Highland Council agrees collaborative budget with £10m investment
The Highland Council has agreed £10 million additional investment in 2022-23 as part of a collaborative budget and an ambitious Health and Prosperity Strategy for the Highlands, aiming to secure medium-term financial sustainability for the council.
The agreed budget will see £5.5m additional investment in the roads infrastructure, £2m for climate action, green energy and jobs, £1m for innovation in education, £1m for early interventions in children’s services and £0.5m boost for rural transport initiatives.
Council also agreed a below-inflation council tax increase of 3% for 2022-23. The increase, together with a range of efficiency and management savings was required to close the budget gap of £34m and deliver a balanced budget.
In-year financial prudence and building reserves has enabled the council to be in a position to invest in the Highland while balancing the budget and recognising the challenges and risks moving forward.
Councillor Alasdair Christie, depute leader of the council and budget leader, said: “This budget builds on the investment in the Health and Prosperity Strategy developed in 2021, which seeks to balance our current financial pressures, with the need for economic growth and recovery from the pandemic.
“The budget is set against a backdrop of an economic situation with soaring inflation, rising interest rates, people facing impossible energy bills, and now, unprecedented events in Ukraine. Health and prosperity sums up what we need to be successful in Highland.
“The council has shown it has been very responsive to the pandemic. These have been very difficult times and have impacted on people’s health, on poverty and debt. This council has stood up well in the past two years – our communities have also stood up well. We have seen innovation and support for people through the health and financial crisis.
“Our Health and Prosperity Strategy has already seen significant investment – and today now sees more investment which could actually change outcomes and change lives.”
Cllr Christie added his thanks to staff and members: “We need to make sure we recognise our staff – they are the lifeline of the services we provide and we need to empower people and work together. A huge effort has gone into today’s preparation for the budget and I thank everyone who has engaged in the process. It is a collaborative budget. It is an ambitious budget and a balanced budget, which manages the risks - and it will be challenging ahead.”
Leader of the council, Margaret Davidson, added: “I have never seen so many opportunities for Highland and we need to get ahead and invest and secure this potential. I am very pleased we have agreed additional funding for our roads, which is important to our communities; early intervention work for families; and a bold ambition for Highland to be a centre of innovation for green energy and getting a fair share of wealth for our communities.
“In agreeing these proposals today, we are moving towards a future prosperous, healthy and stable Highland.”
Budget spokesperson for the Opposition, Cllr Ian Cockburn seconded the budget motion. He said: “We are thinking of the people of the Highlands. The budget is in the context of the world around us – Brexit, a pandemic, inflation, an energy crisis and a war in Europe. We have to put our differences aside to work together for the Highlands.
“Our communities across the Highlands have been faced with challenging, unprecedented times over the past couple of years, with considerable uncertainty in respect of what lies ahead, especially with continual inflationary pressures.
He continued: “Going forward, we need ambition. The council has never had money to spend in recent years. We have to bring our roads up to a certain standard. We have to invest, bring money in and bring jobs in. The Highlands could be the energy capital of Scotland or Europe and we need to attract investment to achieve that vision.
“The council needs to continue its path of redesign and transformation in order to be sustainable into the future. How we use our assets and resources and work with partners and communities, over the coming years, is crucial to achieving climate change targets, efficiencies and a brighter future for the Highlands.”
Cllr Jimmy Gray, chair of resources committee, added: “I am pleased that we have been able to put differences aside, work together and agree a collaborative budget. I want to thank the staff and the chief executive and her team for the incredible amount of work over past 2 years.
“This is a budget which protects jobs and sustains important services to communities. Roads are important, but so are houses, playparks, mental health, and retaining sufficient general reserves to see the council through the many risks and uncertainty ahead.
“There is also a huge potential for energy and we need to have an ambitious target to get a return on the energy investment in Highland. We can only achieve these things by working together.“