Just think how £2.5 million could be spent in our communities.
Think how it could help fund some of our hardest hit local services, the front line jobs it could protect, toilets it could keep open, the pot holes it could fill or even the repairs that could be made in our schools – Nairn Academy would be a good place to start.
In October last year, I obtained information under Freedom of Information, confirming the Highland Council is out of pocket to the tune of £2.5 million following the disastrous rollout of Universal Credit in the Highlands. Since then, I have been calling for this money to be reimbursed to the Highland Council from the UK Government.
In addition to meeting Universal Credit administration costs, we are also having to carry the burden the cost of rent arrears which have shot through the roof because of the length of time people and landlords have to wait for Universal Credit payments. £2.5 million is just a start, these costs are only going to increase as over 14,000 people across the Highlands move to Universal Credit through managed migration.
Upon receiving these damning figures back in October, I raised the matter with the Secretary of State for the Department of Work and Pensions. I have since met with the Employment Minister, Alok Sharma MP to demand that the UK Government pay this money back and to ask that they put in place funding to meet future costs. The Minister assured me he would give the matter his attention, and true to his word his team has had follow up meetings with Highland Council officials.
Now, months on and the Council still hasn’t been reimbursed. A point I made, when I raised the issue in Parliament, again, last week. The costs are there in black and white, so why the delay?
It’s clear cut – it is not the job of Highland council tax payers to foot the bill for the UK Government’s failing Universal Credit rollout. We want this money back to spend in our region, to benefit our communities.
Last week, the Minister has agreed to meet me again to discuss this issue and I’ve made it clear I’m not willing to be fobbed off.
I will go back and demand that they right this wrong and settle their debt with the people of the Highlands.