SNP list MSP Jean Urquhart has attacked Tavish Scott’s claim that the abolition of the SIC’s housing support grant will lead to an £8-a-week rent rise for council house tenants.
Ms Urquhart said that local government and planning minister Derek Mackay had vowed to work in partnership with the SIC to find a way of mitigating the impact on tenants once the grant – the only remaining one of its kind in Scotland – is removed.
On Wednesday Mr Scott won no support for his amendment to put in place a transitional arrangement to protect tenants from the loss of £760,000 to the local authority.
Some 40 per cent of rental income is used to pay debt repayment charges on the council’s £40 million housing debt, which was built up during the 1970s and 1980s oil boom. The then Tory government’s promise to repay that debt has never been fulfilled.
Ms Urquhart denied that the grant’s removal would “automatically result in a rent increase for tenants”.
“The situation has been unsustainable for a number of years,” she said. “But an even bigger issue is the £40 million housing debt left by a previous Conservative government that promised to clear it.”
She continued: “Now that Shetland’s own MP is a key member of a Conservative-led government, and another Highlands MP, Danny Alexander, is the chief secretary to the Treasury, I am sure that the Liberal Democrats will use their influence in Westminster to cancel that debt and relieve the huge burden on the council’s budget.”
SIC housing spokesman Allison Duncan has made face-to-face appeals to both Mr Alexander and Chancellor George Osborne to drop the debt, so far without success.
It is understood the council is considering whether to pay off a portion of the debt from its reserves in an attempt to bolster its efforts to persuade central government to write off the remaining money owed.
Mr Scott hit out at Ms Urquhart, claiming she believed a significant weekly rent rise for 1,800 Shetland tenants was “a price worth paying with the SNP”.
“That £8.13 weekly rise … across Shetland is the estimate of the SIC’s housing and finance departments,” he said. “They should know rather more than Jean and it was a figure accepted by parliamentary committees.
“Jean has to decide whether she supports Shetland’s housing tenants and the council in making a fair and reasonable case, or whether she is just a messenger for the SNP government. Not for the first time she has shown that the SNP comes first and not Shetland.”