News / SIC leader rebuts fears over job cuts

SIC leader Gary Robinson.

LEADERS of Shetland Islands Council have denied union claims that it plans to cut staffing levels by up to one quarter in a piecemeal break up of council services.

This week local government union Unison wrote to its 970 SIC members telling them they were being excluded from discussions over the staffing implications of massive budget cuts at the local authority.

However on Wednesday council leader Gary Robinson said the council was committed to working with trade unions to find a fair and balanced approach to managing down jobs and services.

Unison branch chairman Brian Smith had written to union members on Tuesday saying councillors and directors were openly talking of between 600 and 1,000 jobs being eliminated.

However Robinson insisted the council was committed to using all avenues to avoid compulsory redundancies and urged the unions to assist in the process.

He said a new working group had been set up along the lines of the one which successfully negotiated a single status deal three years ago, in which he had been directly involved.


He added the name of the new group had been changed from “efficiencies partnership” to a “human resources partnership” to make it less threatening to union negotiators who expressed concern about the title.

Two unions, Unite and GMB, had not attended the last meeting and Robinson urged them to return to the table.

“It’s really important that we work with the unions and find a way through the difficulties that we have,” he said.

So far 260 jobs had gone across the council “without any outcry” since it agreed a strategy of cutting spending by more than £30 million over two years.

“I am confident we can keep reducing posts through natural wastage without getting to the point where we need to use compulsory redundancies.”

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Refuting claims the unions were being frozen out of negotiations, he said the working group was scheduled to meet early in November ahead of a series of seminars with directors over how savings will be managed.

The big departments managing schools, social care and transport face the greatest challenge, but only the development department is looking for 35 per cent cuts, as it has the largest discretionary budget for loans and grants that do not affect jobs.

In response to union concerns about the pace of change, Robinson warned: “The reality is if we don’t keep the pace up we will arrive at the end of this council with no reserves left and when we are paying staff from reserves, if we have no reserves we can’t pay staff.

“That’s the stark outlook and I think the stance this council is taking towards its budget is a very mature one. We are certainly looking to.


“Failing to save as much of the reserves as we possibly can I would argue will put more jobs at risk than dealing with the difficulties that we have now in a timeous fashion.”

Meanwhile SIC chief executive Mark Boden issued a statement saying that he too was committed to working with staff and unions “as this difficult process goes forward”.

“The council obviously faces some hard decisions over the next few years, and there may well be staffing implications following on from those.

“However, it is disappointing to note the figure of 600-1,000 job losses quoted by Unison; this is entirely speculative at this stage, and can only serve to cause unnecessary alarm among our staff and the wider community.

“Staff are working hard on developing proposals for members which will enable the council to deliver its adopted financial plan, and sustainable services to the Shetland community.”

On Tuesday, Unison published a comment from Boden saying: “What remains to be discussed with the trade unions is the detail of which staff, where, when and how they would exit their posts.”

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