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Politics / Island MSPs call on government to fix college funding ‘anomaly’

Lib Dem MSP Beatrice Wishart.

THE MSPs for Shetland, Orkney and the Western Isles have come together to call on the Scottish Government to top up funding for island colleges to fix a financial “shortfall”.

Northern Isles Liberal Democrat representatives Beatrice Wishart and Liam McArthur, and SNP MSP Alasdair Allan, say the Scottish Funding Council should provide financial support for the existing distant islands allowance.

This is a payment that must be made by colleges to staff, on top of base salaries, to take account of higher costs in island areas.

It is also paid to employees of other public bodies like island councils and health boards.

For example a current Shetland Islands Council job advert for a full-time janitor at Sound Primary School says its salary of £24,700 to £25,703 is inclusive of a distant islands allowance of £2,265 per annum.

But the island MSPs say it is unfair that local authorities currently “bear the burden” of the cost when it comes to colleges as there is no specific support from the Scottish Funding Council, which provides finance for the country’s further and higher education.

Shetland MSP Beatrice Wishart said: “It is utterly unreasonable to ignore this significant burden in calculations around college funding for Orkney and Shetland.

“The financial pressure that’s caused will completely undermine the purpose of the Distant Island Allowance itself.

“The Scottish Government appear to give with one hand and take with the other here. But at the end of the day, staff and students will be worse off if this shortfall isn’t addressed.

“It needs to be fixed in time for the completion of the Shetland College merger and the new term start.”

Higher and further education minister Jamie Hepburn said in response: “Our colleges and their staff are vital to our Covid recovery and we recognise the importance of sustainable funding.

“We continuously keep college funding under review, which was demonstrated by actions we took to mitigate the impact of pandemic on the sector.

“The recently published Scottish Funding Council Review provides scope to consider whether further reforms are needed to the college funding model. Ministers are considering the review’s findings and they are expected to respond in the autumn.”