Here's a press release we received from Highland Councillor Emma Knox (SNP) on Highland Council budget matters:
"Councillor Emma Knox says that there is a lot of misinformation coming from the Highland Council's Independent/Lib/Lab administration about funding from the Scottish Government.
The financial settlement for year 2018/2019 shows that the council will receive £439.463m revenue this represents a flat cash settlement - the same as they received in 2017/2018 accounting for inflation. (ie more actual cash).
When council tax is added, estimated at £128.2m (including a 3% rise) this gives a revenue budget of £567m. One million pounds more than 2017/18 in real terms.
Added to this, we have the Scottish Governments Capital grant to the council which is £4.4m more than the previous year. A total of £41.305m.
In the auditor’s report for the council in September 2017 the headline figures were that in 2017/18 the Highland Council had an agreed revenue budget of £566m which included 14.3m.
On top of this money they have also been giving money for three flood prevention schemes:
· Smithton & Culloden = £9.03m
· Caol & Lochside = £294k
· Drumnadrochit = £196k
This is another £9.583m.
Cllr Knox explains that the Scottish government has not reduced or cut the Highland Council money. In fact, it has increased it's funding to the Highland Council for year 2018/2019.
So, why does the Highland Council now have to find £15m savings?
Cllr Knox says that this is because the Highland Council has not made the savings it was required to do over the two and a half years which has resulted in this accumulated total. It’s down to bad management and poor leadership at Highland council.
In the auditor’s report for the council in September 2017 the headline figures were that in 2017/18 the Highland Council had an agreed revenue budget of £566m which included 14.3m of savings.
We are moving into 2018/2019 with the same level of savings outstanding. No attempts were made to make any savings, therefore radical changes are now needed.
Cllr Knox suggests that regular reviews are required which must be deeper in their scrutiny and delivery. The Design Board, a cross party committee set up to review spending and identify savings, needs to be more probing and must be provided with up to date and accurate information.
The Elected Members should receive more regular and detailed financial updates - at least quarterly, so that we can properly scrutinise and review spending and identify genuine inefficiencies
The accusation directed at the Scottish Government by the Independent-led council is that the Highlands are being neglected and our special circumstances (geography, rurality, remoteness etc) are being ignored when funding is handed out, and the central belt receives all the funding. This is not true.
2018/19 Scottish Govt funding levels place the Highlands 5th out of 32 councils, with a 10.3% rise in funding. The four councils above us are all rural.
The Highlands receives 107.8% of the Scottish average council revenue funding (7.8% more for each person in the Highlands.)
The Highlands is in the top ten of all Scottish councils, with most central belt councils (apart from the most deprived areas of Glasgow) receiving less.
We will of course continue to fight to attract as much funding as possible for the Highlands and we do recognise and pray in aid it’s unique circumstances including rurality and remoteness. We will continue to seek the best for our own constituents but our endeavours must be founded on facts and evidence, not on political point scoring and seeking to blame our failings on the Scottish Government.
Councils in England have seen their funding cut by 40%-60% over the last 6 years.
From 2017/18 to 2018/19 their funding is again being cut by an average of 5.4% and in year 2019/20 another cut of 14.2% is being imposed thereafter.
The Highland Council has received a pretty good settlement from the Scottish Government - above the Scottish average. The problems the Highland council is experiencing now culminating in the recent cuts they have forced through, stem from *bad management* and lack of leadership.
Cllr Knox said, it’s crazy to cut grants to Community Councils and the Ward Discretionary Funds. The Administration claims to promote community empowerment and consultation, yet they have just halved the money available to our local communities. This is a false economy as those community groups often take up the slack in areas neglected by the Council including, community gritting and snow clearing, flower displays and gardening, communal leisure areas, infrastructure repairs and much more. In the grand scheme of things this cut is a relatively small amount of money and it shows little imagination – they have picked on the easy targets.
Many of the cuts will hit the most vulnerable including cuts to Women’s Aid, Family Teams, Adult Support Services and Childcare providers. Again, these unnecessary cuts to vital services will give rise to Council spending elsewhere as we are required to pick up the pieces – so there is no real saving in the long run.
The imposition of charges for Public Conveniences and Parking provision will have a terrible impact on our town centres and tourist attractions. Another false economy. The Administration tried to claim that consultation for this budget was “unprecedented” yet, they accused the SNP, the media and a senior Highland Council Officer of “scaremongering” when they alerted the public to some of the proposed cuts, in particular, the threatened cuts to Additional Support Needs and Teacher numbers. In the absence of adequate consultation, it was these so called “leaks” that gave our communities the chance to make their views known and successfully campaign for a rethink.
Cllr Knox asks, where was the consultation to cut public conveniences and free parking? Residents around the North Coast 500 route are crying out for more public toilets and there has been outcry in Nairn and elsewhere about the parking charges. It became evident just how ill-thought out the Administration’s parking charges are when it was revealed they are trying to impose parking charges at Falls of Shin, on land that is not even owned by the Council. The car park is the property of Kyle of Sutherland Development Trust, and the Trust has since confirmed that it will not be introducing parking charges at Falls of Shin."