An award-winning community social enterprise is under threat from Comhairle nan Eilean Siar because the local authority is insisting on demolishing its premises.
Bùth Bharraigh, a local producer co-operative, visitor information provider and community hub in Castlebay, is under orders from the local authority to move from its current location in the former Co-op building close to the ferry terminal – but directors of the Bùth claim the new site would put them out of business as it is not located where newly arrived tourists can find it.
They say the unit they are being offered half a mile away is much smaller, more expensive and is not a good location for tourist information. They would have to reduce the amount of services they provide and stock held.
They also say the comhairle has refused to engage with them, ignored pleas for a meeting, ignored lawyers’ letters on behalf of Bùth Bharraigh, ignored a Freedom of Information inquiry probing the legality of the demolition plan, and failed so far to publicise comments in response to an asset transfer request for their building, which closed on 22nd November. No confirmation was forthcoming as we went to press on the issue of whether or not the comhairle had refused the asset transfer request.
Bùth Bharraigh directors were growing increasingly concerned ahead of a meeting of the Sustainable Development Committee at the comhairle yesterday (Thursday) where their fate was discussed. A report was given to the committee by the head of economic development and planning but was not made publicly available on the comhairle website ahead of the meeting. Also, the item was taken in private – a move which raised concerns still further, as Bùth Bharraigh has not even been informed by the comhairle that it is on the agenda.
According to the agenda, the item was in private because of “information relating to the financial or business affairs of any particular person (other than the comhairle)” – but Bùth Bharraigh say the only financial information that might be disclosed is the accounts, already contained in the asset transfer documents, and claim the comhairle is taking it in private “so they can keep it behind closed doors”.
Director Sarah Maclean said: “Nobody has been in touch with us from the council. They didn’t tell us it was going to be discussed and they didn’t the last time, either. That’s twice now they haven’t informed us that we’ll be a topic of discussion.
“Taking the item in secret is deliberate so that we can’t find out what they’re up to, frankly. I think it’s so that it will be a done deal until it is too late.”
Three years ago, the community of Barra wrote to comhairle chief executive Malcolm Burr and the then council leader Angus Campbell to try to save the building.
In its current central location in the old Co-op building, Bùth Bharraigh fulfils multiple functions. As well as acting as a route to market for around 80 local producers, Bùth Bharraigh serves as a visitor information centre, laundrette – laundry contracts include social care – as well as bike hire, Hebridean Way pit stop and community hub cafe with free WiFi.
They won the title of UK Social Enterprise of the Year in the 2016 Rural Business Awards and were highly commended in the category of Rural Enterprise in the 2017 Scottish Rural Awards, winning the Scottish Rural Parliament Innovators Award for Business 2015/16 and reaching the finals in numerous other awards including Scottish Social Enterprise of the Year, Community Ownership Awards (Scotland) and the Highlands and Islands Food and Drink Awards, as an Independent Retailer. Bùth Bharraigh Ltd is also an Accredited Living Wage Employer.