Agendas, reports and minutes
Date: Wednesday, 7 March 2018
Minutes: Read the Minutes
Minutes of Special Meeting of the Highland Council held in the Council Chamber, Council Headquarters, Glenurquhart Road, Inverness on Wednesday, 7 March 2018 at 1.00pm.
1. Calling of the Roll and Apologies for Absence
A’ Gairm a’ Chlàir agus Leisgeulan
Mr G Adam, Mr B Allan, Mr R Balfour, Mrs J Barclay, Mr A Baxter, Mr B Boyd, Mr R Bremner (V/C), Mr I Brown, Mr J Bruce, Mrs C Caddick, Mrs I Campbell, Miss J Campbell , Mrs G Campbell-Sinclair, Mrs H Carmichael, Mr A Christie, Dr I Cockburn, Mrs M Cockburn, Mr G Cruickshank, Ms K Currie, Mrs M Davidson, Mr J Finlayson, Mr M Finlayson, Mr R Gale, Mr J Gordon, Mr K Gowans, Mr A Graham, Mr J Gray, Mr T Heggie, Mr A Henderson, Mr A Jarvie, Ms E Knox, Mr R Laird, Mr B Lobban, Mr D Louden, Mrs L MacDonald, Mr R MacDonald, Mrs D MacKay, Mr D Mackay, Mr W MacKay (V/C), Mr G MacKenzie, Mrs I MacKenzie, Mr S Mackie (T/C), Mr A Mackinnon, Mrs A MacLean, Mr C MacLeod, Mr D MacLeod, Mr D Macpherson, Mr R MacWilliam, Mrs B McAllister, Mr J McGillivray (V/C), Mr N McLean (V/C) , Mr H Morrison (V/C), Ms L Munro , Mrs P Munro, Mrs M Paterson, Mr M Reiss, Mr A Rhind, Mrs F Robertson, Mrs T Robertson, Mr K Rosie, Mr G Ross, Mr P Saggers, Mr A Sinclair, Ms N Sinclair (V/C), Mr C Smith, Mrs M Smith, Ms K Stephen, Mr B Thompson (V/C), Mrs C Wilson
Depute Chief Executive/Director of Corporate Resources
Director of Development & Infrastructure Director of Care and Learning
Director of Community Services
Mr B Lobban in the Chair
Apologies for absence were intimated on behalf of Mr C Fraser, Mr L Fraser, Ms P Hadley and Mr I Ramon.
2. Declarations of Interest
The Council NOTED the declarations of interest as set out in Appendix 1 to these Minutes.
3. Capital Programme
There had been circulated Joint Report No. HC/2/18 dated 26 February 2018 by the Depute Chief Executive/Director of Corporate Resources and Director of Development & Infrastructure.
During a presentation of the report by the Depute Chief Executive/Director of Corporate Resources, thanks were conveyed to both Officers and Members for the work which had been undertaken over recent months in often very difficult circumstances.
In this regard, and in terms of the background to the Programme from 2015/16 to 2024/25, reference was made to previous agreement by the Council (as part of the revenue budget process) that there should be no increase in loan charges as this would make the Programme unaffordable and breach one of the key criteria of the Prudential Code. Also, to do otherwise would have placed significant pressure on future years’ budgets in the current financial climate and required an even greater level of service savings which could have placed the Council in financial jeopardy.
As such, the proposed new Capital Programme was predicated on an annual affordability level of repayment and interest costs of £56.7m which equated to the current budget available for loans charges. In this regard, specific information was provided within Appendix 4 to the report on the estimated annual principal repayments and outstanding balances, along with the anticipated repayment profile of all outstanding principal profiled over the next 65 years.
It was also clarified that, in order to keep the total loans charges cost within the existing budget, it would be necessary to continue reducing the interest element of the loans charges and specific information in this regard had been contained in Appendix 5 to the report.
In conclusion, a summary of the risks and assumptions which underpinned the Capital Programme was provided, along with the associated implications.
Thereafter, and with specific reference to the condition of the Council’s Assets, the Director of Development of Infrastructure and Director of Community Services provided detailed and specific information in regard to the school estate and roads network respectively.
At this point, the Budget Leader confirmed that he was pleased to present the Capital Programme which represented a multi-year approach (with maximum flexibility) and was both affordable and represented the best use of resources.
In light of the considerable challenges which currently faced the Council, not least in relation to schools and roads across the area, it was planned that the Programme would be the subject of constant review and scrutiny and this would be monitored by an Administration Team.
In conveying thanks to the Depute Chief Executive/Director of Corporate Resources and his team for the considerable level of work which had been undertaken, the Budget Leader also confirmed that he would be moving the recommendations within the report (seconded by Mr J Gray) at the end of the debate.
