Dear Councillor and Richard Lochhead MSP,
Shetland Islands Council take decision on privatisation of Shetland College behind closed doors during COVID-19 pandemic
We are deeply concerned to hear that Shetland Island Council are pushing ahead with the next stage of their decision on the merger of Shetland College during the Covid-19 pandemic.
The Council are due to take a decision, sub rosa, on Wednesday 22nd April on the Ministerial Merger Business Case (MMBC). This MMBC, authored by the college’s shadow board, recommends that the Council outsource the college from its control into a new entity which will be a private limited company. This would be the first direct privatisation of further education in Scotland.
The EIS-FELA Shetland branch (comprised of Shetland college lecturers who are also constituents and the electorate) are opposed to privatisation on principle because it is likely to negatively impact staff terms and conditions and security of employment as well as students’ quality and diverse range of education. EIS-FELA have consistently raised issues about the lack of genuine consultation and due diligence done on the recommendation of privatisation. EIS-FELA have submitted thousands of petition signatures in opposition to the privatisation, including most staff and students employed by Shetland College .
Furthermore, Councillors will be making this decision behind closed doors on Wednesday based on the MMBC which relies on financial figures calculated pre-pandemic. EIS-FELA are extremely concerned about the lack of due diligence done to ensure that this decision meets the Council’s Best Value governance policy. Shetland Islands Council’s Constitution states that “citizens have a right to attend meetings”, yet the meeting on Wednesday will take place sub rosa without any option for members of the public to view the meeting in an online gallery.
The EIS-FELA Shetland branch were previously advised they could attend the meeting, which will be held virtually, as observers. It is unclear why the decision has now been made, and by whom, to hold this meeting behind closed doors. The Council meeting is going ahead despite there being no new timescales for the merger or date for vesting of the new college, due to the pandemic. This begs the question: why are the Council insistent on going ahead with making the decision next week in this manner? It is completely contrary to the principles of democracy that the Council seek to camouflage their disregard for due process with the COVID-19 pandemic.
On Tuesday 21st April at 12pm hundreds will join us to take action across social media in highlighting these concerns ahead of the full Shetland Island Council meeting on Wednesday 22nd April. #KeepShetlandCollegePublic
We call on the Councillors to keep further education in public hands and under democratic accountability and scrutiny. We also call upon Richard Lochhead, the Minister for Further Education, Higher Education and Science to intervene.