Highland Council plans cuts to tackle ‘challenging’ budget gap
HIGHLAND Council is in the ‘most difficult financial period local government has ever experienced’ according to one member as councillors prepare for a £160million budget gap in the next five years.
At a full council meeting last week, members agreed on a strategic approach to tackle the ‘uncertain and challenging financial outlook’ that has been projected over the coming years.
A financial outlook for the period 2018-2023, presented to the council earlier this year, identified a potential budget gap of around £160m in the funding of existing core services. The forecast was based on a number of assumptions, in particular the anticipated reduction of Scottish Government grant funding.
The £160m is roughly equal to the total annual spend on primary, secondary and special education, which equates to more than twice the total annual spend on roads, transport, environmental and amenity services.
A spokesperson for Highland Council outlined: ‘In light of the financial forecast, the council can no longer continue to provide the same services, at the same level, in the same way as before. By law, the council is required to set a balanced budget for every financial year. The council must identify proposals to reduce expenditure or raise additional income to deliver a balanced budget over the period 2018-2023.’
Chairman of corporate resources at the council councillor Alister Mackinnon said: ‘We
are committed to becoming as efficient an organisation as possible and have already made substantial savings over the past few years, but such a huge gap cannot be addressed without a significant impact on residents and service users.
‘We have already started reviewing how the council provides its services to the public through re-design over the past year. Half a million pounds of savings will come from re-design this year with more in future years.
‘We must also look at removing or reducing some services which, although we want to deliver and do so successfully, local authorities do not have an obligation to provide. We need to question whether we can afford to continue to do this.’
‘We have to deliver a balanced budget,’ Mr Mackinnon added, ‘and this is without a doubt going to be the most difficult financial period that local government has ever experienced.’
Lochaber councillor Andrew Baxter said: ‘Nothing is being ruled out. We want to concentrate on core services, like emptying bins and fixing roads.
‘We are looking at every line within the council’s budget to see if we can make savings and be more efficient. As a Lochaber councillor, if any residents have ideas or examples of where the council can save money in the budget, then get in contact with one of us.’
Mr Baxter said the council will be reviewing the budget over the autumn and hopes to be in a position before the end of the year where it can makes savings.
He continued: ‘We also need to have an idea of how we can make money. The council needs to be more commercially minded. For example, charging for car parking. I find it ridiculous Fort William residents have to pay for parking when other towns in the Highlands don’t have to.’
Councillor Andrew Baxter.