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Politics / Governments can do more to help with cost of living, Ross says

BOTH the UK and Scottish Governments should do more to support people in the cost of living crisis, according to Scots Tory leader Douglas Ross.

Speaking during a visit to Shetland this week, the politician said there had been “significant support” in the latest UK Government budget from his Conservative colleagues in Westminster.

However, he said “I always think there’s more government can do to help and assist”.

“I am in no doubt that both governments have to do more to support people during this extremely difficult period,” Ross said.

“But we are not aided when the Scottish Government don’t fully pass on the benefits they get from the UK Government.”

The UK Government holds control of most of the financial levers to ease the cost of living burden.

Shetland already had a historically high level of fuel poverty, and with rising energy costs this will have risen further.

Ross also said the UK Government has given a record amount of money to Scotland for its devolved matters, but suggested the Scottish Government has its priorities wrong.

“We’ve seen time and time again this SNP/Green government doesn’t share the same priorities as communities here in Shetland, and indeed the area I represent in the Scottish Parliament, the whole of the Highlands and Islands,” he said.

Douglas Ross at the NorthLink Ferry Terminal. Photo: Shetland News

“It’s a very Central Belt biased government.”

Ross’ visit to Shetland comes shortly after Shetland Islands Council set its budget for the 2023/24 financial year, which includes an unsustainable draw from reserves of nearly £5 million and possible reductions in services to save money.

It is often claimed the Scottish Government’s hands are tied by the amount of money it receives from its UK counterparts.

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Scottish Government provides core funding for all of the country’s 32 local authorities.

But Ross repeated his desire to see a “Barnett style formula” introduced in Scotland for local government funding.

The Barnett formula is used by the UK Government to calculate the annual block grants given to governments in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

It adjusts the amount based on increases or decreases in comparable spending per person in England.

Meanwhile Ross also engaged with the local fishing industry on Monday morning, with the Scottish Government’s proposed highly protected marine areas (HPMAs) high on the agenda.

The government is currently consulting on the prospect of at least 10 per cent of Scottish waters being designated as HPMAs by 2026.

This has caused significant uproar in the fishing industry, given that the sector could be banned from these new areas.

Unsurprisingly Ross – a Highlands and Islands MSP as well as an MP for Moray – also voiced concern at this government proposals, which have been driven by the Greens.

He said there are “extremely damaging proposals coming forward, not backed in any way by evidence or science, and I think that’s the biggest issue – that this is a party political approach that’s been taken that’s having a huge impact on an industry that’s so important here in Shetland”.

Ross also said recent rule changes that make it compulsory for vessels to land more of their catch in Scotland are having a “huge impact”.

Pelagic industry at loggerheads with government over new landing rules

The Scottish Tory leader is due to visit Unst this week to check out the SaxaVord Spaceport site – grabbing two ferries up and two on the way back.

Tunnels to Yell and Unst, as well as Shetland’s other busiest islands, are one of the key aims for the council – but funding their sizeable up-front cost is the stumbling block.

Talks have been had with both the UK and Scottish Governments about tunnels, and while councillors recently agreed to devise business cases which could give weight to funding requests, they may only be finished in 2024.

Referring the recent UK Government Levelling Up award of around £27 million for a new Fair Isle ferry and harbour infrastructure – despite transport being devoted to Scotland – Ross claimed: “I don’t think people care where the money comes from.”

“Sometimes the Scottish Government got very defensive and said this was disrespecting devolution because the UK Government were spending money on transport in Scotland,” he said.

“To people living in Fair Isle, they just wanted a ferry. They didn’t care if it’s the council that paid for it, the Scottish Government or the UK Government.”

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