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That debt again

Housing and welfare minister Margaret Burgess was in Shetland on Wednesday - Photo: Hans J Marter/ShetNews

A TRIPARTITE meeting to try and resolve Shetland’s historic housing debt is expected to take place soon between the local authority and the governments of Scotland and the UK.

During a brief visit to Shetland this week Scottish housing minister Margaret Burgess reaffirmed her government’s commitment to reduce Shetland Islands Council’s £40 million housing debt to a manageable level.

However when approached on the issue she had little to add to move forward the campaign ease the debt burden.

The SIC has warned that council house rents will have to go up by 12 per cent from April next year if a way forward is not be found.

Councillors have proposed the UK government and the SIC each pay £10 million to halve the debt, while the Scottish government has been asked to invest £10 million into housing in Shetland between 2016 to 2018.

The minister said she was very much aware of the difficulties Shetland’s social housing tenants were facing due to the debt from building houses during the 1970s oil boom.

Until this year the debt interest has been covered by cash from the UK government passed on to Shetland by Holyrood in the form of housing revenue support grant.

Last year the Scottish government decided to keep the cash, instead offering an £840,000 payment to cover the interest over three years.

On Wednesday Burgess insisted responsibility for the debt lay with Westminster.

“The tenants of Shetland very clearly recognise that it is the UK government that has caused this problem,” she said.

“What we are saying is that we want to work with all parties involved to try to find a way of how this problem can be resolved.”

She said it was too early to say if the Scottish government could provide £10 million in 2016/18 as this went beyond the current spending review period.

She insisted that the Scottish government had shown its commitment towards the isles by investing £5.5 million into social housing during the last three years

During her visit she visited some of the housing sites, spoke to the local tenants forum, and had meetings with staff and board members of the local Citizen Advice Bureau.

She also announced around £46,000 of new money to help alleviate the impact of the bedroom tax.

SIC leader Gary Robinson said: “It is absolutely essential to meet the Scottish government and Westminster to thrash out a deal so that everybody can leave the table with credibility.”

 

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