A BUSINESS group has pledged its backing for a radical plea for ideas to boost Highland Council coffers in challenging times.
Inverness Chamber of Commerce has offered to host a summit on the key issues.
The invitation follows a rallying call for the public to “help themselves” by lobbying MPs and MSPs on the council’s behalf, to highlight the need for extra revenue to protect and strengthen services.
The independent-led minority administration also urged anyone with novel ideas for boosting the local authority’s finances to make contact.
The Scottish Government disputes it, but council convener Bill Lobban insists that council funding has been “cut, in real terms, by 9.6 percent since 2010”.
Administration leaders are preparing a document for Scottish Government ministers explaining why Highland is a “special case” due to its vast geography.
The council has been proactive in reviewing its entire work practices through a cross-party “redesign board” with a mission to be more business-like. The chamber is now on board.
Its chief executive Stewart Nicol said: “To do everything we can to support this new endeavour by the council, I’ve written to council leader Margaret Davidson and offered to organise a joint symposium where our 420 members can provide ideas and feedback.
“I’m sure our members will be glad to hear of this initiative from the council and of having a platform to contribute to its success.”
The council’s latest annual accounts show annual spending of £749 million and income of £208 million. The difference is made up by Scottish Government grants and council tax.
Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey SNP MP Drew Hendry cited the Inverness City-Region Deal as a good example of collaborative work.
“Regardless of whether I’m asked or not, I’ll continue to raise many issues relating to the Highland economy on behalf of the council’s officers and politicians, the business community and constituents,” he said.
Labour regional MSP David Stewart welcomed the involvement of the business sector and agreed that Highland is unique.
“It has over 7000km of roads to maintain, over 2000 bridges and culverts to upkeep,” he said.
He acknowledged local government organisation Cosla’s agreement to give Highland a larger share of extra funding to tackle potholes “because the authority has the largest landmass to cover”.
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