EDUCATION has been protected from cuts but a raft of new charges have been proposed to offset Highland Council’s shrinking budget.
Fifty-one full time equivalent jobs are also set to go though budget leader Alister Mackinnon said some of the affected posts were already vacant and redundancies would be avoided where possible as the council administration presented its proposed revenue budget for 2018/19 on Thursday.
Across education teachers, additional support needs (ASN) and pupil support staff had all faced the prospect of job losses as part of swingeing cuts, but leading councillors said there would be no staff reductions in these areas as part of the £15 million savings which have to be made.
Roads maintenance has also been ring-fenced under the proposals, which are set to be agreed at a full council meeting this Thursday coming (February 15).
Protecting these services comes at a price, however, and people across the Highlands can expect to be hit in the pocket for council tax, bins, car parking and public toilets.
Council leader Margaret Davidson said: "We have managed to protect education and roads, which is what people have been asking for, but it does mean we have to charge for some services and cut others.
"I would rather do that than stop cutting grass or teaching children."
A three per cent council tax rise will be imposed from April under the plans, bringing in £3.4 million, and Cllr Davidson said the increase could have been more if not for the cap imposed by the Scottish Government.
As it stands, the hike will see a rise of £24 per year for the lowest paying band A properties and £88 a year for the highest, band H.
Other charges include a minimum of £1 for the first hour of parking in council-run car parks, and new charges in towns and tourist hotspots, including Chanonry Point on the Black Isle and Nairn Harbour.
It will also cost 50p to ‘spend a penny’ as charges will be imposed in many public toilets, with proposals to close many more or transfer them to community ownership.
The controversial £30 price tag for brown garden waste bins imposed last year will be upped to £35 – but a proposal to reduce green rubbish bin collections to once every three weeks has been scrapped.
The cost for before and after-school care for will also be increased by 10 per cent if the proposals are approved next week.
Despite the price hikes, many services will still see a reduction in their council grants including Eden Court which is to lose £200,000 of its annual funding. Women’s Aid will get 10 per cent less and cash for community councils and local projects is to be reduced.
As we previously reported, many play parks could also face closure as the budget for their upkeep if their funding is halved.
On the job cuts, Cllr Mackinnon said: "We are looking at redeployment within the council for these people.
"It is possible that in some of the remoter areas that might not be possible, but we will do everything in our power to re-deploy within the council."
The job losses include managers in the family teams department, customer services staff, play park maintenance employees and toilet attendants.
Deputy SNP group leader Richard Laird credited the protection of education to a £7 million increase of the proposed grant from the Scottish Government announced last week.
He said: "These budget proposals from the administration represents a massive sigh of relief on their part.
"It’s obvious the Scottish Government’s increased settlement for the council has saved the coalition having to make any really difficult decisions but even their revised proposals contain some cuts which would cause me and communities across the Highlands a great deal of concern."