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Education / Vacancies create underspend in children’s services

New headteacher, however, has been recruited for Foula

Lerwick Town Hall. Photo: Shetland News

SHETLAND Islands Council’s children’s services department is expected to be under budget by the end of the financial year as a result of staff and teaching vacancies.

A report presented to the council’s education and families committee at Lerwick Town Hall on Monday highlighted that there was a projected £68,000 underspend in revenue against a budget of over £45.5 million.

The report, from children’s services director Helen Budge, said the key drivers behind the underspend was a drop in expenditure on wages arising from vacant posts.

Budge told councillors that a number of vacancies were in teaching, using the the head teacher post in Foula as an example.

She said that the recruitment process had to be carried out twice before a suitable applicant was found, with the role due to be filled by the end of the year.

Shetland Central councillor Davie Sandison said it was “very encouraging” to hear that children’s services – which covers areas like education and social work – effectively had a balanced budget after half a year.

It has the highest budget of any directorate across Shetland Islands Council.

“It’s a good news story at the moment,” Sandison said.

Recruitment difficulties were also raised in an annual report from Shetland Islands Council’s chief social work officer.

Interim chief officer Denise Morgan wrote that an “ageing population and high employment rates means we are competing for posts within a limited work pool”.

“We have relied on agency staff to help deliver key functions in children’s services and adult care and are actively addressing this. Differences in roles, responsibilities and pay across social work is causing concern and there is a need to try to establish some consistency,” she said.

“We also need to compete with mainland authorities in order to attract staff to Shetland.”

Some councillors were surprised to learn that there was not a unified pay scale for social workers across Scotland, like there is for teachers.

Children’s services director Helen Budge admitted that Shetland Islands Council’s pay for social workers was in the “lower end” compared to other local authorities in Scotland.

Add travel costs onto this, she added, and there is an uphill battle to attract staff to Shetland, with more money available in Aberdeen for example.

Budge confirmed that the issue is something human resources are looking into.

Social work chiefs have been forced into employing agency staff to temporarily fill roles, which Morgan said was a last resort.

Morgan’s report also revealed that the mental health officer service within the local social work team “will become vulnerable” if there are any more vacancies.

Mental health officers (MHO) are registered social workers who have been qualified for at least two years, with the council under a duty to employ a sufficient number.

There are currently 1.5 full-time equivalent social workers and two senior social workers who are qualified as mental health officers, while there are two relief officers based in Aberdeen.

The report presented to councillors stated that no social workers in Shetland have undertaken MHO training since 2017, adding that the service has failed in recruiting to a vacant post.

“The pay scales for mental health officers is below the national average and therefore not attractive to those based on the mainland,” the report said.

“As MHO duties are in addition to the social work role there is also little incentive for local social workers to undertake the training. This situation will be reviewed and addressed as part of workforce planning and development.”

General Election - 12 December 2019