Public opinion informs budget proposals
The results of a public consultation running since May 2014 have helped to inform Highland Council Administration’s budget proposals for 2015/16 which will be discussed at a meeting of The Highland Council tomorrow in council headquarters, Inverness.
Leader of The Highland Council, Councillor Drew Hendry said: “We have gathered extensive public opinion on the draft budget proposals and the public voice has informed the proposals being presented to Council.
“As the consultation process was wide reaching, and covered a variety of methods to gather public opinion we are confident that the proposals being presented represent the majority preference of people in the Highlands.”
Councillor Maxine Smith, Highland Council’s Budget Leader added: “The budget consultation process was totally open and inclusive. The Citizens’ Panel Survey conducted in October-November this year attracted 1,234 Citizens’ Panel responses. Designed by Highland Council, the report on the survey (which had a high response rate of 44.8%) was independently written by researchers working for the University of the Highlands and Islands Centre for Remote and Rural Studies.
“The survey also attracted 193 Highland Communities Panel responses and over 4,600 website responses from the general public. We also consulted with nine equalities focus groups.”
Proposals which generated the highest response for “could cause some difficulty” for individuals and communities, included:
Gritting – focus on primary and secondary routes.
Further reducing funding to High Life Highland and Inverness Leisure.
Reducing secondary staffing by a further 1%.
Removing the ward discretionary budget.
There were a number of the proposals which appeared less likely to cause concern to Panel respondents:
42% of respondents noted that the proposal to recruit and train our own staff would be a change for the better or may be a helpful change to them and their family.
39% of respondents reported that the proposal to cut road verges only for road safety reasons would be a change for the better or may be a helpful change.
31% of Panel respondents indicated that the proposal to introduce distance learning for secondary education would be a change for the better.
Over half of respondents noted that the proposals around Further reductions in the number of schools, Reducing the number of childcare centres, Reducing the number of schools, Music Tuition, Targeting Employability services and How we provide school meals would make no difference to them or their family.
The full results can be accessed at www.highland.gov.uk/budgetconsultation
Councillor Smith went on to say: “Throughout the summer, I hosted a Budget Blog on the budget proposals and personally replied to questions raised on the blog. I am confident that the budget consultation process has been totally open and that we received pertinent and valuable local opinion on which to base recommendations.”
The Council needs to identify savings totalling £64 million over the next 4 years to achieve a balanced budget. This figure has been further reduced by £9 million following a detailed review of budget assumptions. Savings of some £42 million have been identified through modernisation and efficiencies, as well as a reduction in some services. This also includes an increase in income through fees and charges.
The Council’s Administration Group has considered the savings proposals and the public’s response to them and identified proposals are to be considered at the full meeting of the Council for decision. This will, however, still leave a budget gap of £13 million to be found in years 2, 3 and 4 (2016-19), which will require further consideration.