SIC delegation ‘positive’ after housing debt meeting

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A six-strong SIC delegation which visited Downing Street yesterday afternoon in an effort to persuade the UK government to drop its £40 million housing debt said the talks were positive.

The UK state has never made good on previous governments’ promise to repay the debt, which was incurred to build houses for incoming construction workers when the oil industry first came to Shetland in the 1970s. 

Political leader Gary Robinson, convener Malcolm Bell, councillors Cecil Smith and Allison Duncan, chief executive Mark Boden and housing chief Anita Jamieson all made the trip to London. They met the government’s chief secretary to the treasury Danny Alexander.

Mr Alexander agreed to look again at the details of the case, and will be making representations with Ministers at Holyrood on this issue.

After the meeting Council Convener Malcolm Bell said: “It was clear that the minister was genuinely engaging with the substance of the points we raised with him. The fact that he now has undertaken to go back to the Scottish Government and make clear the scale of the problem this issue is causing is to be welcomed.

“While the legal position of the UK Treasury is uncertain, the Minister undertook to look again at what help might be available, and work with all sides to help find a resolution.”

Isles MP Alistair Carmichael MP, who as a member of the coalition helped set up the meeting, said it was a positive meeting. “In a post-devolutionary world, the treasury may be restricted in terms of a direct intervention, but there is a genuine political understanding of the problem and the difficulties that this debt is causing for Shetland. The council clearly has a strong case to make here, and the convener and other councillors put their points across forcefully.

“I don’t think any of the delegation went into the meeting expecting to leave with a cheque. What we needed to see from the minister and his officials was a willingness to listen, and a commitment to work with us to find the best way forward. That is what we needed from the meeting and that is what we got.”

Councillor Cecil Smith, chairman of the SIC’s Social Services Committee, added: “I think it is fair to say that the degree of engagement we have seen from the Scottish Government on this issue is not what it might have been. The fact that Mr Alexander will now go back to ministers at Holyrood will help keep this high on the political agenda.”

A housing support grant paid via the Scottish government to cover interest repayments on the debt is being brought to an end. Mr Carmichael has been making the case that the money could be paid directly from the treasury.

Council tenants in Shetland pay some of the highest social housing rents in the UK, and the loss of the grant could see the rents increase further unless a solution can be found.

The council said the debt placed “an unfair burden on the tenants of Shetland” and was limiting future investment in housing.

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8 comments

  1. Sandy McMillan

    Just what are the Shetland Islands Councillors thinking, FOUR Councillors Political Leader Gary Robinson, Convenor Malcolm Bell, Councillors Cecil Smith and Alison Duncan and TWO OFFICIALS, Head of the Shetland Islands Council, Mark Boden, Head of Housing Anita Jamieson flew from Shetland to London to find out about the housing dept, They should all bow there heads in shame I hope they publish the cost of there expensive jaunt, does the phone in the Town Hall not work, or the internet SKYPE, What was wrong with Alistair Carmichael bring up the problem, after all he is based in London as the Member of Parliament for Shetland, with money as scarce as it is, well that is what we are told, no money for Public Halls, Schools, and the like, just what or who do you believe in the Council Chambers, But six of our top guns can and one extra take off to London without a how do you do The cost of Flights from Sumburgh in the region of £4000.00, hire car overnight stay, it all adds up to what nothing but disgraceful, and the best of all Danny Alexander told them what any politician would say I will have another look at it again, a few thousand pounds that would have been better of if used in Shetland, and the best of all Danny Alexander has to take it to Holy rood and ask the Scottish Government to deal with there pleas. What did they expect sympathy because they had travelled the length of the UK, I put it to the six of them to publish there expense sheets from start to finish.

    Reply
  2. Graham Warrilow

    Well said Sandy,

    however , the words, “Shetland Islands Council” and “thinking” don’t rest easily in the same sentence do they ?

    I mean,did it really require SIX folk to put a point across – to someone who is , quite frankly, a puppet to Osbourne and Cameron . I wouldn’t hold your breath regarding a favourable outcome. All it needs is our illustrious MSP smiling inanely to complete this photograph along with his colleague Carmichael – but clearly the shopping opportunities in Edinburgh were more favourable. It’s pathetic.

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  3. Michael Bilton

    Well the cost of the trip is in direct proportion to how much money they can save, if they get the UK Govt to forgive the debt. If they wipe out the £40 million – then everyone will say – Hurrah! If they don’t achieve their objective then it will be seen as money down the drain. Sometimes in Government, the fact that a deputation goes to see Ministers can focus more attention on an issue. I have heard from several people about this story – which means people in London who do not normally think about Shetland, are now doing so. I’m slightly worried it was simply a Lib Dem love in cum publicity stunt, it has been known before. On the other hand if they can use leverage on The Treasury – then it would stupid not to take advantage. What I would actually like to see are members of the UK Government eg Cameron, Osborne etc visiting Shetland – which is, in my view, a really important part of the United Kingdom. We are the British Isles – so they should be out there visiting the islands, and especially Shetland given its location, its culture, its economy. I cannot imagine the prime minister of Norway not visiting outlying areas of their country. So – start writing to 10 Downing Street – demand that Cameron gets on a plane. He is after all your Prime Minister.

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  4. John Tulloch

    I welcome this development – when was the last time someone from Shetland was in Downing Street?

    Some very effective politicking hs been done here, it’s good to see the London and Edinburgh governments’ contributions to Shetland’s economic difficulties recognised at this level.

    This is a big issue and sending a large delegation shows we are serious about getting justice.

    Reply
  5. Sandy McMillan

    It has nothing to do with a SIC Deligation going to Westminster or Downing Street. But SIX Plus the MP, Come on Michael and John get real, dont you tell me it takes seven of them to pass on a message to Danny Alexander, Two would have been more than enough, One Shetland Islands Councillor, and Alistair Carmichael Member of Parliement for Shetland, I am very sure the two would have been given the same answer. It seems the Councillors can spend what they want, and to Hell with the General publics needs.

    Reply
  6. ian tinkler

    Could easily have been done by video conferencing. Save a few £thousand that way, but then no free trip to Christmas shop in Oxford Street and free meals and drinks in London Hotel. How can anyone including Danny Alexander take these boys seriously about having no money when the profligately waste so much?

    Reply
  7. Graham Warrilow

    Some interesting points raised here.

    “When was the last time someone from Shetland was in Downing Street ? “- Carmichael and Scott please take note !

    “Some very effective politicking has been done here” ( ? )

    Effective politicking should have been done way ahead of this – we ought to have been damn well serious about this money long before now and getting the issue addressed – or has the current economic plight focused minds on having to be seen to be doing something about it now ?

    Perhaps the sum of money involved arguably involves and warrants such a large delegation – but , for christ’s sake – a more proactive approach would be better eh ??

    Reply
  8. John Tulloch

    Agreed on the proactive approach – I am astounded this hasn’t been tackled before – however we are where we are now and full marks to The Flea for button-holing George Osborne at Inverness Airport.

    I am not an instinctive supporter of SIC policies and actions however it’s possible that previous attempts have been met by a brick wall and it also seems there has been some kind of fudge to lessen the blow via the rate support grant which has now been cut.

    Now that Mr Salmond has shot himself through the foot with the above cut and Shetland is a key battleground in his independence campaign, all of a sudden, the London government is taking on board local outrage at their niggardly renege.

    That can’t be a bad thing and we should hit London and Edinburgh with all the ammunition we’ve got – while we still have the chance.

    Reply

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