Agendas, reports and minutes

Highland Council

Date: Thursday, 11 May 2023

Agenda: Read the Supplementary Agenda

In relation to the agenda and papers circulated for the above Meeting of the Highland Council, please find the undernoted:-

5. Question Time
Àm Ceiste

There are circulated Responses to the Questions on the Council Agenda which it was indicated would follow.

(1) Mr A Christie 

To the Leader of the Council

Please could the leader of the Council list and give details of what he regards as the top five achievements of the Administration to date including the benefit to Highland residents (except for Opportunity Cromarty Firth)?

- The Administration has achieved the following which will deliver real benefit to communities across the Highlands: -

  • provided additional funding to undertake improvements to our road network;
  • investing in treating and reducing our waste;
  • investing in vulnerable young people and families through the families first approach and enhanced allowances for carers;
  • establishment in-House Bus Operation to deliver passenger and school transport services at a lower cost than that offered by commercial contractors; and
  • limited the increase in Council Tax during the cost-of-living crisis so that Highland was the joint second lowest in Scotland. 

(2) Mr A Christie 

To the Leader of the Council

In the Budget the following two savings referred to Council officers working with the organisations to identify alternative sources of funding. 
5.1 Review of the Early Years grants budget for non-statutory services with the view to full removal by the beginning of 2024/25. This is a legacy budget which does not provide funding equitably for all EY organisations across Highland and the organisations do not provide commissioned services provided through an SLA with the Council via this grant funding.

Organisations currently in receipt of grant funding from this budget are: SNAP £65k, Toybox Gairloch £10k, Pultneytown Peoples Project £25k, CSS £60k, Fas Mor £10k, Allsorts £10k.

To mitigate the financial impact of the removal of these grants, a 6 month notice period will be given from 01/04/23 – effectively providing a 50% reduction in year one. From the next financial year the full year saving total will be £0.180m.
Officers will work with the organisations involved to identify alternative sources of funding to offset the reduction in the Early Years budget. There are a range of Council funds that can be applied to - the most likely, but not only, source being the Council’s Coastal Communities strategic fund, where Members will be able to consider and approve applications on a bid by bid basis.

5.2 Remove legacy funding provided to a number of arts, culture, sports, music and community organisations. Where Service Level Agreements are in place, notice per the terms of those agreements will be given. From the next financial year the full year saving total will be £0.107m.The organisations and savings are as follows: Aros (skye) £7k, Highland Print Studio £7k, Lochaber Music School £9k, Village Hall grants scheme (£50k pan Highland) and Sports Council funding (£34k pan-Highland). The grant schemes for the final two funding streams have been under subscribed in recent years.

As with 5.1 above, to mitigate the financial impact of the removal of these grants, organisations will be supported by the Council to identify and apply for alternative funding options.

Please could the Leader of the Council detail for each organisation the engagement that has been carried out to date by Council officers together with the financial outcome resourced for each organisations for 2023/24 and 2024/25 including the budget area any funding has come from? 

- There were three engagement meetings set up with officers from the Education Service and Environment and Infrastructure Service, to outline the regeneration funds, application process and timescales. 

A report considered at the Economy and Infrastructure Committee meeting on 4 May 2023 agreed that the Coastal Communities Fund be used to support these organisations for the remainder of 2023/2024.

In order to deal with this strategically, it was agreed that £90k be identified from the strategic allocation for this purpose, therefore avoiding the need for individual applications to each area fund. Separately, and in addition, a number of these organisations have also submitted Ward Discretionary Fund applications, others may still do so. 

Specific engagement has been as follows: -

  • SNAP – Officers arranged an engagement meeting; followed up by phone call and emails with officers;
  • Allsorts –ongoing Officer meetings/support to look at operating models and improving sustainability. Follow up phone call;
  • Pultneytown Peoples Project – Officers arranged an engagement meeting and working with officers to source alternative funding; 
  • FAS MOR and Toybox – Officers arranged an engagement meeting and have been working with officers to secure funding; and
  • FCSS – Officers arranged an engagement meeting and considering alternative funding sources.

