None of the money from a £20 million fund to improve accommodation for Gypsies, Roma and Traveller people has been spent since it was announced last year by the Scottish Government.
Data revealed under a freedom of information request (FoI) has shown none of the Scottish Government’s Gypsy/Traveller accommodation fund has been allocated, and none of the money transferred to local authorities since it was unveiled in March 2021.
Twelve councils bidded for the funding, designated for “significant renovation on existing sites and the building of new sites” for Gypsy Roma and Traveller communities in Scotland over the next five years.
Community members told The Ferret they “have been waiting decades for improvements to substandard accommodation,” reporting years of dealing with termite infestations, sewage spillages and mould that has run rampant in their homes.
But delays to the project meant the first councils only discovered their bids were successful at the start of 2022.
In a letter shown to The Ferret updating interested parties on the project, a lack of construction experts and Covid-19 is said to have delayed the Convention of Local Scottish Authorities (Cosla) approving the plans.
“This is particularly important as it is a difficult time for the construction industry and we need to make some final checks,” the November 2021 update said.
“This means that we are not yet able to tell local authorities which sites have been identified as the best fit for demonstration projects. We will do this as soon as we are able to and update community members on the decision.”
The accommodation fund is part of a wider plan to improve living conditions for the Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities, with the community experiencing worse health, employment and housing outcomes than the average population.
But years of discrimination, compounded by delays to commitments and pledges to improve the lives of the community, have left several people feeling frustrated and distrustful after experiencing a string of broken promises.
Roseanna McPhee has been campaigning for improvement works at Bobbin Mill, a site in Pitlochry, in Perthshire, since 2010.
McPhee said six chalets from Tunnel Bridge caravan park were brought onto the site as “an interim measure,” but have now been classed as suitable long-term accommodation.
Perth and Kinross council sent an architect in September last year to visit Bobbin Mill, who said private balconies, roof coverings and paved areas needed to be fixed, but the rest of the plot is in good working order for the next two decades.
McPhee said the area is in desperate need of remediation work, and “there haven’t been any repairs for years.”
“One of the men who visited the site remarked these are well past their sell by date, but that never made it into the report,” she told The Ferret.
“Our banisters and steps are broken, we have termite infestations, and some of the spars have broken on our landing.
“We’ve had promises they would be fixed since 2017. We’re in March 2022, and nothing’s happened.”
McPhee brought up these concerns at meetings about improving Gypsy, Roma and Traveller accommodation, held on behalf of the local council.
But McPhee said the meetings are only open to a select number of people, and she and other community members are not getting the chance to make their views heard.
“We’ve been disengaged from the process. We just want to make sure the right moves are made. We have worries. We don’t want to be assimilated under housing,” she added.
Margaret McKenzie and Jacqueline Mccallum live in Double Dykes Traveller site on the edges of Perth City.
Overflowing raw sewage has repeatedly filled the 20-caravan site, causing sickness bugs, and ruining carpets and childrens’ toys.
The pair echoed McPhee’s concerns that there has been a communication breakdown between the community and council leaders when it comes to improving the sites, and said some of their concerns have been unanswered for years.
“We’re on a main road, and there’s no pavement here between us and the traffic,” McKenzie said. “It’s a key health and safety issue, and it’s ongoing.
“Issues like this go on for years at a time. Parents won’t let their children out of sight, and that’s stressful for them,” Mccallum added.
“There’s a lack of communication,” McKenzie said. “We are told about plans over Zoom and phone calls, but we need to know what is being planned in writing.
“We have been promised funding before, and it’s just gone. But there’s no information passed on about what’s happened to it,” she added.
Perth and Kinross council said it didn’t submit an application to the Gypsy/Traveller accommodation fund because of the short timescale for applications, and to be completed would not have allowed it to consult with residents.
It said it will apply later down the line as the fund is open for five years, and the Scottish Government has said future bids will be considered.
Three out of twelve councils — Aberdeen City council, Clackmannanshire council and Fife council — have been told they will be given money from the fund.
The government said the money will be used to create “model sites,” as a learning tool for other councils, sparking concerns some local authorities won’t know the outcome of their bid for several years.
In the latest update on the fund, the government said “not all sites will benefit from the Fund in the first few years” and that “construction projects take time to get up and running if they are properly planned with community involvement.”
“Things are especially challenging at the moment due to the impact of Covid 19 and Brexit on construction materials and labour,” it added.
“While I appreciate that Covid-19 and Brexit have caused a certain amount of delay to progress, I do think that given the state of some of the permanent sites that we should be seeing some progress with the drawing down of the package announced last year,” Lynne Tammi, a trustee from Gypsy and Traveller charity Article 12 said.
“It should be done, if only to expedite the engagement of community members. Many have been waiting decades for improvements to what can only be described as substandard accommodation in the planning and design of new provision,” the independent researcher and a consultant on human rights and equalities added.
A Scottish Government spokesperson said “The £20m Gypsy/Traveller accommodation fund builds on the £2 million short term funding provided to all Local Authorities with sites in 2020-21, to make immediate improvements.
“Funding has been allocated for demonstration projects to establish examples of model sites. These first projects will allow us to trial the Interim Site Design Guide, exploring what good quality Gypsy/Traveller accommodation that reflects Housing to 2040 principles looks like. They will also help us seek cost effective routes to delivery.
“The selected local authorities are progressing with tenders for their projects and will continue to work with site residents on plans and timescales for work starting on sites.”
A spokesperson for Perth and Kinross Council said “it works closely with residents from both Gypsy/Traveller sites”.
“Throughout the pandemic, it was necessary for the Housing Repairs Service to focus on emergency repairs and void repair work only,” they said.
“This has resulted in a significant backlog of outstanding non-urgent repair work which we are now working through. Our external contractors also have backlogs of work to complete, so it is taking much longer than hoped to complete these works. Where work has escalated in terms of urgency and this has been highlighted to us, we are reprioritising these works to have these completed as quickly as possible.
It added that “at no point in time have any residents been blocked or restricted from attending meetings in relation to either of the sites”.
“We actively encourage as many residents as possible to attend so that we can hear a wide range of views and opinions about how we progress with improvements in partnership.
“We are sorry residents feel this way in relation to communication around the site. We do offer a range of communication options which does include face to face, on-line or written. We will take this on board moving forward and will ensure that written confirmation is provided to all residents.”
Cosla and MECOPP have been contacted for comment.
Photo thanks to Roseanna McPhee