Highland Council warns of big changes to address £31m budget gap

A reduction in grant funding and additional pressures mean the Highland Council is facing a £31.2 million budget gap for 2019-20, the local authority has warned.

Detailed analysis of the Scottish Government’s funding settlement, which makes up the vast proportion of the council’s budget, has been carried out and the net result is that the Highland Council will see a reduction in its grant funding to provide the current level of services.

Highland Council warns of big changes to address £31m budget gap

Council chief executive Donna Manson

The council said it has been planning for several months for budget reductions over the next three years and has carried out significant public and staff engagement to identify local priorities and areas of potential savings.

However, budget leader Cllr Alister Mackinnon said “big changes” will be required to allow the council to continue to deliver its services.

He said: “The funding settlement and additional requirements for local authorities has increased our anticipated budget gap substantially. We were already preparing for a significant reduction, but this news sets us a huge challenge and may mean we will need to bring forward savings from future years.

“The work we have been doing stands us in good stead and we are much better prepared for a challenging scenario. We have taken a new approach to the budget setting this year, looking at re-basing all budgets, focusing on outcomes and removing all inefficiency. We are also continuing to work on current in-year pressures with tighter financial controls and a freeze on filling vacant posts.

“The situation will require big changes to what we currently do and how we do it and will require support from our workforce and across the political spectrum. Income generation and efficiency are key to managing the situation we are in. We are determined to do the best we can for Highland within the resources we have and to deliver a budget which protects essential services and jobs which support the wider economy.”

Chief executive Donna Manson added: “I would like to thank the public and staff who participated in our public engagement across the Highlands. This has given us a huge amount of information and a much better understanding of how we can do things better. The overwhelming theme has been that the council can be much more efficient and our aim is to do everything possible to demonstrate that we are listening and acting on what we have heard.

“We will be back out again to meet with partners, groups and communities as we work to develop the detail of the budget in the coming weeks.”

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