Fix needed for housing debt before time runs out
SIC political leader Gary Robinson has called on Westminster to chip in with a solution to the council’s £40 million historic housing debt before “time runs out”.
Speaking after a long-awaited meeting with the UK and Scottish governments which he dubbed “productive”, Mr Robinson said that Scottish ministers were “very supportive” of the SIC’s proposal but called for a rapid decision on the way forward.
SIC social services committee chairman Cecil Smith warned that council tenants would feel the impact of rent rises next year unless a quick resolution was found.
Mr Robinson said: “These talks were our attempt to press both governments for an agreement on our proposal for a way forward. We emphasised just how important this issue is for folk here in Shetland.
“The Scottish ministers were very supportive of our proposal and their role in enabling future affordable housing for Shetland.
“We now need to press Westminster to agree to provide their assistance, and we might be able to jointly resolve this long-standing problem.”
The SIC delegation met under-secretary-of-state for Scotland David Mundell, Scottish local government minister Derek Mackay and Scottish housing minister Margaret Burgess last week.
That followed a meeting with the chief secretary to the treasury, Danny Alexander, in December last year, and talks with the Scottish government during the cabinet visit to Shetland in July.
Mr Smith said the discussions were productive, but that there was now a critical need for the issue to be resolved.
He said: “We’re aware that time is simply running out to get any meaningful solution to this historic debt problem.
“The housing support grant has been abolished, and, if we can’t find a sustainable solution to settling the debt, which stands at around £40 million, it is very likely that tenants are going to feel the impact from next year.
“Shetland already has one of the highest council house rents in Scotland, so any further increases will make a bad situation even worse.”
Mr Mackay said after the meeting: “Housing is and will remain a priority for this government and we will continue to invest in new affordable homes.
“Despite the severe cuts to our budgets by the UK government we will invest over £5.8 million in Shetland between 2012 and 2015, and we will continue to explore with the council ways to advance new build housing projects.
“It is now time for Westminster to give their support to the council to resolve this historic issue.”
Mr Mundell said that he was pleased to be able to convene the meeting and that there was recognition that support for housing is a devolved matter and properly for the Scottish government to consider.
“A proposal is now on the table, and I have undertaken to secure a response to it following discussion with ministerial colleagues,” Mr Mundell added.