Surprise council scheme to pay £300 winter heating grant to over-65s wins approval

Cecil Smith, whose idea the £300 grant was. Click on image to enlarge.
Cecil Smith, whose idea the £300 grant was. Click on image to enlarge.

Shetland Islands Council is to pay a £300 winter heating grant to people who are losing the old Christmas bonus paid by Shetland Charitable Trust.

The surprise plan for a new scheme rewarding every household where someone is over 65 came from councillor Cecil Smith at Wednesday’s meeting of the Full Council and won enough favour among his colleagues to instantly become a policy of the local authority.

He said a lot of people who were now being excluded from the annual grant because they do not get pension credit, housing benefit or council tax relief felt “hard done by”.

He said the charitable trust had been set up for the benefit of the people of Shetland and he wanted to provide some assistance to help people stay in their own community with “a little bit extra comfort”.

But some councillors were concerned about rushing headlong into a new spending commitment without working out any of the details, such as where the money would come from and whether the taxman will permit such a scheme without charging tax.

Head of finance Graham Johnston warned that the cost, which will be upwards of £500,000, may be covered by a budget underspend this year but in future years it would have to be found from other projects. “Something else will have to give,” he said.

Councillor Laura Baisley was against the scheme, arguing that the money would be better spent on services and facilities which the whole community could benefit from rather than giving “a handout” to people, some of whom were already comfortably well off. “I think it’s time to wean people off this.”

She asked why the council was not helping other groups with heating costs, such as single mothers. Why was it just the over-65s?

In a vote she lost out 15-4. A further vote aimed at delaying support for the scheme until the details are worked out was lost 11-8.

Among those in support was councillor Gussie Angus who said the original bonus scheme had been introduced to help with electricity bills in the winter, in recognition of fuel poverty in Shetland, and its cost was “absolutely miniscule” to community funds.


Add Your Comment
  • Rasmie Jamieson

    • September 16th, 2009 19:20

    Ah, good to see our councillors are as in touch with the zeitgeist as ever. Not content with spending more than half the charitable trust’s money on pensioners, they have to go and throw yet more money after rich pensioners. Just think of all those businessmen who have made a fortune out of salmon farming, fishing etc. claiming £300 just after the trustees were finally forced by OSCR to target the Christmas bonus on the genuinely needy among us – fine use of public money, that.

    Well done tae Laura Baisley for speaking up. Maybe next time they could consider using some money as an incentive to keep some of our young people here rather than carrying on with their (so far pretty successful) attempt to turn Shetland into a pensioners’ playground / graveyard? And there’s also the small matter of a pretty severe impending funding cut from the Scottish government just around the corner – how wise is it to create the expectation of a new annual payment when they may well have to take it away again next year? You really couldna mak it up.

  • Colin

    • September 17th, 2009 22:40

    What a disgrace.

    I thought the Councillors had finally seen sense when they cut back on the Christmas bonus. I am as angry as I am disappointed.

    If Mr Angus and his fellow politicians believe £500K is ‘absolutely miniscule’ we are all in trouble.


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