The north’s most deprived communities have been promised their say in an ambitious project to tackle poverty.
As a new taskforce of key agencies met to thrash out long-term solutions, residents spoke passionately about their own hopes and dreams for the worst affected district of Merkinch.
The fledgling council-led Inverness Community Partnership has united health and emergency services with charities, voluntary groups and leading lights from academia and business to draw up a masterplan by the autumn.
Much of the focus at the Hilton Community Centre gathering was ramping up communication skills to ensure the initiative taps into local concerns. Extensive public involvement was promised in the wake of early consultations that attracted a low level of responses.
Local politicians on the panel condemned UK Government welfare reforms as a contributory factor. Councillor Janet Campbell said universal credit and the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) “weren’t helping.”
Speaking last night, local SNP MP Drew Hendry pledged his wholehearted support for the initiative.
He said: “I’d hope it will be broadened to include MPs and MSPs so we can input the process.
“It’s important it pulls together all the issues that contribute to deprivation – and references issues such as the impact universal credit changes are having locally on those not only seeking work but in work, and disabled people.”
Also on board, Highlands and Islands Green MSP John Finnie said: “The pernicious policies of the Westminster Government’s so-called ‘welfare reform’ have contributed greatly to many underlying challenges and taken millions of pounds out of the Highland economy.”
A spokeswoman for the DWP said: “For those who need extra support, the government provides a strong safety-net through the welfare system, including hardship payments, benefit advances and budgeting loans.”
The city’s new taskforce to tackle deprivation will reports its progress to a meeting in September, prior to publishing its blueprint in October.
Partnership chairman, Hilton-born city councillor Graham Ross, promised a comprehensive input of ideas from the respective local communities across the city, even if that meant “going out and knocking on doors.”