Minutes of Meeting of the Highland Council held in the Council Chamber, Council Headquarters, Glenurquhart Road, Inverness on Thursday, 15 December 2011 at 10.30 a.m.
Mrs M Paterson opened the meeting with prayer.
1. Calling of the Roll and Apologies for Absence
Mr G Farlow, Ms L Munro, Mr R Rowantree, Mr D Mackay, Mr J Rosie, Mr B Fernie, Ms G Ross, Mr G Smith, Mr R Coghill, Mr D Flear, Mr W MacKay, Mrs D Mackay, Mr J McGillivray, Mr I Ross, Mrs I Campbell, Mr R Greene, Dr A Sinclair, Mr M Finlayson, Ms M Smith, Mr R Durham, Mrs F Robertson, Mr P Cairns, Mrs A MacLean, Mrs M Paterson, Dr D Alston, Mr B Barclay, Mr C Fraser, Mrs I McCallum, Mr H Fraser, Mr J Laing, Mr D Millar, Mr I Renwick, Mr B Clark, Mr A Henderson, Mr E Hunter, Mrs H Carmichael, Mr D Hendry, Mr H Wood, Mr A Graham, Mr A Christie, Miss J Campbell, Mr P Corbett, Mr D Kerr, Mrs B McAllister, Mr N Donald, Mr D Henderson, Mr F Parr, Mr I Brown, Mr J Gray, Mr K MacLeod, Mr R Balfour, Mr J Ford, Mr B Wynd, Mr L Fraser, Mrs L MacDonald, Mr G Marsden, Mr A S Park, Mr J Crawford, Mrs C Caddick, Mr R Pedersen, Mr T Prag, Mr S Black, Ms J Douglas, Mr D Fallows, Mr G Rimell, Dr M Foxley, Mr B Gormley, Mr B Murphy
Depute Chief Executive/Director of Housing and Property
Director of Finance
Director of Education, Culture and Sport
Assistant Chief Executive
Director of Planning and Development
Director of TEC Services
Director of Social Work
Mr A S Park in the Chair
Apologies for absence were intimated on behalf of Lady M Thurso, Mr D Bremner, Mrs J Urquhart, Mr M Rattray, Mrs C Wilson, Mr A Rhind, Mr D Chisholm, Mrs M Davidson, Mrs P Munro, Mr J Finnie, Mrs G Sinclair and Mr D Cameron.
Prior to the commencement of the formal business, and on behalf of the Council, the Convener welcomed Councillor J Rosie back after a period of illness.
The Convener also welcomed Mr Derek Yule, the new Director of Finance, to his first meeting of the full Council.
2. Declarations of Interest
The Council NOTED the following declarations of interest –
Item 9 - Mr D Fallows, Ms J Douglas and Mr G Rimell (Financial)
Item 9 – Mr A Henderson (Financial)
Item 24 – Ms J Douglas (Non Financial)
Item 28 – Mr I Ross, Mr B Fernie, Mr J Laing and Mr J Gray and Mr D Henderson (Non Financial)
3. By-Election – Ward 20 (Inverness South)
It was NOTED that, at the By-Election held on 3 November 2011, Mrs Carolyn Caddick, Torbreck, Easter Muckovie, Westhill, Inverness had been elected as the Member for Ward 20 (Inverness South).
In this regard, the Convener, on behalf of the Council, welcomed Mrs Caddick to her first meeting of the full Council.
4. Presentation – Director of Public Health and Health Policy – Annual Report
A Presentation was undertaken at the meeting by Dr Margaret Somerville, Director of Public Health and Health Policy, on the Annual Report for 2010/11 and specifically ‘Inequality and Health in NHS Highland’ during which she detailed the determinants of health and health inequality as follows:-
- Poverty - around 35,000 people were living in poverty in Highland in 2010
- Housing - 1 in 3 households across Highland were in fuel poverty; around 12,000 in extreme fuel poverty
- Employment - the average weekly take-home wage across Highland was 9% less than the Scottish average and it cost more to live in a rural area compared to an urban setting. In this regard, the public sector employed 32% of the total and 47% of the female workforce in Highland.
In this regard, there had been circulated Report No. HC-58-11 (85kb pdf) dated 5 December 2011 by the Chief Executive which accompanied the presentation and highlighted the Council’s current activities to reduce inequalities and the need to do more to reverse the increasing inequality gap.
It was confirmed that that Scotland now had virtually the worst life expectancy in Europe and in Highland health inequalities were widening. A brief outline of the causes of inequalities at different stages of life was provided and it was noted that NHS actions to reduce inequalities were promoted through HEAT targets: a core set of Ministerial objectives, targets and measures set for a three year period with progress being measured through a Local Delivery Plan process. These focused on smoking cessation, cardiovascular health checks, child healthy weight and interventions aimed at reducing dental decay and alcohol related problems. The Equality Act 2010 also sought to eliminate discrimination and Highland Council actions to reduce inequalities included the employability service; housing strategy and affordable warmth; re-ablement; focusing on looked after children; targeted benefits advice and credit union; Community Development Strategy and Pathway for Integration.
Given this background, it was recommended than an Inequalities Action Plan across the Community Planning Partnership should be established, involving public, private and third sectors, local people and communities, to direct resources in a long-term sustainable way towards those areas of greatest need, monitor outcomes and equity of access and build on existing assets in communities.
