Housing debt: London and Edinburgh treating isles ‘like a ping-pong ball’ as petition reaches 2,000 mark

Two thousand people have now signed this newspaper’s petition urging the UK and Scottish Governments to write off the SIC’s crippling £40 million housing debt.

The latest milestone was reached on Thursday morning, with the tally now standing at 2,025. Six weeks after the campaign was launched, there has been no let-up in the rate at which people are adding their names to the cause.

SIC politicians are growing ever more frustrated at the lack of progress on setting up three-way talks with Westminster and Holyrood to resolve the issue.

Following last week’s contribution from Scottish housing minister Margaret Burgess, The Shetland Times is continuing to seek an interview with chief secretary to the UK Treasury Danny Alexander, who has been tied up with the government’s 2015/16 spending review in recent weeks.

Prior to going into government, Mr Alexander had called on the UK government to write off Highland Council’s housing debt.

But a statement from the Treasury earlier this week claimed that, while Mr Alexander had met an SIC delegation in December to better understand the debt issue, he believes it is down to the Scottish government and the council to “find an appropriate solution”.

A Treasury spokeswoman said: “Since powers were devolved [in 1999], this has been a matter for the Scottish Parliament, like the rest of your housing and local government matters, and it’s for the Scottish Government to address your petition.”

However, one senior council source said members were thoroughly fed up with being “batted about like a ping-pong ball” between the two governments. Past ministers on both sides of the border have recognised the state’s moral obligation to clear the debt – without ever handing over a cheque.

The UK Government has benefited from over £300 billion in tax revenues from the oil and gas industry since the 1970s. The debt was incurred building homes to accommodate a population influx to help get the North Sea industry up and running.

And, according to a Scottish government report published earlier this year, the UK Treasury stands to receive up to £57 billion in tax revenues from oil between now and 2018. As little as 0.007 per cent of that would clear the SIC’s housing debt.

Council convener Malcolm Bell tweeted this week: “In government terms clearing the housing debt would be ‘small change’ but [it is a] massive issue for Shetland and our tenants.”

Last week Ms Burgess appeared to suggest this community was wealthy enough to address the debt on its own.

However, some locally counter that being a wealthy community is not the same as being an equal one. If the debt is not addressed, it is Shetland’s council house tenants – already facing some of the highest rents in Scotland – who will pay in the form of a rent hike of 10 per cent or more in 2014.



Add Your Comment
  • ivan coghill

    • June 28th, 2013 11:37

    Shetlanders are “wealthy enough”!? When was the last time you had a look around London?

  • Stewart Mac

    • June 28th, 2013 14:00

    Shetland is addressing its own debt, by council house tenants paying neigh on 50% more than they should to service the debt – Nothing like attacking the more vulnerable in society.

    Anyway, Its not the point -The point is the debt was incurred on the underastanding that it would be repaid to the Council and looking at the Oil revenues it would be a preverbial drop in the ocean. Yet again the politicians can be seen to twist and turn to try to get out of it – About time they showed the principles tehy all claim to have and do the homourable thing for once in their lives

  • Sandy McDonald

    • June 28th, 2013 18:52

    Private rents are being massively hiked as well thanks to Total offering huge sums for rental properties.

  • Paul barnett

    • June 28th, 2013 23:11

    Only 2000 can be bothered to sign (not really hard). Shows how many Shetlanders give a f**k . Should be ashamed.

  • Colin McKearney

    • June 28th, 2013 23:31

    No way should the sic increase the rent for tennants , indeed any increase should be met with total refusal to pay it. Let the sic rattle its sabre’s in the direction of the westminster government instead , after all , its their responsibility to honour their pledge to repay the debt. They should be made to pay it all , plus the interest thats already been paid. The sic should just refuse to repay anymore of this debt , and as it is the sic that provide all the tugs etc at sullom , they could blockade sullom.

    The westminster government has made multi billions out of the North sea oil , and what do they have to show for it ? sweet F.A , thats what , Not even a petroleum fund like most all oil producing nations have.

    There has never been a better time for an independant Scotland

  • Douglas Young

    • June 29th, 2013 9:10

    You have the ideal opportunity to pose the question to the representative from Westminster, Mr Alistair Darling, today in the Town Hall, “why have Tory and labour governments refused to repay the money? ”
    He may answer it is up to the Scottish Government but it was not in existence at the time.
    He will not answer that he thinks Shetland is wealthy enough and can well afford it.
    He will tell us we would be better off with Westminster than Holyrood.
    He wont sign your petition.

  • John Tulloch

    • June 29th, 2013 16:45


    Do YOU support the campaign and have YOU signed the petition?

    Do you think the SNP ministers were right to cut the SIC’s housing support grant initiated and paid by London and continued by all Scottish governments post-devolution until the SNP managed to win full control of the reins and stopped it?

    I agree it would be nice if London was to fork out the £40m however if they did they would presumably want to reduce the money paid annually to the Scottish government which was intended to cover the SIC’s interest on the debt.

    Would you and SNP Shetland call for that?

  • Lorraine Cheyne

    • June 30th, 2013 1:38

    A pledge is an obligation. What if the boot was on the other foot?

  • Raymond Smith

    • July 2nd, 2013 3:51

    Vote no in 2014- SNP will hike up taxes to pay for new ships and planes for Scotland’s defence. Serco northlink, less monies to local councils, more central control of everything from NHS to the police force. The SNP holding on to SIC interest for the housing debt is just the start if they gain a Yes vote next year because they think Shetland is rich!!!!! Just wait till the next refit for serco boats- get used to one boat for Lerwick, Kirkwall Aberdeen run- last time it was 12 weeks. There is a fair bit of wealth kicking around Edinburgh/Glasgow Ivan never mind the vast sums in London etc.

    Raymond Smith

  • John Tulloch

    • July 2nd, 2013 8:27

    It’s all very well the Treasury trying to “straight-bat” this by saying housing is a matter for the Scottish government however the issue predates devolution and was initiated at the specific request of HM government in London who have been the main beneficiaries with receipts of £300bn from the North Sea oil boom.

    It is a legacy issue over which the SNP has put itself in the firing line, showing its true colours and seizing SIC’s housing support grant which London, to its credit, has been paying all these years to compensate SIC for their debt interest payments.

    While the SNP’s seizure of the money has brought matters to a head – they are keeping the SIC’s money – London are ultimately responsible for the debt being incurred.

    Try telling your bank that you are giving your mortgage payments to someone else to pay to them so it’s nothing to do with you if they decide to keep the money!


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