Orkney Islands Council
Working together for a better Orkney

Blog Topic 1 - What Matters Most

**The Convener's blog closed to further comment on January 13 2011. Responses can still be viewed below.**

Question: Which Council service matters most to you – and why?

Stephen Hagan, OIC Convener

Blog Responses:

Anonymous - 26 November

I think charging for children over 2 years old (presently 5 years+) to use the swimming pool would be a good idea.  And also stop students (unless still at school) open university, ICIT, part-time college students, etc using the swimming pool and gyms for concession rates.  I feel too many people are using the concession rate, so I think this is something that could be looked at.

Anonymous - 25 November

Would like Orkney to run it's own LOTTERY to raise funds.  Parents could be charged for individual instrument tuition in schools. Communities should organise their own special events without OIC support.  Burray School should become a pre-school centre and be run like the Strynd Centre for all babies till school age. Burray pupils move to St Margaret's Hope School.

In winter, OIC should do it's best to clear roads but not the pavements. Sometimes cleared pavements become more lethal than uncleared pavements. Drivers must give priority to pedestrians on the road, as they do in the US. Reduce street-lighting considerably. Collect domestic rubbish once every 2 weeks. Send a bus to meet every flight at Kirkwall Airport and start using the ticket machines at the airport carpark.

Take a fresh look at Social Services. A massive workforce of part-time workers may seem inexpensive, flexible and less of a liability than workers with full-time permanent contracts. But the management of such a 'bitty' workforce must be a nightmare for communication and training. Part-time workers must feel their employer is less committed to them, so why should workers feel loyalty in return? Sickness statistics related to these issues? I wonder.

Reduce the statutory procedures for OIC interviewing. Thousands of pounds can be spent 'being seen' to be open and consultative when the reality is often a done deal. Increase the mileage distance where children become entitled to school transport. Continue with the current system where exceptions can be made for health problems.

Close schools to pupils on Fridays. Pupils attend for longer days Monday to Thursdays. No transport or meals to pay on the Friday. Staff work same contracted hours as they do now. Yes, parents will have to arrange childcare for one day. But every other weekday school hours will fit much better with business hours - parents will no longer need pre-school and after-school care twice a day for 4 days every week. Ask parents what they think! Staff work part of Friday to make up hours.

Don't reduce essential social support. Put the prices up. Even increased charges would be considerably less cost to families than full-time residential care for the elderly. Financial support for sportsmen and women should cease after the age of 18. Sponsorship should be sought from the business community and from fund-raising.

Anonymous - 25 November

Would it be possible to sell off the Picky centre or at least rent it out, i'm not exactly sure how it's funded by the council at the moment but if it was sold or rented out then at least some income would be generated.

Agree with comments on turning off streetlights/pier lights - a common council comment has been that this is 'not a big saving' - but it is a saving nonetheless and it is hypocritical to even imply that this is not important. A figure of 70k has been suggested for the annual cost of lighting in Orkney - that's a decent annual salary for 2 people, bear that in mind!

If NI ferries are going to suffer (possibly by the loss of one) then they should be made to:

a) work a bit harder (review the number of services per day to the various isles)

b) balance the services to the isles more fairly (since intro of the ro-ro ferries Westray always had their own, that's not fair)

c) review the timetable to make it work better for people taking into consideration kids going to/from KGS, people needing to make connections to onward travel services

What is the current income to the OIC from the oil industry for Flotta and associated services? Could this be reviewed and a higher rent charged? Because a small increase in rental charges would be unlikely to put off the oil industry - they would be more likely to pay the extra for existing infrastructure than to fork out and build a whole new site elsewhere.

The OIC is certainly doing a lot to keep Orkney (and its waters) at the forefront of the marine renewables industry, which is very good, but I think everything should be done to continue to remain at the forefront (i.e. continue to invest in this) rather than be overtaken by other locations and end up losing out.

Identifying new sites for marine energy generation around Orkney, making internal travel between isles smoother, having a robust and straightforward procedure for potential companies to follow to set up devices/infrastructure (maybe this exists already) would all make this burgeoning (and potentially very lucrative) industry be attracted to Orkney more. OIC could then charge accordingly for this provision.

