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Highland Council review could see more cuts

By Scott Maclennan

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Concerns have been voiced at the prospect of Highland Council cutting back on grass cutting and play areas.

The move could be considered by councillors if they agree to let officials carry out a review of its amenity services, which also include looking at burial grounds.

Councillor Ian Cockburn, co-leader of the SNP group, thought there was no problem undertaking a review “so long as it is not used as a cost-cutting exercise to slash budgets”.

Amenity services are non-statutory and therefore particularly vulnerable to cuts.

But even burial grounds, which are under ministerial control, “would be considered as part of the review” stated a report going before a full council meeting in Inverness today.

Grass cutting is one of the most significant parts of the service as it involves the greatest cost in terms of cash, resources and areas maintained at approximately 900 hectares and since 2017 it has been dealt with in-house by the council.

The review would aim to increase efficiency as council bosses eye further reductions through more efficient machinery and the reduction of the overall area maintained.

It would seek to do that by “stopping maintenance in areas that would be more suited to encouraging biodiversity, have low amenity value, or are difficult to maintain”.

Councillor Ron MacWilliam said: “My concern would be looking for further cost savings where I don’t think any are to be had because they have already been pegged back quite far.

“The council needs to get back to the level of provision that was there before – the level that people expect because none of the previous changes are working. We are seeing park benches being overgrown by weeds and the like.”

Another option that came up in the paper was to look at the “further involvement of communities and community bodies in the design and delivery of services”.

And communities would be looked at again when it came to the region’s 435 children’s play areas after an independent inspection in 2017 led to “obsolete equipment being removed”.

The review could identify options for cutting the number of play parks and supporting transferring responsibility for them to communities.

The review will also include a business case on weed killing after councillors agreed a motion in June to ban using weed killing products containing glyphosate on sports pitches, playgrounds and at schools.

Officers could look at a complete ban on the use of such products, apart from when it comes to controlling invasive species and at dangerous road junctions.

Related article: Fears over cuts as Highland Council services to be reviewed

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