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Highland Council slammed by trio for not using furlough scheme

By Louise Glen

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Councillor Ron MacWilliam.
Councillor Ron MacWilliam.

Highland Council missed out on furlough cash hand-outs, while authorities across the country claimed money from the UK government, claim a trio of councillors.

As it emerged Highland Council was among the worst hit local authorities in the UK financially from the impact of coronavirus, local authority bosses were asked to come clean on why it didn't claim a single penny in government help to furlough non-essential staff.

Councillors Niall McLean, Kirsteen Currie and Ron MacWilliam have hit out at decisions taken by the ruling ‘gold command’ group which they say have plunged the authority in to such dire financial circumstances.

Cllr MacWilliam said: “The problem over the past three months has been the effective shutdown of local democracy which has made it impossible for those not on the administration’s chosen ‘gold group’ to influence policy or to scrutinise decisions.

"This unnecessarily secretive group needs to reveal what discussions took place, what votes were taken and who voted which way.

"There is no information available about the discussions which surely must have taken place between Highland Council and UK government civil servants.

"This secret clique needs to come clean and explain what happened.

"It seems that while they were claiming to be the worst hit council with a £100 million annual shortfall and calling for Scottish Government funds that don’t exist, they were also failing to claim UK government support that actually was available.

"If it transpires that Highland Council has lost out on millions due to what appears at present to be eye-watering incompetence, the councillors involved will have to be held accountable. This news will be horrifying, particularly for those council staff who are uncertain about their own jobs after such claims of extreme financial hardship.”

A Highland Council spokeswoman said: “There are very precise criteria for the furlough scheme which excludes local authority staff in most cases as they are paid by public funding.

"Many High Life Highland staff for example have been able to be furloughed as although they are delivering leisure services for the council they are paid in a separate way which is permitted under the scheme.

"Many of the Highland Council staff have been deployed into roles to support the response to the crisis."

She continued: "The government expects that the scheme will not be used by many public sector organisations, as most public sector employees are continuing to provide essential public services or contribute to the response to the coronavirus outbreak."

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