High­land Coun­cil plans cuts to tackle ‘chal­leng­ing’ bud­get gap

The Oban Times - - NEWS - NEILL BO FIN­LAYSON nfin­layson@oban­times.co.uk

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.

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