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Overwhelming response received to Highland Council’s redundancy package

By Val Sweeney

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Highland Council is facing huge financial pressures
Highland Council is facing huge financial pressures

THE leader of cash-strapped Highland Council has issued a stark warning of radical cuts in services as it emerged more than 800 employees have applied for voluntary redundancy.

The number of applicants is 200 more than the council had expected, a week before the application closing date on January 29.

The local authority, which is trying to plug a £37.9 million funding gap, is exploring a range of measures ahead of setting its budget on February 25.

The council’s Independent leader Margaret Davidson said a council tax rise had now been ruled out because of rigid sanctions which would be imposed by the Scottish Government.

“This now means that all the savings must come from cuts to staff and services,” she said.

“The gap is so severe, it will require a substantial reduction in staff and radical cuts removing entire parts of some of the services the council currently provides. There will be many things we simply can no longer do!”

“We have been discussing this difficult task with union leaders and our political colleagues, and while no-one wants to see cuts of this scale, everyone recognises that we have nowhere left to go and many of the choices we may have had, are taken away from us.”

The council, which employs 10,266 staff, previously indicated the number of redundancies could total 500 and it has not ruled out compulsory redundancies.

Senior managers met yesterday to begin sifting through the applications, although not all are expected to be approved in the interests of providing safe and effective services within available resources. Others applications will depend on decisions made at the budget meeting.

“Voluntary severance will save several millions and see hundreds of experienced and knowledgeable staff leave the council,” Councillor Davidson said.

“Proposals to bridge the remaining gap will impact on every part of the service and will be felt across all our communities in the Highlands.”

“Highland Council, as we know it, will look and feel very different in the course of the next few months and everyone may need to adjust their expectations accordingly.”

SNP councillor Maxine Smith, leader of the opposition, said: “There will be differences in the way Highland Council deliver services. There will be longer times to wait to get things sorted, people may not get an answer straight away.

“The public will need to be patient during the transition period.”

She said the cuts had been “foisted” by the UK government on Scotland, adding: “I think this level of cuts on services and staff in the Highlands is unprecedented.”

The Scottish Government’s funding package for the next financial year represents a £18.334 million reduction on 2015-16.

The final costs of the redundancies, which will be met out of the council’s reserves, have yet to determined although one previous estimate gave £14.5 million.

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