Reacting to the Scottish Government’s Budget Settlement for 2017-18, Budget Leader of The Highland Council, Cllr Bill Fernie said “Disappointingly, our worst predictions are realised in that there has been a real cash cut to councils of £350 million. The devil will be in the detail, but an early analysis equates this to a significant cut in the grant to our core budget. Further clarification is being sought on the extent of this.“Two of the additional income streams announced are ring-fenced for educational attainment and to Health and Social Care, which is to be paid through the Health budget. These do not increase our core budget and therefore do not reduce the budget gap that the Council is facing.
“The Scottish Government has increased higher council tax bands substantially with the “Council Tax multiplier”. This will mean higher bills for council tax payers in bands E and above.
“However, I am relieved to see that, following a motion agreed at The Highland Council, that money raised in Highland should stay in Highland, the Scottish Government are now allowing councils to retain this extra income with no constraints. This will help to reduce our Budget Gap by about £5million, leaving us having to find savings of possibly £20m to £25million.
“A cut to our budget on this scale will mean cuts to services and difficult decisions to be made. We will also need to increase our income and this may include increased charges and proposals to raise local council tax.”
Cllr Fernie added: “We are currently preparing a range of potential draft budget options for discussion with staff, members and communities, prior to decisions in February 2017. We remain open to listening to the views of service users and the staff providing those services, and we are seeking consensus across the chamber in order to make the best, most pragmatic decisions for the people of Highland.”
Leader of the Council Margaret Davidson said: “The Scottish Government settlement effectively hands us money with one hand and takes it away with the other. Taking into account existing pressures and ring-fenced services, this leaves us with a huge budget gap. At least we now have a better idea of where we stand and where we stand is over a big hole in our budget, which will undoubtedly mean stopping or reducing some services. The planning and ground work to date has been useful, and we will now have to consult on a range of options to balance our budget.”