major efficiencies in children’s services saving almost £400,000;
•Not filling two posts at the Gremista landfill after staff retire;
•Making 30 retained burial officers redundant in 2012/13;
•Closing the public toilets at Grantfield and Clickimin, in Lerwick;
•Cutting back on winter road gritting and general road maintenance;
•Reducing the Foula ferry operation and cutting one return flight to Fair Isle;
There will be a reduction in evening classes, grants for business and recreation and overtime for cleaners and toilet attendants.
The grass cutting service and free compost bins will go completely and people will receive half the number of bin bags they do at the moment.
Investments are to be made in enabling people to work from home and there is a proposal to raise £10,000 by allowing advertisements to grace the inter island ferries.
The £100,000 being paid to the SIC by French oil and gas giant Total as they build their processing plant north of Sullom Voe oil terminal is also being added to the overall package.
Mr Buchan said the package was “a judicious balance between making progress while not severely disrupting the Shetland economy”.
He added that it would require resolve and close collaboration between councillors and officers to ensure the savings targets were met, and if any one measure was dropped it would have to be compensated for by something else.
He also warned that next year’s savings would be even greater, with £12.5 million already targeted for 2012/13, and £16 million in 2013/14.
The council will meet in March to discuss how to save £4 million from its capital programme.