Scotland’s finance secretary has said it was important for the government to act as “quickly as possible” in the wake of Wednesday’s flooding and tragic train crash.
Kate Forbes, who is also MSP for the constituency of Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch, said the incident last week had been “devastating”.
The SNP politician, who frequently used Scotrail services to travel between the Highlands and Holyrood pre-lockdown, activated the ‘Bellwin Scheme’ on Wednesday – after she received a letter from north-east MSP Kevin Stewart.
The scheme provides emergency financial assistance to reimburse local authorities for costs incurred on, or in connection with, their “immediate actions to safeguard life and property or to prevent suffering or severe inconvenience as a result of a disaster or emergency in their area”.
However, Aberdeen City Council have warned that they would have to stump up £930,000 to access the new funding and said there are plans to “monitor costs” moving forward.
The Bellwin scheme is usually set up in response to weather events – and has been activated during 2018’s ‘Beast from the East’ storms, as a result of Storm Desmond flooding in 2015 and in the wake of extreme weather caused by Hurricane Bertha in 2014.
Mrs Forbes told the Press and Journal it was “incredibly important” to work as quickly as possible to support the region.
She said: “In the morning I got a letter from Kevin Stewart asking me to consider activating the Bellwin Scheme and I put out a note saying I would do so by the afternoon.
“It happened very very quickly and as a government we worked to do what we could, as fast as possible.”
The finance secretary also paid tribute to the victims of the train crash – an incident she said felt “close to home”.
She added: “Like everyone else, I found out the news as information emerged from the scene.
“It is devastating.
“I don’t think there are words to capture how heartbreaking it is for the families involved and also how shocking it is for people who use the train on a weekly basis.
“Certainly prior to Covid-19, I would have been on that line very regularly – probably joining it in Perth.
“So I take my hat off to everybody who has had a role in responding to this incident, and I am thinking particularly of the families affected.
“It is just such a horrifically difficult situation.
“When something happens further north it always feels closer to home.”
MSP Kevin Stewart had written to Mrs Forbes over the urgency to unlock the Bellwin Scheme on the morning of the flooding, when he, and the wider region, awoke to homes swamped with water” and “cars floating”.
Yesterday an Aberdeen City Council spokeswoman said while the activation of the Bellwin Scheme was “welcome” – it was still anticipating significant costs.
She said:“While we welcome the activation of the Bellwin Scheme there is an application process and like an insurance policy there is an ‘excess’ that has to be paid by the council before an application can be made.
“That ‘excess’ for ACC is approximately £930,000 and represents 0.2% of our net revenue budget.
“We are already monitoring the costs and will determine if and when an application can be made once all of the costs are known.”
Last night, Mr Stewart said he welcomed the quick response of the Scottish Government to providing financial aid to the north-east.
He said: “The key thing was ensuring support was made available to the city as soon as possible, so Kate Forbes’ speedy reaction to my email was absolutely vital.”
A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “The recent storms have caused disruption for many people so we activated the Bellwin Scheme to provide additional revenue support which is open to all local authorities to assist with the immediate and unforeseen costs that meet the qualifying criteria.”