Home   News   Article

Missing budget details, a major delivery plan released – what is Highland Council up to?

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!
Highland Council draft delivery plan. Credit: Highland Council.
Highland Council draft delivery plan. Credit: Highland Council.

Highland Council’s budget and what is precisely happening with investment and cuts continues to raise eyebrows after a delivery plan was supposed to reveal details about certain issues –and in fact it does not.

One of the main criticisms of the local authority’s budget is that there was a lack of precision about spending, cuts and investment but it was claimed more details would be available in the “delivery plan.”

This week we already revealed that funding for the vital MCR Pathways charity – which mentors hundreds of vulnerable pupils into positive destinations, either employment or education – is under threat.

But the council has been warning that the between interest rates, inflation and the cost of living crisis it was really hard up, and though it would avoid it if possible – job and service cuts are on the cards while it recognised it would have to change radically.

The Draft Council Delivery Plan 2024-2027 “underpins” the budget – it is considered in very basic terms as the “how to” part of council operations – and it does reveal a lot about what the council wants but not exactly as promised.

The cash for day to day operations – the General Fund Revenue Budget – is worth a total of £775 million and the income and expenditure for housing must be recorded separately in the Housing Revenue Account it is worth £68.6 million.

The money for investment in infrastructure – the General Fund Capital Programme – is worth £343 million over five years while the investment for housing (again held separately) is £160.7 million over three years.

The council’s operations are staffed by a total of 10,746 people and funded from council revenue budget, earmarked reserves, capital investment, external funding including grant support, partnerships and borrowing.

'A ground-breaking investment plan'?

According to the report to be discussed at tomorrow’s full council meeting the delivery plan “forms part of the council’s strategic planning approach” and sets out how reforms will be “structured, planned, resourced and implemented.”

For now councillors and the public have been presented with a 92 page document that shows work will now be organised around “six portfolios, 21 workstreams and 63 activities.”

But the full plan will only be agreed in May when council leader Raymond Bremner said the administration will unveil “a ground-breaking investment plan to the May Council, which will lay the foundation for the biggest improvements communities will have ever seen” regarding our “ageing school estate.”

What that “ground-breaking investment plan” is remains a total mystery, publicly at least, as it is another element not contained in the draft delivery programme for the next three years.

Six portfolios

But going back to the six portfolios which dominates the plan – they have been created to “drive forward the changes required to deliver the approved budget,” and here is how they appear in the report:

  • Portfolio 1 Person Centred Solutions: Solutions to grow community capacity, support our partners and enable people to live independently and well.

Four Workstreams – Family First, Adult Social Care, Digital Solutions and Capacity Building, supported by 10 projects the largest of which – Adult Social Care will be developed and delivered in partnership with NHS Highland.

  • Portfolio 2 Workforce for the Future: A cross-sectoral programme that creates pathways, packages and partnerships for developing the workforce for the Highlands to meet future employer demand, incorporating public/private investment and best practice models.

Five Workstreams supporting six Industry sectors to develop 12 interlinked activities. These will be developed into projects and programmes through engagement with key public sector partners and industry experts.

  • Portfolio 3 Reconfiguring our Asset Base: Actions that ensure we have a sustainable estate for housing and property, delivering investment.

Three Workstreams – The creation of a Single Property Service; Asset Rationalisation Strategy; and Strategic Capital Investment Programme are supported by 11 projects – many of which have overlapping aims and priorities. This Portfolio will also link closely to the Net Zero and Energy Investment portfolio to deliver a reduction in Council carbon emissions.

  • Portfolio 4 Corporate Solutions: A planned programme of service redesign related to the Council’s future operating model and the delivery of continuous improvement, achieving an accelerated transformation programme that will ensure people benefit.

Three Workstreams supported by 11 projects, three of which are managed through two existing Council Programmes – the My Council Redesign Programme and the People and Finance Systems Programme. Whilst these are not specifically related to the Budget Strategy proposals agreed on 29 February, they will support the delivery of future improvement and efficiency and are core to the Council Programme’s fifth strategic theme – a Resilient and Sustainable Council.

  • Portfolio 5 Income Generation: Developing creative and sustainable ways to maximise income from fees, charges, tourism and change.

Three Workstreams – Tourism; Fees & Charges; and Fiscal Flex - supported by seven projects, delivering substantial financial benefit to the Council through the development of sustainable long term income generation.

  • Portfolio 6 Net Zero, Energy Investment & Innovation: Delivering the Council’s Net Zero ambitions and enabling place-based planning for future energy capacity – maximising current and future opportunities.

Three Workstreams supported by 12 projects which focus on delivering the Council’s net zero ambitions; delivering income streams through investing in energy generation activities; and developing a pipeline for future developments to ensure the Council is able to fully capitalise on the unique opportunities available in the Highlands.

The rest of the document outlines in more detail how the council hopes to deliver on each of its objectives in more detail alongside risks but particular information about who or what has been left out remains absent.

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