Council to consider a budget for Recovery, Health and Prosperity
The Highland Council is set to consider a new ambitious Health and Prosperity Strategy for the Highlands at its budget setting meeting on 4 March.
The strategy sets out a new approach which seeks to balance the current financial context with the drivers for economic growth and recovery from the pandemic.
The strategy has at its heart, investment in the Highland economy and securing medium term financial sustainability for the Council.
A more positive Government settlement than anticipated, together with in-year financial prudence and building reserves during the previous year, has enabled the Council to be in a better financial footing to address the challenges moving forward.
The collaborative budget, however, proposes an ambitious, phased investment plan which encompasses a £6M Economic Prosperity Fund, a £1.5M Visitor Management Strategy, £2,1M place-based investment, additional local ward discretionary funding and £2.25M for a Recovery, Improvement and Transformation Fund. In addition, the Council’s reprofiled capital plan, as presented to Council in January, will see capital investment of £260M across the region over the next two years
Depute Leader and the Council’s Chair of Recovery Board, Cllr Alasdair Christie spoke about the importance of investing in stimulating economic growth and employment in the Highlands.
He said: “This is one of the most positive budgets that I can remember, considering the scale of the challenges facing us in the Highlands. We are proposing a budget which has been targeted to improve health and prosperity in our area, this budget will set a firm foundation of investment on which to build a sound, immediate and lasting recovery. We have identified four key investment strategies – a key plank of which is a £6M Economic Prosperity Fund which addresses business growth, opportunities for our young people and seeks to tackle unemployment. Our Visitor Management Strategy £1.5M, place-based investment £2.1M and local grass-roots investment £0.2M. All 4 of these interventions will contribute to ensuring that some of the negative impacts of the last 11 months can be reversed."
Leader of the Opposition, Cllr Raymond Bremner added: “The Highland Council’s communities have been faced with challenging, unprecedented times. We have all had to work together to ensure we provide an effective programme of recovery that boosts and regenerates the Highland economy. There are key areas to focus on – business and industry support, jobs, community health and well being and a focus on our young people. Additional funding (from the Scottish Government) has helped the Council sustain our communities through a tough year and if we continue to work together we can all help contribute to the recovery with a more positive outlook for the immediate and long-term future of our Highland communities.”
Depute Budget Leader, Cllr Matthew Reiss added a note of thanks: “This has been a collaborative budget, and I want to thank all those, members and officers, who have contributed to this enormous task, especially through the continuing challenge of working within a pandemic, the like of which we have never faced before.”
Cllr Jimmy Gray, Chair of the Brexit Working Group said: “Climate change, Covid, Brexit and global economic uncertainty - At no time, out with the two world wars, have governments at all levels had to deal with such a concurrency of such extreme issues, every one of which poses an extreme threat.
“Ultimately, much of the day to day business of dealing with a large percentage of the consequences of a combination of all these factors involves Local Government and their staff. The pressure to maintain essential services has been relentless for the best part of the last year.
“I am sure the people of the Highlands who rely on the Council to maintain these essential services will be hugely relieved that we have been able to work collaboratively to produce such a positive outcome.”
The budget proposals will be considered by Council on 4 March 2021.
Link to papers:
https://www.highland.gov.uk/meetings/committee/52/the_highland_council (the papers for this meeting will be uploaded on Friday (26/02) morning.