It has been billed as a ‘road to recovery’ budget, prioritising investment in roads to be funded by the maximum increase in council tax.
And, despite some grumbles from councillors about the tax hike, and a failed opposition amendment to peg it at 3%, Highland Council’s budget was approved yesterday with minimal fuss from its members.
Residents in the north will face a 4.84% council tax rise, the maximum agreed by the Scottish Government, from April.
This equates to £1.16 per week for Band D households, with those receiving council tax reductions continuing to be protected.
The authority confirmed that 3% of the increase will be used to balance the council’s books, with the remaining 1.84% enabling a £20m investment in the Highland road infrastructure, and an additional £1.3m in annual revenue for road maintenance.
The council added the 2020-21 budget will see an increase in its reserves and improve its resilience against future challenges and risks.
The opposition SNP group unexpectedly found a number of their proposals were adopted into the budget, including the allocation of £500,000 towards rural transport options, and £1m for the training of care workers.
More than £11m in savings and efficiencies will be found across all areas of the council’s work, with a sizeable chunk from the council’s ongoing education transformation.
The council claimed that using specialist teachers to support mainstream teaching staff and meet the requirements of pupils with a high level of need will save more than £1.5m and a further £1m will come from ‘targeting support to pupils with greatest need’.
Commissioned children’s services are earmarked for savings of £400,000, while a further £310,000 will be saved in early intervention posts across children’s services, schools and early learning and childcare, linked to a re-structure of services and a review of health services supported by the council.
Funding for sports, leisure, culture and community organisations is to be reduced by £200,000.
Cuts are also being made across dozens of other council operations.
Council leader Alister Mackinnon said: “These are ambitious budget proposals which also seek to invest in people, skills, plant and places for a more sustainable future.
“What we’ve got to remember now is that we build up a legacy in what we do with the capital and revenue for generations to come.
“I believe today we’ve started on that path.”
He said improved governance in expenditure and income generation was bearing fruit.
“We’re projecting an underspend – possibly considerable – but things can go wrong, coronavirus could come and we have to be prepared for that with more resilience to meet all the challenges.”
Council leader Margaret Davidson said: “This has been a year of moving forward, with increased efficiencies and improved scrutiny.
“I have gone over and over this budget to ask if there is anything it which will affect needy communities, and there is less than there might have been.”