Highland Council’s budget leader has given the P&J exclusive insight into the radical changes the local authority is making to deal with a funding shortfall of more than £30million this year, and further cuts anticipated in the coming years.
A new budget board comprising Mr Mackinnon, chief executive Donna Manson and corporate resources leader Derek Yule will meet weekly to keep a running check on the council’s budgets.
Services and departments will be called on at a moment’s notice to show their spending.
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Mr Mackinnon said: “We’ll call in weekly reports from services, no-one will know in advance. There will be more accountability, better governance to create budgets that are suitable for the ongoing work of the council. For that we need to be more efficient.”
Councillors will also be briefed on a monthly basis, Mr Mackinnon said, and MPs and MSPs are being invited to a meeting to discuss the budget and how they can work together.
Mr Mackinnon also had words of humility for the public.
“There are communities out there who feel there’s been a lack of trust between them and the council. It’s been revealing, heartening and humbling to see the challenges communities are facing.”
He pledged to continue the continuous round of public engagement started last year by chief executive Donna Manson: “If we can do something we will, if not we’ll explain why.”
Mr Mackinnon emphasised there will be no compulsory or voluntary redundancies.
He said: “There is a freeze in recruitment at the moment however, if it’s proved that there needs to be recruitment to deliver a service, that will still happen.”
Mr Mackinnon praised staff for embracing the changes at consultation meetings.
He said: “The bottom line is, if you want to be part of this council going forward you have to embrace the change, if not, you’re history.”
For members of the public who don’t pay their council tax or rent, he also had a stern message.
He said: “We will take action on anyone with debt to the council and show them we mean business.”
Organisations which have been receiving council funding automatically for years can also expect change, the budget leader warned.
He said: “Nobody has sat down and said, do they actually need that? Are they getting money from somewhere else? Are they coasting knowing council funding will come in?
“If we can save a few million we can spend on our priorities, roads for example.”