Letters to the Editor – week 49

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More commercial but without real accountability

Regarding Councillors Baxter’s stand over parking charges, according to Highland Council, ‘The council agreed in June 2018 that decision-making for off-street parking income and expenditure will be delegated to local/city committees.’ (www.highland.gov.uk/ downloads/file/19425/thc_ parking_policy_2018_to_2023)

It does seem that Highland Council Inverness has grown far too large to represent the people of Highland democratically. For years Fort William has had parking charges while other towns in Highland region have had none.

The council is a taxpayer-funded organisation, it is not, as some of those employed and elected think, a commercial enterprise that can extract as much profit from residents and visitors alike.

It is time that Highland Council was broken up and  local democracy and accountability by elected members and none elected employees was returned to local communities.

Inverness and Highland Council may see themselves as the capital of the Highlands but in reality they are far removed from the real Highlands and the people that live in them, as Councillor Baxter has found out.

Do people know that their council is working towards implementing, across Highland region, resident parking permits?

The SNP promised an end to the community charge with a suggested local income tax. What we are seeing now instead is councils increasing their income by indirect taxation – even Councillor Baxter has said that Highland Council wants to become more commercial. More commercial but without real accountability and responsibility.

Cyril Bonnett, Ballachulish.

M&S Macmillan Coffee Morning

Thank you Fort William for helping us to raise vital funds for people living with cancer

Cancer can have such a destructive impact on our lives and a collective effort to raise funds makes a difference.

The M&S Fort William team was overwhelmed by the level of generosity and involvement of the local community throughout September for our charity partner’s World’s Biggest Coffee Morning campaign that saw many of you visit our cafe and foodhall throughout the month.

We would like to say a big ‘thank you’ to our local customers and colleagues for their support – your generosity has helped raise £2,520 (and counting) towards funding Macmillan professionals who play such a vital role within our communities.

Sam Nugent, store manager M&S Fort William.

Lamenting the loss of democracy in Lochaber

When district councils disappeared from Scotland as a result of the Local Government (Scotland) Act of 1994, Lochaber lost something good. It was called ‘democracy’ – a big word for localism.

The politicians in Edinburgh maintained council business would be more efficient if it was delivered by area committees. What they didn’t say was they would have no authority to set budgets or priorities and that any decisions they took could be overruled elsewhere.

The issue of Christmas parking charges, highlighted on the front page of last week’s Lochaber Times, is a typical example of how area committees are not working and how Fort William has become a far-flung satellite of Inverness.

Lochaber councillors agreed a way forward to raise additional revenue, but it seems now that their decision will be thrown out by the full council when it meets in Inverness on December 13.

All that is being asked for by the public representatives in Lochaber is to introduce two hours’ free parking in Fort William for a few weeks in the lead up to Christmas. A paltry sum compared to the £3 million-£6 million their Inverness colleagues want to spend on improving the city centre by slowing down traffic and planting trees.

In an age not everywhere remarkable for human eagerness to overcome obstacles and when council employees take more decisions than elected members, Lochaber’s area leader, Councillor Andrew Baxter, must be admired for taking a stance against the Inverness administration, even to resigning as chairman of the council’s prestigious education and housing committee to make his point.

Mr Baxter is clearly a man of principal and fairness and is deserving of high office.

Iain Thornber,

Knock House, Morvern, Lochaber.

Number of families in poverty in the rises

The introduction of Universal Credit has seen growing numbers of children and families relying on foodbanks and falling into rent arrears in Lochaber and across Highland.

This was highlighted recently in the Lochaber Times with the headline ‘Universal Credit woes hit Lochaber families hard’, with some families waiting as long as nine weeks for UC payments to be issued.

Last month, a scathing report from the United Nations on UK austerity stated that the introduction of policies such as Universal Credit has ‘inflicted great misery on its citizens’. The Child Poverty Action Group in Scotland has also stated that more than one in four children in Scotland are living in poverty and that this is likely to increase after Brexit unless we make serious policy reform. This number has been rising signifcantly since 2007.

Austerity, Universal Credit and Brexit have been political choices which are putting at risk basic human needs such as housing, food, job security and standards of living.

The Scottish government is aiming to lessen the impact of these policies by offering the option of fortnighlty payments instead of monthly for Universal Credit. It has introduced baby boxes, mitigated the worst of the bedroom tax policy and added a premium to carers allowance set out by the UK government.

However, there is a limit to what it can do with the devolved areas it has control over. Sadly, this means the UK, including Scotland, has the highest number of children living in poverty compared to any other Euproean country.

In an independent Scotland the government would have the ability to halt crippling policies such as Universal Credit and would be able to implement a fairer welfare system which will reduce the number of children and families in poverty. We owe it to our children and future generations to take a stand against austerity and forge a better path in an independent Scotland.

Lia Hunter, Caol, Fort William.