David Cameron, Chair of Community Land Scotland, commenting on the decision of the Gigha islanders to revamp their business plan and move to their next stage of development, said,
“Through the Gigha experience of recent weeks we have seen the strength of community ownership, with a community fully engaged and in democratic control of their future.
“The process of consultation, debate and decisions about their future direction has now given strong support for the vision of their Chair and Board on how to take the island forward to an ever stronger future.
“The debate and new mandate the community have now given the community company follows a process which has allowed a range of views to be openly expressed and now allows the island to move forward on the path to deliver more development.
“There have been those who want to paint Gigha as an island in crises, but this is a place determined to carve out a better future than it has a past. This is an island community which has invested in building for that future and, while that allows some to paint a picture of an island in debt, for others it is an island investing for the long term, an island with hope and confidence.
“Gigha’s community ownership has delivered remarkable improvements to their place. Substantial numbers of modernised and new houses and new income streams developed through energy generation, are just two of the symbols of progress. Such major developments require investment, and that requires commercial borrowing, just like any significant commercial company. Investment and debt are the flip sides of the same coin and in Gigha’s case the balance sheet is healthy, with over £7.5 million of assets.
“Gigha has a turnover of over £1million a year and people need to get used to the idea that community owners are multi-functional businesses of scale, many operating in marginal communities. To develop their place requires investment, some of which will be financed by commercial borrowing, just as households borrow to invest in their homes and future. We don’t paint household mortgage owners as people who have simply run up debts and as if they had no assets or weren’t investing for their future, and nor should we paint community owners investing in their future in such a way.
“The Chairs and Boards of community companies are volunteers who give of their time to contribute to a stronger future for their place. It is tough for them to have to fight their corner for what they believe in the glare of public scrutiny, but that is accepted as something that community ownership involves.
“I am delighted the Chair and Board of Gigha’s community company have a very clear majority to now get on and progress the vision they have for the future, to keep investing, and to build for future generations.”
Gigha islanders voted by 66% to 33% to back the Chair of the community company to drive forward proposed changes to their business plan involving new policies for ongoing development. This is a significant majority and would be mandate any government would covet.
There was recent public reporting that Gigha had “run up debts” of some £2.7 million pounds. In fact that is the sum of residual borrowing for significant and secure investments in the major refurbishment of over 30 houses which were below tolerable standard when the estate was taken over by the community, and in the building of 4 wind turbines to provide the island with a substantial new income stream, together with a range of other smaller, but significant, investments. Against this residual level of borrowings, the community has grown the asset value of the island to over £7.5 million.