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Highland Council chief admits that gap in budget has soared

By Donna MacAllister

Highland Council chief executive Steve Barron
Highland Council chief executive Steve Barron

HIGHLAND Council’s estimated budget gap has soared by more than £30 million, it emerged yesterday.

Chief executive Steve Barron emailed councillors to say the shortfall had increased from £13.2 million to £46.2 million for the next three years. The authority has only £14.5 million in its reserves.

It means an even more difficult task for the new Independent administration and education committee chairman Drew Millar warned that schools would not be exempt from any cuts.

"We are going to have to look at everything," he said. "Things that were sacrosanct will no longer be. Everything is going to have to come into the picture."

Margaret Davidson, the newly installed council leader, pledged to do everything in her power to prevent compulsory redundancies.

"It’s a shocking reality to face," she said. "We are really taking as fresh a look as we possibly can. The budget cut has increased significantly and it isn’t going to be simple, but we always knew that.

"It’s too early for us to say what we will do, the process has just started.

"We’ve got to look at everything including the council tax freeze."

In his email to members Mr Barron blames the widening budget gap on reductions in grant funding from the Scottish Government and policy changes in respect of pensions and national insurance.

"Of immediate concern is the gap for 2016/17 which stands at £21.6million," he states.

"It is inevitable that the council is going to have to make significant reductions in service to balance the budget, which will in turn have staffing implications.

"At this stage it is too early to say how this may be progressed, but this is on top of existing savings proposals and represents a big challenge for the council."

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