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.