The north’s Tory councillors say they have come up with the budget “the council should have made”, including investing £26m in roads.
Highland Council sets its budget on Thursday, labelling it ‘Ambitious Highland – Health and Prosperity Strategy’.
From predictions of a deficit of up to £100m early in the pandemic, the council now says it has a surplus of more £3.1m and is squirrelling away more than £24m into its reserves.
Council tax won’t be raised, as the council takes advantage of the Scottish Government’s £4.2m subsidy instead, and more than £9m is earmarked for investment in economic prosperity including employment, tourism, place-based investment and ward discretionary budgets.
But Tory group leader councillor Andrew Jarvie said their alternative budget contains around 40 amendments, cutting waste and investing in recovery.
He said: “Inverness has the highest furlough rate in the UK, Covid has absolutely hammered us and we need to do all we can to support households, families and economic recovery.
“That is why we are rejecting the administration’s proposals, which hoard cash in reserves, but hike childcare fees seven times the rate of inflation, cut nursery staff and cut mental health and wellbeing programmes.
“This is the council which still hires snow ploughs in July.
“It should look to cut its own waste before our children’s futures.
“Our budget halts this madness and goes further to invest.”
The Tories’ budget includes a 1.84% cut in council tax, £26m more for roads to stop the decay and support local construction jobs, no education or childcare cuts, freezing the brown bin increase to £50 and cutting funeral fees.
Mr Jarvie said: “It is inexcusable that last year 10% of all Scotland’s ‘pauper’s funerals’ happened in the Highlands.
“Our budget is the budget which this council should have made – investing to recover and cutting waste so the council charges you less.”
In addition to a range of efficiency savings, the Tories recommend releasing more than £4m from the newly found reserves to bring forward planned spending.
Tory councillor Struan Mackie said he was concerned that tomorrow’s budget includes cuts to support given to NHS Highland for the provision of health and wellbeing programmes, including mental health training.
He said: “Although it is indicated that alternative arrangements will be sought to deliver this training in the future, we believe that any changes to provision must be in place before any suggestion of a reduction in funding.
“Given the mental health crises facing many parts of the Highland Region, we will table amendments to remove these cuts within the budget proposals and actively pursue opportunities to widen the support for this vital training.”