Budget proposals seek to minimise impact on communities
Proposals for £29.671 million savings will be presented to Council for decision on 25 February.
Leader of the Council, Councillor Margaret Davidson said: “We have done everything in our power to minimise the impact of these cuts on communities across the Highlands. We have worked really hard with officers and with colleagues to protect education, roads and winter maintenance which are the areas which people have been most concerned about.
“Despite the vast scale of the budget gap, we have managed to protect education and children’s social care. These services make up half of the council budget but we have managed to keep savings to just 2.1% of the Care and Learning budget, leaving it the least affected. Similarly we have sought to protect Community Services, which includes roads maintenance and waste collection, keeping cuts to a 4.2% reduction.”
Chair of Care and Learning Cllr Drew Millar added: “Over the last two years, schools have faced significant budget reductions, and they are still having to implement these. That’s why we have been clear that our proposals for the 2016/17 budget involve no more reductions in class teacher numbers. Spend on schools represents around a third of the Council’s revenue budget, but education savings are only 5% of the total of these budget proposals. While it remains a challenging situation, I am pleased that this budget will largely protect education and schools.”
Cllr Davidson went on to say: “Areas which have seen much deeper cuts include back office functions, senior management posts and development and infrastructure. These services have been cut by between 9 and 16%.
“Over £23 million of these budget pressures have been externally imposed on us. The funding package from the Scottish Government represents a £18.334 million reduction on 2015/16 which equates to over 4% cut in external funding. This leaves a budget gap of £39.856 million which includes national NIC and teacher pension pressures, over which we have no control. Taking into account the savings which were agreed by Council in December 2014, the remaining budget gap of £29.671 million must be found by savings across all services.
“A large proportion of these savings will come from cuts to staff through voluntary redundancy and we are very aware of the potential impact this will have on our remaining staff. Whilst no one wants to see cuts of any scale, everyone understands that we have had very little room to manoeuvre and some of the choices we may have had, have been taken away from us. We will certainly see a consequential reduction in our capacity, however we have managed to balance the budget without completely cutting services or necessitating compulsory redundancies, which we believed we might have to do.
“I really hope that our Political Colleagues will appreciate the efforts we have made to take their views on board and reduce the impact of such a dire situation. I hope they will join with us in agreeing a budget which will have the least possible impact on communities across the Highlands.”