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Charles Bannerman: Why do they chase external funding for the sake of it?

By Charles Bannerman

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Money is a talking point.
Money is a talking point.

Tales of Highland Council creating a furore by splashing our money on some downright stupid vanity projects just keep rolling up, and squandering scarce public cash is just part of it. This is alienating more and more taxpayers and further challenging the council’s beleaguered credibility.

Just last month, I highlighted the wastefulness and self-indulgence of a Provost in her Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat. And now we have the council’s massive kick in the teeth for those struggling by prioritising a large five-figure sum for fairy lights at a town house they spent millions doing up and now want to abandon in a breathtaking smoke and mirrors exercise also involving the Common Good Fund.

This council has a dreadful record for irresponsible expenditure of public resources in a manner that their electorate don’t need, want or deserve. That includes a painful weakness for chasing external funding for the sake of it, simply because it’s available and not because it’s for anything of value or in public demand, and then often throwing their own good money after it.

I’d hoped that the horrendous tangle they embroiled themselves in with the Gathering Place might have taught a few lessons, but apparently not. There’s now the externally funded Academy Street debacle which also raises the question of when a consultation is not a consultation, alongside claims of pre-conceived decisions and moving the goals. But I’m sure they’d have got the answer they wanted about extra cycle lanes from the consultation they held in the cycle café.

Forgive me for some confusion about consultations (clarity isn’t the council’s strong point) but there seems to be another one now about active travel in Millburn Road. External funding is presumably also available there and, if so, they’ll want that too – for the sake of having it. Forgive me also if I’m not clear about the involvement, or otherwise, of scarce council cash.

So, will this Millburn Road wheeze be one that depends critically on buses? You know what I mean. Those large, cuboidal things on four wheels that we occasionally see in Inverness if there are drivers for them. Oh well, if there are no buses, let them eat cake... or rather, use taxis where there’s a proposed 20 per cent fare increase, despite fuel costs not even comprising a quarter of what you pay.

Our secretive council’s preoccupation with grandstanding and using money on trivia is breathtaking, and nothing offers a better opportunity than the Common Good Fund.

I was pleased to see John West’s positive reaction to my recent suggestion of root and branch reform of the Common Good Fund, which must be focused far more meaningfully in these stringent times. However, the Sir Humphrey response from Highland Council did its best to pour cold water on any notion that the public (perish the thought!) should have a say.

I by no means blame all our councillors for getting the council into this mess of public confidence over the use of public funds, but there are clearly enough of them to perpetuate this pantomime which continues to plumb new depths of absurdity. They really need to take a hard look at what they think they are there for.

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