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Politics / Draft budget ‘lacks detail’ on what will be coming isles’ way

Tough funding climate set to continue for health board

NHS Shetland will continue to face a “challenging position” despite an increase in funding outlined by the Scottish Government in its draft budget today.

Under the draft spending plans announced by Scottish finance secretary Derek Mackay on Wednesday afternoon, the isles’ health service would receive an extra £1.2 million (2.4 per cent) for 2019/2020.

Mackay said that the budget proposals had to be taken in the contest of Brexit, with a “no-deal” meaning the budget would have to be revisited. It will also have to pass intense scrutiny and negotiation before it is passed.

The budget contained a commitment to “seek to reduce passenger and car fares on ferry services to Orkney and Shetland”.

It also commits to “maximising the return from the oil and gas sector, within the context of reducing emissions”.

And it speaks of continued support for an ultra deep water port at Dales Voe and maximising opportunities for decommissioning in the North Sea through the Decommissioning Challenge Fund.

Despite NHS Shetland’s proposed increase from £49.4 million to £50.6 million the organisation anticipates costs will increase by £2.7 million “as a result of inflation, nationally agreed pay awards, new and increased prescribing of drugs and the impact of increasing demand on services as our population ages”.

A statement from NHS Shetland said: “This means, along with our current costs already being £2.4m more than our budget, that NHS Shetland will need to reduce our current costs by around £ 3.9m if we are to deliver a balanced budget.

“As has been previously described by the board this is an extremely challenging position and we are continuing to look at what we would need to do to deliver this.

“We are currently planning to present a budget to our board meeting in February and will need to continue to work with the Scottish Government, staff, partners and very importantly the local community if we are to create sustainable services for the future.”

NHS Shetland also expects to receive some further funding to support a range of national priorities such as primary and community care, mental health and access targets.

MSP Tavish Scott said that there was insufficient detail in the spending plans to say whether they merited support, but much more detail should emerge in the months prior to its final hearing.

Scott said the he was “disappointed” there seemed to be nothing to address the long-running issue of teachers pay and conditions in the document.

He also said that the budget controversially awards a near £10 million increase to Highlands and Islands Airports Ltd, which has just introduced a parking charge at Sumburgh Airport and is reviewing its water rescue provision at Sumburgh and other isles’ airports.

Scott added: “So much for them needing to raise money by introducing car park charges.”

Inter-island ferry support, which has been the subject of intense negotiation between Transport Scotland and Shetland Islands Council, remains static at £10.5 million for all Scotland’s island groups, and there is no certainty the council will get the £7.9 million it has been looking for.

Council leader Steven Coutts said: “The Finance Secretary has made some very interesting commitments in his speech today.

“The details, however, will only fully emerge over the coming days and weeks and obviously we will now look closely at what these will mean for our own spending.”