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Council / SIC well placed to respond to second wave of coronavirus, meeting hears

Lerwick Town Hall.

SHETLAND Islands Council (SIC) is well placed to respond to a further wave of coronavirus, a meeting heard on Wednesday morning.

During a meeting of the SIC’s audit committee director of corporate services Christine Ferguson paid tribute to Shetland’s partnership working in response to the initial virus outbreak.

She said a lot of people have been “envious of what has been achieved here in Shetland”.

“We will continue to be well placed,” Ferguson said, adding that the SIC is looking at “lessons learned” from the first outbreak.

It came after a question from south mainland member Robbie McGregor over whether the council had the necessary resources in place to cope with the pressures of a second spike.

Ferguson said the “key issue” was having people on the ground delivering services.

The additional cost pressure of Covid-19 to the council so far stands at over £2 million, with no assurance yet from the Scottish Government that this will be covered.

Conor Healy from external auditor Deloitte highlighted in terms of responding to coronavirus that the council was in a “relatively healthy position” financially compared to other local authorities due to the level of reserves it has.

But he warned that the council does have some financial issues, with a report stating that the SIC accepts that it is “not financially sustainable” going forward.

The meeting heard that Deloitte’s audit of the SIC for the 2019/20 financial year comes with an unmodified opinion – meaning that the annual accounts present a true and fair view of the council’s financial position.

The audit report said the council drew on £21.72 million of reserves in 2019/20, which is up from £15.31 million in 2018/19.

Deloitte said the SIC’s medium-term outlook is “optimistic and has not been reviewed in the year”.

“The council continues to have strong leadership in place,” the report added.

“This has been particularly evident in the response to Covid-19, the streamlined decision making arrangements and the arrangements for developing the council’s recovery plan.”

Audit committee chairman councillor Allison Duncan felt that this year’s report was “very favourable for this council”.

He said in years gone by audit reports have been much more adverse.

But he noted “there are positives and there are negatives”.

The positives included strong leadership and the response to Covid-19, Duncan said, with the negative the finances.

Referring to the draw on reserves, Duncan said: “This can’t continue. We now have to make the necessary savings.

“I don’t want to see us drifting back to the bad old days of 2010.”

The audit report will also go in front of the full Shetland Islands Council this afternoon (Wednesday).