Published: 14/02/2018 06:00 - Updated: 13/02/2018 21:52

Budget briefing: service cuts, rises in charges and controversy aplenty

Written byEmma Crichton


David Richardson
David Richardson of the Federation of Small Businesse fears budget cuts could be to the detriment of small, local firms in favour of chains..
STRUGGLING independent businesses are in danger of losing even more customers to out of town businesses if Highland Council imposes parking charges.


This is the warning given by an organisation set up to support small businesses in light of proposals to hit motorists in the pocket at 14 locations across the Highlands.

One of the budget proposals, due to be agreed on Thursday has suggested introducing charges at currently free car parks at Chanonry Point, Alness, Dingwall, Ullapool, Kyle, Nairn and Lairg this year in the first of a five-year roll out across the region.

It comes alongside a three per cent council tax hike and increased charges for rubbish bins, public toilets and nursery and after school care as the cash-strapped council attempts to plug a £15 million budget black hole.

David Richardson, Highlands and Islands development manager for the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) warned that if this goes ahead, regular customers and tourists may abandon local shops in favour of national chain stores and supermarkets in out-of-town retail parks,

He said: “We know that many of our members will be very concerned that the council is planning to introduce these charges with no regard for local circumstances.

“Many high streets are really struggling and there is a very real danger that the introduction of parking charges will merely encourage more shoppers to visit supermarkets or out-of-town retail parks, where parking is free.

“Accepting that Highland Council is under financial pressure, it is possible that some locals and visitors will be prepared to pay modest parking charges if they know that all surpluses raised will be ring-fenced for maintaining and improving car parks and roads.

“However, they will not be happy if these charges become yet another form of taxation, increasing every year to bolster council budgets.”

As well as introducing new charges, car parks which already carry a fee are to be increased to a minimum spend of £1 for an hour, with additional costs for every additional hour.

A 50p charge for public toilets will also be introduced, with many facilities facing closure.

A Visit Scotland spokesman said that the council should be investing in local amenities, not cutting, to encourage tourists to the Highlands.

“With its breath-taking scenery, iconic towns and fascinating history, the Scottish Highlands have a fantastic offering for visitors.

“From exploring the vast wilderness of the North Highlands to enjoying vibrant culture of Inverness, there is something for everyone to enjoy in this very special part of the world.

“These visitors have major implications for the area’s economy. Tourism is more than a holiday experience – it is integral to sustaining communities across Scotland by generating income, creating jobs and stimulating social change.

“While we understand changes to infrastructure are required it is important for communities and industry to ensure that visitors have the best experience possible during their time in the region we would encourage any investment and innovation to ensure that current provision meets future demand.”

The charges for parking and toilets come alongside a three per cent council tax rise, 51 job cuts, the closure of play parks and reducing funding for Women’s Aid, Eden Court and child care providers.

Play parks are set to close to save on maintenance and grants for community councils and local events will be reduced. The controversial £35 for garden waste bins imposed last year is to be increased to £35.

Budget proposals

Family teams

Saving: £125,000

Council job cuts: Seven FTE

The district management posts are being scrapped to remove a layer of middle-management from family teams. The department will be re-shuffled to that the jobs can be removed through current vacancies, without the need for redundancies.

Eden Court

Saving: £200,000

Council job cuts: None

A 40 per cent cut in the funding given to Eden Court Theatre in Inverness. The grant helps pay for drama and dance qualifications.

A similar cut, proposed in 2016, sparked outrage and a petition with more than 400 signatures, causing the council to give back some of the money.

Budget proposals say the impact of the cut “is not yet known” but acknowledged that it is “anticipated there will be an impact” on the dance and drama pupils.

Adult support service

Saving: £144,000

Council job cuts: None within Highland Council

Funding for Women’s Aid is to be sliced back by 10 per cent. Branches in Caithness and Sutherland, Inverness, Lochaber and Ross-shire are all to lose out on a combined total of £78,494.

Additional funding given to criminal justice social work is to be halved, saving £60,000 and Inverness-based charity Blindcraft, which provides work for disabled people, is also to lose £5,500 - 10 per cent of its council grant.

Wrap-around care

Saving: £100,000

Council job cuts: None

The cost of nursery placements and before and after school care for children is to be raised by 10 per cent.

Council nursery classes make up 70 per cent of all places and cost £4 per hour. After school care and holiday placements currently cost £10.60 for a three-hour session.

The report acknowledged this may be challenging for low-income families, particularly in rural areas when there is no alternative to council placements.

It stated: “Additional hours are generally purchased by working parents to enable them to balance the challenges of work and childcare, therefore the increase in charges will generally be affordable.

“With the increase in charges, parents will decide if they wish to look for another provider for childcare, which may be more difficult in rural areas and any increase in charges for working parents on low income will always be a challenge when balancing household budgets.”

Out of hours social work

Saving: £50,000

Council job cuts: None

A call handling service to support NHS Highland’s out of hours social work team is to be scrapped.

