The Highland Council has agreed its approach to potential budget gap
The Highland Council has considered and agreed its strategic approach to an uncertain and challenging financial outlook over the next five years, at its meeting on 7 September.
Previously, in June 2017, the Council was presented with a Financial Outlook for the period 2018 - 2023. This identified a potential budget gap of around £160m to fund existing core services, (between £129m and £186m) over the period 2018-2023, based on a number of assumptions, particularly around the anticipated reducing level of Scottish Government Grant funding.
To put the gap in context, £160m is roughly equal to our total annual spend on primary, secondary and special education; or more than 2.5 times our total annual spend on roads, transport, environmental and amenity services.
In light of this financial forecast, the Council can no longer continue to provide the same services, at the same level, in the same way as before. By law, the Council is required to set a balanced budget for every financial year. The Council must identify proposals to reduce expenditure or raise additional income to deliver a balanced budget over the period 2018 -2023.
Chair of Corporate Resources, Cllr Alister Mackinnon said: “We are committed to becoming as efficient an organisation as possible and have already made substantial savings over the past few years, but such a huge gap cannot be addressed without a significant impact on our residents and service users.
“We aim to work on five key areas to find ways of meeting the gap. We will continue to look for efficiencies, aiming to improve processes and procedures to get the same outputs and outcomes at a reduced cost. Proposals to restructure the council and further reduce management costs is just one example of this.
“However, efficiency on its own will not be enough. We have already agreed we will focus on commercialisation of the Council, with the aim of taking a business-like approach and generating income to support core Council services.
“We will also need to raise income by introducing new, or increasing existing charges for some services the Council provides. I know this is painful and it will not be popular, as we are all used to getting a certain level of service, but we need to recognise that some people can afford to pay more for services which are not statutory or essential. We will explore all options.
“We have already started a process of fundamentally reviewing how the Council provides its services to the public through Redesign over the past year £0.5m of savings will come from redesign this year with more in future years.
“We must also look at removing or reducing some services, which, although we want to deliver and we deliver successfully, local authorities do not have an obligation to provide. We need to question can we afford to continue to do this.”
Cllr Mackinnon continued: “We have to deliver a balanced budget and this is without a doubt going to be the most difficult financial period that local government has ever experienced.”
Five workstreams will focus on key thematic areas where work will take place to identify ways of delivering a balanced budget. Work will be led jointly by the Council’s Senior Management Team and the Administration’s Budget Group.
The five workstreams will be Prioritisation,Efficiency, Redesign, Commercialisation and Income.