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Linares warns Housing Department will commence legal action to recover arrears

The Housing Department has no other option than to commence legal action to recover unpaid debts, the Minister for Housing Steven Linares said in his budget speech on Thursday.

Mr Linares condemned the actions of those tenants who refused to settle their debts despite having the means to do so.

He told Parliament some £2m has been collected so far from 587 tenants who are presently in an arrears agreement.
This represents 42% of the overall arrears figure.

He highlighted that 65% of rent is now collected via secure methods like standing orders and deductions at source.
Whilst 90% of housing tenants are up to date on their monthly payments.

Mr Linares added that “there are still, regrettably, a minority of tenants who can pay and but who do not want to pay.”

“This category of tenants have no social or economic hardship. They do not qualify for rent relief and yet they continue to default.”

A total of 387 housing allocations have been made since April 1, 2019, up to the end of June
2021.

Mr Linares also warned that once a housing review has concluded many practices will be changed in order to safeguard tenants.

Among the changes will be a need to submit appropriate paperwork such as plans/drawings/photos and specifications for alterations which will need to be approved by the Land Works Panel before being undertaken.

He added relations with tenants associations were developing encouraged those tenants residing in Government housing estates to establish a committee.

“This will provide them with a collective forum to discuss matters relating to their estates.”

Mr Linares praised the work done by Housing Works Agency (HWA) personnel during the global pandemic outlining their role amongst which was to secure the safety of elderly residential blocks.

HWA staff, he said, had been instrumental in coordinating and/or actioning over 15,000 Works Orders.

This included 221 works carried out at a cost of £321,000.

There were 107 flat refurbishments at cost of £1.45m.

With 1772 emergency works at a cost of £236,000, together with many other reactive works completed.

He highlighted that rates were below market price.

“In monetary terms, the provision of rental Housing costs in the region of £17m and the amount we collect from rent (even if we include arrears) is approx. £5m. Therefore, the deficit is £12m per annum.”

“This does not include the £114m that has been spent on upgrading, beautifying and refurbishing numerous housing estates all over Gibraltar.”

Mr Linares broke away from his written speech, which encompass his other responsibilities including employment, youth, sport and leisure, to describe the Oppositions contributions as “shameful”.

Employment

Turning to his employment portfolio Mr Linares explained how the department adapted to handle both demands made by Brexit and Covid-19.

“The Government’s BEAT measures have shown to have reduced the number of possible redundancies, maintained static the levels of unemployment and thereby protected much of our economy that could have otherwise suffered directly as a result of the pandemic,” he said.

“Now, as we hopefully continue to move through the unlocking and to the other side of the pandemic we see, even in these most difficult times, that unemployment although unavoidably affected, has remained stable and Gibraltar continues to boast low unemployment levels.”

“As at October 2020, the total number of employee jobs in Gibraltar has decreased, by 1,087 a small 3.6%, drop from 30,603 in 2019 to 29,516 in 2020.”

“Average gross earnings is £32,625.26, another record high, with an increase of 2.7%.”

The Private sector has recorded a decrease in jobs of 1,214, from 24,001 to 22,787 in October 2020.

The public sector and the MOD have seen an increase of 1.9% and 2.1% respectively to 6,232 and 497 when compared to October 2019.

In 2020, the yearly average unemployment was a record low of 21.

The current unemployment level is 0.07%.

This is a 95% reduction in unemployment since 2011.

In the last quarter of 2020 Gibraltar again achieved a low figure.

The last quarter average of unemployment is at 23, the lowest level ever recorded in un- employment history since records began, this repeats in the second quarter of 2021.

Leisure Centre

As Minister for Leisure he focused on Kings Bastion Leisure centre revealing that from an expenditure of £2.6m per annum and revenue of a mere £50,000 in 2011 it now has an expenditure of £1.6m and a revenue of nearly £800,000 in 2018.

The revenue decreased due to the pandemic after closing down from the March 15 to June 30, 2020 and from December 23, 2020 to the end of January 2021.

Mr Linares also explained the closure of the ice skating rink.

“One of the determining issues was that the cooling system was running on an old gas system that was out of date,” he explained.

Procuring a new system would cost approximately £500,000 and with £10,000 per month on electricity, used by only 20 members of GISA, plus leaks damaging the Bowling Alley a decision was taken to close it and replace it with a Boulder Park.

The materials for the construction of the Boulder Park cost about £120,000, which was paid for using part of the Capital Expenditure Allowance that LMS had left over from previous year’s savings. The Boulder Lark also saves electricity costs.

The rest of the Capital Expenditure Allowance was used to purchase two new pinball machines for the Amusement Arcade.

Mr Linares also revealed that the new Cannonball Store at the centre, opened last July had a net income for the first six months of over £10,000, with this expected to increase in 2021.

Sports
Mr Linares looked back at the Island Games in 2019, which he said were held within budget and also registered direct revenues of £712,000.

Also adding that the wider economic impact of the Games was very noticeable with an positive impact on restaurants, bars, shops and tourist sites. He believed that the Games had left a tangible and lasting legacy in terms of infrastructure, sporting equipment and in sporting development.

Listing the numerous events that had taken place at different venues and the international sporting events hosted in Gibraltar he highlighted how these had come under the banner of Event Led Tourism and brought many visitors to Gibraltar.

Through the Gibraltar Sports Advisory Council he said that the levels of financial support for Sports Grant has been a total of £610,113.43.

The cost of the MUGA was revealed to have been of £528,116.64.

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