Council plays part in Closing the Gap

Leader of The Highland Council, Councillor Drew Hendry opened a major conference at Inverness today (Tuesday) which aimed to make a significant contribution to the debate around how we might do things differently to close the gap between the rich and poor in our society - in the Highlands - and in doing so reduce inequalities in health.

In his opening remarks, he said: “The Council is working to improve the economy by prioritising and supporting the creation of jobs in the Highlands. The Council is leading by example by introducing a living wage of at least £7.50 per hour for all Council staff - helping the lowest paid and therefore reducing the gap between the highest and lowest paid in the organisation.

“We are striving to improve transport and develop an infrastructure programme that will support employment in the Highlands  -   A good example of this is the “Nigg Development Masterplan” which outlines a ‘vision’ and feasible options for the site’s strategic development potential and employment opportunities over the next 15 to 20 years.

“That is how we have to think, not in 4 or 5 year electoral cycles by 15 to 20 years ahead. We are working to ensure the best possible quality of life for children and young people in the Highlands and, with our partners, have joined a national drive to focus on prevention through the “Early Years Collaborative” that will provide the tools to improve the implementation of “Getting It Right for Every Child” and the “Early Years Framework”.

“Spending in the early years will improve outcomes throughout the life course – increasing future educational attainment and employability and further reducing crime, albeit from a low base in Highland, and unemployment.
We need to change thinking about who is the investor and focus on the beneficiary, the public; there is only one public pound.

“The Council and NHS are working together to develop caring communities provide the best quality of life possible for those in need of support.  The integration of health, education and social care services in the Highlands one year ago was a bold step towards moving this forward and we are leading the way in Scotland, using a lead agency model in which NHS Highland provide services for adult community care and the Council providing services for children.

“We are working hard to alleviate poverty by encouraging benefit uptake through the signposting as part of the delivery of a range of Council services and procuring the services of local Citizens Advice Bureaux and our own in-house Income Maximisation and Money Advice Teams.

“The Council’s Welfare Reform Working Group has put a lot of energy into seeing how we can minimise the impact of changes to welfare on our worst off constituents, which has included lobbying Highland MPs to raise the Council’s concerns and share ideas for action that may reduce the impact of change. 

“We have committed to a policy of “no evictions” from Council properties for those put into difficulties expressly through the “bedroom tax”.

“We are working with the Scottish Government, Housing Associations, and the private sector to help to deliver 5000 new Highland homes by 2017 – and have committed to over 600 new Council houses and have plans to boost Council housing to around a 1000 more units in total.

“We are keen to empower our communities and work together with people living and working in our various communities -  engaging them in the work of their Council. 

“The Council has also launched a new initiative earlier this year the Community Challenge Fund, which will provide £1m each year of recurring spending for community projects exploring new ways of delivering services at a local level.

In addition to this we committed £3m for preventative spending to promote wellbeing of our younger,  older and any people living in deprivation. “Preventative” spend involves action to promote the well-being of individuals and communities, to achieve the better use of resources and avoid more costly services at a later date.

“We want to see less focus on processes and more focus on actions and outcomes and are delighted to be co-hosting an event that should really get the dialogue going on how to take this forward.”

30 Apr 2013