(3) Mr M Reiss 

To the Leader of the Council

Please could you explain, in reasonable detail, why the publication by Highland Council of the annual SRCMS results have been delayed by several months past the expected or customary date, despite having been received by the Council at approximately the expected time. (The previous two surveys were published by the Council in November and December of the two preceding years).

- The committee report published in December 2021 was for the 2020-21 financial year so included results for the survey undertaken in 2020, not 2021. Similarly, the November 2020 report included results for the survey undertaken in 2019 and not 2020. Therefore, there has been no delay in publishing the results this year but they have, in fact, been published earlier than we would normally do so, due to the requests we have been receiving. 

(4) Mr R Gale 

To the Leader of the Council

Following on from the Motion that was agreed at the Full Council on the 8th of December can you provide details of what actions were taken by you to lobby the NHS and the Minister for Women’s Health to ensure that the breast screening unit is available in villages and communities such as Helmsdale to ensure that every woman has access to this vital service.

- As agreed at the Council meeting on 8th December, I wrote to the Minister for Public Health, Women’s Health and Sport and the Chair of NHS Highland on 23 January 2023 highlighting this matter. The Minister replied on 2 March providing an update on the provision of breast screening services in the Highlands. 

Copies of these letters on the members intranet.

(5) Mrs H Crawford 

To the Leader of the Council

In relation to the implementation of the Deposit Return Scheme (DRS) in March 2024, to ask the Leader to please provide a comprehensive projected financial impact assessment of the DRS on Highland Council, including potential savings or net losses to Highland Council, the anticipated impact to sales revenue for glass, aluminium and plastic and the impact upon the current level of staffing for Highland Council’s waste and recycling services. 

- The Deposit Return Scheme (DRS) scheme will impact on the Council’s contractual arrangement for collecting glass from central recycling points. Income from existing collected glass contributes to offsetting current contractual costs. 

It is anticipated that DRS will alter the composition of collected recycling and general waste and this, and a range of variables including DRS uptake, future Council contracts and market conditions for blue bin recycling will influence the overall financial impact. 

A reduction in items being put into general waste can reduce related costs which may be offset by a reduction in the income derived from recyclate. At this stage it is not possible to project what the net impact of this will be.

There is currently no anticipated impact on Council staffing levels for waste and recycling services arising from DRS.

(6) Ms K Willis 

To the Chair of Education Committee

The Soil Association’s Food For Life programme supports local authorities to serve healthier, sustainable, and locally sourced food for school meals that have a positive impact on health, the environment, and the local economy.

Please can the chair provide information on how many nurseries, primary schools, and secondary schools in Highland currently have bronze, silver and gold Food For Life awards for their school meals service?

- All of Highland Councils primary and nursery schools have the Bronze food for life award. We have requested that our traditional meal in Secondary Schools also be awarded the same, however, because we also provide and serve a number of snack and take away items in these schools, the award for our traditional meal cannot be applied. This is something that we will continue to pursue.

(7) Mr A Baldrey  

To the Chair of the Economy and Infrastructure Committee

Bike Racks on Buses

In pursuit of net zero targets and to facilitate greater use of ‘wheeling opportunities’ it would be highly desirable to see bike racks placed on all buses.
As Highland Council now operates a number of buses, can action be taken to progress the installation of bike racks on its own bus fleet to act as a ‘leading example’ to other bus operators?

- I agree that the ability to carry bikes on buses is an attractive concept, for the reasons you state. However, there are various practical difficulties with it. Bike racks cannot legally be fitted to the front of a bus and fitting them to the rear has been found to cause difficulties with the rack hinges becoming dirty and seized, as well as security of bikes or damage to them.

