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Tories put forward alternative budget for Highland Council, with council tax cut and more cash for roads across the north


By Scott Maclennan

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Caithness councillor Struan Mackie described the proposed administration budget as 'unpalatable'.
Caithness councillor Struan Mackie described the proposed administration budget as 'unpalatable'.

The Conservative group at Highland Council has called for tens of million of pounds more for road repairs and for council tax to be slashed.

The proposals are a response to the budget put forward by the administration and the SNP opposition last week, which concentrated on jobs, visitor management and recovery.

The administration wants to freeze council tax in order to qualify for a cash injection from the Scottish Government, and all elements of the plan will be debated on Thursday.

However, the Tories see it as a “missed opportunity” containing cuts which undermine its own ambitions on childcare, education, jobs and training.

Instead they want to see an extra £26 million added to the £16.7 million already earmarked for roads – that would bring the total investment in the region’s roads to almost £43 million.

They also want to cut council tax by 1.84 per cent after cash from last year’s increase, which was to partly fund road repairs, went largely unspent due to the pandemic.

Deputy group leader and Caithness councillor Struan Mackie said: “The Liberal Democrat-led budget for Highland offers no reprieve for hard-pressed Highland ratepayers – whilst topping up the council's reserves by millions.

“We cannot accept a budget that fails to tackle the crumbling road network and makes unpalatable savings in areas that need to be strengthened, not reduced.

“We believe that further savings in education, reducing the mental health and wellbeing budget, and cutting the allocation for the adaptation of homes for the elderly and disabled is unacceptable.

“It is clear that the SNP have abandoned their role as an opposition group and are now part of the council administration in all but name. The Scottish Conservatives will fight these proposals all the way.

“With numerous frontline services shelved due to Covid and capital programmes for key infrastructure like roads having been severely disrupted, the Scottish Conservatives believe that ratepayers in Highland are due a refund from their local authority.

"We will table a 1.84 per cent cut in council tax for every single resident in the Highland region.

“Our plans will also invest millions more into our failing roads than the Liberal Democrat and SNP budget and reverse the shameful increases in burial fees which have been hiked year after year by Highland Council.

“Highlanders deserve a budget that will deliver for their community and address the issues that have been neglected for too long.”

Group leader Cllr Andrew Jarvie said: “Where the administration of the Lib Dem, Independents, and Labour coalition along with the SNP joint budget falls apart, is the contradictory cuts to areas their recovery programme underline as essential for recovery.

“They say their budget will help people into jobs but then cut £2 million from childcare, delay full-time childcare rollout by over a year and hike childcare fees by seven times the rate of inflation.

“We will halt this madness. It’s no use helping people find jobs if they can’t find or afford childcare. The council cannot seriously claim it’s offering full-time childcare when too many parents have to put their children to different nurseries on different days.

“There are good ideas in their investment programme but it’s completely undermined by their disjointed plan which also cuts the same supporting budgets behind the scenes.”

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