Council cuts threaten ‘irreversible’ damage

The cuts facing the council are "the worst of any in Scotland".The cuts facing the council are "the worst of any in Scotland".
The cuts facing the council are "the worst of any in Scotland".
Western Isles MSP Alasdair Allan has been told by Comhairle nan Eilean Siar’s chief executive, Malcom Burr, that Scottish Government cuts to council budgets threaten “irreversible” damage to the islands’ economy.

In a letter to the MSP, copied to councillors and seen by the Gazette, the chief executive also calls on the Scottish Government to “island-proof” policies in order to limit the effects of energy price rises.

In an unusually blunt warning to the SNP MSP, Mr Burr writes: “The funding formula has delivered a real terms cut on top of the largest reduction in funding to any council in Scotland, and if this is not reversed, the consequences to public services and public employment in the Western Isles will be severe and, I fear, irreversible”.

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The current council settlement, he writes, “represents a real terms cut and the Comhairle, as ever, has to focus on its statutory services. Its discretionary services are, however, equally important and essential to the well-being of the Western Isles.

“It would be nothing short of a tragedy if, at the dawn of both onshore and offshore renewable energy developments coming to fruition at long last, public services in the Western Isles became so depleted to a degree which would be detrimental to community development and population retention, which is the object of all our corporate policies and strategies.”

Mr Burr pleads for the MSP’s support on two issues: “Firstly, we seek your assistance in ensuring island proofing of Scottish Government measures to alleviate the rises in energy prices; secondly, to work with this council and the newly elected members in May on funding issues, revenue and capital, for future years”.

On energy measures, he writes: “We await to hear from the Cabinet Secretary for Finance what Scottish Government is proposing. It has already been remarked on … that the Western Isles and other rural and island areas will suffer disproportionately on account of already higher levels of fuel poverty and extreme fuel poverty.

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“The Comhairle’s wish and expectation, therefore, is that Scottish Government measures are appropriately island proofed, as is indeed required since whatever is put in place will be a change to policy or strategy.”

In a separate development, council leader Roddie Mackay and director of communities, Calum Iain Maciver, met the Green Minister, Patrick Harvie, to impress upon him distinctive island factors within the control of the Scottish Government, which are set to increase fuel poverty.

They pointed to the immediate ending of public subsidies for oil and LPG boilers, introduced without consultation or islands impact assessment as part of the SNP-Green coalition agreement and affecting more than half the households in the Western Isles – over 7000 which depend on oil heating and 800 LPG.

It was stressed that many houses in the Western Isles will be unable to take the Greens’ preferred alternative – air source heating – due to the construction and age of buildings while dependence on electricity, in the absence of mains gas, already means the islands face higher average bills.

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Mr Mackay said afterwards: “It was the usual outcome. Mr Harvie asked Calum Iain Maciver to follow up with his officials regarding the particular island challenges and our suggestion that we need an Islands Impact Assessment on the issue of boiler replacement”. ​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​