Strengthening the Highlands
The new Administration of The Highland Council today (Thursday) unveiled their programme of action for the next three years. The Leaders of the Independent, Liberal Democrat and Labour Groups on the Council - Sandy Park (Independent), Michael Foxley (Liberal Democrat) and Provost Jimmy Gray (Labour) -set out their priorities for making the Highlands one of Europe's leading regions in a Programme of the Council for 2009-2011.
In Strengthening the Highlands, the Administration aims to create sustainable communities with more balanced population growth and economic development across the Highlands and to build a fairer and healthier Highlands.
The Programme contains a total of 93 commitments across five main themes and a further 18 actions to work with the Scottish and UK Governments. This includes 45 new or enhanced actions and six new commitments to take to Government.
The themes are:
The Programme will be presented to the next scheduled full Council meeting on Thursday 4 September for confirmation.
Convener Sandy Park said: "Reshaping our Programme has been a priority for the new Administration and a lot of hard work has gone in to setting out what we want to achieve over the life of this Council. We have retained and built on many of the commitments in the previous Administration and added many more to make this an exciting but achievable programme of action."
Councillor Michael Foxley, who is Leader of the Council's Administration, said: "Our bread and butter must be to provide the public with good quality and efficient essential services. At the same time, we need to be ambitious, whether it is improving our schools or protecting and benefiting more from our environment, so that we make the Highlands one of the leading rural regions in Europe."
Provost Gray, who is Chairman of the Council's Inverness City Committee, said: "The Programme builds on what was a very solid foundation and I particularly welcome the greater emphasis we are placing on alleviating poverty by helping more people into work and increased targets for engaging Council trainees and apprentices. We have set ambitious targets and we must continue to work hard over the coming years to deliver for the people of the Highlands."
Under the theme "What we will do for children and families", the Administration says it will work with the Scottish Government to develop an ambitious 10-year capital programme to provide modern schools for Highland's children. During this period, the Administration will ensure the completion, on time, of the current five-year programme of three new and five refurbished schools.
It will also aim to deliver full implementation by 2009 of the Scottish Government's policy of "Getting it Right for Every Child" to ensure that all children get help they need when they need it. Better support for foster carers, including kinship carers, is also to be provided by investing an additional £420,000 over two years from 2009/10.
The Administration is committed to building and running five new care homes for older people and to continued free personal care.
It is going to commit a further £100,000 to promote benefit uptake across the Highlands from 2009/10 and will work with partners and all levels of Government to alleviate poverty by increasing benefit uptake, advising more people how to maximise their income through advice on welfare rights and benefits, encouraging use of free or concessionary prices services and providing specialist money advice. The Administration will also take new action to tackle fuel poverty.
Other key services for people who need them will include an updated homelessness strategy and community safety actions.
The Administration is also prioritising the development of tourism in the Highlands and will focus on opportunities such as Gaelic, green tourism, events and activities. At the same time it aims to improve the Council's own services for visitors.
An ongoing commitment is made to developing the Highland economy, across all sectors, notably tourism and ensuring the provision of high speed broadband for businesses and communities and working with partners and Government to develop Wick Airport.
The Council will work with employers, further education colleges and Highland' and Islands Enterprise to increase the training and apprenticeship opportunities across the Highlands, with a 33% increase in the number employed by the Council by 2010/11 (a rise of 200).
New commitments on the environment include supporting the potential for marine energy in the Pentland Firth and assisting communities to benefit more from renewable energy developments and encouraging more to invest in renewable energy. The Council wants to be seen as an exemplar on sustainable design and facilities management of its buildings.
A new commitment on waste relates to reducing the amount landfilled outwith the Highlands and reducing paper use in Council offices. The Administration wants to get tougher on people who drop litter by use of its enforcement powers.
The Council will continue to work with the Scottish Government, UK and EU partners to promote and enhance forestry, farming, fishing and crafting. A priority is to ensure the continued importance in support sustainable rural communities and coastal communities who depend on the marine environment. Support will be given to projects which seek to enhance the valued of primary products from the Highlands, notably the local food sector.
And in ensuring the Council is more effective and efficient, the Administration is committed to modernising services to achieve an annual 2% efficiency savings target.
The Administration wants to be more open in its decision-making by webcasting Council meetings.