Education and leisure look set to be the main casualties of Highland Council’s proposed budget cuts, it has emerged.
The council faces a gap in funding of £27.9m in 2019/20 and £32.4m over the following two years, and has reserves at a historic low.
A saving of £3.5m over the next three years is proposed from a shake-up of all school staffing allocations and absence management.
‘Transformational change’ of support for pupils with special needs will save the council £5.9m over the next three years.
The Early Years grant to partner organisations is to be slashed from £485,000 to £258,000, ‘to ensure the services funded focus on key service objectives.’
Council leader Margaret Davidson said during public engagement sessions, communities had pressed the council to become more commercial.
She said: “Some were in favour of toilet charges, some were in favour of parking charges. There is no one size fits all, each community will be listened to where charging is concerned, and we will be allocating as much of the money raised as possible locally.”
The council will push on with its consultation over introducing the Transient Visitor Levy to the Highlands, describing its establishment as a priority.
The local authority will also implement a number of price rises, including increasing the price of school meals by 5p.
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Street lights will be dimmed between midnight and 6am, saving £20,000 over three years.
Through route efficiencies the bin lorry fleet will be reduced by one vehicle and operator in 2020-22.
Eden Court will also lose a further 10% of its funding, £30,000, in the year 2021/22.
Increases in fees and charges in community services will raise more than £2m over the next three years.
To tackle the running sore of road maintenance, the Administration will add a recurring £1.5m to the roads budget.
A complete culture change is being implemented in the local authority to close the funding gap, chief executive Donna Manson said.
Mrs Manson said council staff will be in the driving seat leading efficiency savings and contributing ideas for income generation.
Mrs Manson said a new Change Fund of £2.5m will be set up to enable council staff and partners to look at improved ways of doing things.
Despite the budget gap, the Administration emphasised that there would be no compulsory or voluntary redundancies, describing it as a “budget for jobs”.
GMB union called the council’s intention to avoid redundancies into question.
A GMB spokeswoman said: “Until the detail of how proposed changes to the current service delivery are fully shared with trade unions and equally, how the proposed budget will impact on jobs, we continue to remain very concerned about how this budget proposal will affect current employees and the Highland community.”