Highland Council budget leaders have hailed staff for making massive multi-million pound savings which will protect frontline staff and education services from the axe.
However, the measures being proposed will see council tax increase by three per cent in order to raise an extra £3.5million, while the provision of public toilets and playparks may suffer.
Car parking charges across the region will also increase to provide an additional £1.4million income to the authority.
Council leaders yesterday outlined their proposals to plug a gap of £15million from its revenue spending plans of £587million prior to a full council meeting next week.
While 51 full-time posts are under threat, budget leader Alister Mackinnon stressed many of the jobs were currently vacant and would not be advertised, while others would be met through natural wastage and a bid to relocate employees.
He said: “We have done everything we can to protect frontline services and jobs in a good budget.
“Our approach has been to explore commercial and income generating opportunities, to identify efficiencies and to use redesign methodology to streamline our processes and make savings.
“We have left no stone unturned in looking for ways to make savings with the least possible impact, but have had to consider some unpalatable but necessary cuts.
“This has caused a great deal of undue uncertainty and concern for communities and our staff for many weeks until additional funding materialised in the Scottish Government’s last minute deal with the Green Party to agree their budget.”
He added: “This has meant that we, thankfully, do not have to cut as deeply this year as we had feared. We are able to protect education, additional support needs and roads maintenance completely and avoid deeper cuts considered on a range of other services. We do however still have to agree a range of savings to meet the pressures on our budget.
“Funding cuts to some organisations would also have been much higher if we had not had the additional funding and this.”
Council leader Margaret Davidson added: “It is unacceptable to be expected to plan our finances strategically when we are working in the dark with our hands tied behind our back.
“An announcement of a one year budget and local authority grants on 31 January gives us just eight weeks to deliver a balanced budget.
“This is not the way for the country to do business. We will continue to lobby for fair and transparent funding.”
Car park charges up as investment in parks and toilets goes down
Parts of the Highlands may lose play parks and public toilets as a result of the proposed budget cuts, but council leaders have pledged to work hard with communities in a bid to transfer responsibility of many of these services.
The authority currently maintains 435 play areas at an annual cost of £400,000 and the budget team propose cutting that by £212,000.
Council leader Margaret Davidson said they would work with local communities in a bid to transfer responsibility in order to keep as many parks open as possible.
The budget for public conveniences, meanwhile, is proposed to be cut by £300,000 from £800,000 and Mrs Davidson said officials would work with communities again in a bid to keep as many open in a similar transfer of responsibility.
Such a plan may result in up to 21 employees being redeployed to community organisations.
There are also plans to introduce charges of 50p at some of the 96 toilets throughout the region to raise extra income.
Car parking charges are also proposed to rise, in some places by 10%, in a bid to raise an additional £1.4m, while cremation and burial fees will also increase by 3.9% under the plans.
A 10% reduction is proposed for Women’s Aid groups in the region, making a saving of £78,000.
A reduction of funding to Blindcraft would achieve £5,500.
The Eden Court subsidy is set to be reduced by £200,000 under the plan.
Other cuts will see Caithness Horizons lose £15,000 funding from £90,000, while the Blas Festival will lose £7,000.
Community Council grants are set to be cut by £100,000.
The budget plans also propose stopping the installation of Christmas lights, with the hope of transferring responsibility to communities, in a bid to save £35,000.
The brown bin garden waste collection is set to rise from £30 to £35 under the proposals.