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Council / SIC warns of workforce challenge as ten per cent of jobs remain vacant

Leader Emma Macdonald says ‘we simply can’t keep trying and failing to deliver the same services with fewer staff’

Our workforce challenge shetland council.

SHETLAND Islands Council (SIC) is warning of its workforce challenges and the need to potentially reshape services ahead of the 2024/25 budget setting process as it grapples with around 200 full-time equivalent (FTE) vacancies.

Also in the mix is an ageing workforce, with fewer younger people coming forward to take on jobs.

The council also highlighted additional challenges attracting people to live and work in the islands, particularly on the increased living costs.

Council leader Emma Macdonald said the situation with vacancies is getting worse, adding: “We simply can’t keep trying and failing to deliver the same services with fewer staff.”

Councillors will decide on the 2024/25 budget in the coming months, setting in stone how services will be funded in the next financial year.

Last year the SIC warned that it faced significant challenges with the budget settlement it receives from government in the face of rising costs.

This time around the council is highlighting that amid the workforce challenges services will have to examine how things are run, and how they might be able to change to adapt to having less staff.

SIC political leader Emma Macdonald. Photo: Shetland News

Figures released by the SIC on Wednesday said around ten per cent of jobs at the council are vacant.

This problem is particularly acute in community health and social care, where there are around 90 FTE vacancies.

Last year the SIC spent £3.2 million on overtime and agency works in this area, with 2023/24 projecting to rise to £3.7 million.

In the current 2023/24 budget a “vacancy factor” has been applied which creates underspends.

As the population’s age rises there will also be fewer people of working age in Shetland, with the isles projected to be worse off than the rest of Scotland.

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At the council there will be more people approaching retirement.

Meanwhile there are currently 1.12 jobs available in Shetland for every worker. In Scotland that figure is 0.8.

A newly published document on the issue asks what the council can do to tackle its workforce challenges.

It says: “Firstly, we need to take care of the staff we already have. If there are fewer people in a team doing the same work, they will be under much more pressure.

“This can have a serious impact on mental and physical health, which means we may see more people getting sick or leaving their job.

“Our services will look carefully right across everything they do, how they do it, and how they might be able to change how they work to adapt to having less staff.

“This is likely to change how some services are delivered – but that will be discussed with users and the wider public if and when necessary.

“For example, we have known for a long time that many of our care homes need to be upgraded. We also know that most older people would prefer to stay in their own homes for as long as possible.

“By creating clusters of individual properties – similar to the Bruce Hall housing project in Unst – with people getting support from care workers in their own homes rather than in a communal building, we could accommodate the same number of folk and reshape services around people’s needs.

“This is also a better model from a staffing point of view, and we know residents appreciate this kind of increased supported accommodation.”

The document said the SIC will increase its focus on things like “grow our own” programmes, training and reskilling, graduate and modern apprenticeships, and investment in individual career development for existing and new staff.

Macdonald said: “We’re also aware of how important it is to support those people who have been working hard to cover vacancies in their teams – that added workload and pressure can have a serious impact on mental and physical health.

“It’s a priority for our managers now to look carefully across everything we do and the potential for adapting our services accordingly.”

The councillor said companies and organisations across Shetland and Scotland are facing similar problems – “how to recruit, retain and support enough staff to maintain service provision in the ways we’ve come to expect”.

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