A SENIOR Ross-shire councillor at the heart of attempts by Highland Council to plug a massive budget gap this week called on support from its workforce and across the political spectrum after number-crunchers outlined the "huge challenge" ahead.
Budget leader Alister Mackinnon, who is also a Dingwall and Seaforth ward councillor, said detailed analysis of the Scottish Government's funding settlement "will see a reduction in its grant funding to provide the current level of services".
With "additional pressures", says Highland Council, that equates to a £31.2m budget gap for 2019-20.
Cllr Mackinnon warned: "We were already preparing for a significant reduction, but this news sets us a huge challenge and may mean we will need to bring forward savings from future years.
“The work we have been doing stands us in good stead and we are much better prepared for a challenging scenario. We have taken a new approach to the budget setting this year, looking at re-basing all budgets, focusing on outcomes and removing all inefficiency. We are also continuing to work on current in-year pressures with tighter financial controls and a freeze on filling vacant posts.
“The situation will require big changes to what we currently do and how we do it and will require support from our workforce and across the political spectrum. Income generation and efficiency are key to managing the situation we are in. We are determined to do the best we can for Highland within the resources we have and to deliver a budget which protects essential services and jobs which support the wider economy.”
The council has been planning for budget reductions over the next three years and has carried out "significant public and staff engagement to identify local priorities and areas of potential savings".
Incoming chief executive Donna Manson said the consultation had "given us a huge amount of information and a much better understanding of how we can do things better".
She said: "The overwhelming theme has been that the council can be much more efficient and our aim is to do everything possible to demonstrate that we are listening and acting on what we have heard.
“We will be back out again to meet with partners, groups and communities as we work to develop the detail of the budget in the coming weeks.”
The Scottish government has previously insisted it gives local authorities a fair settlement and called on those with a grievance to join it in appealing to Westminster for more money.
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