7 May 2010
DEDICATED knitting lessons for pupils in Shetland will cease this year as far reaching local authority cost cutting measures start to bite. Shetland Islands Council services committee on Thursday agreed to save an annual £130,000 by dropping a subject seen by many as fundamental to Shetland's cultural traditions.
When it came to the vote in the council chamber just five councillors were in favour of maintaining knitting lessons while the Blueprint for Education review takes its course, but ten councillors said knitting was an extra and not a core subject and therefore had to go.
Fourteen part time staff, making up 4.4 full time equivalent jobs, will have to be redeployed within the council or offered voluntary redundancy. The council's schools service will now look into other ways of teaching knitting through arts and craft classes and by depending on volunteers.
North isles councillor Laura Baisley warned colleagues that it was a grave mistake to cut funding for teaching the two crafts Shetland was world renowned for - Fair Isle and lace knitting - as well as music tuition, for which the council is in the process of introducing charges. She was supported by veteran councillor Florence Grains who argued that it was deplorable to pick on the two cultural subjects knitting and music. She claimed that in fact no money would be saved should the part time teachers be re-deployed, but was told by councillor Bill Manson that she was talking "rubbish".
"They will be re-deployed into vacancies and therefore there will be savings," he said.
The education spokesman told fellow members that for years the council's education budget had been squeezed, and it was not just knitting and music that were being targetted.
"If you want to continue knitting tuition you have to give education an extra £130,000 for the next years," he said.
Shetland Islands Council has to identify almost £10 million of saving in the current financial year of which £1.2 million has to come from the education budget.
The meeting heard that officers were working hard to identify those savings, although £900,000 had still to be found during 2010/11.
Shetland North councillor Alastair Cooper reminded members that they had approved the council budget back in February and should therefore stop "tinkering around the edges".
Shetland South councillor Allison Duncan said that 60 years ago it was a necessity for local people to have knitting skills as it helped families to supplement their income.
But now knitting was a "dying art", he claimed, adding: "We have to make difficult decisions now and this is only the beginning."