The Independent Group on Highland Council are calling for a 5% Council tax rise to stop the forthcoming cuts. See below their press release on the subject and a copy of a motion they intend to put to the Highland Council on the 18th of December
The 34-strong Independent Group at Highland Council is calling on the people of the Highlands to help protect the vital services that the SNP/LibDem/Lab coalition is willing to sacrifice in the name of austerity.
Cllr Carolyn Wilson, Leader of the Independent Group said:
"Despite the recent announcement of a u-turn on the length of the school day by Cllr Maxine Smith, Budget Leader on behalf of the SNP/LibDem/Lab coalition, we are still extremely concerned about the lack of clarity around the shortening of the school day. Her comments that this will only be a delay offers no reassurance to the public and parents that this has indeed gone away. The postponement just leaves it hanging over parents for the next round of cuts. And the unanswered question remains: what other services will they slash instead?”
The administration is pursuing swathing cuts to education and other front line services including pools, libraries and winter gritting along with large rises in car parking that will damage our fragile High Street towns and villages, all against the wishes of Highland residents. The political parties seem willing to agree these without thinking about the impact on our Highland communities.
“We have come up with proposals to safeguard a wide range of these services that people are telling us they value and want protected. Today we are announcing our intention to end the SNP seven year imposed council tax freeze, and instead raise it by an average of a pound a week for a Band C property, which would generate over £5 million. This would work out at less than £5 per month and would end nearly a decade of cuts to frontline services that are damaging to the Highlands.
Cllr Wilson added: “The funds raised by ending the council tax freeze, along with alternative savings we have identified, would enable the Council to save many vital services including the shortening of the school day, the cut in teacher numbers, car parking charges, winter gritting and facilities such as libraries, pools and leisure centres.”
"The feedback we have received from people over the last few weeks is that they would be willing to make this extra contribution to protect their children's and their communities' future.”
Cllr Jaci Douglas, Deputy Leader of the opposition said:
"For the majority of Highlanders this means protecting schools and vital services for pennies a day. We believe that without a properly funded education system we will put our children’s ability to learn and progress at risk, which has the potential to bring about a long-term decline in standards and achievement. People also deserve certainty about the future of their jobs and their communities -- and the only way to do this is to take responsibility, be brave and stand up to the damaging council tax freeze that has seen frontline services cut again and again.
There have been some councillors from political parties within the current coalition who are on record supporting the end to the ongoing council tax freeze.
Cllr Wilson added: “Over the coming weeks we will be revealing the other savings we propose, which can be put against other proposed cuts such as winter gritting, community and third sector cuts amongst others. For today it’s important to reassure communities that the Independent Group is fighting for schools, pools and libraries and that we understand and recognise the vital importance of these services to our Highland communities.
We’re saying 'enough is enough' because we cannot stand by and watch our communities eroded by political parties who are too busy taking direction from the SNP Government at Holyrood rather than focussing on local needs here in the Highlands."
Motion to Highland Council
Thursday 18th December
The Independent Group believe it is time that Highland Council ends the unsustainable and damaging council tax freeze. This has resulted in 7 years of detrimental cuts to frontline services in the Highlands.
We propose that the Highland Council agree to a 5% rise in Council Tax which will mean approximately a £1 per week increase for Band C Properties, and this income should be used to protect frontline services.
· Budget consultation has been rushed and ill though out which has caused unnecessary worry and anxiety to the public, parents and teachers.
· There has been no attempt to prioritise essential services and protect those in the frontline such as schools and pools.
· The Independent Group has also identified other common sense savings that will help avoid the proposed cuts to essential frontline services being put forward by the SNP/Lib Dem/Lab coalition.
· The Independent Group believe that councillors themselves should be leading by example and agreeing cuts to enhanced pay and expenses.
· A small council tax rise will save some of our most vital and valued frontline services which are essential to maintain the vibrancy of the Highlands.
· The Independent Group are taking a responsible courageous stance by proposing the end to the council tax freeze and call on councillors from all parties to put the Highlands, not their politics, first.
· We implore the Scottish Government to reconsider its threat to impose a penalty on councils who decide to raise the council tax.We ask them to use their discretion to reconsider and allow this £3.5m to be kept for the benefit of the Highland Community.