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Highland Council's budget for change agreed with many cuts and increases in charges

14th February 2019

The Highland Council today set a revenue budget for 2019-20 with savings also identified for years two and three of the three-year budget.

The Council approved the Council's change programme "A Sustainable Highland" which is set to deliver £37.456m savings over the next three years.

A Change Fund of £2.5m has been set aside to help resource and deliver the change programme.

Investment of an additional and recurring £1.5m for roads maintenance was approved as a priority area. Plans for how this will be spent will be brought to the Development and Infrastructure committee.

Members agreed to raise the Council tax by 3%. The Council Tax Reduction Scheme will continue to offer support to individuals and families on low incomes.

Budget Leader Cllr Alister Mackinnon said:"Our workforce is vitally important to communities. Not just in the services they provide, but, as one of the biggest employers in Highland, council jobs are fundamental to the sustainability of many communities. So a budget for jobs is really good news for people.

"A key element of the feedback we received is that we have many cumbersome, complicated and bureaucratic processes. We need to do things differently, streamlining processes, be more outward looking and adopt best practice.

"An overwhelming message is that we need to be more efficient. Basically, we need to get a grip on our expenditure! As a result we have been examining every budget line and turning over every stone, to make sure that we are getting the best results from the resources being used and challenging where performance can be improved.

"If you always do the same things in the same way, you will get the same results. It is time to change how we do things and so this is a budget for change. The change fund is an exciting element of our budget strategy and will underpin our programme of change over the coming year."

Leader of the Council Margaret Davidson said:"This is a decent, thoughtful and ambitious budget which will help move us into the future, protecting jobs and services. It aims to set the Council on a journey of much needed change. We are all ambitious for improvement and what has struck me is the huge buy-in from all staff in challenging circumstances.

"This budget will enable us to be sustainable and I am really confident that we have the necessary knowledge and expertise in our top team to take forward the change programme that is required."

Chief Executive Donna Manson added:"This budget process has been about us being connected. Connected to our communities, to our staff, to our partners, to each other - building relationships and enabling better conversations and improved understanding.

"I really appreciate the input from staff across the organisation during the whole engagement process, and for some really honest feedback. I am equally delighted with the really positive engagement across the political groups.

"We need to manage all our resources, to redesign, to become more resilient, to be more efficient, to invest in our workforce and to plan for the future. We need to embed effective performance management and effective scrutiny.

"The Corporate Plan will be coming to council in March and this will focus on scrutiny and driving performance. It will underpin the work of the council moving forward, ensuring that we use all our resources to the best effect - and the engagement with communities and staff will be a continuing process throughout the year. I look forward to getting back out to see staff from next week onwards."

Education that is the highest spend in all council budgets sees a huge cut of £3.5 million. A Re-basing of all school staffing allocations across Primary, Secondary and ASN schools to ensure transparency and fairness in allocations following national class size guidance and removing all ad-hoc allocations to ensure stable staffing within our communities. This will include procedures for staff absence management and supply staff.

Early Years and ELC will also see a large cut in funding of £2 million in 2019/20 followed by further cuts of £250,000 in in 2020/21 and again in 2021/22.

Specialist Teachers are also hard hit with reduction totalling £5.938 millionspread over three years as follows -

2019/20 - £2.788 million

2020/21 - 1.575 million

2021/22 - 1.575 million

How the education and early years cuts will pan out across the area has not yet been revealed by Highland council but it may mean less staff in some areas. The council has reiterated its commitment to no redundancies and has in recent month been refusing to fill vacancies that currently stand at in excess of 400 posts. Some of these post may never now be filled to ensure budget targets can be met.

There are many other reductions in this years budget applying inflationary increase to many charges such as an increase of 5 pence on school meals despite protests from some councillors who maintained less pupils will take the lunches as happened with the last increase.

To see the full range of cuts and changes in the budget go to -

https://www.highland.gov.uk/meetings/meeting/4084/highland_council

 

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