Highland Council plans to invest an additional £10 million this year as it plots a budget to recover from the Covid pandemic.
A proposed collaborative budget for 2022-23 will be put forward to a meeting on March 3.
It includes £5.5m extra on roads, made up of a £3.5m one-off spend and £2m recurring revenue.
If agreed, it would mean £31m being spent over the period 2020 to 2023 on road improvements, machinery and staff.
Where else is the money going?
A further £500,000 is earmarked for rural transport, including on-demand services, new community transport groups, analysis of mobility deprivation and improved timetables.
Another £2m is proposed for climate action, green energy and jobs.
This is aimed at maximising opportunities from hydrogen projects, tree planting and peatland restoration, as well as flood management and coastal protection.
The proposed budget also includes £1m for both innovation in education and early interventions in children’s services.
This includes measures to prepare young people for life after school and community connected learning.
The investment is part of the council’s health and prosperity strategy for the Highlands.
It seeks to balance current financial pressures with the drivers for economic growth and recovery from Covid.
Depute council leader Alasdair Christie said: “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.”
Investment in key areas
He said the council has balanced its budget for this year and proposed a 3% council tax increase, which has allowed investment in key areas.
“We’ve made savings in other areas, we’ve looked at the priorities of the council and looked at realigning what we want to do.
“We’re doing that in a way that allows us to invest in these new areas.”
Roads are a major issue for the council.
In December it was revealed nearly four in 10 Highland roads need to be repaired.
Bringing them all up to standard would cost £195m.
Mr Christie said: “Everyone in the Highlands know how much we need to increase the roads spend.
“It is a primary concern, not just for residents, but for tourists and businesses, and we need to make sure we make a seismic change to get the roads maintained.”
He said the council also has to look at income generation opportunities, including greenport and hydrogen initiatives, to create jobs and support communities.
“The council needs to be at the forefront of inward investment into the area and to make sure the Highlands gets its share of financial reward for being such a big producer of energy.
“The council cannot be a bystander. It has to be in there making sure it helps sustain the Highland economy.”
Council leader Margaret Davidson welcomed the collaborative work which has resulted in the proposals.
She said: “The additional £5.5m we are proposing to put into roads alone will result in a considerable investment of £31m in our road network over a three-year period.
“This will be really good news for people across the Highlands.”
Leader of the opposition, councillor Raymond Bremner, said: “Our communities across the Highlands have been faced with challenging, unprecedented times over the past couple of years, with considerable uncertainty in respect of what lies ahead, especially with continual inflationary pressures.
“The council needs to continue its path of redesign and transformation in order to be sustainable into the future.”
A balance of investment and savings
Labour councillor Jimmy Gray added: “I am pleased that once again we have been able to develop a budget which protects jobs which are fundamental to the economy of the Highlands.
“Our budget proposals present a balance of investment and savings.”