Highland Council Budget Agreed
The budget for 2015/16 and the indicative budget for the following 3 years has been agreed following a meeting today of Highland Council.
A package of savings totally £42.8 million was agreed. These are to be phased over 4 years, with £17.4 million savings in 2015/16, £10.2 million in 2016/17, £6.3 million in 2017/18 and £8.9 million in 2018/19. The total impact on staff will be a reduction in 312 Full Time Equivalent (FTE) posts over the 4 years.
This allows a balanced revenue budget to be set for 2015/16 of £570.938 million, but a further £14 million of cuts remains to be identified over the following 3 years.
The Council agreed a council tax freeze for 2015/16 and to accept the Scottish Government settlement package in respect of the freeze.
Members also agreed to increase Council Tax on long term empty properties to 200% with effect from 1 April 2015.
The proposals were agreed in full subject to a number of amendments tabled. The Administration agreed to defer the 1% cut in secondary school teachers to 2016/17 which is funded by a one off use of £500,000 capital from the Community Challenge Fund. Four further minor amendments were agreed to the budget proposals.
Budget Leader Cllr Smith said: “I would like to thank all the Council’s officers who worked so hard in what has been a tremendous effort, given that it is the first time Highland Council has sought to provide a 4 year budget, to get this budget ready. This has been a very difficult process and I would also like to thank all Members who have engaged constructively to achieve consensus over the budget.
“The consultation was a huge success and I am grateful to everyone who participated. All services were asked to put forward savings of 4% in year 1 and 2% over the following 3 years. However, it became apparent that the areas of most concern were Care and Learning and Community Services, therefore in considering which savings we have taken forward, we have safeguarded these from the bigger cuts and deferring any reduction in the primary school day and cuts to secondary teacher posts. We will do further work and look at the emerging national debate, before making a final decision next year on whether the reduction in the school day should return as a saving for year 2 or not.
“The consultation showed that 55.4% of people were concerned about gritting and winter maintenance. There were two proposals for savings in this area, one was to stick to the current policy, concentrating on primary and secondary routes, thereafter gritting “other” routes and the second proposal was to remove “other” routes entirely. We are therefore proposing to simply stick to policy making a saving in that area.”
She went on to say, “After consultation, we have also managed to remove the whole of the second 6% saving proposal from the budget for High Life Highland, Inverness Leisure and Eden Court, thus protecting libraries, museums, swimming pools and leisure facilities from closure in the Highlands.
“In order to give community groups longer to look at their funding options, we have removed any cuts from year 1. Therefore during next year all community groups will continue to receive full funding and be able to bid into the Council, which is setting new criteria around its funding regime, for future years. This will necessitate groups providing evidence to support their applications in terms of economic benefit, health or wellbeing improvements, educational agreements with the Council and social return on investment.”
She added, “It is worth noting that next year we aim to inject up to £70 million into the Highlands to fund projects such as roads, bridges, schools and other building projects. This helps keep the Highland economy afloat, supports local businesses and provides jobs.”
Cllr Smith concluded by saying: “As a Council, we must deliver a balanced budget and by setting it over the 4 years we have provided a framework for future planning, in which officers can work and be proactive. It offers more certainty and allows flexibility to make small changes where necessary, whilst being able to concentrate on delivering the main savings.”
The Budget Leader was congratulated on her work with Members across the Council to achieve agreement on the budget.
The Budget papers and amendment recommendations can be found on our website (Meeting of the Highland Council - item 11): http://www.highland.gov.uk/meetings/meeting/3379/highland_council