Budget leader 'at a loss' over Caithness councillor's money-saving claims
SENIOR Highland councillor Alister Mackinnon has responded to claims the local authority walked away from as much as £1.2 million in savings by not consulting on this year’s spending plans.
Councillor Struan Mackie, Thurso and Northwest Caithness, had said his experience working in London for accounting firm PriceWaterhouseCoopers developing government technology meant he could have saved the council anything from £800,000 to £1.2 million.
Those claims – revealed in last week's Caithness Courier – were challenged by budget leader Councillor Mackinnon, who said both he and officials were “at a loss” to understand where Councillor Mackie could have saved such amounts of cash.
Councillor Mackinnon said: “I am very disappointed at Councillor Mackie’s headline-grabbing comments that he made in the Caithness Courier last week.
“Firstly, if he was able to produce these proposals, then why did they not form part of the Conservative group’s proposals in council during the budget?
“Secondly, I would refer Councillor Mackie to the meeting of the corporate resources committee in August of 2019 where I reported that the council had delivered substantial performance improvements resulting in a reduction in costs of 44 per cent and council tax collection was above 96 per cent.
“Allan Gunn and Sheila McKandie have done an absolutely amazing job with the service getting it to that and, like me, they are at a loss to explain how Councillor Mackie could have produced the figures that he mentioned.
“He was also contacted by officials who were wanting to find out about his claims but so far, to my knowledge, he has not got back in touch with them.
“On the issue of consultation, I would say that goes both ways and they are as able to get in contact with me as I am with them if they have proposals to make.”
Councillor Mackie had said: “As Highland Council looks to plug the multimillion-pound gap left by the local government settlement, constituents are rightly frustrated that for almost a decade the axe has fallen on frontline services.
“In my professional experience, even modest proposals to improve collection rates for council tax or housing rents could yield millions more for our schools and roads.
“Given that the government technology industry is expanding rapidly, and digitally enabled governments are showing that technology can safeguard services, there is no reason that Highland Council, given its unique geography and disparate population, should not be at the forefront of this digital effort.”