Highland Council continues to consult on budget savings
Significant energy is being spent on work to plan ahead and identify savings to address the anticipated budget gap.
The Council meeting in June 2015 considered a report which estimated a forecast budget deficit for the next three financial years of £46.28 million. This takes into account new pressures including pay awards, teacher pensions, changes to national insurance and a grant cut of 1.6% p/a.
There is significant uncertainty around the level of grant cut (and the period); and no account has yet been taken of the potential to increase council tax (or any replacement).
The Scottish Government’s policy decisions for 2016/17 in respect of maintaining both teacher numbers, and council tax freeze, have yet to be clarified. It is anticipated that the Council will not know its grant figures for 2016/17 until the week commencing 18th January at the earliest. This leaves very little time to finalise the Council’s budget and it is therefore planned to hold a special Council meeting on 25th February.
The focus has therefore been on getting to a balanced position for 2016/17 as this represents the most challenging year and services have been asked to identify savings amounting to 6%.
There are a number of risks to the current forecast budget position. These are failure to achieve all the savings agreed in December 2014 and new pressures that will require to be met.
Chair of Resources, Councillor Bill Fernie said: “Colleagues and I have been meeting with Service Directors and budget holders over the last few weeks to scrutinise every opportunity to make savings. We are meeting today with members from each of the political Groups to discuss the situation, the continuing uncertainties and the impact of the vast amount of savings which need to be found. We will also be seeking the views of the public as savings plans become clearer.
“We will continue to work together to plan ahead, but we need to be clear that we cannot make savings at this level and not impact on service delivery. There will be difficult decisions ahead for everyone.”