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Coronavirus / Government will meet council’s coronavirus costs, finance chief confirms

Lerwick Town Hall. Photo: Shetland News
Lerwick Town Hall. Photo: Shetland News

THE SCOTTISH Government has agreed to cover Shetland Islands Council’s costs associated with the response to the coronavirus pandemic over the last year, a meeting heard on Monday.

Finance manager Jamie Manson told the council’s education and families committee that this commitment came following the Scottish Government proposing its 2021/22 budget earlier this year.

A report presented to the meeting highlighted that the council is to receive nearly £4.8 million from the government to meet Covid costs and loss of income.

Manson said he was confident that all services would have their costs covered.

More details will be provided to a meeting of the policy and resources committee next week.

Over the last year the council’s political leadership has repeatedly expressed a desire for the government to cover the local authority’s coronavirus costs, with concern over the apparent lack of commitment from the government.

Council leader Steven Coutts said the new development was positive news, but he stressed nothing is set in stone until parliament approves the proposed Scottish budget.

“I appreciate the Scottish government is still sitting with a draft budget,” he said.

But Coutts said he was hopeful that the money would cover the cost of services.

Committee chairman George Smith paid tribute to the work which has been undertaken regarding pressing for funding.

He also complimented officers who have collated the costs and loss of income associated with Covid for each department. “It’s no mean job,” Smith said.

A report to members showed that there is a projected total net cost of £1.666 million on children’s services from the coronavirus pandemic in 2020/21.

This includes a projected £465,000 spend on day cleaners in schools and officers and £685,000 on additional staffing.

A total of £225,000 is expected to be spent on cleaning materials and PPE.

There is expected to be reduced expenditure of nearly £500,000 on staff vacancies and delays in recruitment, while £383,000 could be saved on school and hostel meal supplies.

However, there is also a projected total loss of income of £751,000, with the Islesburgh cafe providing the largest portion of this (£313,000).

The report said that the Scottish Government has already committed £1.1 million to Shetland Islands Council’s children’s services in areas like digital inclusion, additional teaching and support staff, free school meals and mental health.

When taking coronavirus out of the equation, children’s services is expected to report an underspend of £1.223 million by the end of the year when it comes to revenue.

The key drivers for this are staff vacancies in children’s social work and quality improvement/schools, and staff reconfigurations within the early learning and childcare service.