The new leader of Perth and Kinross Council says he plans to expand welfare and mental health support in response to the cost of living crisis.
Councillor Grant Laing has assumed control of the local authority at a time when people across the region are experiencing rising bills and inflation.
Some charities claim even those living in more affluent areas of Highland Perthshire are now seeking out help with debt.
Mr Laing’s new administration has already approved a £700,000 package over the cost of living crisis.
But in his first interview since becoming leader of the minority SNP administration at the council, Mr Laing has told The Courier he will go further.
Attempts to address ‘mental health crisis’
He said: “We plan to increase the services that the welfare rights team are offering, with a view to helping locals make sure they’re receiving all of the benefits they are entitled to, as many people don’t.
“We are also very aware that the cost of living crisis has also caused a mental health crisis, and we are going to be investing money into charities and services that can offer people dedicated support.
“Our plans will become apparent at our next budget following consultation with officers, members of the public, the third sector, businesses and other parties.”
Mr Laing says other priorities for his time in office will include using the council’s legislative power to regulate second homes and holiday lets, and rejuvenating high streets.
The Strathtay councillor insists the £26 million investment into Perth City Hall will help boost the city centre economy, following the loss of several shops in recent months.
Mr Laing said: “We will improve transport links in the area to make the centre more accessible for everybody.
“We want to inject money into improving bus services.
Leader’s door ‘open to ideas’ on economy
“We will be getting on the ground to see what needs fixed and see what local people want to happen.
“The City Hall is a big part of our rejuvenation plans. The new project’s direct aim is to bring people to Perth.
“We are confident that this will attract more tourism, and therefore strengthen our local economy.
“Attracting investment in our towns is a priority and we will be working hard over the next five years to spell out the benefits of businesses coming to Perth and Kinross.
“Nobody has a monopoly on wisdom, and our door will always be open to those with ideas about how to revitalise our town centres.”
Meanwhile, Mr Laing says the SNP group plans to use all legislative powers available to him to regulate both second homes and holiday lets.
It comes after a raft of applications across rural parts of Perth and Kinross in recent months to turn disused or derelict buildings into holiday accommodation.
New legislation on short-term holiday lets
He said: “New legislation was passed by the Scottish Government this year, which will mean all local authorities must establish licensing schemes for short-term holiday lets with all hosts and operators, and have a licence by July 2024.
“We will explore what other legislative options are open to us.
“We are determined to do all that we can to ensure this issue is properly regulated.
It is vital we get the right mix of holiday accommodation and affordable accommodation for residents
“We want to create more social and affordable housing options so that local people are not priced out of the area.
“To do this, we are analysing the current housing situation and working through possible solutions.
“Tourism is an important part of the Perth and Kinross economy, so it is vital we get the right mix of holiday accommodation and affordable accommodation for residents.
“There isn’t going to be one quick fix for these issues.”