MSP Tavish Scott is calling on the Scottish Government to live up to its moral responsibility to a number of Shetland halls and other community groups which have spent time and money preparing bids to the Scotland Rural Development Programme (SRDP), only to have the programme closed to community applications.
Mr Scott said the halls were left having to compete for a share of an inadequate sum allocated to Shetland under the LEADER programme. The groups affected come from North Unst, Fetlar and Burravoe to Hillswick, Bixter and Cunningsburgh.
In a letter to rural affairs minister Richard Lochhead, Mr Scott attacked the decision to close the SRDP to community applications leaving them to reapply for LEADER funding from their Local Action Group, with the Shetland LAG being given only some £220,000 to cover Shetland applications.
He wrote: “Your decision is extremely unfair to at least six capital projects in Shetland and the voluntary committees who have managed these projects over the past couple of years are bitterly disappointed by this Government decision made without any warning.
“There are a further three Shetland projects that may also be affected. I understand that your officials have stated that 22-25 projects across Scotland may be affected. The projects in Shetland could therefore constitute 50 per cent of the Scottish figure.”
Mr Scott asked why the allocation to Shetland for LEADER funding was “so inadequate at £220,000 out of the £13.3 million overall budget over three years given the scale of the local projects seeking funding”?
Advising the minister that many of the affected groups he has spoken to “consider that the Scottish Government has a moral responsibility to re-consider the position of the 22-25 projects across Scotland so let down”, Mr Scott asked the minister to “find a way to have a proper assessment carried out which would lead to at least the possibility of funding”. He warned that, with only £220,000 available, most of the Shetland projects would get no funding at all.
Noting that Shetland projects which had started the SRDP application process had spent considerable sums already, he gave the example of the Hillswick Hall Committee which had raised £20,000 that was spent on planning, building control, architect, quantity surveyor and engineers’ fees.
He wrote: “That money was raised by the local community over a number of years and doesn’t take into account the hundreds of hours of committee time taken to get these proposals to this stage.
“This decision has undermined the voluntary work undertaken by people determined to benefit their community through their hard work. Hillswick Hall’s committee had needed £315,000 of external funding for their capital refurbishment and redevelopment. That puts the Scottish Government’s allocation of £220,000 over three years in some context.”
Mr Scott advised the minister that the six Shetland projects most affected were the Hillswick Hall refurbishment, the North Unst Hall refurbishment, the Cunningsburgh Showfield development, the Burravoe Community and Cultural Centre, Fetlar Going Green and the Bixter Hall refurbishment.
He noted that the Hillswick, Eshaness and Area Regeneration and Development Association, the Unst Agricultural Show Committee and Fetlar Developments Ltd, which had less far advanced projects, would also be hit.
He asked the minister what had happened to the original SRDP budget which the groups had been encouraged to apply for; why were projects in the pipeline not warned that funding was under review so that they could curtail expenditure until a decision was taken; and whether he will review the decision to close the SRDP door on the 22-25 projects across Scotland affected or would he instead revise the share out of funds to LEADER Local Action Groups to reflect the needs of projects in the pipeline.
Mr Scott said: “One hall committee told me that the news of this change came as ‘a bolt out of the blue’. I can understand their frustration and anger when, after all their hard work making their way through the various stages of the SRDP, the door was slammed in their faces. They have been left having to apply to LEADER for a pot of funding that doesn’t get even close to being able to meet the demand.”