Orkney Islands Council held the first of its community engagement events on Monday the 4th of June in the Milestone Kirk Dounby. The series of public meetings are entitled Community Conversations which Leader of OIC James Stockan explained was a 2 way process – a dialogue with folk.
Like local authorities across Scotland OIC is experiencing year on year funding cuts and the meetings are an attempt to explain the challenges the council faces in making its decisions but also a chance to go further than that.
Alistair Buchan, Chief Executive of OIC explained that despite the difficulties, he wished Orkney to ‘hold a steady course‘ and that key to this was having economic confidence in our micro economy in the islands.
‘This is the deepest longest recession in a century”, he explained with £13m cuts over the past 8 years – £1.8m in the current year.
There were pressures on public services and unpalatable Budget cuts to be faced but “despite all that we can do it in Orkney” in a combination of ways. He said that there was a place for Reserve Fund spending but there must also be changes in the way we deliver services and a reduction in them.
83% of Orkney’s funding comes from the Scottish Government which in itself has had its financial contribution from the UK Government via the Barnett formula cut. Since 2010/2011 Orkney has had a real term decrease in funding of 7.6% at a conservative estimate.
He counteracted the claims made by some that Orkney does not dip into its Reserve Fund which today sits at £230m. The council agreed in 2012 never to let this go below £175m and over the past 10 years £68,627,000 has been spent from the Reserves.
Alistair Buchan tried to end on a slightly upbeat note despite the figures he presented by explaining that with the opportunities of the Islands Bill and a combination of strategies that creating confidence in the local economy was doable.
Leader of the OIC James Stockan presented the ‘Political View’ to the meeting. He referred to the aging demographic in Orkney and the problems the island would face staffing and providing services. He wanted to know if there were better ways of delivering services perhaps by more localised provision.
“Can the community get better engaged” he asked “How are we going to do things differently?“
He felt issues had been sensationalised in the news. The Islands Bill, he said, means “we can do things differently” and urged people to “Think out of the box”.
The presentations over, the meeting then broke into 3 groups. Round the tables to discuss the set questions were councillors (past and present), council officials and some members of the public.
The public meetings on Mainland still to be held are as follows:
- Hope – 5 June – 1900 to 21.00- The Hope School
- Kirkwall – Monday 11 June – 19.00 to 21.00 – King Street Halls, Kirkwall
- East Mainland – Tuesday 12 June – 19.00 to 21.00 – Tankerness Hall
- Stromness – Monday 18 June – 19.00 to 21.00 – Stromness Town Hall
Reporter: Fiona Grahame