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‘Where is the NHS £10m?’ Highland councillors raise concern about outstanding invoices

Highland Council budget
Highland Council and NHS Highland still dispute the cost of adult social care services. Picture by Sandy McCook

Highland Council’s finances came under intense scrutiny today, as opposition councillors took aim at the amount of unclaimed funds.

Councillor Derek Louden said there is “£10m that should be sitting in our bank account” and asked for reassurance that the invoices would go out this financial year.

Mr Louden was refencing a long-running dispute between NHS Highland and the council over the true cost of adult social care services.

Under their partnership agreement, the council pays NHS Highland to deliver adult services.

Chief executive officer Liz Denovan said her team would issue the invoices at the earliest opportunity, but her statement did not reassure the SNP councillors.

“These invoices have been outstanding for months,” said Raymond Bremner. “I don’t think ‘as soon as’ is going to cut the mustard here.”

Mr Louden added: “What’s concerning me is the invoice is very large. It’s only sent once a quarter but this dispute has been going on for a year.”

Mr Louden suggested that the council invoice for the bulk of the amount now, then move to dispute resolution over the remaining balance.

Highland Council chief executive Donna Manson. Picture by Sandy McCook

Councillor Jimmy Gray soundly rejected this approach, describing the situation as a “moving feast”.

Mr Gray said that invoicing now would expose the council to “huge risk”.

At this point, council chief executive Donna Manson joined the debate.

Ms Manson reassured councillors that discussions with NHS Highland are legally underpinned by the partnership agreement.

She said meetings take place every week to find a way forward, and members will be kept informed.

Reporting headaches

The NHS debate was one part of a tetchy discussion of Highland Council finances at today’s corporate resources committee.

On the face of it, the numbers are unremarkable. Net revenue spend to the end of quarter three is £232.6m with a slight overspend of £179,000.

The council agreed a sum of money to support High Life Highland’s rising pandemic costs. Without the High Life Highland bail-out, the council say it would have reported a £2.2m underspend.

The finance papers identify a series of risks in the years ahead. These include teachers’ pay rises, inflation and Scottish Government spending commitments.

Mr Louden took issue with this, pointing out that the council received £100m in Scottish Government grants last year.

There was a common theme of today’s debate.

Successive councillors – including administration members – called for more detail in the financial reporting.

Budget leader Alasdair Christie made a commitment to address the format of reports in the next council term.

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