Substantial Budget Savings Already Achieved By Highland Council
26th June 2019
Two thirds of agreed savings have already been achieved to date since the Highland Council set its budget in February 2019.
On 14 February 2019 the Council approved its budget strategy and Change Programme "A Sustainable Highland" based around 4 themes: Making the Council More Efficient; Commercialism and Income Generation; Redesign and Improvement; and A Flexible and Well Managed Workforce, to deliver £37.456m of savings over the next three years. At the same time, approval was given to introduce a Programme Office to oversee the delivery of 16 major transformational projects and a £2.5m Change Fund was established to ensure this ambitious programme was effectively resourced.
Good progress is being made, with over two thirds of the 2019/20 savings target already achieved and project plans in place for the remainder.
A full evaluation of progress toward achieving the 2019/20 savings target was carried out at the Change Programme Board on 28th May 2019. This exercise has further informed the ongoing work with the Change Programme and has helped direct efforts towards the key areas where change is still required. The findings of this exercise demonstrate that very good progress is being made towards delivering the £24.581m savings agreed by Council on 14th February 2019.
By the first quarter of the current financial year, a total of £16.714m of agreed savings has been delivered in full. A further £0.136m of savings has been partially achieved to date (£0.075m from renegotiation of the printing contract and £0.061m from Development and Infrastructure Vacancy Management). This gives a total of £16.85m equating to 68% of the overall total budget savings.
Budget Leader Alister Mackinnon said: "We have already delivered two thirds of the savings agreed in February. This is a huge achievement and I want to congratulate everyone involved in making this happen.
"An immense amount of work has been done to deliver these savings and we have done this while keeping our commitment to avoiding staff redundancies."
He added: "We will not be complacent however. We intend to get ahead of the game and plan to agree a budget for 2020-21 in the autumn. Public and staff engagement will continue over the summer and autumn as part of this process."
Members have been provided with Programme progress updates at full Council meetings in March and May 2019, presentations have been given at the monthly all-Member Budget Briefings and Programme updates have also been reported to the Redesign Board and the Commercial Board.
The Executive Leadership Team has provided detailed oversight and scrutiny of the programme at weekly Programme Board meetings and staff have been kept up to date with the aims, progress and requirements of the Programme through the recent Budget Holder Briefing sessions and the staff In Brief publication.
Council will be asked to consider the progress made to date, and to approve proposals for the third phase of the change fund at its meeting on Thursday 27 June 2019.
Following the freezing of some charges and suspension of enforcement for others during the lockdown period, The Highland Council has been following a phased return to normal operations since the 26th of June. Further details are given below.
Many Highland Council tenants may be missing out on help towards their rent from Universal Credit because they have not notified the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) of their annual rent increase which came into effect on the 30th March 2020. Those tenants who have not yet reported their rent increase could be facing a shortfall in the help they receive towards their rent, putting them at risk of rent arrears.
The Highland Council is updating parents and carers of its position on early learning and childcare (ELC). In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, The Scottish Government removed the statutory requirement for Local Authorities to deliver 1140 hours of ELC from August.
Following on from the recent publication of Highland Council's Supporting Economic Recovery in Highland - A Guide for Businesses - the Council is announcing relaxation of some controls that will assist tourist accommodation providers have been impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic. In recognition of this where there are specific planning and licensing controls in relation to occupancy, for example: a restriction on the occupancy of any caravan for a continuous 12 month period; or where conditions restrict occupancy for specific periods of time, ...these will be relaxed by the Council up to and including April 2021.
The Caithness Committee met virtual today for the first time since the Covid-19 pandemic and it's agenda focused on the actions taken by the Council and the third sector to deal with the effects of Coronavirus in Caithness. The Executive Chief Officer for Education and Learning, Paul Senior, gave members an update on the plans and preparations underway to prepare for the return of pupils and staff to Caithness schools in August.
Margaret Davidson, the Leader of the Highland Council has given her strong support to the efforts of the Scottish Government to obtain greater fiscal flexibility from the UK Government. The Scottish Government have sought flexibility to offset capital underspend against resource expenditure, more flexibility over resource borrowing and greater flexibility over the use of the reserve for capital.
The Highland Council is planning to re-open play areas across the region throughout summer. Advice was provided by the Scottish Government on 28 June as to the safety measures that should be applied.
The Highland Council was one of the first local authorities in Scotland recognised to develop a Schools Digital Learning Hub, which provides a resource for staff, parents and pupils to support home learning. Prior to Covid-19, we had an estate of 27,000 Chromebooks that were already a part of our ICT in Learning Strategy.
Earlier today (Wednesday 1 July 2020) members of The Highland Council's Economy and Infrastructure Committee had the opportunity to discuss (by video conference) progress made with the Corran Ferry Project which is reviewing the options for securing a replacement ferry and considering the way forward for the future operation and management of the service. The Corran ferry service has reached a critical point and strategic decisions need to be made.
As Scotland prepares for the easing of lockdown and the re-opening of the tourism and hospitality sector, The Highland Council's Environmental Health are advising holiday accommodation providers to make sure their private water supplies are safe to drink. A large number of self-catering and tourist accommodation in the Highlands are served by private water supplies and with these being closed during the lockdown period, the water supply system may not have been maintained and could create a risk to the quality and safety of the drinking water.