Your voice – Your council – Your future
THROUGHOUT the month of November, The Highland Council’s Chief Executive and members of the budget team have met with staff, groups and communities across the length and breadth of the Highlands.
These sessions were part of a budget engagement exercise which also included facebook chats, survey, leaflet, video, and a budget challenge to raise awareness of budget challenges and gather views and priorities.
Like other local authorities, and the wider public sector, Highland Council faces significant continuing financial pressures over the next few years. Options for a three-year budget are being developed to help secure long term financial sustainability for the Council which will include restoring reserves to an appropriate level.
The public and staff engagement process will help to inform the budget proposals and consequent decisions which will be made in February 2019. This includes allocating resources to deliver the Council’s strategic priorities and enable the best outcomes across the Highlands.
The budget gap will need to be closed by spending less, by reducing some services, by being more efficient and by increasing the level of income the Council generates from Council Tax and other fees or charges.
Detailed analysis of the feedback is being done and a full report will be published once complete. However, a number of themes are emerging from the overall engagement. These are efficient processes, a flexible workforce, a sustainable local workforce, addressing local priorities and local needs, and income generation.
Many people favour the council increasing income from rather than cutting services. A majority of respondents also indicated that an increase in council tax would be acceptable.
Top priorities for people include caring for vulnerable children and adults, road maintenance, improving educational outcomes, protecting the environment and involving communities in local decisions.
Being more efficient came across very strongly with lots of suggestions as to how the council can be more efficient, reduce waste and raise additional income.
Social media engagement also reflected support for increasing income through charges. There was a strong theme of generating more income in connection with tourism related activities, particularly a tourism levy and charging for campervan facilities.
Further engagement will take place in January based on these themes and budget proposals.
Chief Executive Donna Manson said: “We have been to over 50 engagement sessions over the past month and it has been a really interesting and useful exercise. It has given me a much greater insight into the organisation and into the interests and priorities of the diverse local communities which make up the Highlands.
“Initial analysis of the key themes emerging from the budget engagement point towards the need for change in order to support how we make better use of our financial resources and improve performance and responsiveness across the organisation.
“There is a clear need for the organisational structure, governance and scrutiny processes to change in order to support delivery of the Council’s priorities and enable the Council to be more flexible, efficient and responsive into the future.
“Although it was not possible to be everywhere this time, we will undertake a regular programme of engagement across the Highlands.”
Budget Leader Councillor Alister Mackinnon said: “Although we have reducing resources, the Council still has over half a billion pounds to spend on services and our focus will be on an outcome based approach, which will target resources to deliver the most effective and efficient services in the future. This will mean doing things differently in many areas. We don’t always need to spend more to get the best outcomes and deliver the best value for money.
“We have heard what people are telling us and being more efficient is what people really want to see. I hope that we can demonstrate that we are listening and we are responding.”