Argyll and Bute is investing millions to welcome tourists as it attempts to move on from the impact of Covid-19.
The local authority froze its Council Tax when it set the budget yesterday – facing an estimated cost of £7million in 2021/22 of responding to the pandemic.
It was able to balance its books by making cuts and savings totalling £557,500 and increasing fees and charges by 3%.
Cuts include £76,000 by reducing clerical support in schools with the loss of 5.7 full time equivalent posts.
Another £86,600 is being found by rationalising the council’s property estate during a three-year programme to identify properties which can either be disposed of or used to generate commercial income.
Savings rejected based on pubic feedback from the budget consultation include £30,000 for flower bed planting £100,000 worth of grass cutting.
Council Leader Robin Currie said: “We are investing nearly £6.8million to help Argyll and Bute keep going and keep growing. This budget takes on the unprecedented day-to-day and longer term challenges of living through a worldwide pandemic.
“We are investing in help for young people struggling to cope with life under covid restrictions. We are increasing support for families and others struggling financially. Investment in our road network, and digital connectivity, will help keep people and businesses connected.
“We will grab every opportunity for Argyll and Bute’s economic recovery, so are investing in action to bring the benefits of staycation tourism to the area. And longer term, we are investing in creating a sustainable future through climate-friendly initiatives, and progressing the area’s rural growth deal to action.
“This budget is about taking Argyll and Bute through challenge to a successful, sustainable future.”
The investment is split across five themes. A total of £830,000 will be spent to deliver benefits from staycation, camping and campervan tourism. This will include for example waste disposal facilities and wardens to promote responsible camping.
An extra £3.113million will be piled into roads, footpaths and pavements.
A £1.7million Recovery and Renewal Fund will be used for recovery initiatives and future Covid-19 financial pressure.
A Tackling Digital Exclusion Top Up Fund of £1.04m will boost mental health and wellbeing by increasing welfare support and encouraging shopping at Christmas.
Culture receives a £96,700 boost to develop Gaelic, culture, heritage and arts.
Highland Council will set its budget on Thursday – a collaboration between the Independent administration and the SNP opposition. It proclaims a new, ambitious strategy for health and prosperity for the region.
The local authority will not raise council tax this year. A budget a surplus of £3.1m and a significant boost in its reserves is being put down to an increased government settlement and “in-year financial prudence.”
A one-off investment allocation of £9.8m will see a £6m economic prosperity fund to support jobs and businesses while tourism pressure points will benefit from £1.5m to address issues like parking, toilets, waste and litter collection.
A further £2.1m will boost local investment by £100,000 per area, overseen by area committees, and ward discretionary funding will increase to £26,000.
The council’s £260m for capital projects will be accelerated as soon as restrictions permit to boost the region’s labour force and economy.
Depute leader councillor Alasdair Christie said: “This is one of the most positive budgets that I can remember, considering the scale of the challenges facing us in the Highlands.
“We are proposing a budget which has been targeted to improve health and prosperity in our area, and which will set a firm foundation of investment on which to build a sound, immediate and lasting recovery.”
SNP group leader Raymond Bremner said: “Our communities have been faced with challenging, unprecedented times. We have all had to work together to ensure we provide an effective programme of recovery that boosts and regenerates the Highland economy.”