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Islands bill to be used in local halls’ fight against water charges

SHETLAND Halls Association and Voluntary Action Shetland are hopeful that legislation which came in under the islands act earlier this year can be utilised in the fight to reinstate an exemption for water and sewage charges.

In response to a question from Shetland MSP Tavish Scott in parliament on Thursday, rural affairs minister Mairi Gougeon confirmed that no island impact assessment had been undertaken when the exemption was removed.

As part of the Scottish Government’s attempts to curtail the easy access to alcohol, community halls holding a permanent alcohol licence have had their exemption from paying water and sewage charges removed.

The move means some community halls are faced with bruising bills of nearly £2,000 this financial year, with most halls’ income average sitting at between £5,000 and £10,000.

Shetland Halls Association met on Thursday night in the Voe Hall to discuss its next steps.

Ayesha Huda, from Voluntary Action Shetland, reiterated that a local hall was not a pub.

“Halls are not providing licensed facilities every night, just occasionally. They provide community facilities for community events, and the licence is very much part of that,” she said.

“If they didn’t have a full alcohol licence then they wouldn’t be able to provide the services that are vital to community life. So, generally the halls feel this is a very unjust tax that they are being asked to pay.

“Now, the islands bill has to take into account the impact of any legislation on island communities so we hope the government will take action to reinstate the exemption.”

Gougeon also confirmed that the government would carry out an islands impact assessment on receipt of a request from the local authority.

Scott said: “I have discussed this with representatives of Shetland’s community halls on Thursday night. A formal joint request to the SIC for an immediate application for a full islands impact assessment will now be made.

“Parliament passed the islands act in June. We now need to see the terms of that act meaning something tangible to people in the islands, especially hard working volunteers who run Shetland’s community halls.”