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 https://www.highland.gov.uk/meetings/meeting/3973/highland_council
Police in Lochaber can confirm that a 27-year-old man has been arrested in connection with alleged consumer protection offences in Fort William. It follows an investigation by Police Scotland and Highland Council Trading Standards, after a report was received this week of "bogus workmen" in Fort William and alleged fraudulent activity relating to charges for work carried out on a house in the town.
DETAILED analysis of the Scottish Government's funding settlement, which makes up the vast proportion of the Council's budget, has been carried out and the net result is that the Highland Council will see a reduction in its grant funding to provide the current level of services. This, together with the additional pressures equates to a £31.2M budget gap for 2019-20.
Highland Council Trading Standards have produced guidance on how to spot the signs of scams that target businesses and also remind businesses to inform their employees on what to look out for when dealing with unsolicited telephone calls, emails and texts. All businesses as well as non-profit organisations (such as charitable organisations) may spend a lot of time dealing with potential scammers.
The Highland Council has written to parents and carers of school transport pupils to inform them that D&E Coaches have recently transferred a number of Highland Council contracts to Stagecoach and some school transport routes are included. These changes are to take effect from the first day back after the school holidays, Monday 7th January 2019 and timetables have been supplied for the routes affected.
Twenty nine members of The Highland Council's Care and Learning team have celebrated their success in completing the Council's 15 month ‘Lead On’ programme. ‘Lead On’, is a programme designed to develop practitioners’ understanding of change leadership and apply this through a change initiative in their place of work.
Highland Councillors are looking forward beyond the current Inverness and Highland City-Region Deal and asking: "What next and where?". Following publication of the Deal's annual report, Leader of The Highland Council Cllr Margaret Davidson said: "A meeting will be convened in the New Year with Councillors who have a particular interest in the City-Region Deal to talk about where we can go next and what we can do.".
Work underway to determine Highland's Budget allocation. Commenting after the news received last night of Councils' individual allocations, from the Scottish Government’s draft Budget, Budget Leader Councillor Alister Mackinnon said: "Having received the details of our allocation just last night, it will take some time to work through the proposed settlement and do a detailed analysis.
THROUGHOUT the month of November, The Highland Council's Chief Executive and members of the budget team have met with staff, groups and communities across the length and breadth of the Highlands. These sessions were part of a budget engagement exercise which also included facebook chats, survey, leaflet, video, and a budget challenge to raise awareness of budget challenges and gather views and priorities.
The Highland Council is to carry out a public consultation on the implementation of a transient visitor levy in the New Year. During the Council's public engagement activity during November, a strong theme was support for raising income from tourism, including a tourist levy, which could support local infrastructure, as well as the tourism sector itself.
Members have agreed six priority commitments in a revised Council Programme at today's council meeting. The six themes within the Programme are: A Council that Champions the Highlands; A Place to Live; A place to Thrive; A place to Prosper; A Welcoming Place; and Your Highland Council These themes and the actions which the council has agreed to, reflect priorities which have emerged through the round of public engagement during November.
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