Atlantic Views: Joanne Matheson

Joanne Matheson. F17joannematheson1no
Joanne Matheson. F17joannematheson1no

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In 2017 Crown Estates in Scotland were devolved to Scottish Government control, and in 2019 Roseanna Cunningham MSP announced that 100 per cent of revenues from those assets would be assigned to local communities using a simple calculation of how much coastline was in their region.

As promised, towards the end of last year Highland Council received its share of the revenues generated in 2017/18, roughly £1.3million, and has recently been advised that it will receive a further £1.74m for 2018/19, bringing a total to work with of just over £3million.

When announcing the distribution of funds, the Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform stated that: ‘The new funding arrangement will see coastal communities receive 100 per cent of revenue generated from the Estate’s marine assets…enabling them to better fund and support local projects and initiatives.’

Unfortunately, as we have come to expect all too frequently, Inverness has different ideas.

Scottish Government started by assigning a minimum amount of £1,000 to every area regardless of whether it has a coastline, which I’m sure Stirling, Dundee and Glasgow were grateful to receive.

Inverness has decided that each area should receive a £50,000 minimum, but not ‘Badenoch and Strathspey as it has no sea area’. If I were a B&S resident I’d be asking why not.

Next, Inverness has decided that £100,000 is needed to employ project officers to undertake the work of administering the fund, and has decided that those jobs should go to employees in Inverness who’s projects are due to end soon. Why can’t those jobs go to people working in the coastal communities this money is supposed to serve?

Highland Council headquarters In Inverness. NO F19 council HQ
Highland Council headquarters In Inverness.
NO F19 council HQ

Finally, Inverness is retaining 15 per cent of the full starting figure to ‘top up support for local area projects where there is over-demand from area allocation’ and for ‘funding for Highland-wide strategic projects’. In the first case, why would you need to retain 15 percent of funding from an area, just so that you can give it to them if there isn’t enough in the pot?

Why would you retain 15 per cent from one area in order to give it to another area if they haven’t got enough – that’s just manipulating the allocation.

But the second reason for retaining this amount gives us all the answer we need – ‘Highland-wide strategic projects’ we all know too well means projects in Inverness.

At a time when remote rural and coastal communities are struggling to deal with loss of jobs following Covid-19, and at the same time deal with the ongoing increase in visitor numbers, we need as much funding as we can get.

Too many of our areas have seasonal issues due to inadequate tourism infrastructure, and this money should be going directly to address those problems.

Inverness should be in receipt of 0.47 percent of the total Crown Estates allocation for the first two years, or possibly as much as 0.5 percent if they allocate the same minimum to all areas as Scottish Government.

Instead, it has managed to concoct a calculation which means that it is retaining control of 20 percent of the total amount, and has drafted a policy which ensures that the whole amount can be spent in Inverness if it so chooses.

At a meeting taking place today, (September 10) councillors are being asked to approve this altered formula. If approved this will be yet another example of Inverness applying one rule for them and another for the rest of us, and will be contrary to what Scottish Government intended – for ‘100 percent of revenues’ to go to local communities.

Once again, Inverness allocates funding to its poor relations after keeping the cream for itself.