“We need 1500 more families” in the isles​

The Board which co-ordinates social care provision in the islands would be unable to break even without savings from unfilled posts, as well as dipping into reserves.
The islands need more families of a working age otherwise the "spiral of decline" will continue. (Pic: Sandie Maciver)The islands need more families of a working age otherwise the "spiral of decline" will continue. (Pic: Sandie Maciver)
The islands need more families of a working age otherwise the "spiral of decline" will continue. (Pic: Sandie Maciver)

The parlous state of the Integrated Joint Board’s finances was again laid bare at a meeting last week when its finance director, Debbie Bozkurt, said they had been “operating on reserves for the past three years” as well unplanned savings from the inability to fill posts, leading to under-utilisation of facilities.

Ms Bozkurt warned against of a “spiral of decline” without a serious effort to boost population. She said: “The big picture is that we need 1500 more families”.

The meeting agreed it is “crucial” for the financial position to be made clear to the public during a forthcoming consultation on social care provision in the islands.

After describing the current position and the reliance on unfilled vacancies to make the books balance, Ms Bozkurt said: “That’s no way to run your business ... If we didn’t have the level of vacancies we have, we wouldn’t be able to break even”.

The Integrated Joint Board is planning to produce a strategic document on social care in the islands by April and this will go out to public consultation.

Western Isles NHS Board chair, Gilliam McCannon, said: “Let the community have a say on what they need. That is absolutely crucial. Maybe it will flag some things we don’t expect. There may be some resilience out there that we don’t expect”.

Ms McCannon said it was important the public was clear about the impact of financial constraints on services. Harris third sector representative, Morag Munro, added: “It is most important the community realises these constraints”.

The discussion moved on to difficulties experienced in filling vacancies. The chief executive of the IJB, Nick Sayers, stressed the importance of “growing talent and capability here on the islands”.

Ms Bozkurt emphasised the need for “radical action” to grow the population and increase the labour pool. Population was “dropping again”, she said and added: “The Scottish Government and everyone else has to understand that until it stabilises, we will continue to spiral downwards.

“The big picture is that we need about 1500 more families … I used to say a thousand but now I would say 1500”.

She said transport and childcare provision are among the factors deterring movement to the islands. “We have people who will not take the jobs because of the transport issues”, said Ms Bozkurt.

Professor Anneta Smith, a member of the Health Board, said: “We are in danger sometimes of getting into a situation where what we say becomes self-fulfilling prophesy.

“I am not saying the reality is not the reality. But how do we encourage people to come here and bring their families at the same time we are being very public about the difficulties?”.

The Integrated Joint Board also expressed scepticism about plans for a National Care Service amid calls for the money to be spent on it being put into front-line services instead. (See page 4).