Trust Asked To Bail Out Social Work

A bid well in excess of £100,000 is to be made to the Shetland Charitable Trust to help finance the provision of personal care and home helps for islanders.

The move comes as a result of an emotional council meeting (Thursday 8th Feb), in which a slim majority of councillors refused to back a move to increase the financial pressure on vulnerable islanders.

The meeting blocked a proposal from social work boss Brian Doughty to increase charges for personal care and domestic tasks and asked for a strategic review of social work services in the isles.

Social work officials had been asked to identify savings of five per cent from their budget, a strategy the majority of councillors have now agreed was a mistake.

Yesterday’s decision follows an earlier council decision to back down from proposals to increase charges for day care and meals on wheels by 172 and 81 per cent respectively, after strong opposition from pensioners’ groups. Increases of five percent had been approved in December instead.

Yesterday, the battle against increased charges for personal care and home helps was led by councillors Cecil Eunson and Gussie Angus.

Mr Eunson started off by demanding that Mr Doughty’s proposals should be “thrown out”, but he did not make it clear how else the requested savings could be realised, other than saying that the isles’ oil money should pay for it.

While most councillors supported Mr Eunson “in principle”, they expressed scepticism and argued that his idea was not sustainable.

John Nicolson said: “Cecil does not identify the funding for this. I think his motion is actually threatening the position of the most vulnerable.”

However, when it came to the vote, Mr Eunson’s motion won narrowly by eight votes to seven with five councillors abstaining.

The victory was temporarily taken from him when councillor Barbara Cheyne proposed that charges should be increased as recommended by Mr Doughty, apart from those for personal care for people under the age of 65.

This motion won the support of 12 councillors against seven who voted for Mr Eunson with one, Mr Angus, abstaining.

It was then up to councillor Angus to find the compromise that eventually won the day. His motion to ask the charitable trust for a one off payment to meet the required five per cent cuts and give social work breathing space for a more strategic approach, won by 11 votes to nine.

Mr Angus has been arguing for a long time that the council was misguided in its financial strategy, saying that with people living longer and school rolls falling, the council has to shift its spending from education to social work.

Yesterday he said: “What annoys me is that we are not planning strategically for the huge shift in services such as this. The funds for social care have to come from somewhere and we all know from where.

“I am very unhappy to have to make a decision on this. The first mistake we made was when we all agreed to cut five per cent across the board.”

The request will now go to the Shetland Charitable Trust. Its general manager, Hazel Sutherland, said yesterday afternoon that an initial meeting to clarify the issue had already been arranged for today (Friday).

Social work boss Brain Doughty added that he did not yet know precisely how much money would have to be requested, but it would be in excess of £100,000.

The Shetland Charitable Trust is made up of all 22 councillors plus two independent trustees, Lord Lieutenant John Scott and Anderson High School head Valerie Nicolson. Its next meeting is on Wednesday.