During discussion, Members raised the following issues:-
- it was important to consider how success would be measured given that this would involve all Community Planning Partners and many of the areas highlighted could not be improved quickly – qualitative rather than short-term measures should therefore be adopted.
- the fact that in some rural wards there were pockets of extreme poverty which could easily be masked by statistical figures should not be overlooked.
- there should be consideration given as to how Day Centre NHS employees could be more closely linked to GP services to integrate the reach-out to people living in temporary accommodation.
- the availability of alcohol, particularly through off-sales, was associated with health inequalities and there was a need for further information on how NHS Highland could influence licensing decisions through the public health agenda.
- it was important to continue the Council’s efforts to address fuel poverty, including lobbying for legislation to ensure that measures such as social tariffs could be automatically triggered under certain circumstances, and to lessen the bureaucracy that presently existed.
- The Climate Change Working Group had been working to ensure the accessibility of local supplies of wood fuel and had regularly voiced concerns about difficulties experienced in accessing national schemes such as insulation grants.
- It was hoped that health inequalities for early years might be helped by Planning for Integration targeting effort and resources at 0-3 year olds.
- Both the Highland Council and NHS would have at their disposal approximately £1bn per annum and it was incumbent on them both to redirect these funds to the areas of greatest need while accepting that improvements might not appear immediately.
The Council NOTED the presentation undertaken by the Director of Public Health and Health Policy as detailed and the work already taking place to support health improvement across Services.
It was also AGREED that the Community Planning Partnership should consider how public services could support improved outcomes for the poorest and most disadvantaged people in communities.
5. Call for Written Evidence – Alcohol (Minimum Pricing)(Scotland) Bill
There had been circulated Report No. HC-59-11 (38kb pdf) dated 5 December 2011 by the Assistant Chief Executive which presented the proposed responses to the Scottish Government’s call for written evidence on the Alcohol (Minimum Pricing) (Scotland) Bill.
During a summary of the report, it was confirmed that the Scottish Parliament’s Health and Sport Committee had called for evidence on the general principles of the Alcohol (Minimum Pricing) (Scotland) Bill which would introduce a minimum price for alcohol below which it could not be sold on licensed premises. In this regard, the minimum price would be set according to the strength and volume of the alcohol and the minimum price per unit. It was confirmed that the proposed response to the Health and Sport Committee had been prepared alongside and was consistent with the responses from both the Highland Alcohol and Drug Partnership and the Highland Licensing Board and had been attached as Appendix 1 to the report.
Additionally, the Scottish Parliament’s Finance Committee had requested written evidence to assist its scrutiny of the Financial Memorandum accompanying the Bill. The proposed Council response to the Finance Committee had been prepared with input from Trading Standards and the Licensing Board and had been attached as Appendix 2 to the report.
During discussion, Members expressed their support for the principle of the minimum pricing of alcohol as a measure to improve health and raised the following issues:-
- the response referred to a need for emphasis to be placed on education about alcohol consumption - this should also include education in the home and early intervention as there were worrying statistics of young people drinking regularly;.
- it was accepted that minimum pricing would not necessarily solve alcohol consumption problems completely. However, it was a positive proposal which would need attitudinal change with supporting role-modelling for long-term success;
- the Council’s response should also include a request for tax to be repaid so that it could be re-directed towards prevention and rehabilitation measures; and
- through the Planning and Licensing processes, consideration should be given to the creation of separate accesses for the purchase of alcohol at supermarkets so as to prevent spot purchases in main supermarket aisles.
The Council APPROVED the consultation responses as set out in Appendices 1 and 2 of the report, subject to inclusion of the following:-
(a) tax should be repaid which could then be re-directed towards prevention
and rehabilitation measures; and
(b) through the Planning and Licensing processes, consideration should be
given to the creation of separate accesses for the purchase of alcohol at
supermarkets so as to prevent spot purchases in main supermarket
6. Confirmation of Minutes
There had been submitted for confirmation as a correct record the Minutes of Meeting of the Council held on 27 October 2011 as contained in the Volume circulated separately – which were APPROVED.
7. Minutes of Meetings of Committees
There had been submitted for confirmation as correct records, for information as regards delegated business, and for approval as appropriate, the Minutes of Meetings of Committees contained in the Volume circulated separately as undernoted:-
|Link to Minutes Index|
- Housing and Social Work Committee, 9 November
- Education, Culture and Sport Committee, 10 November
- Planning, Environment and Development Committee, 16 November
- Transport, Environmental and Community Services Committee, 17 November
- Joint Committee on Children and Young People, 18 November
- Audit and Scrutiny Committee, 29 November
- Resources Committee, 1 December
- Gaelic Committee, 1 December
- Inverness City Committee, 5 December
The Minutes, having been moved and seconded, were, except as undernoted, APPROVED - matters arising having been dealt with as follows:-
Education, Culture and Sport Committee, 10 November
*Starred Item* - Page 617: Item 7: Statutory Consultation – Proposed Amalgamation of Hillhead Primary School and North Primary School, Wick
It was AGREED that:-
- education provision at the existing Hillhead and North Primary Schools be discontinued;
- a new primary school be established on the site of the existing North Primary School;
- the existing school catchments of Hillhead and North Primary Schools be combined to serve the new primary school;
- in response to the almost universal views expressed during the consultation period, the delineated areas of the Wick Primary Schools be altered along the lines of the natural boundary provided by the River Wick with effect from the date the new school opened, ie pupils living to the north of the River Wick would attend school on the north side of the river; and
- subject to the above proposals being approved, the Director of Housing and Property be instructed to dispose of the site and building currently occupied by Hillhead Primary School in accordance with current Highland Council policy and the requirements of the title deeds of the property.