Linda Forbes, Stromness - 24 November

The Council should focus on providing its statutory provisions from core funding (council tax, central government grants, etc) and use the Oil Reserve money to maintain non-statutory community activities (it's not the council's money, it's the community's - and this period of austerity is not forever, one hopes).

If economic development is seen to be the way out of indebtedness then bureaucratic processes need to be streamlined: taking on a lease of council property takes months to achieve and does not make the most of potential income to the council nor encourage small businesses to get off the ground. Buildings and land not in use should be sold off or let rather than held onto 'just in case'.

OIC should become a 'mystery shopper' of all their own services to experience life from the other side of the counter. This might challenge logjams, inefficiencies, and identify ways of saving money at the same time. One example, the cost of special colour paintwork and signage on OIC's vehicle fleet should be phased out: why pay extra when a standard finish would do just as well? Most people wouldn't do this when buying their own cars so why do it with public money?

Anonymous - 23 November

Communities matter the most. Base the ferries in the isles, providing jobs for families - this may also help with saving money on schools, take the kids from Eday to the Sanday/Stronsay school?? Make jobs such as lollypop man and after school care part of another job (school staff could start their day on a crossing).

Make better use of people doing community service - have them clearing water runs into ditches or picking up litter. Consult with the public before planning big spends - use the media to display plans, not everybody can attend meetings. Facebook/Orcadian/Radio Orkney reach far more folk than a meeting. Quoybanks traffic calming and Kirkwall marina being prime examples. Local knowledge would have told you this was not workable and it could have been sorted before the money was spent. Ask folk how they want allocated money spent - maybe a path roads the 'black building route' would have been better than one at the Peedie Sea?

Make Papdale school have one finishing time - currently there are two bus runs on each route 30 minutes apart.

Anonymous - 23 November

You could save millions by keeping tugs at sutherland pier flotta, after all it was lengthened for that purpose. 5 pilot boat crews is far too many for the few tankers there is using the port. flotta marine could do pilotage no problem if it was out to tender, the hose crew could do it while waiting for ship to berth. thank you.

Anonymous - 23 November

Cutting funding to the Northern Isles Ferry is a cut that would seriously be detrimental to the islanders and also for Orkney as one of the main reasons we come over is to spend money on mainland. It does seem that a disproportinate amount goes on education and with most of youngsters leaving the area after schooling this amount does seem to be an obvious area for cutting back.

Anonymous - 23 November

Black refuse bags: Why should all households be entitled to a hand out every year? The council may as well hand out toilet roll and washing powder too!! Its ridiculous, its a waste of council money, paying 2 men and a driver plus fuel for the truck and the cost of the bags to start with. People can easily just buy their own at the shop. Street lights in rural locations especially could easily be turned off between 11pm and 5am. All cars have headlights! Why are there lights on the village signs coming into Stenness, is it really essential?

Direct phone numbers for certain council services would cut the number of customers service staff needed in the main office surely and would save alot of time and being put through to the wrong department!!

Vacancies, online only, no need for unnecessary paperwork or confirmations to be sent out in the post.

Anonymous - 23 November

I think the Council should close some schools to save revenue costs. The Burray School, which should never have been built in the first place (councillors caving in to community pressure) should close and the kids go to the Hope School. There is only 80 odd at the Hope School and about 17 kids in Burray. When I was at the Hope School they had 140 kids. Close the Stenness and Evie schools and put the kids to Stromness or Firth.

Another service we could easily do without is Library vans, they are not needed in the modern world. We have a lot of good public toilets in Orkney but could do without a lot of them. In South Ron and Burray alone there are 5 toilets that I know of. If we closed maybe 2 of these we would save revenue costs.

