TRADE unions in Shetland are calling for a debate on how the islands’ public services are run after councillors agreed wholesale changes to the local authority’s management structure.
Shetland Islands Council agreed in private on Tuesday to a complete restructuring of senior management that will see the creation of five senior directors and the loss of 15 posts.
Senior staff will be recruited internally for the top five posts and assessed by SOLACE, the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives, before being interviewed by a team of seven councillors.
An attempt by councillor Jonathan Wills to have all the posts advertised externally was defeated by 15:4.
Local government union Unison has warned that the council is heading towards “catastrophe” and could drag the islands into an economic depression.
Branch chairman Brian Smith has called for a community-wide debate to consider the direction the local authority is taking as it plans to cut budgets by up to £27 million over two years.
“Given 3,000 people in Shetland work for the council, anybody can see that removing a quarter of the budget will have an enormous affect not just on the workforce and the services, but people that live in Shetland in general,” Mr Smith said.
“The fact that this has not been spelt out by anyone astonishes me. The chief executive and the councillors are not looking at the big picture.”
He said the council was following its usual course of reorganising itself rather than prioritising its aspirations, except this time it was spending enormous sums of money on consultants.
Former Stirling District Council chief executive Keith Yates has designed the new management structure, and is one of several high powered experts drafted in by chief executive Alistair Buchan, himself on a two year contract to turn the council around following the highly critical report from local government watchdog The Accounts Commission.
Mr Smith warned that Shetland was now in “extreme danger” and a debate was urgently required.
“It looks as if councillors won’t do it, so the community at large will have to do it. I hope that the trade unions in the near future will contribute to that process by making suggestions, but we are not at that stage yet,” he said.
“Given the danger to the economy and the social fabric here, there has to be some discussion about priorities otherwise we will drift towards catastrophe.”