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Council / SIC sends out clear message on care service plans

SHETLAND Islands Council (SIC) has added its weight to concerns around proposals for a national care service in Scotland – a plan described by some elected members as a “power grab” by the government.

The council formalised its response to a Scottish Government consultation on its plans on Thursday – shortly after the isles’ health and care partnership met to do the same.

The full council meeting also heard that around one third of local authority staff may be affected by the proposals.

The SIC held engagement events with staff, and although the response rate was relatively low the feelings around the plans were strong.

Jacqui Birnie, who helped to prepare the response to the consultation, said a key message from staff was that “Shetland is different” – and that there was a lack of detail coming from the government.

The concerns over the plans have been well-rehearsed, with a worry over what impact there may be on local services, which are largely delivered by the council and not private companies.

There is also concern that a national organisation could hamper the levels of integration enjoyed among Shetland services.

Birnie said it was “important for us to take time to engage with staff and stakeholders” in preparing the council’s response to the consultation.

Around 1,100 people were invited to meetings but there was an attendance rate of 6.5 per cent.

A survey was circulated to around 600 people and there was a 16 per cent return rate.

Lerwick member Stephen Leask asked if the level of response was adequate.

“The sessions were very challenging to get organised within the time scales,” Birnie said, adding that it was difficult to work around staff rotas. “Hindsight is a wonderful thing.”

She said one staff member said the timescale for responding the consultation – which has a 2 November deadline – felt like a “slap in the face” after working hard during the pandemic.

Leask also questioned why Shetland has the highest spend on residential care for older people. It costs the council £1,174 per person per week, while in Scotland it is £401.

Corporate services director Christine Ferguson noted the cost of providing services in an island community, and the quality of care at hand. “You get what you pay for sometimes,” she said.

Shetland Central member Ian Scott also questioned why there was a fear around the proposals when the review into adult social care which prompted the idea did not mention downgrading.

Ferguson said the plans talked about a consistent “minimum standard” – rather than a high standard – and it was unclear what level that would be.

She also warned that additional money which goes into Shetland care – such as from the charitable trust – could be at risk.

Chief executive Maggie Sandison added that what was recommended in the care review and what was being consulted on by the Scottish Government was different, such as the inclusion of children’s services in a national organisation.

SIC political leader Steven Coutts.
SIC leader Steven Coutts. Photo: Shetland News

During debate council leader Steven Coutts said recurring themes during engagement with staff was a “lack of detail, lack of clarity and uncertainty”.

“A national care service seems to be the answer but what is the question that we are required to answer here?” he said.

Coutts also criticised the timing of when the consultation submissions will be analysed next year, with Scottish council elections planned for May.

George Smith, who chairs the SIC’s education and families committee, said what is being consulted on equated to a “power grab” by the SNP, with the scope different than what was in the party’s May election manifesto.

He felt there was a potential for a “real negative impact” on some of Shetland’s vulnerable people and stressed the need for an islands impact assessment.

A number of other councillors were keen to express concern, with Coutts concluding that a strong covering letter should sent along with the consultation response.

Meanwhile Shetland’s sole SNP councillor Robbie McGregor said he has behind much of what was said in the chamber.

“There’s still a debate to be had as to what’s in and what’s out,” he said. “Please keep engaging with the Scottish Government.”

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