*Starred Item* - Page 618: Item 8: Statutory Consultation – Proposed Amalgamation of Pulteneytown Academy Primary School and South Primary School
It was AGREED that:-
- education provision at the existing Pulteneytown Academy and South Primary Schools be discontinued;
- a new primary school be established on a joint campus with the Wick High School site;
- the existing school catchments of Pulteneytown Academy and South Primary Schools be combined to serve the new primary school;
- in response to the almost universal views expressed during the consultation period, the delineated areas of the Wick Primary Schools be altered along the lines of the natural boundary provided by the River Wick with effect from the date the new school opened, ie pupils living to the south of the River Wick would attend school on the south side of the river; and
- subject to the above proposals being approved, the Director of Housing and Property be instructed to dispose of the site and buildings currently occupied by South Primary School in accordance with current Highland Council policy and the requirements of the title deeds of the property.
Joint Committee on Children and Young People, 18 November
Page 655: Item 9: Highland Youth Voice Priorities
AGREED that consideration should be given to the creation of Youth Hustings for the following year’s Local Government Elections.
Resources Committee, 1 December
Page 686: Item 12: ICT Programme Performance Report
NOTED confirmation that the same terminology/language was being used by both Highland Council and Fujitsu in the correction plan.
8. Equalities Working Group
There had been circulated Minutes of Meeting of the Equalities Working Group held on 2 December 2011 which were APPROVED.
Also NOTED that Mrs L Munro should have been listed as being present at the meeting.
9. Community Benefit Working Group
Declarations of Interest
Mr D Fallows, Ms J Douglas and Mr G Rimell declared financial interests in this item as members of the Cairngorms National Park Authority but, in terms of the dispensation granted by the Standards Commission, remained to participate in the discussion.
Mr A Henderson declared a financial interest in this item on the grounds of being the independent Chair of the Small Isles and Mull Inshore Fisheries Group but, having applied the test outlined in Paragraphs 5.2 and 5.3 of the Councillors’ Code of Conduct, concluded that his interest did not preclude him from taking part in the discussion.
There had been circulated Minutes of Meeting of the Community Benefit Working Group held on 28 October 2011 (61kb pdf) - which were APPROVED.
In this regard, there had been circulated Report No. HC-60-11 (204kb pdf) dated 2 December 2011 by the Corporate Manager which provided an update on the work of the Community Benefit Working Group and included a series of recommendations relative to community benefit. The report also included an update on the Crown Estate’s activity in the off-shore renewables sector and the detail of a proposed Joint Paper to the UK Parliament Scottish Affairs Committee providing an indicative model and illustrative principles of how devolved responsibilities of the Crown Estate could operate at a regional and local level.
During a summary of the report, it was confirmed that the key elements of the policy had been approved by the Council on 3 March 2011 and were presently being implemented by Officers. Members were reminded that the Council was now seeking a minimum payment to community benefit funds equivalent to £5,000 per megawatt of installed capacity per year – Retail Price Index linked with 2011 as the baseline year.
It was proposed that the Allocation Factors be reduced from 5 to 4 as follows: proximity to the site, visual impact, construction impact and number of residences. The draft policy had previously included a factor considering the “community use of the site” but this had been deleted as it was difficult to assess this objectively.
In order to spread benefits widely across the Highlands, a three tier system had been proposed. Three funds would be open to bids from community groups and other appropriate organisations impacted by development. Fuller guidance to support the policy and details of how the Allocation Factors would operate would be produced for a Community Benefit Conference due to take place on 24 February 2012 which would also act as the official launch of the Council’s Community Benefit policy.
The report also set out a draft joint submission from the six Highlands and Islands Councils to the UK Parliament Scottish Affairs Committee as evidence to their inquiry into the Crown Estate in Scotland. It was recommended that authority be delegated to the Chief Executive, in consultation with the Convener, Leader of the Administration, Leader of the Opposition, Chair of the Resources Committee and Chair of the Rural Affairs and Climate Change Strategy Group, to finalise the submission.
During discussion, Members made the following comments:-
- the revisions to the draft policy were welcomed as was the progress made in garnering support from many organisations to enable the Highlands and Islands not only to manage but also to benefit from its own resources;
- whilst welcoming the proposed policy, it was emphasised that it had no connection to the planning merits of any development proposal and no influence on the planning decision-making process;
- there was no legal requirement on developers to agree to sign up to the agreement. The minimum payment to community benefit funds of £5,000 per megawatt of installed capacity per year was significant and some developers might be reluctant to enter into such an agreement;
- there was disappointment that fishing interests had not been taken into account in relation to off-shore renewable energy developments, with only 20% of the benefit realised going to coastal communities;
- there was a need for a supplementary letter to accompany the Joint Paper to the UK Parliament Scottish Affairs Committee suggesting the introduction of a framework or mechanism to redistribute some of the harbour dues, formerly paid to the Crown Estate, to local communities rather than being retained exclusively by the Harbour Authority or Trust Port for reinvestment purposes;
- there was a need to continue work on the Concordat with developers and the introduction of the policy to communities and further clarification of how communities could actively communicate their wishes would be beneficial; and
- the work undertaken to influence the devolution of the administration and revenues from the Scottish Marine Estate to the Scottish regions/community was welcomed. However, it had been very disappointing that the Secretary of State for Scotland had recently stated that the Crown Estate should remain in UK ownership and not Scottish ownership. Representation had been made to the Treasury Sub-Committee to ensure that management of the Crown Estate should remain in Scotland and the Leader of the Administration agreed to write to the Secretary of State for Scotland to outline the recommendations within the report, including those in regard to the Crown Estate and the views of the Council on this issue, and to stress the importance of further devolution to permit the management of resources at local level.
