THE LEADER of Shetland Islands Council (SIC) says the Scottish Government’s proposed budget for the next financial year could have “serious ramifications for our community”.
The draft budget settlement shows that the SIC is facing the largest percentage cut to its revenue funding in real terms of any council in Scotland.
It also includes £5 million in ‘fair funding’ for running Shetland’s inter-island ferries, the same as the last budget – but this is some way off the near £8 million which was asked for.
The draft budget also includes £5.5 million for Orkney’s ferries, which is the same as 2018/19.
Coutts and SIC chief executive Maggie Sandison, along with colleagues from Orkney, met islands minister Paul Wheelhouse on Thursday.
Speaking after the meeting, the leader said the council will continue to lobby the government for a better deal ahead of the budget being set in stone next year.
“We are extremely concerned about the impact this proposed settlement will have on our community,” Coutts said.
“This cut compounded by the failure of government to deliver fair funding of our ferry service will have serious ramifications for our community.
“We are conscious this is a draft budget and we will continue to engage with government to provide a fair settlement. It is crucial for our community.”
Coutts added that the SIC chiefs reminded Wheelhouse of the “critical nature” receiving the full ferry funding.
“We also reminded him of commitments given by finance secretary last year that a mutually acceptable solution would be found,” the councillor added.
“We are clear what is proposed does not meet that commitment and we require fair funding of our ferry service.”
Figures from the Scottish Parliament’s independent information centre showed that the SIC is facing a 2.2 per cent cut in real terms from its last settlement, with its provisional pay-out for 2019/20 sitting at £84.2 million in real terms.
When ring-fenced grants are not included, the cut moves up to 3.9 per cent.
Shetland, however, has the highest provisional revenue allocation per head of population in Scotland at £3,713.
The SNP government needs the support of another party before it can pass its budget through the Scottish Parliament, meaning ministers may be open to compromise to push it through.