It isn't cheerful Christmas reading but the Courier has a large spread today on what Highland Council services are about to diminish and what is going to cost you more. They say:
"Councillors will decide next week where the axe will fall for the 2015/16 budget to save 17.9 million. We look at some key areas which could have an impact on you, your household and community and how much money will be saved."
It isn't happy reading Gurnites, if you take the Courier you'd better sit down before reading today. If you want the full-on experience however, you can go to the Council's website and read the agenda 11 items, including the consultation report, Booklet A and Booklet B parts 1&2 if you prefer to browse such things in official language rather than the helpful translation from Donna MacAllister and Olivia Bell.
We are entering the first year of a four year programme of cuts and some of the minutiae seem a bit optimistic to this (non-expert) observer. There are impact assessments too and phrases like "deliverability and risk" jump out at the reader. There can be no easy way of cutting into the bone though and it will not be fun for the Councillors, there can be few of them who will relish the task of implementing pain on communities - nobody could have promised to do that when going round the doorsteps. It isn't the whole story though, there is still an additional £13 million cuts to be found over and above those to be implemented on Thursday. The Council budget leader states in a press release:
Budget Leader, Maxine Smith said: “We have been open and transparent about the difficult choices we have to make and we have done our very best to enable people to have their say and explain the impact the proposed cuts would have on them. We are not alone in these challenges, but we, like other local authorities, have no choice other than to deliver a balanced budget. It is impossible to find £64 million in savings without having any impact on services and on people. However unpleasant, we have no choice but to decide where to make the necessary cuts to balance the budget.
“The biggest share of the Council budget is spent on Care and Learning and where we can mitigate the impact on education, we will do so. Having listened to the concerns of the public regarding proposals to reduce the primary school week, the Administration group decided to remove the proposal from year 1 (2015/16), to allow further work on the detail and to minimise any impact on schools.
“We will also seek to delay any cuts to services such as swimming pools and libraries and community grants, so that more time can be allowed for them to plan and prepare for future leaner years.”
She stressed that where cuts cannot be made, the savings must be found elsewhere. “This means we still have a big gap of nearly £13 million in our 4 year budget and we must identify where that money is going to come from. The future remains challenging, with the need for all services to manage demand within a reducing level of resource.” Read the full press release here.
Worrying isn't it but there is more - over and above this mammoth 4 year cuts exercise at Highland Council though there are still another predicted 60% of austerity cuts for the public sector to come beyond those going through the system now. An ITV news article was one of many that publicised this recently:
"Mr Osborne has a ten-year plan of "fiscal consolidation" to eradicate the budget deficit he inherited in 2010. According to the OBR, we will have seen 40% of his intended cuts by 2015, meaning that we are set for another 60% over the five years of the next Parliament." Full article here.
Incidently MSP John Finnie stated at the Gurn referendum debate back in May that there were still another 60% of cuts to come - he wasn't far off the mark was he? It is difficult to imagine the kind of devastation that those type of cuts will have on jobs and services in the Highlands, not just in the Highland Council but beyond that in all parts of the public sector. Dr Adrian Baker was recently sounding the alarm bell for Health Care when he spoke to the meeting of Nairnshire Community Councils.
Inverness is a regional centre and a lot of public sector jobs are based there so to implement the cuts that are already underway and an additional 60% would mean that our society could change beyond recognition when it comes to the services delivered by the public sector that we take for granted. The resulting unemployment would also have a knock on effect into the local economy. The Christmas lights are on again but the future is bleak as the road map of cuts stretching into the austerity years ahead starts to materialise.