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Education / SIC rejects and hands back college merger petition

The EIS-FELA petition was handed in to Lerwick Town Hall earlier this month. Photo: Shetland News

SHETLAND Islands Council has returned a petition handed to them by EIS union members earlier this month because of a technicality. 

As the almost 500-signature strong petition voicing concern over the merger of three local further education institutions was addressed to the Scottish Government, and not the council, the SIC said it was unable to consider and discuss the document.

The further education branch of the EIS union fears higher and further education in the isles could be “privatised” as a consequence of council plans to form an unincorporated organisation that would not be subject to the same public scrutiny than an incorporated college.

Convener Malcolm Bell, who had accepted the petition on behalf of the local authority on 7 February, said the council couldn’t respond to the petition “as it specifically calls upon the Scottish Government to take action”.

He added: “Councillors are generally aware of the views held by the EIS and its supporters on the proposed college merger,” councillor Bell said.

“A number of meetings have taken place with union representatives throughout the merger discussions to ensure that their views have been heard.”

The EIS-FELA Shetland College branch said on Tuesday councillors could not ignore the fact that nearly 500 people had signed the petition including most Shetland College staff and students, Train Shetland staff, NAFC staff as well as members of the public.

There were also 200-plus individual postcards expressing concern which were sent to all 22 councillors, the union said.

EIS-FELA has now requested to hold a ‘clinic’ with the SIC to negotiate on relevant changes to terms and conditions, including change of employer.

Following legal advice from law firm Anderson Strathern, the SIC decided in December 2018 that the merged college should be unincorporated.

According to the chairman of the council’s college board, Peter Campbell, this is also the opinion of the University of the Highlands and Islands (UHI) and the Scottish Funding Council.

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