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£1m debt owed to council

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By Marc McLean, local democracy reporter
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£1m debt owed to council

HUGE debts owed to Dumfries and Galloway Council by mobile phone companies have risen to £1 million, it has been revealed.

Crisis talks have been held in recent weeks due to the local authority facing a funding shortfall of around £50m over the next five years, and a special seminar is even being organised to come up with solutions for balancing the books.

Meanwhile, mobile phone operators have been renting ten hill sites for their network radio towers – and have failed to cough up for their bill.

The matter was raised at the communities committee last week where Nith Councillor John Campbell asked about the income from these radio masts.

He said: “For the radio hill sites, I’m wondering just how much revenue we should be getting for the radio masts, how much we’ll be getting in future, and what the progress is.”

In November 2021, council finance chiefs reported that they were working on clawing back over £750,000 owed by mobile phone companies. They stated it was a “key priority” for the council.

Almost a year later, that debt has risen rather than being reduced as negotiations have been dragging on over future annual rental fees.

Harry Hay, the council’s head of neighbourhood services, said: “The council’s legal team in conjunction with my service team are now in advanced negotiations with the external organisations and their legal agents.

“Without wishing to tempt fate, we now seem to be at a position where there is collective agreement on what we can put in place moving forward.

“On that basis, we would hope to come back to elected members at the next service committee with specific details on that.

“As members will appreciate, the nature of the negotiations are commercially sensitive. Whilst we want to be fully transparent in terms of rental agreements etc, I’m confident that once we reach this agreement not only will it deal with the extent of the accrual, it will also deal with future rental on an annual basis.”

Council finance officer Caroline McQuistan confirmed that the council will receive around £400,000 per year in rental fees going forward.

Councillor Campbell pressed for more details about how much is owed right now, and whether this extra income could help in the council’s budget setting process.

The finance officer responded: “The total amount owed at the moment is about £1 million because obviously we haven’t had the payments made on the higher rate for quite a number of years.

“The £400,000 is an approximate amount of what we will get on an annual basis and will be something that’s already built into the budget. We’ve been expecting to receive this.”

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