Council seeks to balance the budget with fewer job losses
The Administration of The Highland Council is hoping to balance the council’s budget with far fewer job losses and cuts to services than previously feared.
Following considerable analysis of potential savings and consultation with staff and opposition groups, the Administration have developed a package of proposals to take to the Council meeting on 16 February for approval.
Budget Leader Cllr Bill Fernie said: “We have just heard that the Scottish Government have agreed to increase spending on Local Government services, but we need to see the detail of this before we can understand how much this will impact on next year’s budget cuts. In the meantime, we have to continue with our planning based on current assumptions and analysis.”
“This year has brought a tough settlement forcing us to make £26 million of savings to meet the budget gap. This has meant that cuts to services and the funding we provide are unavoidable. The Budget Proposals will be published on our website on Friday 10 February and decisions will be made at the Highland Council meeting on 16 February.
“We have however done our best to mitigate the impact whilst recognising how our decisions will affect communities, partners and staff.
“Our refined package of proposals enable us to balance the budget with as few cuts and job losses as possible. We are allowed to raise council tax by 3% and this together with the Scottish Government’s increase in tax to the higher bands, will bring in over £8 million in additional revenue.
“Through recruitment restrictions and a planned management of vacancies over the coming year, efficiencies which can be made through redesign, increasing income revenue and rationalisation of management structures, we have been able to reduce the amount of savings which had been originally proposed for some services.
“This means that we will not be taking forward any cut to Woman’s Aid and have reduced the level of cuts to some of the voluntary groups that assist with childrens’ services.
“We will not bring forward the cut to advice services through Citizens Advice Bureaux (CAB) which was agreed by The Highland Council in December 2014 to reduce the level of financial support to CAB by 10% in 2018/19. This will allow time to develop scope for a more efficient delivery mechanism for this service across the Highlands without reduction to the level or quality of direct advice offered.
“We are also proposing to reduce rather than delete the Rangers budget and to examine the potential for moving this service to High Life Highland which would fit well within the provision of leisure and educational services. We have also reduced the level of proposed cuts to music tuition.”
Cllr Fernie went on to say: “We also see the clear value in keeping our streets clean and tidy and for this reason we intend to propose a lesser reduction in street cleansing, by prioritising the areas serviced and by promoting a culture change in attitudes towards littering.
“We have also reduced the allowances to senior councillors which I know is something which the public want to see. Around 1000 people have taken part in our budget simulator which demonstrates the difficult challenges we face in balancing the Council’s books. The feedback provided gives us an understanding of people’s priorities.
“There will be fewer staff over the coming years through our vacancy controls and we will need to continue with redesign and change in order to manage the workload falling on fewer staff. Taking £26 million out of the budget will certainly have an impact, but we have done our very best to mitigate this for vulnerable people in our communities.”
The budget simulator can be accessed at https://highland.budgetsimulator.com until Monday 6 February.