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Greens welcome £2 billion “investment in our future” pledge by Highland Council with Highland Investment Plan promising a decade of renewal for schools and roads

By Alasdair Fraser

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Chris Ballance. Picture: James Mackenzie.
Chris Ballance. Picture: James Mackenzie.

Green councillors Chris Ballance and Kate Willis have welcomed Highland Council’s £2 billion investment plan for public services over the next 20 years.

A financial rethink described as “one of the biggest investment programmes in Scotland and the largest ever for Highland” was approved by members of the full council on Thursday.

It set out a wide-ranging vision for investment across communities in the vast region including a phase one injection of over £1bn of capital investment in schools and roads over the next 10 years.

The new Highland Investment Plan spending on renewing the council’s estate will be funded by borrowing and potential rises in council tax, with two per cent of council tax income annually ring-fenced for investment.

In the meeting, Cllr Ballance praised the “clear strategic, costed plan” to rebuild Highland Council estate which he said was making possible what was believed to be impossible as recently as last Autumn.

He said: “Interest rates have gone down and construction costs have somewhat stabilised.

“But the fact that these changes over just six months have made it possible demonstrates how easily and quickly these plans could again be derailed.

“I support public investment in our future.

Kate Willis, Scottish Green Party. Picture: Callum Mackay.
Kate Willis, Scottish Green Party. Picture: Callum Mackay.

“We all know that bringing our schools, transport systems and public buildings up to standard is going to cost thanks to 30 years of significant underinvestment.

“I would prefer for it to be paid for by taxing the great wealth that has accrued in the hands of a small number of people around these islands.

“But if we are to have a succession of governments who refuse to consider taxing their billionaire friends and donors then the options are borrowing or more decay, dilapidation and public dissatisfaction.”

Cllr Ballance said he was willing to support the £40m of investment for roads if it does include a focus on public transport “essential for social inclusion, particularly in rural areas”.

He stressed: “That requires investment in a public transport infrastructure that will inevitably include a significant amount of local community transport.

“Community Points of Delivery must be on easily accessible public transport routes, located to minimise the need for travel, and crucially must include access, remote or in person, to NHS and police services and indeed all the organisations involved in community partnerships.”

The member for Aird & Loch Ness was also “happy” to support the ring-fencing of two per cent council tax income to pay for the loan finance for these schemes “if this additional 2%, and does not mean an extra 2% sliced off our already overstretched services”.

He added: “Council tax is the main revenue raising power we have, and is a progressive tax.

“It focuses on those with most property wealth. There are only a very small number of people who are property rich but cash poor.

“Greens welcome moves away from income tax and towards wealth taxes.

“Some concerns of Green members about the Bute House Agreement stem directly from last October’s unilateral announcement of a council tax freeze – something that the council leader also disagreed with.

“I only hope that John Swinney will not be so impulsive, or these plans are toast. I hope he will be lobbying for councils to have the freedom to raise what they want for why they want it".

Fellow Green councillor Kate Willis, of Fort William and Ardnamurchan, added: "Along with my colleague, I welcome the strategic approach presented here, and support public investment in public services and our future, rather than more decay and dilapidation.”

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