The Council AGREED:-
(i) the revised Community Benefit policy as detailed in Appendix 1 to the
(ii) that 5km, 10km and 15km proximity zones should be used to calculate
the ‘share’ of community benefit given to each community at the local
(iii) to reduce the Allocation Factors from 5 to 4 by incorporating the
Community Use of Site Allocation Factor into the one for Proximity thus
increasing the weighting for Proximity from 20 to 40 points;
(iv) to consult with the public at a series of workshops specifically on the
weightings given to the Allocation Factors and the project types for
which Area Funds and the Highland Trust Fund could be used;
(v) that a Conference and Workshop programme be scheduled for February
and March 2012 as detailed in Appendices 2i and 2ii;
(vi) that guidance be prepared for communities on the application of the
policy and Allocation Factors for the Conference and subsequent Area
(vii) the Concordat between Highland Council and developers as detailed in
Appendix 3; and
(viii) following receipt of the views of partners and Members, that authority
be delegated to the Chief Executive, in consultation with the Convener,
Leader of the Administration, Leader of the Opposition, Chair of the
Resources Committee and Chair of the Rural Affairs and Climate Change
Strategy Group, to draft a final version of the Joint Paper from the six
Highlands and Islands Councils to the UK Parliament Scottish Affairs
Committee to set out the joint view on the devolution of 100% of the
administration of and revenues from the Scottish Marine Estate to the
Scottish, regional and community level as detailed in Appendix 4 to the
It was also AGREED that, in addition to the Joint Paper, the Leader of the Administration should write to the Secretary of State for Scotland to detail the views of the six Highlands and Islands Councils on the Crown Estate and also to stress the importance of the management of funds being located in the Highlands and Islands.
It was further AGREED that an accompanying letter should be attached to the Joint Paper from the six Highlands and Islands Councils in order to take account of the issues raised at the meeting, including harbour dues and in particular the feasibility of introducing a framework or mechanism which would allow some of these monies previously paid to the Crown Estate to be redistributed to local communities in recognition of the disruption that local harbours and ports could cause to these communities.
10. Climate Change Working Group
There had been circulated Minutes of Meeting of the Climate Change Working Group held on 7 December 2011 which were APPROVED.
11. Classroom Support Needs Cross Party Working Group
There had been circulated Minutes of Meeting of the Classroom Support Needs Cross Party Working Group held on 3 November 2011 (40kb pdf) which were APPROVED.
12. Inverness Trunk Link Road (West Link) Working Group
There had been circulated Minutes of Meetings of the Inverness Trunk Link Road (West Link) Working Group held on 10 Nov (32kb pdf) and 17 November 2011 (30kb pdf) which were APPROVED.
The Council NOTED that a correction should be made in terms of the spelling of Mr R Pedersen’s name.
The Council also AGREED that consideration be given at the next meeting (of the Working Group) as to whether the name of the Working Group required to be amended.
13. Budget Information Group
There had been circulated Minutes of Meeting of the Budget Information Group held on 13 December 2011 (27kb pdf) which were APPROVED.
14. Northern Joint Police Board
There had been circulated Minutes of Meetings of the Northern Joint Police Board held on 26 Aug and 19 October 2011 which were NOTED.
15. Highland and Islands Fire Board
There had been circulated Minutes of Meetings of the Highland and Islands Fire Board held on 26 August and 25 October 2011 which were NOTED.
The Council also NOTED that Mr R Balfour had not been present at the meeting but had submitted his apologies.
16. Highland and Western Isles Valuation Joint Board
There had been circulated Minutes of Meeting of the Highland and Western Isles Valuation Joint Board held on 31 August 2011 which were NOTED.
17. Membership of Strategic Committees, etc
It was NOTED that, as a result of the Inverness South By-Election, the political make-up of the Council was now as follows –
- Ind: 25
- Lib Dem: 21
- SNP: 17
- Lab: 6
- IMG: 6
- Ind Alliance: 4
- Non Aligned: 1
In this regard, Updated Information in regard to membership of Strategic Committees, etc was APPROVED.
The Council also AGREED the following:-
(i) Membership of the North Planning Application Committee (59kb pdf);
(ii) Membership of the South Planning Applications Committee (59kb pdf);
(iii) Dates for Meetings (59kb pdf) of the North and South Planning Applications Committees in 2012;
(iv) Membership of the Rural Affairs and Climate Change Strategy Group (61kb pdf);
(v) Membership of the Pensions Committee
In this regard, and specifically with reference to the new Investment Sub Committee, it was AGREED that membership should include ‘one representative for the other employers’ - and not ‘one scheme member representative’ as had been detailed in error in the previous report to the Council on 27 October 2011.
