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Council / Further concern over number of vacancies in council

CONCERNS were raised this week over the number of vacancies within Shetland Islands Council (SIC).

It comes as the council reported an underspend of £2 million over the last financial year due to vacancies.

However, the council was forced to fork out for temporary agency staff to allow services to continue.

The issue was raised at a meeting of the SIC’s policy and resources committee on Monday.

A report from corporate services director Christine Ferguson highlighted that an internal survey carried out in January showed staff were finding the council a good place to work.

But Shetland South councillor George Smith said that this is set against a number of vacancies across the organisation.

SIC education and families committee chairman George Smith.
Councillor George Smith.

“Therefore I think we rapidly need to turn our workforce strategy into meaningful workforce plans that grasp the nettle around the challenges that we’re going to have,” he said.

Smith added that he was “really, really concerned” about the amount of unfilled posts, including in areas like social care and the school estate.

“We are seeing it pretty much across the piece.”

Smith said there is a challenge to provide housing and make Shetland attractive for people moving from south to take up jobs.

Shetland Central member Davie Sandison, meanwhile, said that sensible recruitment should lead to saving money on agency staff.

He described that as something which should be a “major objective” for the year ahead.

Council leader Steven Coutts noted that there has been some comment recently about the number of people moving to Shetland not for work.

It comes amid heightened interest in the number of folk from the mainland looking to buy property in Shetland.

“We want everybody to see Shetland as a place to live,” Coutts said.

“We need to acknowledge that Shetland is a welcoming place. We don’t necessarily need to have a job to contribute to our society as well.”

Smith, meanwhile, also said he is keen to hear confirmation that the council is competitive when it comes to salaries.

“Are we paying enough in some areas compared to what other local authorities are paying for the same type of staff?

“That has to have some impact on the ability of folk to take up jobs by moving to Shetland. That kind of thing would be really helpful to understand.”

Fellow Shetland South member Robbie McGregor, meanwhile, said the council should be going “all out” on advertising vacancies.

“Let’s get the message out,” he said. “[But] we need to make sure that the numbers are right.”

Councillor Emma Macdonald.

Depute leader Emma Macdonald added that it is not just about whether people are being paid enough – “it’s about is there somewhere for these people to live who are wanting to move up here”.

She said people who have agreed to take on jobs at the council or NHS Shetland were regularly asking on social media for accommodation.

Development committee chairman Alastair Cooper, meanwhile, said he felt the council’s wages for manual work were not competitive with the private sector.

“I would suggest that what keeps folk with the council is probably the pension scheme as much as anything,” he said.

Cooper added that people who have moved up to Shetland have remarked to him about the increased cost of living.

“I think that the wage differential between Shetland and the mainland is not sufficient to bridge that gap,” the North Mainland member said.