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Opposition tells Highland Council to stop funding unaffordable projects

Councillor Maxine Smith of Highland Council.
Councillor Maxine Smith of Highland Council.

As Highland Council’s administration prepares to set its budget in a fortnight, the council’s Opposition SNP group has told it to stop funding unaffordable projects from its core budget.

The local authority has said it is examining every budget line, hinting at cuts to front line services.

It needs £604m to deliver the current level of services, but in its Scottish Government grant funding for the coming year, the council has been left more than £30m short, some £10m more than expected.

The council had planned for a 1% reduction in funding and ended up with a cut of 2.4%.

A significant element of the grant is ring-fenced for Early Years and social care.

Opposition leader councillor Maxine Smith said: “Highland Council is suggesting that its core budget has been cut by 2.4%.

“Yes, it has been in real terms, but has anyone looked into how the core budget is made up?

“We have, and we were shocked to find that around £7m goes to funding different bodies around the Highlands.

“For instance, the council gives a grant of £300,000 per annum to Eden Court and yet it owns the Eden Court building, which it provides free.

“In good times the council could afford to fund other groups, but can it now continue to fund them rather than something statutory like potholes?”

Mrs Smith said the Opposition group had worked on an alternative budget and is currently in talks with the Administration, “to suggest removing some of their cuts that we are uncomfortable with.”

She said: “We feel we need to protect our culture, music lessons, libraries etc. and so will be unable to support cuts to those areas.

“We also want to safeguard education and teacher numbers.  We hope by working with us the council will put through a more inclusive budget.”

Against the backdrop of political wrangling over the Scottish Government’s budget setting today, Highland council’s budget leader councillor Alister Mackinnon said: “We are setting the budget based on the figures that are currently available – which is sitting at a £31m budget gap for 19-20.

“Of course any increase in our funding allocation would of course be very much welcomed.

“This would enable us to increase our reserves and manage any risks associated with achieving our savings targets for the coming year.”

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