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Highland Council aims to cut 500 jobs next year to save £15 million by not replacing departing staff

By Scott Maclennan

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Grim times as Highland Council admits some services cannot be sustained. Picture: James Mackenzie.
Grim times as Highland Council admits some services cannot be sustained. Picture: James Mackenzie.

Dire warnings about the depth of the financial crisis faced by Highland Council have been renewed as councillors were told the local authority is looking to shed 500 staff next year in a bid to save £15 million.

In a report to full council, members are warned “services in their current format cannot be sustained”.

The local authority is grappling with an £8.9 million blackhole this year but is facing a massive overspend next year of just under £41 million, forcing it to look at “workforce planning and preparation.

At the last full council meeting in September a “no redundancy” policy was still in force, but this has now changed to “no redundancy where possible”.

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Reducing staff will be done through vacancy management – not hiring a replacement when someone leaves – and “upskilling” employees who remain.

The council currently has 10,568 staff – its highest level since 2018 – and pay is a major issue, with recent pay awards unfunded by government for this year totalling £5 million while next year pay is expected to increase by £15.9 million.

Education and learning has been charged with making savings of £8.6 million, while property and housing and health and social care services must both save £1.5 million.

Communities and place and performance and governance services must both save just over £1 million each.

In the report going to council today Ed Foster, the council’s head of finance, said: “The challenge facing the council, and indeed every local authority in Scotland, will require a wholesale change in the services and service levels the council provides.

“The council continues to project a £40.9m budget gap for financial year 2023/24, larger than any experienced before. Furthermore, concerns are increasing that this figure may underplay the true level of challenge ahead.

“Inflationary pressures across both pay and non-pay cost categories are acute and the impact of the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement on the council’s funding settlement for 2023/24 will not be known until officers have had the opportunity to analyse the Scottish Government’s budget statement which will be published on 15 December.”

He added: “The delivery of such a level of savings will link into the council’s people strategy by managing staff vacancies to minimise external appointments.

“This will be done through supporting staff development; job redesign; the agility and flexibility of our workforce to meet changing business needs; and the continued commitment from the council of ‘no redundancies where possible’.”

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