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Coronavirus / Trusts furlough staff due to coronavirus

The swimming pool at the West Mainland Leisure Centre in Aith. Photo: SRT

OVER 200 staff have been furloughed at Shetland’s three major trusts in a bid to cut coronavirus transmission and save money.

The doors have been closed to the public at Shetland Recreational Trust (SRT), Shetland Amenity Trust and Shetland Arts Development Agency since March, with significant loss of income.

The trusts are three of the biggest recipients of funding from Shetland Charitable Trust, along with the “Rural Care Model”, which is also funded by Shetland Islands Council and NHS Shetland and provides for care centres and other care in the comunity.

SRT is claiming 80 per cent of the wages of 100 staff from the government’s Coronavirus Job Retention scheme as is Shetland Arts for 70-odd of its staff. Both organisations are voluntarily making up their staff wages to 100 per cent.

The amenity trust has furloughed 32 of its workers, but chief executive Mat Roberts said that it cannot make up the 20 per cent difference in wages as it “cannot afford it.”

Shetland Amenity Trust chief executive Mat Roberts.

Roberts said that the amenity trust had a different business model from the other trusts and was emerging from a period of making “small” annual losses. It is also looking at the elimination of most of its annual income of £930,000.

Roberts said: “That’s income we generate from being open…it goes to offset core running costs not covered by the council and the charitable trust.”

Shetland Museum, lighthouse accommodation, camping bods and the Croft House Museum have all fallen foul of the virus.

The trust, he said, generated most of its income in the summer months, and with it budgeting for six months of lockdown, most of that would vanish.

Roberts said that some of the 24 amenity trust staff still working were engaged in the end of year audit, while the archaeologist and head of woodlands were also still working remotely.

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Other staff such as archival and curatorial staff are paid by the council.

Roberts said that staff were getting through what work they could, but as this is exhausted, the organisation may have to look at extending the numbers furloughed.

SRT general manager James Johnston said that fortunately for the recreational trust, the lockdown came after it had already closed the doors of its facilities throughout Shetland on 24 March.

It has also coincided with the spring, when footfall at the leisure centres is normally reduced.

Johnston added: “It is important to protect the community…. and it’s important the low paid staff are not facing any hardships. We have tried to do the right thing for staff.

SRT general manager James Johnston.

“We have taken advantage of the government scheme and have decided to top up the 20 per cent.

“We are trying where possible to make sure that where any funding is available from outside Shetland to utilise it.”

Johnston said that the government offer of 80 per cent of staff wages would just about cover the loss of income that the trust projects to lose.

A skeleton staff, mainly leisure centre managers, is meanwhile being retained to keep an eye on the centres and provide essential maintenance and the like as well as planning for eventual reopening.

Johnston said that pools were not being drained as this could result in damage, but temperatures had been turned down to ease fuel bills.

Shetland arts chief executive Graeme Howell could not be contacted, but last night he told BBC Radio Shetland that about 90 per cent of its contracted and “freelance” workforce were furloughed.

He said: “We took the decision to top up, so we are paying 100 per cent of their pay; a lot of that is to do with a lot of the staff are on the real living wage and we are proud to be real living wage employers. I am not sure that cutting their salary by a fifth would have been particularly good for them right now.”

He said that most managers were also furloughed but education staff were still providing an online function.

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