Public halls urged to take part in consultation over rates exemption

Public halls should take part in a consultation on the Water and Sewerage Charges Exemption Scheme, says Shetland MSP Tavish Scott.

He said the charges can place an enormous financial burden on voluntary public halls and the exemption scheme does not apply if the hall holds a permanent liquor licence – something 36 out of 47 charitable status halls in Shetland currently have.

As a result of the scheme, Mr Scott said hall committees now faced bills “far beyond” their means.

According to Voluntary Action Shetland, three years ago 27 halls were found to have a net income of £5,000 or less. One hall reported a total profit of £537 in 2016-17, but the rateable value was set at £567. Exemption from the scheme would cancel out these rates, he said.

Mr Scott said: “Local halls are charities, not businesses, and play an incredibly important role in the social welfare of our rural communities. It is vital that we give them to support to flourish. The lack of recognition for voluntary halls in this legislation tears at the fabric of rural society.

“The changes to the Water and Sewerage Charges Exemption Scheme in 2015 had a substantial impact on public halls in Shetland.

“Local communities are extremely concerned about the impact of these bills on the future of the public halls they manage.

“Many voluntary public halls are simply attempting to break even. Water bills are likely to be enough to lead many halls within my constituency to close, removing precious community assets and increasing isolation for those unable to travel further afield.

“I would urge any public hall to take part in this vital consultation.”

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