MSP joins battle with government over SIC housing debt

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MSP Tavish Scott has backed the SIC housing department in its bid to reduce future costs for tenants.

Speaking via video link on Wednesday, head of housing Anita Jamieson told the Scottish Parliament’s finance committee that Shetland’s 1,800 tenants could not shoulder the responsibility for over £40 million of historical debt.

As the future of a £1 million housing support grant (HSG) from the Scottish government hangs in the balance, promises to write off the colossal debt – incurred back in the 1970s – have repeatedly come to nothing.

Mr Scott said Shetland tenants paid the second highest rent in Scotland, and he wants further increases to be stopped. The SIC is the last remaining local authority to benefit from the annual grant, which the government last year indicated it plans to abolish.

“The Scottish government is considering a new bill which will end the HSG, but this is just not feasible until the debt issues have been addressed,” he said.

“The SIC still has no details of what a transitional period may look like. The debt needs to be gradually reduced and a plan to phase out HSG over a 3-5 year period is what the housing department is hoping for and I support them and believe this is a reasonable timeframe.”

Outgoing SIC convener Sandy Cluness has long made the case that the SIC had done the UK a huge service by chalking up the debt in the 1970s, building dozens of new homes to accommodate hundreds of incoming oil workers.

Council housing spokesman Allison Duncan bumped into George Osborne at Inverness Airport in late 2011, and urged the UK chancellor to make good on Kenneth Clarke’s 1996 pledge to write off the local authority’s debt. The promise was never kept because the Tory government lost power the following year.

Mr Scott added: “Promises going back to the 1990s have not been forthcoming and so the debt burden has continued. I have now put in a parliamentary question to ask the housing minister when Shetland can realistically expect a clear outline of the transitional arrangements given that he has had all the information he needs to make this decision since February.”

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