Mary Maley, St. Ola - 22 November

As the mother of two young children, one of whom will likely enter P1 next year, education matters most to me and I was very concerned to hear Mr Manson's opinions regarding class sizes at last week's road show in Kirkwall Community Centre. I couldn't believe his statement that class sizes made no difference to learning and teaching so subsequently trawled the internet; I found little evidence to support his claims. From what I've read it seems that small class sizes are particularly beneficial to the attainment of small children at the start of their school life; it also seems likely that pupils in transition periods, e.g. moving from P7 to S1, benefit from reduced class sizes. I would hope that you remember that a good education is not just an investment in the future of today's children, it's an investment in the future of tomorrow's Orkney, Scotland, the UK, etc. Keeping class sizes small should be one of the Council's priorities.

Education director Leslie Manson replies: My point at the meeting was to say that class size isn't the main factor when it comes to the quality of education a pupil receives. Although class size is a factor, I believe it comes below quality of teaching, levels of support for teachers, and parental support for children.

Anonymous - 22 November

To me, what matters most, if everything else were to fail or fall by the wayside is to maintain a local economy. All the services are relative luxuries by comparison. Sports centres, rubbish collections, Christmas lights - We would get by without them, but if we are really talking 'Tough Times, Tough Choices', then maintaining a local economy must be the most important. Without it, then there is no money being made, no jobs, no interest. Sustaining a local economy is not simply about pumping money into new business start ups that may or may not fail. In a tough times, tough choice of just 1 thing that is important, then preventing the existing economy from spiralling downwards is most important. It may come that efforts need to be focussed on stopping the existing economy from collapsing, rather than trying to expand in new directions.

Efforts should be concentrated where the most benefit is achieved for the least expenditure. Practical examples:

Looking actively at ways of ensuring existing businesses don't fold when there may be ways to help them out, even if that means radical things like rent and rates holidays, rescue capital or working with banks to act as guarantors.

The infamous oil reserve fund could even be used judiscously to help tide the local economy over the rainy day that it was always supposed to be for.

We have seen quite a lot of businesses close recently, possibly for the want of not a lot of short term help.

Standing by and doing nothing may save a small amount of money in the short term, but cost a lot more in the longer term.

Malcolm Handoll, Stenness - 22 November

The library and archive in Kirkwall is the most important service to me. Not just because of the obvious good selection of books and it being a hub of the community/meeting place for people but because literature and the archive is part of the Orkney culture. The information is a major resource for the future sustainability of the communities here, from renewable energy, archaeology, environmental, ecological and other sciences. Also as major resources for the children of Orkney, their education and identification with Orkney as home and a place to remain. For many new arrivals to Orkney the library provides an important focal point, helping them to settle, find information and embed into the community. The future of Orkney needs this.

Anonymous - 22 November

I would like to add my agreement regarding the Phoenix Cinema opening later, particularly at the weekends.  I think its time to trial later cinema showings (I believe it may have been done before) to see if this can work out well financially if enough people show an interest. It's important that there are plenty of activities for children, of all ages to do at the weekends, especially on Friday and Saturday nights, bearing in mind that not all children enjoy sports.

Anonymous - 22 November

I think that some facilities should be made to work harder for their keep. EG the swimming pools should be open early more often for public swimming, Stromness pool should be open early morning as well. The pools have to be maintained and filters run and temperatures kept up so why not have paying customers using them. The Pickaquoy Centre should also be open more hours early and late. This might have the effect of getting some of the kids off the streets at the weekend if the cinema was to open later showing films that appeal to that age group. If the prices in the Stadium Cafe were more reasonable then more people would use it. It should also be open for people leaving the cinema to get a drink and something to eat. This would generate more income, people would get used to using the centre and perhaps would use the facilities more.

Rachel DuBois, Stenness - 21 November

The library service is one of the most important to me. Having books not just for entertainment but as a FREE way to learn new skills from organic gardening to sewing to building a house is critical. It's also a great social space for seeing friends you know, chatting with the friendly librarians and even having an occasional cup of tea. Libraries are so often overlooked but they're part of the soul of the community and I hope you continue to give them the support they need, for all our sakes.

Anonymous - 19 November

There have been far too many new jobs created in OIC over the last 2-3 years that provide no service to the general public here in orkney.  Its obvious that the biggest savings that can be made is reducing the number of staff who provide no service to the general public.