Council tax provokes Stornaway storm

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The Independent Online
AROUND 3,000 demonstrators in Stornaway, on the Western Isle of Lewis, took part in the biggest march in the island's history yesterday to protest against high council tax bills.

The campaign organiser, Mr George MacIver, 71, told protesters their demonstration was the biggest mobilisation of islanders since the Second World War. But he added:'The enemy now is our own kith and kin.'

Average council tax bills have been set at pounds 478, plus water charges, compared with an average community charge last year of pounds 180, one of the lowest in the country.

The sharp increase is largely due to massive losses suffered by the Western Isles Council when BCCI collapsed in 1991. More than pounds 24m of council funds were lost in the scandal. Arrears in poll tax payments has also been a factor. The area has one of the highest unemployment levels in Europe and a large elderly population.

Mr MacIver, a caravan park proprietor from Tong in Lewis, said his own family had been badly hit by the new charge. Last year their community charge bill came to pounds 540, compared with this year's bill of pounds 900.

'We have no doubt that we have 99 per cent support of the people in the islands. Everyone has had enough,' he said.

At a public meeting at Stornaway Town Hall marchers warned the council leader Donald Macleod, and his deputy Murdo Afrin, that unless council tax rates are reduced, they would face a protracted mass action campaign. Many called for a campaign of non-payment.

Islanders feel their bills should be lower than those on the mainland because services on the remote islands are poor. Many areas have no street lighting and poor refuse collection services.

According to Mr MacIver, the islanders are furious that they are having to pay higher bills to cover BCCI losses, which were avoidable. He is preparing a petition.

'Why on earth should we stump up for their mistakes? One councillor told us to forget BCCI - that it was in the past. But how can we forget it? We are still paying for it every day of our lives.'