They want to:
- improve transport;
- develop communications,
- enhance investment in infrastructure; and
- win a fairer allocation of Government funding.
Convener Alison Magee said real progress had been made on many campaigning fronts in 2005, most notably the decision by NHS Highland to reinstate 24 x 7 consultant maternity services in Caithness and North Sutherland.
She said: "The Council has been actively engaged in promoting campaign priorities at all levels of the political process and been working closely with our partners to deliver real benefits to the people of the Highlands. We can be pleased with the progress we are making but must maintain the momentum and react to changing circumstances.
"The key challenges ahead are to attract investment for a building programme which will lay the foundation for future prosperity; to reshape our rural economy and persuade the Scottish Executive of the extra funding needed to deliver essential services in such a remote and sparsely populated area."
On the transport front, Councillors noted the go ahead for the final phase of the A 830 Fort William - Mallaig road; the go ahead for a second phase of improvements to the A 9 at Helmsdale and the construction of the Inverness Airport link road. Priorities for investment were improvements to the A82, A 96 and the A 9, particularly at Berriedale Braes. On the rail front, Councillors want a say in reducing travel times on key routes; and more frequent and cheaper air services linking the Highlands with the rest of Scotland, UK and Europe.
In managing waste, the Council along with Moray, Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire Councils has established the North of Scotland Strategic Options Review Group to consider future arrangements for waste management, with a business case being submitted to the Scottish Executive in January 2006.
In October, the Council gave approval to finalise a second Public Private Partnership programme for 11 new community schools across the Highlands.
The rollout by BT of broadband to all communities in the Highlands is due to be completed by the end of 2005. The Council, together with its partner Councils in the Highlands and Islands, has secured £70m investment from the Scottish Executive to procure broadband network services for Council business use. This contract will be awarded during the summer of 2006.
In re-shaping the rural economy, the Council has approved a five year housing development, programme funded by the Community Ownership Programme and Communities Scotland, which has enabled investment in affordable housing increasing from £7 million three years ago to £25.5 million this year which has resulted in 275 new affordable houses being built this year and over 2500 being built across the Highlands over the next five years.
Concerned at the delay in some areas of the Highlands of development due to the lack of water and sewerage services, Councillors are eager to maintain an active dialogue with Scottish Water to press for the much-needed investment.
The Council is continuing lobbying of the Scottish Executive to undertake a review of the Crown Estate in Scotland with a view to securing greater democratic control of the Crown Estate. It is also persisting with its long-running campaign to press for additional safety measures for tanker traffic transiting the Minches. Progress is being made in respect of the adoption of a vessel tracking system, separation of routes, improved charting and onboard safety measures.
Re-focused efforts are being devoted to the campaign for lower fuel prices and improved fuel supply in the Highlands. A meeting has been arranged with Highlands and Islands Enterprise to co-ordinate the approach to this campaign.
The importance of Euro funding is recognised by the Council in pressing the case with Government and Euro Ministers to maintain EU Structural Funding post 2006.
And finally, the Council has submitted evidence to the enquiry into deprivation by the Scottish Parliament’s Finance Committee and is seeking a meeting with the Deputy Finance Minister regarding the Scottish Index for Multiple Deprivation.