During discussion, Members raised the following issues:-
- it was regrettable that work was being delayed in relation to flooding schemes and it was hoped that this could be reviewed and brought forward if possible if there was any future slippage within the Programme;
- the delivery of suitable schools had to be a priority for the Council, along with a review of the whole structure around developer contributions across the Highlands;
- a specific request should be made to the Scottish Government for additional funding in relation to the overspend on roads maintenance/repairs following the recent extreme weather in the area;
- there had to be a focus in future on raising funds/maximising income generation wherever possible in order to help with budgets;
- it was clear that the current budgetary position was not sustainable and in this respect it was important that objective reasons were presented in relation to the lobbying of the Scottish Government for additional funding;
- there was a need for clarification on the mobile library service which had been removed from some rural communities without prior notice or consultation;
- there had been reference within the report to the expected £50m from the Schools for the Future fund but there was a need for detail on what would happen if this was not in fact received;
- the accuracy of the ragging system in relation to schools had been queried as it was felt that some schools on the list were in fact in better condition than had been stated. However, it was imperative that urgent action was taken on those schools which were most in need, including St Clements School;
- there was currently a very serious situation across the Highland area in regard to potholes in roads and this needed to be addressed as a matter of urgency where possible;
- consideration should be given to making a request to the Scottish Government for the Council to take responsibility for some trunk roads in future as it was felt that this could be a better arrangement than at present in some cases;
- it should be investigated as to whether the Council was receiving adequate compensation for HGV traffic in some parts of the Highlands;
- it had been suggested by some constituents in different parts of the Highlands that the Scottish Government should consider means testing bus travel, winter allowance payments, prescriptions, etc in future;
- if would be important to approach future discussions with the Scottish Government with a unified voice and to make the right arguments to the right people. In this regard, there would be a need to also include CoSLA and other Local Authorities and to highlight the issue of sparsity in particular;
- it was considered that Appendix 1 represented the most important part of the report in that it provided justification for every line within the Capital Programme and this was an improvement on what had happened in previous years; and
- the spirit of collaboration from all political groups across the Council during the discussion on the Capital Programme was welcomed.
At this point in the meeting, a short adjournment was agreed in order to allow specific amendments from groups to considered and discussed.
Following the adjournment, the following additions to the recommendations within the report were moved/seconded as detailed and accepted –
- that the Council should commit to a major lobbying campaign to bring in additional money for schools and roads and call on all MPs and MSPs to publicly commit to supporting the Council’s case for investing in the Highlands (moved by Mr A Christie and seconded by the Leader of the Council) – with the proviso that it would be unreasonable to expect 2 of the Highland MSPs to publicly commit to anything which was a Cabinet responsibility;
- that the Council should prepare a strong, robust and ambitious bid to the Scottish Government for the next round of Scotland’s schools for the future which recognised the unique challenges that the Highlands had within Scotland (moved by Mr A Christie and seconded by the Leader of the Council);
- that urgent cross-party discussions should be undertaken to determine whether alternative methods of project delivery could enable more of the school projects to be delivered rather than using traditional construction methods with the findings being brought back to the full Council (moved by Ms M Smith and seconded by Mr R Laird);
- that, in the interests of increased transparency of budget allocation and for the purposes of enhanced localism, a supplementary report should be prepared at or around the start of the new financial year to show explicitly the total capital funding proposed for projects taking place in the district served by each Area Committee, with a follow-up end of year summary detailing explicitly the actual spend in each Area, and that this process should be continued annually over the 5 year term of the new Capital Budget to show also the cumulative year-on-year actual spend incurred in each Area (moved by Mr J McGillivray and seconded by the Convener); and
- that, in recognising the significant damage to roads caused by the current adverse winter and particularly the strain that the cost of these repairs placed on the Council budget, the Administration should agree to work with all groups throughout the 2018/19 financial year to identify ongoing savings through better cost management and realisation of projects underspends in order to fund these vital road repairs (moved by Mr A Jarvie and seconded by Mr G Cruickshank).
The following addition to the first recommendation within the report was moved by Mr J McGillivray but failed to find a seconder – ‘with the qualification that, in view of the historic underfunding of Sutherland and the lack of any mention of future capital investment of any reasonable significance specifically for Sutherland over the term of the next 5 year Capital Programme, and for the period 2018-2023, the Sutherland County Committee, for the purpose of addressing neglected capital projects, be permitted to bid for such funds as arose from the re-specification of projects and from any cost efficiencies resulting from the application of new design and construction methodologies.
Thereafter, Mr A MacKinnon, seconded by Mr J Gray, MOVED the recommendations within the report – together with the additions which had been agreed as detailed.
Mr K Gowans, seconded by Dr I Cockburn, moved as an AMENDMENT that the Council should agree to conduct a review of the funding requirement for Mobile Libraries to address the immediate statutory requirement to deliver adequate library provision which ensured that the Council was compliant with all Government legislation throughout Highland.
