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Senior SIC staff cuts are just the beginning

SIC chief executive Alistair Buchan

SCOTLAND’S wealthiest local authority is to save £1 million by stripping out one level of senior management as a precursor to far greater cuts within the organisation.

Shetland Islands Council chief executive Alistair Buchan has announced that 15 senior management posts will be removed as part of the biggest reorganisation of the council for a decade.

Local government unions have warned that staffing cuts will percolate right down through the organisation and that front line services will be affected.

Mr Buchan was brought in last year to improve governance and management at the SIC after a damning report from local government watchdog the Accounts Commission.

Having appointed a clutch of local authority experts to help, his improvement plan is now in full swing with councillors having already agreed a new committee structure in March.

Now the focus is on management, where former Stirling District Council chief executive Keith Yates has devised a new structure with five departments for children, community care, infrastructure, development and corporate services.

Each department will be run by an individual director with a total of 40 managers working beneath them.

These 45 posts will replace the current structure of 75 people including one assistant chief executive, two executive directors, 16 heads of service and 56 managers.

However Mr Buchan said that only 15 actual jobs would go, with all the current postholders being able to apply for the new positions. Some would probably be “matched” into new jobs, while others would have to apply beneath their current grade.

He insisted that the council wanted to avoid compulsory redundancy, but said the financial challenges facing the SIC made the task ahead “extremely urgent”. This exercise alone will save £1 million from the £6 million bill for senior managers.

The chief executive hopes councillors will agree to his plan and appoint the five new directors by July, who will then fill the management posts working directly beneath them.

Mr Buchan said he did not generally believe in major reorganisations, but the financial circumstances in Shetland made it imperative.

The council has already agreed to save £18.5 million from its £131 million budget this year by cutting services and capital spending, with talk of further cuts of at least £26 million next year.

Mr Buchan said: “The community is feeling the pain of change to their services and I don’t think it’s realistic in this day and age to expect the organisation itself not to achieve financial savings from within as a contribution to meeting the extremely serious financial challenges that we have got.”

He said it was vital that the process was carried out in an “objective, transparent and fair” fashion, and called for people “to keep the politics and the personalities right out of this”.

Local government union Unison chairman Brian Smith

He said: “People within the organisation have been through a lot within the last couple of years and I think it’s time for objectivity and professionalism in how we handle this.”

The unions have been in regular talks about the changes since December, but it was only this week that the details of the reorganisation were revealed.

Local branch chairman of local government union Unison, Brian Smith, said that the unions were “resigned” to the fact that the changes were taking place and their main concern was that they were handled fairly.

However he warned that it was inevitable that staff working at lower levels of the organisation would be affected by the need for savings and that public services would undoubtedly be hit in due course.

“The situation that the council finds itself in now is such that it’s clearly only the first stage in a radical reshaping,” Mr Smith said.

“The unions are concerned that the work that’s being done at the top at the moment is going to have to be done by people further down the organisation, because that’s what’s happened everywhere else where this sort of surgery has happened.

“Saving £1 million is not going to solve the problem and if more and more posts are stripped out of the council in the future, then fewer and fewer people on the lower echelons will have to do more and more work. None of the detail of this has even been considered yet.

“And this will inevitably affect the provision of service. People who think that the council is simply inefficient and that people are not working hard enough will find out that is not the case.”

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