Council depute talks of hard times ahead with budget looming
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As Highland Council progresses plans for setting a budget for the coming year (2021–22), its deputy leader talked of the "long and very difficult task ahead".
Planning can now take account of the Scottish Government’s settlement proposals, although much uncertainty remains. The core funding increase in the Scottish Government’s settlement amounts to £2.5m, however significant pressures will exceed that funding.
The council's deputy leader Alasdair Christie said: “Despite the proposed government funding settlement, we will need to find considerable levels of savings to help offset increasing costs related to the impact of Covid, inflationary costs and pay increases which are set nationally."
A cash increase of £13.2m includes ringfenced funding for Early Years expansion, Health and Social Care and a council tax freeze.
The exact impact for Highland of the public sector pay policy is not yet known, but is estimated to add another £3m to the council's pay pressure for next year bringing this to over £9m. Other pressures include increased costs, ongoing loss of income and various issues related to the pandemic.
The council also has a duty to consider medium term financial sustainability in planning ahead to take account of future risks and uncertainty and impacts on the wider economy.
Councillor Christie added: “Setting the council’s budget on 4 March is just the start.
"We are facing one of the hardest economic period’s in recent history in the coming years, with the devastating impact of Covid and emerging consequences of Brexit on the Highlands. This is going to be a long and very difficult task and we need the support of our colleagues across the chamber and collaboration with our partners to achieve the best outcomes for the Highlands.”
The budget and council tax will be set at a meeting of the council on March 4.