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Council / Some council services operating by the ‘skin of their teeth’, chief executive warns

  • Ferry, care and education services under constant strain
  • SIC vacancy level hits 10 per cent
  • Director of children’s services stepped in to cover classes

SIC chief executive Maggie Sandison. Photo: Hans J Marter/Shetland News

DISRUPTION to council services such as inter-island ferries, education and care are set to become a more regular feature, according to chief executive Maggie Sandison.

She said she has repeated on many occasions how some council services operate “almost by the skin of their teeth”.

It comes after ferry services, mainly on Bluemull and Yell Sound, have been frequently disrupted due staff sickness of key crew members and a lack of cover.

It has also emerged that senior managerial staff from Hayfield House, including director for children’s services Helen Budge, have been required to teach classes in order the maintain delivery of essential services.

Budge confirmed to Shetland News that at the time several officers from the department were covering classes. “I was delighted to be able to support our schools by stepping in and teaching the bairns,” she said.

Sandison said the local authority was under constant strain, and with a ten per cent vacancy level its capacity was down to 90 per cent with some services more acutely affected than others.

There have been repeated warnings in the council chamber in past months that the SIC will have look at redesigning some services as there are fewer staff.

“Some areas are much higher with the combined level of vacancies and sickness,” Sandison said, adding the issue of how fragile council services were – whether that is in care, in education or in ferries – was very real.

“People notice when the service breaks down, but they don’t notice the strain services are under day to day because most of the time we pull out the bag and manage to keep these delivered by hook or by crook,” she said.

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And this is not a one off and is set to happen more often and more regularly, the chief executive warned.

Outgoing director of children’s services Helen Budge.

Her comments come despite some success in recruiting new staff to social care after the SIC increased pay for care workers employed by the local authority.

Sandison added: “Our staff are aging; we see more turnover in staff and have greater difficulties replacing people.

“Also, we are asking people to do more hours than what we employ them for, to come back to work and do overtime when they should be on breaks. This, inevitably, [increases] the chances of sickness.

“Some of the things they do to cover exacerbates the crisis – so if we want to look at the staff that we have left best, we need to look [at ways] to change our services.”

Budge meanwhile said she would be applying to join the supply teachers list when she retires from her post later this year.

“We certainly do have a shortage of supply staff and I am very grateful to everyone who provides supply cover for our schools, both as teachers and support staff which enables us to continue to provide education to the bairns across Shetland,” she said.

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