The Council also AGREED the recommendation from the Investment Advisory Group meeting on 11 November 2011 that the current Advisory Group Members should form part of the new Pensions Committee and Investment Sub Committee in light of their experience which had been gained over the past four years.
18. Chair of the Rural Affairs and Climate Change Strategy Group
The Council was asked to appoint the Chair of the new Rural Affairs and Climate Change Strategy Group.
The Council AGREED to appoint Mrs I McCallum as the Chair of the new Rural Affairs and Climate Change Strategy Group.
The Council adjourned for lunch at 1.10 p.m. and resumed at 2.05 p.m.
19. Question Time
The following Questions had been received by the Assistant Chief Executive in terms of Standing Order 42:-
(i) Mr D Fallows (20kb pdf)
To the Chair of the Housing and Social Work Committee
“How many claimants of disability and income support on Highland Council books will be affected by the Westminster policy change?”
The response had been circulated.
In terms of a supplementary question, Mr Fallows queried as to whether, given the fact that the economic outlook continued to be at the very best ‘unpromising’, the Administration would agree that the Council needed to continue to support their own Money and Benefits Advice staff and third party organisations like Citizens Advice Bureaux and was it also content that the resources and measures it currently had were sufficient to meet the ‘gathering storm’.
In response, the Vice Chair of the Housing and Social Work Committee confirmed that, in relation to the economic outlook, there had been discussion at the recent Resources Committee meeting following which it had been agreed to recommend to the full Council that the proposed cut within the 2012/13 budget in relation to in-house Advice and Information services and those services provided by the third sector should not be implemented. However, as a direct consequence of proposals within the Welfare Reform Bill, there would be close monitoring of the situation in terms of the capacity within those agencies who were providing advice and information to ensure that people were able to access good quality advice and information and advocacy services to meet their needs. In this regard, consideration would also be given to quarterly reports being submitted to the Resources Committee in relation to monitoring of advice and information in light of the proposals from the Welfare Reform Bill.
The Council NOTED the position.
(ii) Mr D Hendry (16kb pdf)
To the Leader of the Administration
“Concerns have been raised in public over the ownership of “public” land being proposed for use as part of the Inverness West Link route consultation. Can the Leader of the Administration confirm what legal advice has been sought in advance of the consultation exercise?”
The response had been circulated.
In terms of a supplementary question, Mr Hendry queried as to whether, in light of the fact that Community Councils had been going through an election cycle, the Leader of the Administration could ensure that they would be given an extension in order to make sure that they could fully feed into the consultation.
In response, the Leader of the Administration confirmed that if a particular Community Council had difficulty in responding to the consultation and wrote to the Council with a rationale for that difficulty and a secure timescale for submission of their response then it would be taken into account.
The Council NOTED the position.
20. Revenue Budget Outlook 2012/13 – 2014/15
There had been circulated Report No. HC-61-11 (55kb pdf) dated 7 December 2011 by the Director of Finance which provided an update on the Revenue Budget Outlook for the next three financial years and sought agreement in principle on acceptance of the Scottish Government’s grant settlement package and related conditions.
In this regard, there had been tabled additional information following the Local Government Finance Settlement for 2012/13 -2014/15 and receipt of Finance Circular 11/2011 which detailed the implications for the Council.
There had also been tabled a copy of a letter from the Cabinet Secretary for Finance, Employment and Sustainable Growth to the Leader of the Administration which set out the Scottish Government’s position on a timetable for the next steps for sign-off to the terms of the settlement for 2012/13 following the 2011 Spending Review.
During a summary of the report, it was confirmed that, based on the last budget position reported to the Council in Summer 2011, it had been anticipated that there would remain a budget gap of £4m in 2012/13 after the agreement of a package of savings totalling £20.4m for that year. That position had been based on an assumed 1.7% reduction in grant with a flat settlement anticipated in each of the subsequent two years, 2013/14 and 2014/15, resulting in a funding gap of £27m in each of those years.
However, with the Spending Review detailing a flat settlement for local government over each of the three financial years, it was now estimated that the Council’s projected £4m gap in 2012/13 would be removed and no additional savings for that year would be necessary. The gaps in the subsequent two years would remain unaltered but would be subject to a review of all budget assumptions.
In this regard, it was confirmed that, prior to the Council agreeing its Revenue Budget in February 2012, there would need to be work undertaken to review all budget assumptions, including reviewing the package of agreed savings for 2012/13 to ensure that all remained achievable with plans in place for implementation and a review of possible budget pressures, including inflationary and demand led pressures and the provision make in this respect.
In terms of Capital, the grant announcement had reflected Scottish Government re-profiling of capital support with reductions in 2012/13 and 2013/14 to be repaid in the subsequent two years. In this regard, it was estimated that reductions in capital grant could be accommodated within existing loan charge budget assumptions due to lower than anticipated interest rates.
At this point, Dr D Alston, the Budget Leader and Chairman of the Budget Information Group, welcomed the fact that, as a result of the settlement, there would be no requirement for funding cuts for the next financial year and also that this had been assisted by the Council’s forward planning, consultation with the public and revision of its original proposals although there was still work needed to ensure that savings for the following financial years were made, pressures controlled and preliminary work undertaken prior to the next Council term.
