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Council Confirms Council Tax Freeze and Growth in Key Services

14th February 2009

A freeze in the Council Tax and a growth in spending to accommodate priority front line services has been confirmed by The Highland Council. The Independent/Liberal Democrat and Labour Administration were successful with their recommendation to keep the tax at 2008/9 levels and deliver a revenue budget for 2009/10 of 598 million, an extra 23 million (or 4.3% increase) over the current financial year. The Band D will be 1,163.

Councillor David Alston, Budget Leader and Chairman of the Budget Information Group, said the budget was a particularly tough one, given a tight settlement from the Scottish Government which was based on a freeze on the Council Tax. A budget gap of 13 million had to be bridged.

He said: "We have made a number of efficiencies but we must be honest with the public and say we have had to make cuts. We have striven to find the least worst options. No one is going to hide from that. There is growth where it matters and we will maintain frontline services so we can help and support the people of the Highlands through the recession."

The Council Tax for 2008/9 will remain as follows: -

Band A: 775.33;
Band B: 904.56;
Band C: 1,033.78;
Band D: 1,163;
Band E: 1,421.44;
Band F: 1,679.89;
Band G: 1,938.33;
Band H: 2,326.
Budget allocations are:

Education Culture and Sport, 232.5 million;
Social Work, 101 million;
Transport Environmental and Community Services, 66 million
Chief Executive's, 26.7 million;
Housing and Property, 8.6 million;
Finance, 6.8 million;
Planning and Development, 7 million.
64.9 million has been allocated for requisitions to the joint police, fire and valuation boards.

Earlier the Council agreed to peg the average council house rent increase to 2.46 per week. The average rent will be 63.93 per week, paid over 48 weeks.

The SNP Government has been criticised for leaving Highland council with an "impossible choice" in determining their budget and in having to make cuts to vital services to balance the books.

Following the announcement of the new council budget, Peter Peacock, Labour MSP for the Highlands and Islands said, "Highland Council have been left with an impossible choice on budget cuts because of the policies of the SNP government and because of their predecessors in the first Council administration signing up to a duff deal on council funding.

"You have an impossible choice when the government tells you to make cuts or lose some of your already limited grant. The reduced grant would cause you to have to make further cuts and raise the Council tax to balance the books. The government have manipulated the grant system to reward councils for making massive spending cuts and penalise them if they don't. It is a form of micro management of Council budgets we have not seen since the Thatcher era.

"I don't like the cuts the Council is having to make but, unlike their SNP predecessors who pretended they were not making cuts, they are at least being honest about it and making it clear it is the SNP government's grant arrangements which is driving their actions.

"Despite having the biggest budget in Scottish history and almost twice as much as that Donald Dewar had only ten short years ago, the SNP government are short-changing the Council and not giving them enough to meet the pledges made before the election on, for example teacher numbers and class sizes.

"The Scottish Government say they have given the Councils enough money under the concordat the previous council signed, but if that was the case, why is the Council being forced to reduce teacher numbers, when the concordat promised retaining teacher numbers and cutting class sizes. If the Council had the cash, they would be spending it on education, not cutting education.

"It is sad to see all the progress made over the years leading up to 2007 in employing record numbers of teachers and building new schools being put into reverse by the SNP Government's actions and policy failures. At least the new Council administration is being absolutely up front and honest about where the blame lies and how their hands have been tied.

"We will be making representations on detailed budget matters that constituents have brought to our attention and we will continue to campaign to have the Scottish Government implement their budget promises on education and a range of other issues."

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