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Unions condemn SIC savings plans

SHETLAND Islands Council are proposing to slash almost £30 million from its annual budget over the next two years, cutting services and making staff redundant.

Unions have condemned the plans as cutting too far and too fast, as all 22 councillors prepare to debate the proposals early next month.

The original target of saving £26 million would be exceeded by £3 million if councillors agree to the suggestions, which have only been discussed so far by senior councillors on the executive committee.

Two thirds of the proposed savings would be made on front line services, however the council has yet to reveal the detail of where the £19 million would come from. A further £10 million would come from efficiencies.

In an advertising feature due to be published in the Shetland Times on Friday at a cost of £2,100, the council lists a wide range of services that will be affected.

Savings include:

cutting fuel poverty grants;
scaling back winter gritting and snow clearing;
reducing road and building maintenance;
changes to waste collection and street cleaning;
changing out of school services for children, including nursery services;
a 10 per cent cut in grants to voluntary groups and reducing conservation grants; and
changes to daycare services, meals on wheels, and some care centres.

They also state that they would “increase charges for some services”, connect Edward Thomason and Taing House care homes in Lerwick and integrate care services in the north isles with day care on Yell and permanent care on Unst.

Chief executive Alistair Buchan is to lead an efficiency drive which claims to have identified £5.4 million in savings.

These include cutting £2 million from the £91 million wage bill through changes to terms and conditions, and a £500,000 cut in overtime.

A working group also promises to find £1.7 million savings on the ferries budgets despite fuel price increases, which will mean fewer ferries and higher fares.

Fifteen senior managers are to go, some functions will be centralised, some contracts would also be centralised and council properties will be sold.

Also:

£700,000 could be saved on procuring services from outside the council;
reducing street lighting would save £25,000;
council vehicle use could be cut by £100,000;
£200,000 would be save don cleaning buildings;
fewer consultants would be used.

Council leader Josie Simpson said the savings were identified after a series of public meetings and consultation with staff last autumn. They will be debated at a special council meeting on 9 February.

Mr Simpson said the council faced “unprecedented reductions” to its budget over the next five years.

“We’ve decided to use The Shetland Times to respond in order to quickly get the information out to as many people as possible,” he said.

The move was slammed by branch chairman of local government union Unison, Brian Smith, who said that when he last met management on Monday the proposed cuts were only £27.5 million.

“I am quite surprised it’s gone up by £1.5 million in the last two days,” he said. “As the unions have said right from the beginning it’s far too much far too fast.”

He said the council had wasted time consulting the public before they had figured out the impact cuts would have on the community, and then failed to come back to the public with their proposals.

“The whole thing has been a disaster from beginning to end and if they go ahead with this in February it will be disastrous for Shetland.

“Councillors are not going to be able to persuade the general public no matter how many expensive glossy publications they put out.

“They should have made a decision a year ago to consider these cuts over a longer period and deal with them without this last minute panic and I am afraid that’s what’s happening now.”

He said the council had not discussed these proposals with the unions. “They are making proposals which will apparently result in compulsory redundancies, with very little information, at the last minute. It’s chaos.

“The council should stop in its tracks, reconsider these proposals, decide what they want to do over a longer period.

“They are proposing to do this over two years. They should extend that period to three or four years, do it without panic and discuss it properly with the trade unions and then the council might be able to make decisions I suspect it’s not going to be able to make in February.”

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