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Education / College merger delay will cost SIC dear

UHI Shetland's Lerwick campus.

THE MERGER of Shetland’s colleges is now expected to only be completed in 2021 – a year later than planned.

The delay means that Shetland Islands Council (SIC) – which funds Shetland College and Train Shetland – is having to budget spending around £1.5 million on the services in 2020/21 despite previously anticipating savings of £1 million a year from the merger.

The decision to merge the college with Train Shetland and the NAFC Marine Centre as a new entity under the UHI umbrella was made in late 2018, but the process has taken much longer than initially expected.

A previous vesting date – when the merger is completed – had been earmarked for the beginning of this year, but that was not met.

The project was expected to save money for the SIC in the long run but due to the delay will now cost the council extra funds.

The process has to undergo consultations, and receive approval from Scottish ministers, before the college can merge into the Shetland Institute.

The merger team has also had to contend with unrest from union EIS over the legal status of the new merged college, with a petition attracting over 450 signatures.

At a meeting of the Shetland College board on Wednesday, chairman councillor Peter Campbell opened by saying:

“A year ago I made a statement that this would be the final time we would have a budget for the following year – we all know what has happened.”

Shetland Islands Council’s finance manager Jamie Manson said the local authority would have to dip into its general fund to plug the £1 million-plus shortfall in Shetland College’s budget in 2020/21.

South mainland councillor George Smith asked what the view was of bodies like the Scottish Funding Council, the University of the Highlands and Islands and the Scottish Government regarding the fact that the council was having to approve expenditure it did not expect to.

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He said the college merger is now likely to be delayed by anything up to 15 months.

Manson confirmed that the funding council would not provide financial support during the traditional phase and would only give funding post-merger.

“It’s very much what it is at the moment,” he said regarding the Scottish Funding Council.

The college board approved the budget proposals for the year ahead, with the matter set to go in front of the full council next week.

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