A freeze in the Council Tax and a growth in spending to accommodate priority front line services is being recommended by the Independent/Scottish National Party Administration of The Highland Council when the Council holds a special meeting on Thursday 14 February to confirm the 2008/9 Council Tax levels. With funding from the Scottish Government, the Administration is able to ensure there is no increase in the 2007/8 levels of tax and deliver a revenue budget for 2008/9 of £568.6 million, an extra £25.6 million (or 4.7% increase) over the current financial year.
Councillor Jean Urquhart, Vice-Convener and Chairman of the Budget Working Group, said: “I believe that, in spite of a very tight settlement from Westminster, the Council is putting forward a budget that will work well for the people of the Highlands. We will recommend a freeze in the Council Tax. This meets the expectations of the Scottish Government and I am sure the news will be welcomed by Council Tax payers.
“There is growth in the budget and we have targeted monies at priority areas of spending for the Administration. This includes an increase in money for care homes, home care, recycling and community works, such as litter picking and grass cutting. At the same time, we have balanced the books by identifying efficiencies in the way we deliver services, such as through smarter ways of buying goods, sharing services with other councils/partner organisations and better use of technology.”
Councillor Urquhart said she welcomed removal of ring-fencing by the Scottish Government, which would also allow the Council to ensure monies went to meet local priorities.
The Council was reviewing spending priorities to allow the Council to identify further efficiencies and service improvements. Following agreement of the budget, work would start immediately on budgets for the following two financial years.
The revenue budget includes allowances for funding new schools, pay awards, inflation, employer pension contributions, loan charges and an increased budget for the police and fire services.
Areas for growth include: -
- Funding for home care provision: £1 million extra, additional to the extra £1 million included in the current year, giving a total increase of £2 million;
- Full year impact of free personal and nursing care: £1 million extra;
- Day care and costs of decanting residents during care home upgrades: £536,000 extra;
- Additional spending on voluntary sector providers of day care services and direct support for carers: £250,000 extra
Education Culture and Sport
- Substantial additional provision for the costs of the new community schools programme: £8.3million;
- Increasing funds spent on out of authority placements for young people: an additional £2.3 million;
- Continuing the legacy of Highland 2007 – the year Scotland celebrated Highland culture: £600,000.
- Investing in staffing and equipment for major new public facilities, such as the Highland Archive Network; Dingwall Academy, Portree High School and Mallaig hostel projects: £600,000;
- Additional funding to provide training for non-teaching staff: £125,000.
Transport Environmental and Community Services
- Extension of kerbside recycling to most remaining households and funding for social enterprise schemes and education awareness programmes: an additional £1.662 million;
- Grounds maintenance – additional funding for grounds maintenance, litter picking, street cleaning: £1 million.
Planning and Development Services
- Countryside and Access: an additional £200,000 for the upgrade and maintenance of core paths.
Chief Executive’s Service
- Welfare rights and money advice services: an additional £100,000.
The Council Tax for 2008/9 is recommended to remain at: -
Band A: £775.33; Band B: £904.56; Band C: £1,033.78; Band D: £1,163; Band E: £1,421.44; Band F: £1,679.89; Band G: £1,938.33; Band H: £2,326.
Budget allocations are: Education Culture and Sport, £228.8 million (+5.8%); Social Work, £106.2 million (+ 4.5%); Transport Environmental and Community Services, £64.6 million (+5.6%); Chief Executive’s, £27.5 million (+ 2.8%); Housing and Property, £8.5 million (+ 7%); Finance, £6.5 million (+ 0.3%); Planning and Development, £6 million + (7.1%).
£63.9 million has been allocated for requisitions to the joint police, fire and valuation boards.