Fitting inside the bus could be an option but we would have to consider how racks would be fitted and set up if a bike came on. Legally, wheelchair users have priority for the wheelchair space, and at peak times the seating capacity is required for the school pupils and general public using the buses. 

Our vehicles are leased, and fitting racks may have implications on our lease agreement. We would need clarification on weight of equipment as well as the physical changes. An option would be a trailer that holds bikes and is towed behind the bus; however, we would need to gain permission from the leasing company to have towing eyes fitted, and we would need to purchase trailers, find suitable turning points, be risk assessed and train drivers to ensure this can be done safely.

It is not certain that traffic generated would meet the costs involved, and a booking facility would be required to ensure that the equipment was in place when needed but without unnecessarily increasing our fuel costs through additional weight and drag that a trailer causes.

Although it would be possible to investigate this further, it does not appear to be a likely provision. However, when the Council bus fleet grows over the coming years, as envisaged, then fleet with the appropriate fittings for bike carriage can be ordered when leasing or purchasing.

(8) Mr C Balance 

To the Leader of the Council: 

Youth Highland

To ask the Leader if he would be prepared to meet with Youth Highland, its funders and other key stakeholders to review the approach that has been trialled by the Voluntary Youth Network and to consider how this work could help inform decisions around shaping and delivering services in the future?

- Any Individual or group that wishes to meet and discuss matters of interest with me can do so by contacting me directly.

(9) Mr P Logue 

To the Leader of the Council

To ask for an update on progress towards reinstating weekend opening hours at Ullapool and Gairloch recycling centres.

- Local consultation has taken place with the operational staff in Ullapool and Gairloch, the consultation process explored various scenarios to reinstate Saturday opening.  However, it has not been possible to establish staff availability to enable Saturday opening. 

(10) Mr A Graham  

To the Leader of the Council

With reference to the Council’s response to the Scottish Government’s consultation paper on ⁰Highly Protected Marine Areas", which Elected Members were involved in or consulted during the preparation of this submission?

- The elected members that input to the response either at the Senior Leadership Group meetings or subsequently via email included: Councillors Raymond Bremner, John Finlayson, Bill Lobban, David Fraser, Derek Louden, Glynis Sinclair, Graham MacKenzie and Ian Brown.

Time constraints associated with the consultation were a limiting factor in preparing the Highland Council response. The matter was escalated to the Senior Leadership Group noting that timings would forego the ability to take the item to committee ahead of Scottish Government’s consultation deadline.

(11) Mr A Jarvie 

To the Chair of Corporate Resources Committee

Will the Highland Council be following the Scottish Government’s Public Sector Pay Strategy?

- Local Authorities are not covered by the Scottish Government Public Sector Pay Strategy. The Council’s pay negotiations are determined as part of a national bargaining process conducted by COSLA.

(12) Mrs I MacKenzie 

To the Chair of the Health, Social Care and Wellbeing Committee

With Mental Health services for young people within schools and the local NHSH CAMHS can the Chair give an update with regards to any vacancies to any gaps to the services?

- Currently within the Council, we employ Educational Psychologists, Primary Mental Health Workers and counselling services. 

  • there are no vacancies within the Educational Psychologists (EP) service and all schools have a link EP;
  • there has just been a round of appointments made for PMHWs (Tier 2 CAMH Service) and those appointed are due to come into post between May and June. These posts will cover vacancies that have become available due to staff moving on to different posts over the past few months.; and
  • up until the start of April, all schools also had a counselling service, however, one of our service providers ceased trading in April, following the unexpected death of the owner of the service. We are currently in the process of employing counsellors to cover the vacancies in this service and are hopeful to have all posts replaced by the summer. In the meantime, all young people from age 10+ have access to on-line counselling through a service called Kooth, which is commissioned by the NHS and available to all 10+ across Highland.

The Council does not hold information on vacancies for Tier 3 and 4 CAMH Service as this is managed by NHS Highland 

Yours faithfully

Stewart Fraser
Head of Legal and Governance