The SNP Government is under pressure to find more money to top up the higher costs of services in Scotland’s island communities.
It follows concerns about a “shortfall” in budgets which MSPs claim is straining council coffers across Orkney, Shetland and the Western Isles.
The three island MSPs put the demand for additional Scottish Funding Council money to higher and further education minister Jamie Hepburn.
Lib Dems said the current arrangement is unreasonable and undermines the point of the Distant Island Allowance, which was created to meet the extra burden on staff in the first place. It can be worth hundreds of pounds to employees.
“The Scottish Government appear to give with one hand and take with the other here,” claimed Shetland MSP Beatrice Wishart.
“But at the end of the day, staff and students will be worse off if this shortfall isn’t addressed. It needs to be fixed in time for the completion of the Shetland College Merger and the new term start.”
‘Make up the shortfall’
Orkney MSP Liam McArthur said: “High quality education provided by Scotland’s colleges will be essential for our recovery from the pandemic. We will be reliant on dedicated staff to retrain and upskill the workforce as we face the challenges ahead, including the workforce demands of a climate emergency.
“Those staff need to be properly supported, and that means accounting for additional costs in our island areas. Local authorities shouldn’t be left to bear that additional burden and ministers must now step in and make up the shortfall.”
A separate formal letter to the minister was also signed by Western Isles SNP MSP Alasdair Allan.
It stated: “We believe that accounting for the Distant Islands Allowance in SFC funding arrangements is fair, proportionate and necessary.
“It also reflects the commitments made by ministers in the context of the Islands Act. We therefore urge you to take steps to address this anomaly and work with the island colleges to put in place support ahead of the forthcoming academic term.”
In a statement, Mr Hepburn responded: “Our colleges and their staff are vital to our Covid recovery and we recognise the importance of sustainable funding. We continuously keep college funding under review, which was demonstrated by actions we took to mitigate the impact of pandemic on the sector.
“The recently published Scottish Funding Council Review provides scope to consider whether further reforms are needed to the college funding model. Ministers are considering the review’s findings and they are expected to respond in the autumn.”