Water charge hikes threaten future of Shetland’s community halls

The latest water bills that massively hike charges to Shetland’s community halls is a direct threat to their future says Shetland MSP Tavish Scott. He is pressing Scottish Ministers to change the way in which Hall Committees, run by volunteers, are clobbered by government policy.

Following changes to the exemption criteria for water charges and the way bills are calculated, public halls in Shetland with an alcohol license are now liable for large water bills. They therefore face serious financial pressure.

Tavish has now written to the Cabinet Secretary, Roseanna Cunningham, illustrating the damaging effects of these changes. He wants the Government to take urgent action to prevent halls having to close their doors. Tavish has already raised this in Parliament and, working with Voluntary Action Shetland, is demanding an islands impact assessment of the policy.

The letter reads:

I am writing again on the subject of public halls in Shetland, which continue to face challenges to their viability after receiving their annual water and sewerage charges.

One example was shared with me this week. Walls Hall has now seen an increase in their bill of £300, to £1700. This is described by their Chair as “unsustainable” given that the committee already “find it difficult enough fund-raising to keep everything else going without this exorbitant charge”.

As you will be aware from our previous correspondence, the majority of public halls in Shetland previously qualified for a full exemption of these charges and this change has been exacerbated by the recent move away from historic rateable values (RV’s).

You may recall in October last year that I called for a retrospective Island Community Impact Assessment into these charges as the exemption criteria shows a fundamental misunderstanding of the geography of Shetland and the role of public halls in our rural communities. The halls require permanent alcohol licenses to cater for the varied events that they host and rely on this income to remain open.

It is simply not the case that they compete with other licensed premises or could act to encourage alcohol consumption beyond the existence of supermarkets and off-license sales.

It is my understanding that the development of Island Community Impact Assessments will not happen before the National Islands Plan is laid before Parliament in October 2019.

This is simply too long for halls to wait for an answer and action must be taken now to relieve the financial burden on Shetland’s public halls to ensure their continued viability.

I look forward to your response on this urgent matter.

Commenting, Tavish said:

“The Scottish Government is well aware of this unjust policy flaw which is causing serious financial hardship to our vital community halls. The Government must respect the principles of the Islands Act and recognise that urgent action is required if our halls are to continue to provide vital community spaces and services.

“It is simply not good enough for the Cabinet Secretary to dismiss the our calls for change based on the idea that halls with alcohol licenses are affecting business competition. It is all too obvious to anyone with an understanding of the isles that this is not the case.”

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