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Highland Council leader tells staff ‘we have your backs’ amid fears of 500 job losses

Raymond Bremner
Leader Raymond Bremner offered reassurances to Highland Council employees over the council's budget problems. Image: Jason Hedges/DC Thomson

Councillor Raymond Bremner sought to reassure Highland Council’s 10,000 employees that they would do everything possible to avoid redundancies.

His words came as a new report detailed up to 500 job losses and swingeing service cuts.

Senior councillors and executives said they’re working to ‘reduce, reshape and review’ the workforce rather than make redundancies.

However, opposition members pressed the administration to share details of their plans. “You talk a good game, but every time you fail,” said Mr Christie.

No redundancies, wherever possible

Highland Council’s financial crisis report struck a suitably sombre tone in the chamber at today’s meeting.

Mr Bremner opened the debate with a direct address to staff.

“Cosla is dealing with the exact same challenges that we are, so we’re not unique. The message to employees is, you’re not alone. We’re all having to deal with this together. The frustration is that we’re not at that point of any clarity right now.”

Mr Bremner said the council has the ears of ministers who can help. He continued:

“I want to make sure that our employees, especially at this time of year, know that we have their backs as much as we possibly can – so that next year they can still see another Christmas.”

Outgoing chief executive Donna Manson is aiming to avoid redundancies by reshaping services. Image: Sandy McCook/DC Thomson

Mr Bremner’s pledge reflects the increasingly concerning picture around the council’s finances. Bosses have been asked to save 15% across service budgets.

In September, Highland Council said it had a ‘no redundancies’ policy. Within weeks, the words ‘wherever possible’ had been tagged on.

And in a presentation delivered to employees, the council said it’s aiming to reduce its workforce by 500 jobs in 2023/24.

While the council stresses this will be achieved through vacancy management, it’s still a sizeable reduction in the Highland workforce.

Senior councillors sought to calm the waters. Education chairman John Finlayson said if members work together, the Highlands will “weather this perfect storm.”

‘Have you expressed your outrage yet?’

However, opposition councillors poured scorn on this rhetoric.

Councillor Andrew Jarvie questioned the truthfulness both of current budget projections and previous figures. With Highland Council predicting a £40.9 million budget gap, he asked how the leader felt about a £2 billion underspend at Scottish Government level.

“Have you expressed your outrage yet?” he asked.

Mr Jarvie went on to press political leaders for details of which jobs would be protected, which services cut and how the savings targets will be applied.

Budget leader Derek Louden said the administration is going to Scottish ministers with ideas, not problems.

Tory councillors asked if Highland Council leaders are passing on their “outrage” to Scottish ministers over budget challenges. Image: Jane Barlow/PA Wire

But Mr Christie asked: “What are those ideas?”

His Liberal Democrat colleague David Gregg picked up on part of the report stating that some services may have to be removed altogether. He asked: which ones?

Mr Christie concluded: “You say we’re all in this together, but also that it’s premature to tell us anything. You talk a good game on partnership and collaboration, but every time you fail.”

Mr Louden emphasised the unprecedented nature of the financial crisis, and said the administration would share its plans as soon it could.

In a bid to speed them up, Mr Christie proposed a special meeting of council in January. However, his motion was defeated by 41 votes to 27.

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