Home   News   Article

Council Budget: No job losses amid £54m in cuts

By Scott Maclennan

Register for free to read more of the latest local news. It's easy and will only take a moment.

Click here to sign up to our free newsletters!
Council leader Raymond Bremner with Convener Bill Lobban (left). Picture: James Mackenzie.
Council leader Raymond Bremner with Convener Bill Lobban (left). Picture: James Mackenzie.

Highland Council has vowed to stick to its no redundancy policy as it aims to make around £54 million of cuts this week.

Councillors will decide on Thursday whether to agree to increase council tax for the 2023/24 financial year by four per cent in a bid to help make ends meet in its £679 million budget.

Highland Council’s leader said it is faced with a perfect storm as it looks to bridge a gap of £20 million more than last year, while aiming to increase spending on roads overall.

More than £23 million of reserves is needed to balance the books while recognising some services will simply have to be halted.

Council leader Raymond Bremner was absolutely clear that due to the sheer scale of financial pressures the local authority was compelled to look at securing its statutory services – like education and social care – “by necessity more than design.”

In doing so, the council has managed to avoid enforced job losses and to raise the level of investment in road repairs as well as develop a new rapid response team for pothole repairs – and overall road investment will top £38 million this coming year.

But key to that is the worst roads in the Highlands will get the most cash, while a rapid response pothole team will target as many areas as it can when defects emerge to prevent them from getting critical.

Cllr Bremner said: “There will be extra £500,000 going into roads overall compared to last year. We’ve got to realise that there’s a lot of communities who feel that potholes were among the top challenges.

“Some areas are more challenged in terms of the road condition than others but we’ve got to try and take a view of how we manage to deal with that. Potholes occur everywhere so a rapid response team will be dedicated to potholes, but the idea is to make a more efficient service.”

He added: “We wanted to, at least, continue the investment in roads overall and if possible actually increase it, which we have managed to do. The one thing that we need to tease out going forward is how we manage to spend that capital investment effectively.

“That is so the areas that are most challenged in terms of the road condition see an increased amount of capital to be able to help them recover their road condition in that particular area.

“So there’s an uplift to the actual base capital funding of £7.2 million or 40 per cent and then there’s a 60 per cent amount that is specifically for distribution in accordance to the areas that need it most.”

On jobs, Cllr Bremner said he feels he has honoured his word in council: “In terms of the no redundancy policy, you’ll have heard me say at previous meetings I wanted to have our employees’ backs as much as we possibly could and we have held to a no redundancy policy during this budget-setting process.”

Council convener Bill Lobban stated just how hard it may be going forward when it comes to selecting which services are cut and which are not: “I think what you’ve got to consider is that given the overall gap, nothing is off the table.

“It’s not something that we want to do, not something we like to do but in the end you probably have to focus on what we are required to do, rather than what we would like to do.”

One of the things they did not want to do was raise council tax given the pressure people are already under from the cost-of-living crisis.

Cllr Lobban said: “Our communities are struggling between basically the cost increases in electricity, increases in food, and we are not actually the highest paid economy in the world. Our residents have just been struggling and we’ve tried our absolute most to make sure that the increases in council tax was the absolute minimum we could hold it to.

“So it’s really important that this is a budget for our people. We could easily have stuck – like some others – 10 per cent on council tax but that would just have compounded the problems our residents have.”

Do you want to respond to this article? If so, click here to submit your thoughts and they may be published in print.

This site uses cookies. By continuing to browse the site you are agreeing to our use of cookies - Learn More