Bud­get sees rise in coun­cil tax

The Oban Times - - NEWS -

COMHAIRLE nan Eilean Siar has set its bud­get for 2017/18 with­out mak­ing fur­ther re­duc­tions to ser­vices or em­ploy­ees – but coun­cil tax will rise.

Dur­ing last Tuesday’s bud­get meet­ing, the Comhairle raised coun­cil tax by three per cent, the max­i­mum al­lowed by the Scot­tish Gov­ern­ment. The coun­cil’s SNP group pro­posed an amend­ment op­pos­ing the rise but it was de­feated in a vote.

Comhairle leader An­gus Camp­bell said there had been good fi­nan­cial plan­ning to bal­ance out a ‘poorer than an­tic­i­pated lo­cal gov­ern­ment set­tle­ment’ from the Scot­tish Gov­ern­ment.

Mr Camp­bell said: ‘Fol­low­ing the Scot­tish bud­get deal, an ad­di­tional £160mil­lion was made avail­able by Scot­tish gov­ern­ment to coun­cils, from which the Comhairle will re­ceive al­most £1m in ad­di­tional rev­enue and £ 350,000 in ad­di­tional cap­i­tal. While very wel­come, that fig­ure in ef­fect only mit­i­gated a re­duc­tion in grant for the Comhairle.

‘It did en­able the Comhairle, how­ever, to sup­port the vi­tal so­cial care ser­vices pro­vided by the In­te­gra­tion Joint Board, by an ad­di­tional £ 500,000, with the re­main­ing £ 500,000 go­ing to sup­port bal­ances for what will un­doubt­edly be dif­fi­cult fi­nan­cial years ahead.’

Last week Na h-Eileanan an Iar SNP MSP Alas­dair Al­lan wel­comed a £275,000 fund­ing boost for Western Isles schools from the Scot­tish Gov­ern­ment’s new Pupil Eq­uity Fund, de­signed to help close the poverty-re­lated at­tain­ment gap.

He said: ‘The SNP in gov­ern­ment has made clos­ing the poverty-re­lated at­tain­ment gap our num­ber one pri­or­ity. This new £120 fund is aimed at do­ing just that – sup­port­ing 21 pri­maries and four sec­on­daries across the isles. By set­ting the fund­ing per child reg­is­tered for free school meals, schools in the Western Isles will be able to ben­e­fit from this fund.’

High­lands and Is­lands MSP Rhoda Grant re­sponded by say­ing this ap­par­ent in­crease in fund­ing is in­suf­fi­cient in light of re­cent bud­get cuts to lo­cal coun­cils.

Ms Grant said: ‘This money is by-pass­ing lo­cal coun­cils and go­ing di­rectly to schools. This is be­ing done against the back­ground of ex­ten­sive cuts to pub­lic ser­vices, in­clud­ing ed­u­ca­tion, which, fol­low­ing the bud­get, we can ex­pect to con­tinue.’

The SNP group also pro­posed that the re- de­sign of the chil­dren’s res­i­den­tial cen­tre Hill­crest should be de­layed and the ser­vice should not be cut. There is a firm plan in place for the tran­si­tional pe­riod, but this was also de­feated. This amend­ment also in­cluded a plan to re-in­tro­duce con­ces­sion­ary fares on the Sound of Har­ris and the Sound of Barra.

The coun­cil­lors agreed to re­in­state a five- day air ser­vice be­tween Ben­bec­ula and Stornoway with one ro­ta­tion on Mon­days and Fri­days and two ro­ta­tions the other three days.

Coun­cil­lor Camp­bell has backed calls made by Lo­ganair’s man­ag­ing di­rec­tor Jonathan Hin­kles for the present tax ex­emp­tions on flights from the High­lands and Is­lands to be in place for flights leav­ing from Ed­in­burgh, Glas­gow and Aberdeen.

He said: ‘Abol­ish­ing tax on flights to the is­lands is a per­fect op­por­tu­nity for the Scot­tish Gov­ern­ment to demon­strate how se­ri­ous it is about giv­ing is­land ar­eas a level play­ing field on the back of the pro­duc­tive dis­cus­sions we have had with them on the Is­lands Bill. Is­land ar­eas rely heav­ily on busi­ness and tourism to boost the econ­omy and lower travel costs would cer­tainly help us in that re­gard. This move would also greatly help the many fam­i­lies through­out the is­lands who are of­ten priced out of trav­el­ling be­tween main­land and is­land air­ports.’

A re­port on the po­ten­tial for a Barra to Ben­bec­ula ser­vice is to be brought back to coun­cil­lors at a fu­ture meet­ing.

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