SIC hopes its three-way proposal will settle £40m housing debt for good

The SIC is hoping for feedback from Scottish housing minister Margaret Burgess next week on a proposed three-way solution to eliminate its £40 million housing debt “once and for all”.

During last week’s cabinet visit, the council’s political leader Gary Robinson presented the new pro­posal to local government minister Derek Mackay.

It would see the local authority receive £10 million from West­minster, which has benefited from over £300 billion in revenues from North Sea oil since the 1970s. The SIC would match that sum to halve the debt and, critically, allow coun­cil house rents “to be kept at an affordable level”.

Subsequently, the mooted deal would see the Scottish government hand over £10 million in housing grants between 2016 and 2018. The SIC would provide a “similar sum” in the form of “land value and fund­ing for housing development”, Mr Robinson said, “which would pave the way for new affordable homes to be built in Shetland.”

A petition by this newspaper calling on the two governments to resolve the debt, built up during the first oil boom in the 1970s, has been signed by 2,288 people.

Presented with that evidence last week, Mr Mackay said it was plain to see the strength of community feeling about what many islanders view as an historic injustice. He said the SNP government remained “open-minded” about finding a solution, and vowed to do what he could to get the Tory-Lib Dem coalition back around the table.

Mr Robinson said this week: “We have taken the initiative to try to break the deadlock on Shetland’s historic housing debt problem and secure a better future for our tenants in terms of affordable and available housing.

“We are pleased that the Scottish government has taken our proposal away to consider in more detail and we hope that they can encourage the UK Government to sit down and discuss the matter.”

He hopes Ms Burgess will be in a position to give initial feedback when she visits the isles on Wednesday (7th August).

“The position we have put for­ward is, in our minds, one that could settle the housing debt debate once and for all.”

SIC housing chief Anita Jamie­son said a solution to the debt is “long overdue and is crucial to protecting our tenants, by ensuring that we can provide a quality service that meets their needs and expect­ations at an affordable rent”.

Members and officials have warned rents could rise by 10 per cent or more in April 2014 if nothing is done to address the debt.

Ms Jamieson said: “The views of our tenants were well captured by the Shetland Tenants Forum’s recent survey. We also need to find ways of investing in new housing supply to meet the growing needs of those on the waiting list. The proposal put forward is designed to find a sustainable way forward.”


Add Your Comment
  • Martyn Fisher

    • August 3rd, 2013 11:05

    This could be really good news fingers crossed. I am starting to feel good that the SNP stopped paying the interest. Looks like it was a wise move as people have been forced to the table. It can never be good economic strategy just to pay the interest on something the problem just never goes away. looks like SIC will finally get this monkey off its back. Well done to the Shetland Times to for a great campaign.

  • John Tulloch

    • August 3rd, 2013 14:37

    As long as it’s all in writing, this time!

    If SIC pays £10m towards its oil boom housing debt then that’s £10m it won’t have to spend in Shetland from its reserves or which it will have to raise from council tax/rent payers.

    I’m unsure I’d call that “halving the debt”, other than using the numbers to put a spin on a not particularly attractive deal. And the Scottish government’s £10m will be spent on more oil boom housing so it can’t be counted. Will £10m cover the cost of that housing?

  • Douglas Young

    • August 3rd, 2013 18:12

    For nearly 40 years Westminster has reneged on it’s promise to repay this debt.
    Within a week of the SNP visiting Shetland we are having a visit from the housing Minister and sitting round the table.
    By any measure of political expediency that is superfast.
    Good luck to all parties.

  • Henry Condy

    • August 3rd, 2013 18:54

    I do not understand how Councils can run up millions in Rent arrears, council tax etc, surely if you are unfortunately on benefit, your rent etc is taken of at source, having filled in the appropriate forms when you became unemployed , or sick, now if you are working and fall into arrears you should be allowed one months grace, then investigated by your authority, rather than bury your head in the sand and ignore a mounting debt, then a positive way can be found to manage your rental debt,


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