On a vote being taken, the MOTION received 47 votes and the AMENDMENT received 21 votes, with no abstentions, and the MOTION was therefore CARRIED, the votes having been cast as follows:-
For the Motion:
Mr A MacKinnon, Mr J Gray, Mr R MacDonald, Mr D Macpherson, Mr R Balfour, Mrs M Paterson, Miss J Campbell, Mr G Ross, Mrs C Wilson, Mrs B McAllister, Mrs D MacKay, Mr G Adam, Mr A Jarvie, Mr G Cruickshank, Mr J Gordon, Mr H Morrison, Mr J Finlayson, Mr T Heggie, Mr M Finlayson, Ms L Munro, Mr A Graham, Mr R Gale, Ms K Stephen, Mr A Sinclair, Mr D MacLeod, Mr J Bruce, Mr D MacKay, Mr M Reiss, Mrs F Robertson, Mrs I Campbell, Mrs J Barclay, Mrs C Caddick, Mrs A MacLean, Mrs T Robertson, Mr C Smith, Mr P Saggers, Mrs I MacKenzie, Mr B Lobban, Mr A Henderson, Mrs H Carmichael, Mrs M Davidson, Mr A Baxter, Mr A Christie, Ms N Sinclair, Mr W MacKay, Mr B Thompson and Mr S Mackie.
For the Amendment:
Mr K Gowans, Dr I Cockburn, Ms P Munro, Mr K Rosie, Mr C MacLeod, Mr I Brown, Mr R MacWilliam, Ms K Currie, Ms E Knox, Mrs G Campbell-Sinclair, Mr B Allan, Mr D Louden, Mrs M Cockburn, Mrs L MacDonald, Mr G MacKenzie, Mr B Boyd, Ms M Smith, Mr R Laird, Mr R Bremner, Mr J McGillivray and Mr N McLean.
The Council AGREED:-
(i) the Capital programme as detailed in Appendix 1 to the report with an estimated year-by-year cash flow profile as detailed in Appendix 2;
(ii) to commit to a major lobbying campaign to bring in additional money for schools and roads and to call on all MPs and MSPs to publicly commit to supporting this case for investing in the Highlands – with the proviso that it would be unreasonable to expect 2 of the Highland MSPs to publicly commit to anything which was a Cabinet responsibility;
(iii) to prepare a strong, robust and ambitious bid to the Scottish Government for the next round of Scotland’s schools for the future which recognised the unique challenges that the Highlands had within Scotland;
(iv) the transfer of any capital receipts received over the period of the Programme to the capital receipts reserve to be drawn down flexibly over the period as detailed in Section 8.8;
(v) to the principle, as outlined in Section 8.11, that any capital projects that delivered net revenue savings could be approved by the relevant Strategic Committee without the need to review the wider Capital Plan;
(vi) that urgent cross-party discussions should be undertaken to determine whether alternative methods of project delivery could enable more of the schools projects to be delivered rather than using traditional construction methods with the findings being brought back to the full Council;
(vii) that, in the interests of increased transparency of budget allocation, and for the purposes of enhanced localism, a supplementary report be prepared at or around the start of the new financial year to show explicitly the total capital funding proposed for projects taking place in the district served by each Area Committee – with a follow up end of year summary detailing explicitly the actual spend in each area – and that this process be continued annually over the 5 year term of the new Capital Budget to show also the cumulative year on year actual spend incurred in each area; and
(viii) in recognising the significant damage to roads caused by the current adverse winter, and particularly the strain that the cost of these repairs placed on the Council budget, to work with all political groups throughout the 2018/19 financial year to identify ongoing savings through better cost management and realisation of project underspends in order to fund these vital road repairs.
At this point, the Leader of the Council expressed her thanks to the Budget Team and in particular the Budget Leader for the considerable work which had been undertaken in relation to the Capital Programme and not least the many public meetings which had been attended across the Highlands. In this regard, a significant number of projects had now been agreed which would be of vital importance to the Highland economy, with specific reference being made to those projects which had been agreed for the Merkinch area.
However, there was a need to do more and an urgent and major lobbying campaign for more investment in the Highlands from both the UK and Scottish Governments would now be instigated and this would be assisted by detailed portfolios which would be drawn up by Service Directors and their teams.
Along with the need to capitalise on any future funding from the Scottish Futures Trust whenever and wherever possible, there was also a need to work more closely with CoSLA, to continue to press for action on loan re-scheduling, to consider issues in relation to the distribution of the Barnett formula, to continue the campaign for better roads and to work with and learn from the public and communities across the Highlands.
The meeting ended at 5.00pm.
Declarations of Interest – Item 2
The following Members declared non-financial interests in relation to this item 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 and voting (on the basis that they would leave the room should there be any detailed discussion on the specific item in which they had declared an interest):-
Mr A Jarvie – Director of High Life Highland
Ms L Munro – Director of High Life Highland
Mr D MacKay – Director of Caithness Citizens Advice Bureau
Mr T Heggie – Director of High Life Highland
Mr G MacKenzie - Family member a pupil at St Clement’s School
Mr D Macpherson - Director of High Life Highland
Mrs M Cockburn – Director of Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch & Strathspey Citizens Advice Bureau
Mr N McLean – connection to Soldier’s Rock/Stromeferry Bypass
The following Members declared financial interests in relation to this item and confirmed that if there was any specific discussion in relation to specific lines within the budget proposals on the following issues (in which they had either a personal or family connection) they would leave the room:-
Mr I Brown – employee of NHS Highland
Mr A Christie – Non Executive Board Member of NHS Highland
Mr K Gowans – family member employed by High Life Highland
- Item 3 Capital Programme 2018/19 to 2022/23 Report, 1.63 MB