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SIC gives jobs freeze the cold shoulder

SHETLAND Islands Council held back from imposing a recruitment freeze on all new appointments after hearing that staffing levels had risen by 12 per cent in the past three years.

Councillors are struggling to rein in spending at the local authority, which is in the process of identifying £10 million savings for the coming financial year.

Members have agreed to that two working groups will look at how to tailor policy while searching for long term efficiencies.

However councillors were clearly shocked to hear that since they were elected in May 2007 the SIC has recruited 440 full time equivalent staff, adding an extra £12 million to the wage bill.

Services committee chairman Gussie Angus said this was “clearly unsustainable” and called for an “immediate halt in staff recruitment except in exceptional circumstances”.

When infrastructure director Gordon Greenhill suggested that might send out the wrong message to middle management, Mr Angus shot him down in flames, warning him not to “meddle in politics”.

The Lerwick South councillor also highlighted the extra £20 million costs of the council taking on the Shetland Towage pension fund (£8.3 million), the potential legal bill from the failed interdict against the recent Lerwick Port Authority dredging project and the £5.3 million cost of single status.

However members voted down Mr Angus’ proposal after finance director Graham Johnston advised these extra costs had been budgeted for and counselled for a measured approach given the council’s huge role in the Shetland economy.

“I think it’s important we strike a judicious balance in getting on with our work programme and preparing for the future without jumping the gun and starting to slash and burn where it could prove unnecessary to do so,” Mr Johnston said.

“We don’t want to destabilise the economy any further in an already unstable situation.”

Acting chief executive Hazel Sutherland said the extra staff had been mostly taken on in community care to work at the new temporary Montfield care home, outreach services and the independent living project.

Ms Sutherland also agreed with councillor Betty Fullerton’s suggestion that the council consider outsourcing services to the private sector.

Councillor Alastair Cooper said that the government was warning that local government funding would be cut by four per cent over the next few years and said the council had look well into the future to identify long term savings.