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Community / Call to use community benefit funds to fight poverty

How shall the funds in the Shetland Community Benefit Fund be used?

THE TIME has come to redirect the considerable monies accumulating in the Shetland Community Benefit Fund (SCBF) to fight poverty and the cost of living crisis rather than spending it on community projects.

This was the clear message from Lerwick Community Council last night in response to three funding applications it considered on behalf of the community benefit fund.

SCBF currently handles around £400,000 per year it receives from SSE Renewables, the developer of the Viking Energy wind farm. The annual payment will rise to £2.2 million (index linked) once the wind farm is operational, amounting to £72 million over the lifetime of the project.

SCBF is in discussion with other wind farm projects in and off the isles to attract further community benefit funding from large scale developers.

The funds are administered by the islands’ community councils, and funding applications have to be approved by the community council each proposed project will be located in.

On Monday night community councillors were reluctant to grant funding as requested to projects by Shetland Gymnastics, Shetland Care Attendants Scheme and Lerwick Boating Club.

Shetland Gymnastics asked for £8,120.72 to help with the cost of training young gymnasts to Island Games standard at the Garioch Gymnastics Club in Inverurie, while the care attendants scheme asked for £2,500 towards plans to maintain and extend the care service.

Meanwhile Lerwick Boating Club asked for £6,000 towards new laundry facilities.

Community councillors were minded to offer Shetland Gymnastics around £2,000, the care attendant scheme £1,333 and request more information from the boating club on its application.

Community councillor Stewart Hay found widespread support from fellow members when he questioned the objectives of the community benefit fund and said that in his mind the time had come to use the funds available to help those in need.

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He said the community benefit fund had no role in taking over from the government’s welfare and social support systems, but since Shetland had the means to help people affected by the cost of living crisis it should do so.

“The time has come when either collectively as the community councils involved in the benefit fund or particularly for our own circumstances in Lerwick, the challenges people are about to face for basic heating and eating may well require the kind of support that the benefit fund might well wish to give,” Hay said.

Gary Robinson added that a critical point had been reached and that not just the community benefit fund but also other large charities in the isles, namely the Shetland Charitable Trust, should be considering how they could help “alleviating poverty and fuel poverty”.

He said that in the past charitable money was used to address the symptoms of poverty rather than the root causes, adding that funds needed to be used to ensure “folk get insulating and get efficient heating in”.

“It is something that we as a community really need to think about in how we can best address that,” he said.

“Paying high fuel bills is sadly seeing money going out of Shetland which could be better spent in Shetland.

“It’s a really good point Stewart is making, and it is one we need to think about, not tonight, but if we could start that conversation then that would be very worthwhile.”

It came on the same day a proposal was raised in the Shetland Islands Council chamber to freeze council house rent to help those on low incomes struggling with rising energy costs and increased cost of living.

However, the proposal was outvoted five to four as the majority sided with increasing rent by 2.5 per cent to help fund vital maintenance and upgrades to properties.

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