In regard to Capital expenditure, the fact that this would continue and would be facilitated by low interest rates for borrowing purposes was welcomed.
The Council AGREED in principle to the conditions attached to the grant settlement for 2012/13 relating to a Council Tax Freeze, Police Numbers, Teacher Numbers and Probationer Placements and that a budget should be prepared on this basis.
It was also NOTED that formal acceptance of the grant settlement package and conditions would be addressed as part of the Budget and Council Tax setting decision in February 2012.
21. Report to Members and the Controller of Audit on the 2010/11 Audit
There had been circulated Report No. HC-62-11 (35kb pdf) dated 30 November 2011 by the Director of Finance which introduced and commented on the External Audit Report to Members in respect of the Final Accounts for the financial year ended 31 March 2011. In this regard, there had also been circulated separately Report from External Auditor (549kb pdf) (Audit Scotland) and the Audited Accounts (907kb pdf) for the year ended 31 March 2011.
During a summary of the report, it was confirmed that the Auditor had issued an unqualified opinion on the accounts for 2010/11 which had been welcomed, particularly as International Financial Reporting Standards had been introduced to Local Authority accounts for the first time.
The current General Fund balance of £30.834m was in excess of the sum of £17.5m (3% of the revenue budget) agreed by the Council as an appropriate level of balances to be held for contingencies. However, £12.793m of the total had been earmarked for specific purposes and, therefore, the unallocated balance of £18.041m was only slightly above the budget strategy target.
Total capital expenditure on the General Fund and the Housing Revenue Account in 2010/11 had been programmed at £93.7m with actual expenditure at £80.7m and action had been taken to bring forward projects to address slippage in the plans.
The Council’s Significant Trading Operations were required to break even over three year rolling periods and it was confirmed that this had been achieved. Also, there were no audit adjustments that required a change to the reported general fund surplus position, however, a number of adjustments were required to the comprehensive income and expenditure account and net asset value in respect of re-valued non-current assets.
During discussion, Members welcomed the report and commended the hard work carried out by staff to achieve the unqualified audit on the accounts. Comment was made on the assessment of the quality of the Council’s website and it was noted that there were some improvements which could be made in this regard. The shortcomings which had been identified were of a relatively minor nature and the report had not elaborated on how they should be addressed but an assurance was given that this situation was under constant attention and review by Officers.
In relation to the ICT contract, the External Auditor had recognised the immediate action taken by the Council as soon as it had become aware of problems with the ICT contract and this was welcomed.
The Council NOTED the External Auditor’s Report for the year ended 31 March 2011 and AGREED the response to the findings of the Auditor and the completed Action Plan.
The Council also NOTED the Audited Accounts for the year ended 31 March 2011.
22. Treasury Management – Mid Year Review Report 2011/12
There had been circulated Report No. HC-63-11 (120kb pdf) dated 18 November 2011 by the Director of Finance which provided details of the Treasury Management Mid Year Review Report 2011/12 and also incorporated a small change in respect of the Investment Strategy to name specifically the Council’s bankers.
During a summary of the report, it was confirmed that the Mid Year Review Report provided an economic update for the first six months of 2011/12, reviews of the Treasury Management Strategy Statement and Annual Investment Strategy, the Council’s investment portfolio for 2011/12, the Council’s borrowing strategy for 2011/12, any debt rescheduling undertaken during 2011/12, compliance with Treasury and Prudential Limits for 2011/12 and a recommendation to amend the Investment Strategy to name specifically the Council’s bankers as an eligible counterparty for overnight and short term investments.
In terms of an economic update, information was provided in relation to the global economy, the UK economy, the view for the next six months and interest rate forecast.
It was also advised that the Council’s Treasury Advisors had recommended that the Investment Strategy should be amended to enable overnight and short term deposits to be placed with the Council’s bankers, currently the Clydesdale Bank. Previously the Strategy had not specified the use of the Council’s own bankers and this clarification was welcomed.
The Council AGREED the Treasury Management Mid Year Review Report as detailed and also to amend the Investment Strategy to enable overnight and short term deposits to be placed with the Council’s bankers.
23. Council Tax on Long Term Empty Properties and the Housing Support Grant
There had been circulated Joint Report No. HC-64-11 (60kb pdf) dated 8 December 2011 by the Depute Chief Executive/Director of Housing and Property and Director of Finance which summarised proposals by the Scottish Government for changes to the legislation in relation to Council Tax on Long Term Empty (LTE) properties and the Housing Support Grant which would allow the Council greater discretion to increase Council Tax charges for such properties. In this regard, a draft response to the proposals, set out in Appendix 1 to the report, was recommended for approval.
During a summary of the report, it was confirmed that the Scottish Government was consulting on proposals that would give Councils significantly increased flexibility to increase and vary the amount of Council Tax charged on LTE homes. This was aimed at both encouraging home owners to bring their properties back into use, either for rent or for sale, and to raise additional revenue to fund affordable housing in their area.
The Scottish Government proposed that Councils should continue to keep additional revenue raised from reduced discounts and/or levies and that this should be “ring fenced” for affordable housing. However, the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (CoSLA) had suggested that Councils were themselves best placed to determine how any income raised through an increase in Council Tax on LTE properties should be used and that it should therefore not be “ring fenced”. The Council’s response generally supported the Scottish Government proposals, while favouring the CoSLA view regarding “ring fencing” of income.
