Delivering the Highland Council budget through change
1st May 2019
The Chief Executive and Budget Leader are meeting with all budget holders this week to set out the need for tight budget controls to continue throughout the year.
The Council approved the Council's change programme "A Sustainable Highland" in February, which is set to deliver £37.456m savings over the next three years.
The Council is currently operating with an overspend of over £5M and some savings from 2018-19 are still to be achieved. There is also the risk of the emergence of new unbudgeted pressures such as rising costs.
A Change Fund of £2.5m has been set aside to help resource and deliver the change programme and Council will be asked next week to approve the use of £1M of the fund to resource the necessary changes to deliver the savings. The remaining fund is earmarked to cover risk.
Meetings have been held this week with all of the Council's budget holders to explain the context of the Council's financial situation, to set out tight budget controls and to share ideas and best practice for dealing with reducing spend.
Budget Leader Alister Mackinnon said:"The Council must live within its means in meeting customer needs and we must deliver our legal responsibilities. We simply can't afford to spend beyond our means, no matter how compelling the case. We now have the lowest levels of reserves we have ever had and there will always be emerging pressures to deal with over the course of the year. This year’s savings will not be easy, but we have to deliver them. If we haven’t got the money, we can’t carry on as before and we have to change."
Chief Executive Donna Manson said:"Our budget holders are key to the success and they now understand the necessary controls which are planned and the important roles they play in order to restrict expenditure.
"The meetings with budget holders have been extremely positive with managers fully engaged in being part of the solution. There has been really honest dialogue and lots of good ideas for how we can adapt and find ways of working together to make the changes necessary to deliver a balanced budget. I am impressed and inspired with the leadership I have seen in our staff."
Budget measures will include continuing to hold non-essential vacancies, controlling the use of agency staff on which the Council spent over £3M last year, avoiding the use of consultants and outsourcing where possible, and additional procurement controls.
Extra cash in the pockets of low income families Eligible parents of children aged four and five are being encouraged to apply for financial support worth £250. The one-off £250 payment is currently open to eligible families with a child who was born between 1 March 2015 and 29 February 2016 and who is old enough to start primary one this year.
Works on the Inverness West Link Stage 2 were suspended on the 24 March 2020 following COVID-19 guidance from the Scottish Government. The Highland Council has been in dialogue with Contractors RJ McLeod and has agreed that essential works are required to begin to address safety issues but primarily the works to be undertaken are to provide for physical distancing and encourage active travel, walking, wheeling and cycling as part of, and to augment the successful Spaces for People project.
The COVID-19 small business and self-catering grant schemes, set up to help companies stay in business during the coronavirus crisis, have now paid out £59,628,750 to over 5500 Highland businesses. The Council has now processed 99% of the applications received since the grant schemes opened.
Blueprint for safe return to classes. Detailed guidance on practical measures to allow schools to re-open on 11 August has been published.
The Highland Council is assessing the implications of the First Minister's announcements made on the 21st May about the first stage relaxation of lockdown, concerning teachers and other education staff returning to the workplace during June to prepare for the return to school and settings on 11th August. Highland Council's Education Committee Chair, Cllr John Finlayson said: "The return to workplace and Highland schools for our Education staff will have to be undertaken carefully and gradually.
The Highland Council's Environmental Health Team is advising consumers to use their water wisely and check their private water supply systems for any signs of water leaks or risks of contamination. A private water supply is a property that does not have a Scottish Water mains water connection.
The Highland Council can now confirm which of the Household Waste Recycling Centres (HWRC) across the region will re-open from Monday 1st June 2020. A phased approach to re-opening the sites will be adopted with strict controls in place to help manage social distancing and to ensure the anticipated high number of visitors and volume of waste can be handled safely and efficiently.
The Highland Council's Housing Service currently operates an annual garden aid scheme, cutting grass in approximately 1,300 council house gardens. The Garden Aid service is for older or disabled tenants who don't have anyone to help them cut their grass.
Following an ambitious bid by Highland Council supported by NHS Highland, to deliver rapid active travel interventions in response to the Coronavirus pandemic, The Highland Council has been awarded £752,954 from the Scottish Government's Spaces for People fund, which is administered by Sustrans. Over the coming weeks towns across Highland and the City of Inverness will see a roll-out of temporary walking, wheeling and cycling infrastructure along priority routes.
Public assurance is being provided by Highland Council that the organisation is fully transparent and accountable during the COVID-19 emergency response as it publishes decisions made by its group of senior officers - or Gold Group* - under emergency procedures. The list of decisions made since 19 March 2020 is on the Council's website at the following link and will continue to the added to and updated as further decisions are made using emergency procedures.
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