Highland Council in talks with Westminster to scrap £200m housing debt

Margaret Davidson

A bid to scrap Highland Council’s £200 million housing debt and the Inverness and Highlands City-Region Deal are among the matters to be discussed today as the local authority visit officials in the UK government.

A significant element of the housing debt, loans taken out by the local authority to build and improve council housing, relates to historic debt inherited from former district councils at local government reorganisation in the 1990s, associated with council house building programmed to support local economic development in the hydro and oil industries.

The local authority sought to invite politicians from both sides of the Border to attend a summit aimed at writing-off the debt as far back as March 2016.

Highland Council leader Margaret Davidson and budget leader Alister MacKinnon will meet with Lord Duncan, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Scotland today to discuss the debt and to update him on progress being made on the Inverness and Highland City-Region Deal.

They also intend raising the matter of Brexit and the implications that this will have on the region and will be seeking further information on the UK government’s potential support for tourism.

In addition, the digital connectivity of the Highlands will be raised with Lord Duncan as the councillors hope to find out how the UK government can contribute to accelerating the roll out of broadband across the region.

Councillor Davidson will also be meeting the Economic Secretary to the Treasury, John Glen MP along with Ian Blackford MP for Ross, Skye and Lochaber.

Councillor Davidson said: “I would like to thank Mr Blackford for facilitating this meeting to open a conversation with the Treasury about re-scheduling Highland Council’s Public Works Board debt with the hope of reducing our annual re-payments which will enable re-investment in public services in the Highlands.

“We will also be discussing the case for writing off some or all of the Highland Council’s housing debt. Shetland Council was successful in this matter as they built many house in the 1970s for the oil and gas sector and this is also the case in Highland.

“Essentially, our visit is about asking the Treasury to be aware of the special circumstances in Highland, our rurality and the uniqueness of the Highlands and to take that into account in their financial dealings with us.”

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