Within the same consultation paper, the Scottish Government had set out proposals to abolish the provisions for Housing Support Grant in relation to Housing Revenue Accounts contained within the Housing (Scotland) Act 1987.
During discussion, Members welcomed the proposals and the flexibility that they would introduce for the Council.
In terms of the CoSLA position regarding “ring-fencing” of income, Members were confident that the Highland Council’s longstanding commitment to affordable homes would remain a priority for funding.
It was also noted that the proposals would give the Council freedom to make its own decisions regarding exemptions.
The Council AGREED the draft response to the consultation as detailed in Appendix 1 to the report.
24. Planning for Integration of Services for Adults and Children
Declaration of Interest – Ms J Douglas declared a non financial interest in relation to this item on the grounds of being a Director of High Life Highland Ltd but, having applied the test outlined in Paragraph 5.18 of the Councillors’ Code of Conduct, concluded that her interest did not preclude her involvement in the discussion.
There had been circulated Report No. HC-65-11 (270kb pdf) dated 6 December 2011 by the Chief Executive which provided an update on the Planning for Integration of Services for Adults and Children and sought agreement for the work to date on the developing Commission and proposed governance and management arrangements.
During a summary of the report, it was confirmed that, from April 2012, the Highland Council would retain responsibility for the management and delivery of services for children and for the delivery of Education, Culture and Sport Services, with culture and sport services commissioned from the arms-length organisation, High Life Highland.
As part of the lead agency arrangements, the Council would also retain its responsibilities for care services to adults, albeit these would be commissioned to be delivered by NHS Highland.
It was therefore proposed that these various responsibilities should be brought within the remit of a single Council Committee, the Adult and Children’s Services Committee, which would replace the current Education, Culture and Sport Committee, Housing and Social Work Committee and Joint Committee on Children and Young People. In this regard, it was noted that matters relating to Housing would be considered at the Resources Committee, or where appropriate, at other relevant Strategic Committees.
The Adult and Children’s Services Committee, supported by three dedicated Sub-Committees, would comprise of 22 Elected Members with 9 Members acting as Lead Members for the 9 Local Partnerships. This would ensure that issues relevant to the local implementation of policy and strategy could inform the work of the Committee and vice versa. It was also proposed that 3 members of the NHS Highland Board should be members of the Committee and should participate fully in decision making and scrutiny processes albeit that they might normally attend only for those issues which were concerned with the management and delivery of the integrated service.
At this stage, and as it was not intended that there should be a single budget across Education Services and Children’s Services, it was proposed that two Council Directors should report to the new Committee as well as appropriate Executive Officers from NHS Highland on relevant matters.
The new Committee would be led by a Chair with two Vice-chairs to reflect the level and amount of business and it was intended that the first meeting would be held in June 2012.
At this point, it was confirmed that a fundamental review of governance arrangements had also been undertaken by the Chair and Chief Executive of NHS Highland following which a recommendation had been made to move to a single governance Committee to oversee the scrutiny of the operational delivery for the Highland Council area, encompassing the current three Community Health Partnerships (CHPs) and Raigmore Hospital. This would ensure that primary, secondary and in the near future social care would sit as equal partners around a formal Sub Committee of the NHS Highland Board.
The intended role and remit of the Local Partnerships was also set out in the report and it was confirmed that it was expected that this would involve some rationalisation of existing local groups which dealt with health and social care issues in order to avoid duplication and overlap. The Partnerships would be trialled ahead of the implementation date of 1 April 2012 in order to allow the exploration and testing of the principles and processes and finalisation of the role and remit.
During discussion, Members raised the following issues:
- The obligations and expectations of each statutory body in the partnership arrangements had to be clear from the outset and the key performance indexes had to be agreed in advance and easily understood by all;
- the work undertaken by the NHS Highland Board to move towards a single governance Committee was welcomed;
- the Local Partnerships would perform a critical function in terms of feedback to the Strategic Committee in influencing and shaping the necessary decisions to deliver the best possible service and would also permit the views of young people to be expressed;
- there would be many challenges ahead, particularly in terms of ICT, financial management data, auditing and accounting arrangements, etc and the proposed management structure might require revision over time but the recommendations represented the right way forward;
- staff and client transitions between Children’s Services and Adult Services had to be given the utmost priority;
- the needs of young carers had to be taken into consideration;
- the co-terminous boundaries between the Council and NHS Highland would be very beneficial in addressing a range of issues; and
- Children’s Champions and Adult’s Champions would have a significant role to play in the new arrangements.
The Council AGREED:-
(i) the format of the developing Commission to be presented in
(ii) the proposed governance arrangements for Council responsibilities;
(iii) the proposed management arrangements for Education and Children’s
(iv) to trial the Local Partnerships prior to 1 April 2012 and for confirmation of
the role and format to be delegated to the Chief Executive in consultation
with the Convener, Leader of the Administration, Chairs of the Education,
Culture and Sport and Housing and Social Work Committees, Leader of the
Opposition and other Group Leaders.
