Highland Council to stress need for ‘tight budget controls’ at key meetings
The leadership of Highland Council has arranged a series of key meetings with budget holders this week to set out the need for “tight budget controls” to continue throughout the year.
In February, councillors approved plans to cut over £37 million from the council budget over the next three years.
The council is currently operating with an overspend of over £5m and some cuts from 2018-19 are still to be implemented. There is also the risk of the emergence of new unbudgeted pressures such as rising costs.
A Change Fund of £2.5m has been set aside to help resource and deliver the change programme and council will be asked next week to approve the use of £1m of the fund to resource the necessary changes to deliver the savings. The remaining fund is earmarked to cover risk.
Meetings have been held this week with all of the council’s budget holders to explain the context of the council’s financial situation, to set out tight budget controls and to share ideas and best practice for dealing with reducing spend.
Budget leader Alister Mackinnon said: “The council must live within its means in meeting customer needs and we must deliver our legal responsibilities. We simply can’t afford to spend beyond our means, no matter how compelling the case.
“We now have the lowest levels of reserves we have ever had and there will always be emerging pressures to deal with over the course of the year. This year’s savings will not be easy, but we have to deliver them. If we haven’t got the money, we can’t carry on as before and we have to change.”
Chief executive Donna Manson said: “Our budget holders are key to the success and they now understand the necessary controls which are planned and the important roles they play in order to restrict expenditure.
“The meetings with budget holders have been extremely positive with managers fully engaged in being part of the solution. There has been really honest dialogue and lots of good ideas for how we can adapt and find ways of working together to make the changes necessary to deliver a balanced budget. I am impressed and inspired with the leadership I have seen in our staff.”
Budget measures will include continuing to hold non-essential vacancies, controlling the use of agency staff on which the council spent over £3m last year, avoiding the use of consultants and outsourcing where possible, and additional procurement controls.