Highland Council Considers Planning For 3-year Budget Gap
7th September 2018
The Highland Council has agreed to plan for a potential budget gap of £66.7 million over the next three years.
It was agreed by Members in June to develop plans for a multi-year budget for the next 3 financial years (2019-22) to meet the challenge of a potential funding gap dependent on a wide range of variables.
The budget assumptions are based on two key variables, namely the level of revenue grant funding received from the Scottish Government and the annual staff pay award. The budget gap could range from £34.1m to £124.9m, because the Council has no certainty on either of these variables. Having such a wide potential range for the budget gap, makes planning work incredibly difficult, and so it has been decided that the budget planning will focus on a scenario of a 1% annual reduction in government grant funding and an annual 3% pay award. Setting the variables at this level assumes a budget gap of £66.7m over the 3 year period.
Over the period 2013/14 to 2018/19 the Highland Council has already had to approve budget savings of £102.1 million as well as agree Council tax rises of 3% in each of the last two years in order to deliver a balanced budget.
Budget Leader Councillor Alister Mackinnon said: "In Scotland, local government has probably been the hardest hit of the wider public sector in terms of real terms reductions in funding. This Council has seen a cut in real terms over the past 5 years and the outlook continues to look grim.
"The future is by no means certain, but by assuming a budget gap of £66.7m, this allows us to prepare a plan which we can adapt as new information arises. This way, by starting our planning early, we can prioritise and accelerate proposals or defer certain options if we can.
"Work is already well advanced in developing information to inform the budget process. This involves taking a close look at services and identifying where there are opportunities for becoming more efficient and commercial and ensuring there is best value for every penny spent."
He continued: "It has not been easy in the past budgets and it will not be easy to find even more savings on top of those we have already made. Income generation, commercialisation and efficiencies become even more vital in this context in order to protect essential services and we do not have the luxury of the significant reserves we once had to give us any wriggle room. It is undoubtedly the case that there will be very hard decisions to make and we all need to work across the chamber to do the best we can for the people of the Highlands."
A recently produced report by SPICe highlights that between 2013/14 and 2017/18 there was a 7.1% fall in the local government revenue settlement in real terms. Over that same period the Scottish Government revenue budget decreased by 1.8% in real terms. The same SPICe report identifies that over the period 2013/14 to 2018/19 Highland Council has seen a reduction in funding per head of population of £172, the fourth highest of all mainland authorities.
The Highland Council has invited people in Thurso to attend a public exhibition highlighting proposals for flood prevention measures along the River Thurso. The Council is currently developing a Flood Protection Study (FPS) for the River to identify solutions that will alleviate the risk of flooding.
Following a Highland Council Trading Standards investigation, Wick Sheriff Court has imposed a court order on a 42 year old local woman who was found to be selling counterfeit goods. The Order places stringent restrictions on her future conduct and any breach of it can lead to a hefty fine or imprisonment.
On 22nd January 2019 the Moray West wind Farm planning application returns to the North Planning committee but merely for some slight changes to the location of some turbines to lessen the impact on certain views. The original permission and this one is not within the power of the committee but they have the ability to enter an objection.
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.
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