25. Parliamentary Voting Systems and Constituencies Act 2011 Sixth Review of UK Parliamentary Constituencies
There had been circulated Report No. HC-66-11 (1485kb pdf) dated 7 December 2011 by the Chief Executive which advised of the submission made to the Hearing on the Boundary Commission for Scotland’s Initial Proposals for the review of UK Parliamentary Constituencies which had been held in Inverness on 24 November 2011.
In this regard, Members were invited to consider the points raised in the oral submission to the Boundary Commission Hearing and the options summarised in the report and to agree the final response to the Boundary Commission’s Initial Proposals which had been prepared following consultation with relevant Members.
During a summary of the report, it was confirmed that, at the Hearing on 24 November, the Chief Executive had expressed the Council’s disappointment that only two Constituencies had been proposed for the Highland Council area and that no account appeared to have been taken of the special geographical circumstances of the area.
The Sheriff Principal had also been advised that there were four main issues that the Council wished to raise and that they were in relation to:-
- The Applecross Peninsula and Lochcarron area of Ward 6;
- The Beauly / Kiltarlity area of Ward 13;
- The Caol and Corpach areas of Ward 12; and
- Ward 19 (Nairn) and Ward 21 (Badenoch and Strathspey)
In this regard, it had also been pointed out that the Council’s suggestions (which were detailed within the report) were complex with each of the proposals being interrelated.
The Council AGREED the final response to the Boundary Commission’s Initial Proposals as detailed in the report.
It was also AGREED that, in a ‘worst case scenario’, and if the Boundary Commission did not accept the response from the Council, the Community Councils of Kiltarlity and Beauly would like the Aird included in the Caithness, Sutherland and Ross and Cromarty Constituency.
26. Highland Council Elections – Thursday, 3 May 2012
There had been circulated Report No. HC-67-11 (35kb pdf) dated 7 December 2011 by the Returning Officer which advised of the impact that Election Administration for the forthcoming Highland Council Elections on Thursday, 3 May 2012 would have on the work of the Council and explained the statutory framework which governed the conduct at the Election.
During a summary of the report, the staffing and other related arrangements which were required to ensure the smooth administration of the Highland Council Elections were detailed, including arrangements for accommodation, election accounts, polling and counting staff, polling stations, count venues and election costs.
The Council AGREED the resources required to run the Local Government Election 2012 for Highland Council as detailed in the report.
27. Community Council Elections
There had been circulated Report No. HC-68-11 (38kb pdf) dated 16 November 2011 by the Corporate Manager which detailed the outcome of recent Community Council elections across Highland and also dealt with the new Scheme of Establishment for Community Councils, election costs and training for the future.
During a summary of the report, it was confirmed that the Council had approved a new Scheme of Establishment for Community Councils which had come into force on 1 April 2011 and which had followed three phases of consultation which had begun in September 2009 and finished on 31 January 2011. The new Scheme replaced eight previous Schemes and set out the framework through which Community Councils would operate. In this regard, the majority of Community Councils had signed up to the new Scheme and it was proposed that it should be reviewed after a period of 12 months.
Further information was also presented on the progress with Community Council Elections and the associated costs, resource implications and training.
During discussion, comments were made in relation to the Election percentage turnouts which in some areas had been very encouraging and had dispelled any suggestion of community apathy.
The Council NOTED the current position across Highland with Community Councils as detailed in the report.
It was also AGREED that the new Scheme of Establishment for Community Councils in Highland should be reviewed after a 12 month period.
28. Caithness Heat and Power Ltd
Declarations of Interest - Mr I Ross, Mr B Fernie, Mr J Laing and Mr J Gray declared non financial interests in relation to this item on the grounds of being Directors of Caithness Heat and Power Ltd but, having applied the test outlined in Paragraphs 5.2 and 5.3 of the Councillors’ Code of Conduct, concluded that their interests did not preclude their involvement in the discussion.
There had been circulated Joint Report No. HC-69-11 (47kb pdf) dated 7 December 2011 by the Chief Executive, Depute Chief Executive/Director of Housing and Property and Director of Finance which advised that the Council’s offer to purchase the trade and assets of Caithness Heat and Power Ltd (CHaP) had been accepted by the Company and the transfer would take place on 23 December 2011.
The report also advised on the activities of Ignis Energy Ltd and the progress being made in respect of the decommissioning and reinstatement projects.
(i) that the Board of Caithness Heat and Power had accepted the Council’s
offer to purchase the trade and assets of Caithness Heat and Power for
£1 and that the transfer would take place on 23 December 2011;
(ii) that Caithness Heat and Power would lie dormant for three months and
then make an application to be struck off;
(iii) that Ignis had purchased equipment from Caithness Heat and Power and
were offering existing customers a district heating supply contract;
(iv) the Council’s work to deliver the reinstatement strategy on programme
and within budget. The scope of the reinstatement work would be
adapted to suit customer decisions on whether to sign a contract with
(v) that decommissioning work was in hand including the sale of surplus
It was also AGREED that the Council’s offer to fund reinstatement of independent heating systems in private houses and those owned by Housing Associations should be withdrawn for those households who decided (by the end of December 2011) to sign a contract with Ignis.
29. Deeds Executed
The Council NOTED that a List of Deeds (60kb pdf) and other documents executed on behalf of the Council since the meeting held on 27 October 2011 was available in the Members’ Library and on the Council’s Website.
The meeting ended at 3.55 p.m.