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Audit Scotland Report confirms Council's direction of travel as it considers future budget strategy

10th May 2018

The Highland Council has considered Audit Scotland's report on Local Government in Scotland, Challenges & Performance 2018.

Audit Scotland recognises that councils will continue to face difficult decisions with limited resources. The comments and recommendations from the Audit Scotland report underline the need to prepare multi-year budgets that reflect the Council’s strategic priorities, restore reserves to a more prudent level, align financial and workforce plans, and manage change through re-design and innovation within a real terms reduction in funding.

In addition, the report provides a high level independent view of the issues currently facing local government in Scotland. Audit Scotland cites the complex, changing and increasingly uncertain environment in which local government in Scotland is operating. Brexit and the reviews of education and local governance may have significant impact. The continuing reduction in central funding and the aging population mean an increasing and shifting demand for services within reduced resources.

Leader of the Highland Council Margaret Davidson said: "Audit Scotland confirms that between 2010/11 and 2018/19 there has been a reduction in real terms of 9.6% in revenue funding and an increasing amount of the funding settlement is being ring-fenced to education and social care. This, together with the additional unfunded burdens such as public sector pay and the apprenticeship levy add to the pressures faced by councils.

“Also, in Highland, we have the additional pressure of costs of rurality. We have the largest geographical area of any local authority, nearly 7,000km of regional roads and 202 schools to maintain, let alone bring up to improved standards.

“The Audit Scotland report underlines the issues and challenges facing Highland Council, and allows these to be placed in context of the wider national position."

The report to Council sets out the necessary actions the Administration plans to address these challenges through establishing service priorities, performance standards, supported by robust financial and workforce planning.

Budget Leader Cllr Alister Mackinnon said: “The Highland Council has already made significant progress in transformational change, systematically reviewing and redesigning services and we have begun a programme of workforce planning to align our future staffing skills to our priorities and changing demands.

“The comments and recommendations from the Audit Scotland report underline the need to prepare multi-year budgets that reflect the Council’s strategic priorities, restore reserves to a more prudent level, align financial and workforce plans, and manage change through re-design and innovation within a real terms reduction in funding.

“We aim to begin a review the system of budgeting across the Council, to ensure that budgets address key outcomes and priorities. We will examine the key performance statistics and how well the service is performing in relation to other Councils, current spending, and the resources required to deliver the current level of service."

He added: “This will enable the preparation of a long term Financial Strategy which can focus and align to the strategic priorities of the Council and to ensure best value is achieved for public resources, supported by a workforce strategy to deliver these outcomes over the next few years.”

The report can be seen at Item 11


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