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Council / Benefit fund clarifies position on supporting council after cost of living approach

The council has been proactive in supporting the community during the cost of living crisis. Photo: SIC

THE FUND which distributes community benefit money from the Viking Energy wind farm has explained why it turned down an approach from the council for cash for its response to the cost of living crisis.

Shetland Islands Council also contacted the charitable trust, but no formal application has yet been received.

Shetland Community Benefit Fund (SCBF) chair Chris Bunyan said its directors decided unanimously that it should not fund a local authority department or project to keep an independence from the council.

He also said there was a desire not to draw down any more advance payments from the Viking Energy fund.

“I’d like to stress that this decision is no reflection on the council’s work to help in the cost of living crisis, or the valuable work of the Anchor For Families team,” Bunyan said.

At the moment the community benefit fund receives around £400,000 a year for local projects during the construction of the Viking Energy wind farm.

To date more than £500,000 has been distributed so far to every corner of Shetland for community projects.

When the Viking Energy wind farm goes live in 2024 the annual payment will shoot up to around £2.2 million.

Under the current scheme community councils across Shetland receive a share of the funds, with areas which are due to host turbines given more.

SIC chief executive Maggie Sandison. Photo: Shetland News

SIC chief executive Maggie Sandison said she wrote to Shetland Community Benefit Fund to ask whether it would be open to contributing towards a pot of funding the local authority was setting up to respond to the cost of living crisis.

This pot of funding, which ended up being worth £500,000 and financed through revenues from Crown Estate Scotland, is designed to provide emergency support to households.

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Sandison said she would not comment on the decisions and actions of other organisations.

But the council chief said: “I would like to recognise that they are open to funding bids from non-statutory community based organisations who can deliver complementary projects to support households experiencing concerns about money, or difficulties accessing food or fuel.”

Bunyan explained that the benefit fund would have required to take “significant money” from the first year’s main Viking Energy funding.

“SCBF had already used £200,000 from these funds to support the MRI Scanner Appeal and at that time said this was a one-off decision,” he explained.

“SCBF directors decided that they would not use any more of these main funds as it reduces the amount available in 2024/25 and SCBF’s ability to prioritise the objectives that will be identified in the consultation that has recently started.”

Bunyan explained that the main Viking Energy fund will allow SCBF to be “proactive and initiate projects itself”.

The current advance grant scheme current is instead “reactive, relying on receiving applications from third parties”.

“At the meeting when the SIC’s letter was considered, directors agreed to relax the grant scheme’s rules to try and encourage applications for projects relating to poverty and the cost of living,” Bunyan added.

The benefit fund team has engaged with developers behind other plans for renewables in or around Shetland, including offshore wind.

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