The Highland Council’s Leadership today (Thursday) launched a “bold and ambitious” programme of priorities for action over the next five years.
“Working together for the Highlands” is being presented to the next meeting of the Council on Thursday 28 June for confirmation as the Programme for The Highland Council.
The programme sets out 128 actions across seven main themes, which focus on working together for:-
• the economy;
• children and young people;
• caring communities;
• better infrastructure;
• better housing;
• empowering communities; and
• strong and safe communities.
Council Leader Drew Hendry said: “We have set out a bold programme, which is ambitious but deliverable. We will work hard over the next five years to stand up for the Highlands, and to provide every support for our varied and vibrant communities. We will support and create jobs in the Highlands, producing a comprehensive economic recovery and development plan, detailing a strategy for growth. Working with private and public sector partners, the Scottish and UK Governments, we will aim to ensure that every 16-19 year old seeking employment has the opportunity to access a modern apprenticeship or further training.”
He said the Council would introduce a living wage of at least £7.20 per hour for Council staff no later than April 1, 2013, helping the lowest paid.
The Council would work with the Scottish Government, Housing Associations and the private sector to help to deliver 5,000 new homes by 2017. This would include at least 600 council homes and other affordable homes. The Council would continue to press the UK Government to write-off the Council’s housing debt of £149 million.
Tenants would be encouraged to get more directly involved in the management of their local environment and council housing estates.
The Council would work with all governments to deliver infrastructure projects to support employment and connect Highland communities. Working with the Scottish Government, Transport Scotland and partners, the Council would strongly support the upgrade of the Berriedale Braes, the A9 within Highland, the A 82 within Highland and the A 96 between Inverness and Aberdeen.
The Council would develop options for a long-term solution which provided a secure and effective transport link between Lochcarron and the Lochalsh area. In consultation with partners and the local community, the Council would pursue the options for securing external funding. It would work with partners to support the delivery of the Inverness West-Link road and the associated amenity and leisure improvements as well as the Inverness Airport Rail Link.
Deputy Leader David Alston highlighted the creation of a Community Challenge fund of £1 million of recurring expenditure to support community projects which look at new ways of delivering services at local level.
He said: “We want to encourage communities to get more involved in the planning and delivery of services. This is an important way of giving them the power to find their own solutions. This funding is additional to the ward discretionary funds and should prove a huge boost to local communities in promoting local projects.
“We are also committing the Council to an additional £3 million of ‘preventative spending’ each year. This means spending money on children, older adults and those struggling with deprivation – and spending the money, as far as possible, before serious problems arise rather than waiting until things go wrong. It is a simple idea, in line with Scottish Government thinking, but it has the potential to make a big difference. As part of this preventative spend, we are committing an additional £1 million to support families and their children in the early years. This is one of the most important investments we can make in the future of the Highlands.”
Convener Councillor Jimmy Gray said the Council would work to build safer, stronger communities. The Council would work with the Scottish Government to support the maintenance of police numbers in the Highlands and play a full part in setting the priorities for local police in Highland communities.
It was important that local communities had the opportunity to participate in and benefit from the development of renewable energy across the Highlands and the Council would seek to identify and support means whereby this can be achieved.
Keeping the Highlands clean was another key priority. He said: “The Council will also take a zero tolerance approach to litter. We will introduce preventative measures to tackle litter and extend the powers of community wardens to issue fines.
The Programme includes a commitment to establish local area committees, which will see two pilot committees with substantial powers set up in Inverness and Caithness and Sutherland.
It also features a commitment to allow public petitions to be considered by the Council and relevant strategic committees, which is seen as a “great extension of local democracy.”
Throughout the Programme, the Leadership have highlighted a commitment to equalities and the principle of equal respect for the Gaelic and English languages, whilst also recognising the diversity of indigenous language and dialects within the Highland area. In promoting new and innovative projects, the Council will maintain a commitment to Scotland’s Climate Change Declaration.