Budget engagement to commence
The Highland Council has agreed to commence a public budget engagement process beginning on 1 November.
The Council is planning for a potential budget gap of £66.7 million over the next three years.
Over the period 2013/14 to 2018/19 the Highland Council has already had to implement budget savings of £102.1 million and council tax rises of 3% in each of the last two years in order to deliver a balanced budget.
Budget Leader, Councillor Alister Mackinnon said: “It is imperative to take action now to protect our Reserves from reducing any further. We expect our budget to decrease further in the next 3 years. We also have to do more with less money, and our costs are rising for things like fuel, pay and costs of living.
“We are working with services to produce comprehensive information on our current spending profiles, to identify where there are opportunities for efficiencies and any commercial opportunities. Our focus will be on directing our resources to those areas which will give us the best outcomes and deliver value for money.”
Councillor Matthew Reiss, Depute Budget Leader said:
“It will not be easy to find more savings on top of those we have already made. Income generation, commercialisation and efficiencies become even more vital in this context in order to protect essential services and we do not have the luxury of the significant reserves we once had to give us any room for manoeuvre.
“It is undoubtedly the case that there will be very hard decisions to make and we will begin a process of engagement next week with staff, trade unions, members across the chamber and with the public, to help us make the right decisions and do the best we can for the people of the Highlands.
“We intend to launch our Budget Engagement process on 1 November and this will involve a range of engagement activities stretching the length and breadth of Highland.
“We want to develop a shared sense of vision and purpose with our communities and our staff, who are central to the success of the council. This is an important opportunity to listen to what is important to people, to reshape our priorities and to focus our resources on improving lives and opportunities here in the Highlands.
“I strongly encourage everyone to get involved in this and make your voices heard. This is Your Council and Your future.”
The budget assumptions are based on two key variables, namely the level of revenue grant funding received from the Scottish Government and the annual staff pay award. The budget gap could range from £34.1m to £124.9m, because the Council has no certainty on either of these variables. Having such a wide potential range for the budget gap, makes planning work incredibly difficult, and so it has been decided that the budget planning will focus on a scenario of a 1% annual reduction in government grant funding and an annual 3% pay award. Setting the variables at this level assumes a budget gap of £66.7m over the 3 year period.