Childcare providers

Saving: £200,000

Council job cuts: None

Financial support given to childcare providers is to be cut by one third. It goes towards equipment, resources, youth projects, additional support needs projects and crèches

Blas Festival

Saving: £7000

Council job cuts: None

A 10 per cent cut to the annual music event funding, held in partnership between the council and Fèisean nan Gàidheal. This is expected to mean a reduction in the number of events held over the nine-day event.

Ward discretionary grants

Saving: £331,000

Council job cuts: None

The fund dished out by councillors for community events and projects in their ward is to be halved under the plans.

Each council ward would be left with £16,000 to contribute to services, events and initiatives which benefit the community.

Community council grants

Saving: £100,000

Council job cuts: None

The proposal reduces the grant for community councils by 53 per cent. The money is used to pay for meeting, travel and administration expenses.

Customer services

Saving: £200,000

Council job cuts: Eight FTE

The budget report states that council officers have found ways of working more efficiently using technology in service points and other departments dealing with services such as council tax and benefits.

Although it will see the loss of eight posts, the report said this will be managed through current vacancies,

Corporate resources efficiencies

Saving: £280,000

Council job cuts: 11 FTE

As other departments merged into corporate resources last year, officers said there are now more effective ways of using resources and staff.

The report said the posts will be cut through “turnover and non-filling of vacancy management”.

Play parks

Saving: £212,000

Council job cuts: Two FTE

The budget to maintain 435 play parks is to be halved. This will mean closing some parks and removing the equipment, while community groups will be asked to take over the running of others.

Two vacant positions for inspection and maintenance staff will not be filled as part of the saving and all parks will be reviewed to determine their fate.

The proposal said: “There is an increased role for communities in the future provision and maintenance of play facilities. It is only proposed to rationalise [close] play parks where sites are redundant, there is low play value, further maintenance can no longer be justified in terms of cost and there is adequate provision nearby.”

Car parking

Income: £1.4 million

Council job cuts: One new job created

Parking charges are proposed in towns and tourist hot spots across the Highlands.

All free car parks will have charges imposed over five years, with 14 to change from April. They include Four in Nairn - the library, harbour, Cumming Street, and the maggot, as well as Chanonry Point on the Black Isle, Alness Station, Dingwall Southside, Ullapool Latheron, Kyle village, Falls of Shin, Lairg, two in Broadford and two in Mallaig.

Where charges are already in place, such as Inverness, a minimum fee of £1 for up to one hour will be imposed.

The cost of parking permits is also to be upped by five per cent. This will see a resident or visitor permit increase to £58 per year.

Christmas lights

Saving: £35,000

Council job cuts: None

Council staff will no longer put up and take down Christmas lights, instead it will be left up to communities.

The local authority will no longer take responsibility for funding, installation and removal and the health and safety of Christmas lights in town centres.

Some areas such as Inverness can use other funding methods including the common good fund.

Public toilets

Saving £300,000

Council job cuts: 21 FTE

Almost one third of public toilets face the axe under this proposal. It has been suggested that 28 of the 96 public toilets in the Highlands are to close while the ones who stay open will impose 50p charges.

Twenty one jobs are on the line and background information for the plans says only that a “flexible approach” will be needed to make the cuts, to “reflect local circumstances”.

It is also hoped that nearby local businesses will adopt the “Highland comfort scheme” and provide public toilets at their premises, in exchange for a monthly fee from the council.

Charges at toilets which are currently free will be imposed in Shore Road in Dornoch, Tanyard in Thurso, Golspie, Carrbridge and Drumnadrochit.

The report acknowledged the negative affects on vulnerable people, stating: “The rationalisation of toilets is likely to have a disproportionate impact on the elderly and disabled. Less well-used facilities are more prevalent in rural areas and with fewer alternatives nearby [and] the proposed locations for charging are more likely to impact on tourism in rural areas.

“Mitigation has been identified through sign posting alternative facilities, increasing the number of Highland comfort schemes and increasing facilities operated by community groups.

Public toilets facing closure or change


Kinlochewe - Possible comfort scheme at adjacent hotel

Kessock A9 north - Under review by commercial board

Portmahomack - Possible summer only opening

Dingwall Ormidale - Possible comfort scheme at nearby shops and halls

Avoch - Possible comfort scheme at Station Hotel

Fortrose, Station Road - Consider comfort scheme at community hall or leave open 24 hours

Rosemarkie - Comfort scheme would support community-run cafe at same site

Refuse collection

Saving: £233,000

Council job cuts: None

The controversial £30 charge for garden waste bins imposed last year will be upped to £35. Charges for bulky uplifts and the purchase of new wheelie bins will both increase by 10 per cent.

Other’ community services charges

Burials and cremations - 3.9 per cent increase

Pest control, 10 per cent increase

Minibus hire, 15 per cent increase

A massive overhaul of all council services is under way, to make the council more efficient and commercially minded.

Services reviewed range from music tuition to parking, legal services and the building trade.

A further 20 reviews are expected to take place in the next year.

Full details and reaction in next week's edition.

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