Highland Council leaders have warned of jobs losses and swingeing cuts to services – on top of a proposed 3% council tax hike – in a bid to deal with a massive £25.8million budget gap.
Major capital projects across the region also face being shelved, with one source claiming the proposed £52million Tain Academy Campus could be a casualty.
But union chiefs have hit out at the plans to tackle the deficit, and are particularly concerned at the prospect of compulsory redundancies.
Liz Gordon, GMB regional officer, said: “I’m surprised and disheartened that Highland Council has started to brief staff about potential redundancies before the Scottish Government have finalised budgets and any impact is fully realised.
“It appears that yet again it is the front line staff and services that are being cut. If this is an attack on front line services again then we will be asking: Do we need so many managers paid over £100,000?”
She also added: “How can the council justify cuts when spending £7.5 million in consultants’ fees for 2017?
“There is clearly some very tough talking to be done over any redundancy selection and the GMB will be ensuring that we are there to safeguard GMB members.
Council leader Margaret Davidson confirmed jobs were under threat, adding: “Although every effort is being made to achieve a balanced budget without impact on staff numbers, unfortunately this will not be achievable across the whole organisation.
“I appreciate this is a worrying time for everyone, however we are committed to do all that we can to avoid compulsory redundancies wherever possible.
“The council has a very good track record of minimising compulsory redundancies.”
Councillor Alister Mackinnon, the authority’s budget leader, added: “The administration budget team is considering a range of proposals to achieve a balanced budget and these are being discussed with members and trade unions.
“These proposals consist of additional income totalling £6.9m (including a 3% Council Tax increase) and reductions in spending totalling £14.1m.
“This still leaves a residual balance of savings to be identified of £4.8m.”
He went on: “£25.8 million is a huge cut to our budget and comes after we have already managed a cut of £20 million to our budget in efficiencies over the past year.
“We are also unable to increase council tax beyond 3% without Scottish Government penalties. There will be no option but to cut services and to charge more for what we provide.”
The Scottish Government last month announced a potential £9million cut in core grant funding to Highland Council, but they have yet to finalise their own budget.
The council’s budget proposals will be discussed at a meeting February 15.