Published: 26/05/2018 13:00 - Updated: 25/05/2018 09:36

New budget set-up 'vital' for council

Written byIain Ramage

 

Steve Barron
Highland Council chief executive Steve Barron says a new approach to budget-setting is necessary.

Highland Council chiefs have pledged to set three-year budgets from next year, after failing to fulfil such an ambition in the past.

Numerous budget leaders on the local authority have spoken previously of extending the traditional 12-month timescale for financial planning.

Chief executive Steve Barron has told councillors that a three-year financial programme is vital and that it takes into account "a number of potential scenarios, given the uncertainty of the future".

He also stressed the importance of rebuilding the council’s "non-earmarked general fund reserve" [emergency reserves fund] which is at a record low level of about £6.5 million compared with £23.5 million in 2012.

Meanwhile, financial wizards at the council have apparently pinpointed a further raft of savings that could be made "without significantly impacting services". Inverness economist Tony Mackay has suggested that a trick was missed in the 2018/19 budget.

In the wake of a plea from council leader Margaret Davidson for the public to lobby MPs and MSPs for an increased annual grant, Mr Mackay believes much more could already have been done.

"It needs to do more to balance income and expenditure," he said.

"I have friends in the council’s finance department who tell me it should be possible to cut spending by a further 10 per cent to 15 per cent without a significant impact on services.

"Regarding expenditure, the two main categories are care and learning (£430 million) and community services (£117 million). There’s little that can be done to increase revenue from learning, which relies on Scottish Government grants. But there’s a big need to increase revenue for the care budget, particularly as the local population is ageing and many more people need care."

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