Highland Council presents new approach to budget setting
Highland Council has unveiled a new approach to budget setting from 2019-22 as it prepares to negotiate a funding shortfall of more than £30 million for next year.
In recent weeks, chief executive Donna Manson, budget leader Cllr Alister Mackinnon and other senior councillors and officers have been out talking with staff, groups and communities across the Highlands in over 50 engagement sessions.
Four key themes emerged from the engagement process.
- The first theme is making the council more efficient - A loud and clear message is that we need to be far more efficient, streamline our processes and cut out waste. People want us to focus our resources on getting the best outcomes and the best value for money.
- A second theme demonstrates a huge amount of support in developing a more commercial council and increasing income generation. People want us to be more commercially minded and many people we have spoken to have said they are prepared to pay a bit more to protect essential services and jobs.
- The third theme focuses on redesign and continuous improvement. People want us to be outward looking, to be more productive and make better use of digital tools and learning from best practice elsewhere.
- A flexible well managed workforce is the final theme. Both communities and our staff told us that we need a more flexible and agile workforce, with appropriate training and skills and levels of autonomy, delivering services locally.
The engagement feedback was presented to councillors as part of a two day cross-party seminar this week which was considering both budget and governance of the council.
Councillor Mackinnon said: “The seminar was very good and generated excellent discussion between members of all political groups. There is a positive feeling of change and members have really shown the will to work together to tackle what are huge challenges for the Council.
“We need to remember that we still have some £575m to spend on services in the Highlands and our aim is to target resources towards the things which will produce the best possible outcomes for communities.
“We have identified a number of key themes which have emerged from our public and staff engagement and these will form the basis of real change in how the council works, how the council prioritises and how we spend the budget.
“A strong message also came through about the importance of building trust with communities and involving local people in decisions which affect them. This tells me that we need to be better connected and visible at a local level.”
Leader of the council, Margaret Davidson, said: “As councillors, we have been listening to what the public and staff are telling us and we will act on this as we develop our future structure and governance arrangements as well as our budget plans.
“We have had a very positive few days and the level of collaboration has been terrific. We have a huge challenge ahead of us and we need to work together to find a way forward which is best for our communities.”
Donna Manson added: “Members have a wealth of talents and experience between them and it has been heartening to see everyone working together in cross-party groups, sharing ideas and problem solving.
She added: “It has been very important to me to get out and meet with staff and communities and listen to what people have to say about the council. I have heard about where we can do things better and what needs to change, but equally important I have heard about lots of good practice and really dedicated hard working staff who care about the communities they serve and the people they work with.”
Earlier this month the local authority warned that a reduction in grant funding and additional pressures mean it is facing a £31.2m budget gap for 2019-20.
The budget will be set at the Highland Council meeting on February 14.